§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. David Hunt.]4.33 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)
When the Welsh Office was first established, it was perhaps appropriate that the Secretary of State used the Welsh day to review the entire area of his responsibilities. I do not believe that that is any longer practicable or sensible if the speech is to be either coherent or of reasonable length. The responsibilities of the Department are now too extensive to cover them all in a single debate.
In any case, during the past year in the Grand Committee, we have looked in detail at the ports in Wales, education and training, tourism, regional policy and the National Health Service, while the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs has spent many hours on the subject of water and its report is awaited. Other subjects nave been covered in debates on the Adjournment or on the Consolidated Fund, including the nationalised industries, which were discussed earlier this week. Furthermore, Welsh Members have had frequent opportunities to join in general economic debates, and in addition statements on local authority expenditure have provided scope for probing Government policy on local government issues.
Therefore, I shall not attempt today to refer to every topic that is of legitimate interest and concern to right hon. and hon. Members. They will have every oppertunity to raise them, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will endeavour to reply to as many as possible of the points raised in the debate. I intend to concentrate on some key developments in policy and to report on the progress of programmes that I consider to be of especial significance for the future. The programmes that I have in mind are of such central importance that in considering them we may find some common ground, whatever our political approach and however deeply seated the differences that exist between us on economic and social policy.
At a time when the whole world is beset by recession, when uncertainties in the oil markets are sending shock waves through the financial markets generally and when decisions taken in other countries profoundly affect our own, and especially after a period of major structural change that has sent unemployment to high and deeply distressing levels, it would be very surprising if there were not radically different solutions offered.
Perhaps in those circumstances I will be thought optimistic in hoping to find any common ground. Yet, whatever differences may exist on the macroeconomic approach, and on the diagnosis of the factors that have brought us to our present plight, there has been common ground for a very long time between the parries, and especially among the Welsh Members of this House, about certain fundamental objectives and in particular about the need to clear the dereliction of the past, to improve our industrial infrastructure and to transform those aspects of our economic position that have led to Wales being relatively disadvantaged in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom, while seeking at the same time to mitigate some of the especially adverse social consequences that are the outcome of our past industrial experience. The role of the Welsh Office in any given 1165 economic position and against the background of national measures, is to respond to the needs of Wales. Never is that more true than at a time of deep recession, of tragically high unemployment and of massive structural change.
An example of this common approach can be found in the trunk road programme that has been pursued consistently by successive Secretaries of State since the Welsh Office took over this responsibility. My predecessor inherited schemes that had been prepared by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) during his time in office, and I have had the privilege of opening important new roads, such as the Pencoed-Stormy Down section of the M4, that were initiated by my predecessor. During this period in government we have seen the completion of about 55 miles of trunk road improvements costing more than £1 million each, including the Castleton-Coryton and Pencoed-Stormy Down sections of the M4, the Britannia bridge and its approaches, the Brecon southern and eastern bypass, the Dolgellau bypass, the Raglan-Abergavenny link, the first stage of the Holywell bypass, the New Inn bypass and the Pontyfenni diversion on the A40, to name just some of them. Despite the need to constrain public expenditure, we have pressed on with this programme and at present there are major schemes under way on the Llanfair PG bypass, on the Bangor bypass, on the Hawarden bypass and on the Llandulas-Glanconwy section of the A55. In the south, the Carmarthen southern bypass is well on the way to completion, the KilgettyStepaside bypass is making good progress. We have started on the Culverhouse Cross-Capel Llanilltern link and on the major road improvement on the A470 from Abercynon to Pentrebach, and we have just let the contract for major improvements to the Carmarthen-Bancyfelin section of the A40.
I will be giving full details of our road programme in the years ahead when I publish the White Paper "Roads in Wales" in a few weeks time. In the period 1983–85 we expect to make massive progress on the A55 including a start on the Conwy crossing. In the south detailed design work on the Baglan-Lonlas section of the M4 is proceeding and the statutory processes have been completed. Subject to completion of statutory procedures, I hope that we shall start work on the Crosshands-Llanddarog section of the A48 next spring. Schemes at present in progress and which we expect to complete in the next two-three years will produce another 40 miles of new trunk road at a cost of £264 million. It is significant that of the schemes at present in progress or planned to start before the end of 1985 at least 15 involve bypasses of important communities. In addition, through the transport supplementary grant, we are giving priority to a number of major schemes that complement the improvements to the strategic trunk road network.
The road programme provides one impressive example of policies consistently applied with determination by Governments of different political complexion. Another in the field of social responsibility can be found in the Health Service.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House some up-to-date information about the Severn bridge, which is the vital artery for South 1166 Wales? As he knows, there has been considerable concern about it. In this Welsh day debate he should be able to provide some up-to-date information, especially upon the necessity of a second river crossing.
§ Mr. Edwards
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has already told the House that he has received a detailed consultant's report that will take some little time to examine and to carry to the next stage. That work is being undertaken urgently. We shall give the House further information as soon as we are able to do so. My right hon. Friend has made it clear that he intends to be extremely open about the bridge. At every stage, when further information is available, he will report to the House. We shall be making the Government's intentions plain. I am sure that that is the right way in which to proceed on such an extremely important road link. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about it.
There is another area in which we can find a consistency of approach—the hospitals and the Health Service. I inherited from my predecessor a substantial hospital building programme and despite the need for economy generally I have pressed on with that programme. I have not had to delay the start of any major hospital projects for financial reasons. Work has now been completed on all the major schemes that were in progress when I took office. Since May 1979 starts have been made on major schemes, with a total estimated cost of £81 million. These include the continuation of the programme providing a network of district general hospitals covering the Principality, with starts being made on those at Wrexham, Bridgend and Morriston. Advance works have begun at Llanelli with the main scheme programmed to commence in 1983–84. My officials are urgently considering proposals to redevelop Llandudno general hospital.
We have continued to provide real growth in the resources made available to the National Health Service in Wales and since our debate in the Welsh Grand Committee I have announced details of the way in which £13.5 million extra is to be provided for hospital, community and other health services next year, representing some 2.2 per cent. growth in real terms. This will provide for significant development in the health care provided to the people of Wales. It will enable us to go ahead with the first year of our three-year programme to end inequalities in health authority funding. This has been a very sore point for a considerable period and I believe that the allocation of £2.2 million of additional resources, which will go next year to the under-funded authorities, will be greatly welcomed. In addition, it has been possible to find the funds—£4.4 million—to meet in full the revenue consequences of major capital projects; to meet other centrally funded commitments and to provide no less than £2.3 million for health authorities' discretionary use on new developments.
I am particularly pleased that we have been able to meet from these extra funds the full cost of the first year of our strategy to transform community services for the mentally handicapped. This initiative that we have taken in Wales has been widely welcomed and is acknowledged as giving a lead in this important area of social concern to not only the United Kingdom but many other countries.
The all-Wales working party that I set up to prepare the strategy proposed the establishment of certain vanguard areas, including one in rural Wales and one in industrial 1167 south Wales, covering together a total population of between 200,000 and 250,000. Vanguard areas are intended to test the viability and self-sufficiency of the new patterns of community-based services. The authorities and voluntary interests in the selected areas must therefore be wholeheartedly committed to the spirit as well as to the letter of the strategy, and I take this to be the crucial factor.
The public consultation and the submissions that have been received have been of considerable help in making this very difficult decision. I considered carefully all the representations that we have received together with the evidence we have about the attitudes and capabilities of the authorities. I have decided, taking into account the views of the social services authorities involved, that the urban vanguard area should be in the Rhondda district of mid-Glamorgan and that the rural vanguard area should be the Arfon and Anglesey districts of Gwynedd.
The working party proposed that about one third of the total additional resources to be made available should go on developments in the vanguard areas and that the remaining two thirds should be deployed according to need throughout the rest of Wales. I endorse that conclusion. This means that even outside the vanguard areas significant developments will be possible involving no less than a threefold increase in the present level of spending on social services for the mentally handicapped.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the announcement that he has just made, which represents a significant step forward. I welcome the fact that the Arfon and Anglesey districts are to be one of the two vanguard areas. What will be the financial position after the coming year? He has referred to the resources that are to be available for the first year of the project. Can he give an assurance that there will be adequate resources for subsequent years?
§ Mr. Edwards
The hon. Gentleman has taken a great interest in the project. The Government indicated throughout that the project should be a priority for expenditure. We discussed the circumstances in great detail in our debate in the Welsh Grand Committee. In the first year we have more than adequately met our commitment. That is a sign of our future intentions. I cannot make a financial commitment for the years ahead.
Another area for concern is the condition of much of our housing stock. The Welsh house condition survey makes it clear that the rehabilitation of our older houses must continue to be a major priority. That is why I have told local authorities that in this financial year they may spend on rehabilitation without regard to their allocation ceilings and that in the coming financial year additional allocations will be available. The response to the grants measures, including the 90 per cent. level of grant now available, has been dramatic. The latest returns show that £26 million has been paid in grants in the first three quarters of this financial year, compared with only £16.5 million in the whole of 1981–82, and a total of £57 million in the whole of the preceeding five years. At the end of December, local authorities had on their books 41,000 applications awaiting approval, with a face value of £109 million. This demonstrates both the scale of the need, and the Government's determination in tackling it. I hope that the local authorities will show an equal determination in tackling and dealing with the applications as quickly as 1168 possible. Of particular relevance to our old industrial areas is the new concept of enveloping, in which, I am glad to note, a number of Welsh local authorities are showing a keen interest. Newport is already well advanced with preparing the first enveloping scheme in Wales and other authorities, including Cardiff, have already had discussions with my Department about potential enveloping schemes in their areas. I am glad to say that increasingly, local authorities in Wales are acting in partnership with private builders.
§ Mr. Edwards
An enveloping scheme is the improvement, modernisation and making attractive of a group of houses. Private activity is therefore involved in improving the area. It has been found to be an effective way of modernising blocks of houses and improving the local environment. I am anxious for all the threads to be pulled together in an increased commitment to regenerate urban areas, with local authority and private builders in partnership schemes that provide new housing. These are integrated with enveloping schemes on existing housing, with recreational facilities being provided alongside new commercial and industrial development. The programme that we have undertaken to improve the industrial infrastructure is another example of where there is some common ground. There can be no difference of view as to the need. Faced by the decline of the old basic industries, especially by the massive cutback in employment in the steel industry, it was clearly necessary to undertake urgent measures to attract new industry and create a far more diversified economy.
Again I acknowledge the work that was undertaken by my predecessor. He was right to press ahead as he did with the programme of advance factory building, about which some of us expressed anxiety at the time. That is a programme that we have reinforced on a considerable scale. At Welsh Question Time on Monday, I reminded the House that since its inception the Welsh Development Agency has constructed some 8 million sq ft of factory space of which 6.3 million sq ft represents advance factories. Of that, no less than 5 million sq ft have been completed since this Government came into office.
§ Mr. Edwards
That is a significant achievement. In addition, the DBRW and Cwmbran development corporation have completed more than 1 million sq ft in the same period. Those figures take no account of private sector factory building. However, I do not want to go over that ground again as I have presented the figures to the House several times. All I would say on this occasion, in response to the sedentary interruption of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), is that this is a sign of the growing attraction of Wales as an industrial location.
Despite the severity of recession, we have been remarkably successful in filling factories during this period. That offers encouragement to prospective developers, who might have expected the vacancy rate at the present time to be much larger than it is, bearing in mind the scale of our programme in the recent past. The fact is that in 1981, Government agencies allocated almost 300 units and 1.6 million sq ft of space. In 1982 we did better than that, with 388 units, representing nearly 2 1169 million sq ft of floor space. Those figures do not include bespoke projects such as those for Mitel, Inmos or the titanium plant in north-east Wales. Nor do they include expansion projects by companies such as Sony and 3M.
§ Mr. Ray Powell
Will the right hon. Gentleman take time in the next few days to visit Bridgend industrial estate? Will he examine some of the Welsh Development Agency factories that are now unoccupied, as industrialists have packed up and gone away because of the massive increase in rents that the agency is charging? Is he aware that Brush Power, which employs 300 people, is to close down, that factories on the Bridgend industrial estate have been empty for two or three years, and that there is no possibility of any useful tenants coming to occupy them?
§ Mr. Edwards
The figures for factory allocations in the past two years that I have quoted are an all-time record. The present vacancy rate of about 15 per cent. is remarkably low considering the scale of construction that has been taking place. Few areas have benefited as much from that programme as Bridgend The problem of structural change is continuous and will continue. The need to improve competitiveness even more and the modernisation of existing plants often involves major redundancies. The British Alcan Aluminium announcement about Rogerstone is a painful reminder, although the consolidation of rolling operations at this, the company's most up-to-date plant, gives increased grounds for confidence about the future. The pace and scale of industrial change are well illustrated in the area. We have recently had an announcement of 350 job losses but also decisions on new projects by A. B. Electronics, Avana, Bensons Crisps, IG Lintels and Lucas Girling, that involve more than 800 new jobs for the area.
Before I deal with the problems of urban Wales, I want to pause to acknowledge the continuing work of the Development Board for Rural Wales which now calls itself Mid Wales Development. Board factories are already providing nearly 5,000 jobs in mid-Wales. I am now able to announce approval of the board's construction programme for 1983–84 for the area outside Newtown, details of which have been placed in the Library.
The board will include in that programme the construction of a further 32 new advance factories in nine different locations throughout its area. It also intends to acquire 32 acres of land at six locations that permit factory development in the future and to construct 35 houses for key workers at Ystradgynlais and Llandrindod Wells. Among the board's projects is the building of units at Aberystwyth suitable for firms engaged in high technology or research activities. The site involved is adjacent to the campus of the University College of Wales and it is the board's hope that the development will form the basis for a science park on the American model in which academic and commercial expertise can be brought together. The land acquisition proposals contained in the programme are the largest ever approved for the board. The need for such proposals reflects the board's success in constructing and allocating its factories. Since its inception in 1977, it has built about 180 factory units and currently has about two million sq ft of factory space. Like the WDA it was successful in obtaining new tenants in 1982 and allocated 98 units during the year.
§ Dr. Roger Thomas (Carmarthen)
The Secretary of State mentioned Ystradgynlais. Is he aware that there are places in my constituency that are far closer to the centre of Wales but are not covered by the Development Board for Rural Wales and miss its guidance sorely?
§ Mr. Edwards
The hon. Gentleman and I have debated the issue frequently. The same issues were debated with my predecessor who drew up the present boundaries for the area. He is aware that the WDA has responsibilities in the area and an extensive factory building programme. I shall refer to other relevant policies that are available to the Government later.
§ Mr. Tom Hooson (Brecon and Radnor)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the development of more factories in mid-Wales is welcome and the concept of a science park in Aberystwyth sounds like an especially imaginative innovation? Can he give the same reply with regard to DBRW factory space as he has been able to give with regard to all available factory space? What percentage of existing space is not yet occupied?
§ Mr. Edwards
I shall ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to give the percentage. As I said, 98 units were allocated last year. That demonstrates the board's continuing success of getting those factories allocated.
It is, however, to the need for substantial investment to improve the urban environment in Wales that I wish to devote most attention. I do not have to emphasise to Welsh Members the important part played by the Welsh Development Agency in the clearance of dereliction and inland reclamation. Increasingly the tool by which we have sought to tackle the areas of dereliction, both in our valley towns and in our larger cities, has been through the urban programme. We are not just talking about capital expenditure. We are talking about programmes worked up by local authorities that know their areas, programmes which include important revenue support schemes for social purposes—schemes which encourage voluntary activity and a remarkable range of initiatives designed to improve the environment for living and working in urban areas generally.
I have already announced to the House that I have set aside some £21 million for the combined urban development grant programme for 1983–84. It is my present intention to allocate about £17.7 million to the normal urban programme. This allocation compares with £15.3 million for the initial programme for 1982–83, an allocation that we were able to supplement later using underspends elsewhere. Full details of the programme have been placed in the Library. Ongoing schemes absorb just over £6 million, new schemes take just over £11 million and there is a small allocation for holiday schemes and reserves. Just over £12.5 million is allocated to capital and just over £5 million to revenue projects, which is very similar to the allocation in previous years.
In selecting schemes for approval I have been concerned to give further encouragement to the creation of small businesses and to economic regeneration. Some £6 million has therefore been allocated for new nursery factory units, workshops and other job creating schemes. The programme also includes a wide variety of environmental, recreational and social schemes designed to enrich the quality of life in our urban areas. These 1171 schemes will be of great direct benefit to the communities concerned while at the same time enhancing the prospects of inward investment.
I have again given special attention to areas of high unemployment. The five designated districts—Cardiff, Newport, Swansea, Rhondda and Blaenau Gwent—will together receive a quarter of the total resources. I have also made substantial allocations to individual authorities in north-east and south-west Wales which are experiencing particular economic difficulties.
For the first time, I have agreed to allow certain time-expired schemes to be phased out on a tapering basis for up to two years beyond the date on which assistance would normally cease. This is an exceptional arrangement, which I have agreed should be applied to a number of existing worthwhile Welsh Women's Aid schemes for which there is no substantial prospect of the sponsoring local authority subsuming the scheme within its own main programme and alternative sources of funding are not readily available. In these cases, however, the additional period of support will be the final one, after which the sponsoring local authority or other agency will be expected to take over full financial responsibility.
The programme recognises the special needs of new enterprise zones and therefore there is a provision of £400,000 in the allocation for Delyn borough council specifically to accelerate development of the new enterprise zone at Flint. When I have taken a decision on the designation of a third enterprise zone, I shall consider the need for consequent urban programme support.
I referred to the normal urban programme. The House will be aware that this year the Government have introduced a highly imaginative scheme to trigger private investment in rundown urban areas. Urban development grant is aimed at stimulating worthwhile schemes, which would not otherwise go ahead. Welsh local authorities and private developers were invited to put in competitive bids last autumn. In all, 50 bids were received, which have been carefully assessed. In this process I have taken advice from experts outside my Department, including private sector representatives. I am very grateful for their help. Our assessment has shown that 12 schemes might be suitable to start in 1983–84 if satisfactory conditions can be negotiated with the developers. Those schemes whould probably not have been viable at the present time without the favourable effect of UDG on their financing. Therefore, they represent real additions to development in needy urban areas and are likely to provide substantial long-term benefits. Furthermore, they will create much-needed employment in the construction industry—according to the applicants' estimate, about 1,200 jobs in the coming year and a similar number in the long term.
These schemes provide a major boost to the available resources by enouraging private sector investment. The total investment in the schemes that I am announcing today will be some £29 million. This would be triggered by a UDG input of up to £5.5 million. This represents a private to public ratio of 4:1. In other words, for every £1 of public money, there will be £4 from the private sector. The individual projects are extremely varied and imaginative. Details are available in the Library. They include town centre redevelopment in Rhyl, factory units in Connah's Quay, fiats in the Rhondda, market redevelopment in Aberdare, housing, hotel and office projects in Blaenau Gwent and housing schemes in Newport and Swansea. A 1172 substantial grant is being offered to a workshop project in Cardiff which, incidentally, involves the restoration of the Maltings, a very fine group of existing buildings in the old industrial area. The two biggest grants go to major international hotel developments in Swansea and Cardiff.
In Swansea, Ocean Property Ltd. of Florida, proposes to build and run a major five-star international hotel in the maritime quarter at a total cost of some £10 million. A UDG input of up to £2 million is required to trigger that investment, which will be a key component in Swansea city's plan to convert the redundant south dock into a thriving new maritime quarter between the city centre and the Swansea bay foreshore. There can be little doubt that the maritime quarter as a whole and this hotel development in particular will provide new business, social and environmental dimensions for the city. They will undoubtedly also boost Swansea's reputation as a leisure and tourism centre.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Is the Secretary of State aware that there will be an utterly unreserved welome in Swansea for this imaginative venture and for the response of the Welsh Office to that rundown maritime area?
§ Mr. Edwards
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that there will be equally enthusiastic support for what I have to say next.
The Cardiff project is equally important fm. South Wales. The grant that I have approved in principle of up to £2.5 million will, I hope, enable Commonwealth Holiday Inns of Canada Ltd. to proceed with the construction of a 200-bedroom Holiday Inn at a total cost of about £9 million. I agree with the view of the local authority and of the Wales Tourist Board that this is a key development for encouraging the arrival of international business and tourism and for fully developing and making use of the magnificent facilities that now exist in Cardiff—including, of course, the shopping centre, the new St. David's hall, the Welsh National Opera, the museums and the other attractions of the area. 1 believe that the project will be of great value to industrial and commercial development generally in South Wales, because it will certainly make it much easier for us to offer the range of services that major international companies now expect when seeking new locations. Indeed, I believe that the significance may be even greater than that. Those who know Cardiff will surely have been concerned, as I have, at the sharp contrast between the condition of the city south of the railway and that of the commercial and civic centres to the north. One sees in Cardiff many aspects of the problems of inner city decay and decline. Clearly, there is both vast waste and immense potential in the huge open areas that now exist between the railway and the sea. Much, of course, has already been done. During a recent visit I was struck by the way in which earlier projects—roads, renovation and new building—had already begun the process of rebirth. In my view, t le time is now ripe to take that process forward and to initiate measures which could, I believe, lead to the rebirth and rapid growth of south Cardiff. The Holiday Inn development and the improvement of the Hayes district which it would bring about would provide an essential link, carrying the process of renovation south as far as the railway line itself.
With the Hayes district improved, the opportunities to the south become immense. There can be few cities 1173 anywhere, not initially planned to a pattern, that have such a natural cohesion between key parts. The core runs through Cathays Park and the civic centre, past the hub of commercial activity, the St. David's centre and concert hall through the Hayes and down Bute street to Bute town and the docks. The need is to re-establish the link between the present centre of activity and the old business centre around Mount Stuart square with its magnificent range of Victorian and Edwardian buildings, the Welsh maritime and industrial museum and the esplanades of south Bute town.
Because the need and the opportunities are so considerable and because I thought that the time was right, last autumn I asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to open discussions with local authorities and others; to investigate the possibilities and to report back to me. My hon. Friend has had a number of important meetings, has visited docklands developments elsewhere and has had valuable discussions with Associated British Ports, the new company that is taking over the role of the British Transport Docks Board.
I think it is clear from this initial review that what is now needed is to develop first the area that lies between the Hayes and Bute Town. New and important east-west roads are now opening up the area and a great deal of factory building and renovation has already begun the process. I have been able to make a contribution to what is going on through the £150,000 grant that I recently gave to the Welsh National Opera, which has enabled it to build an impressive rehearsal room in John street just to the south of the railway, while the Maltings development a little to the south-east will expand further on the basis of the proposed UDG to which I have referred. However, the fundamental feature of the area and the key to our future success must surely lie in the Bute east dock. The land that matters is in the area around the head of the dock and the broad belt down its western flank. This is the land that should provide the link between the present city centre and the sea.
I know the interest that south Glamorgan is taking in this area—indeed, it has recently prepared illustrative schemes of development. I, too, believe that the area, which has hitherto been designated for industrial development, could with sensitive development bring a mix of housing, offices, space for small modern industry and cultural and sporting facilities to this waterside site. Development on those lines, alongside a Bute street made worthy by imaginative redevelopment and tree planting would surely draw people and property south to a restored Bute town; to the east the old steelworks land offers ample opportunity for attracting industry large and small: to the west along Collingdon road there is already much commercial and industrial activity, while the WDA's reclamation site on the foreshore reveals immense scope for attractive residential development along the coast.
A great part of the land in question is owned by Associated British Ports. The Act that established the company gives it wide powers to exploit the commercial opportunities inherent in this land. I recently discussed these possibilities with Mr. Keith Stuart, the company's chairman and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has carried the discussions forward with senior management. Associated British Ports has told my hon. Friend that it is willing to consider seriously any proposals for this area 1174 that will help realise the potential of the valuable property that it currently holds. While it certainly needs to retain adequate land for port-related activities, I understand that it shares our view that there is more than enough land available in the area for any future port operations and for the kind of mixed development that I have described.
The construction of the peripheral distributor road, together with the WDA's imaginative reclamation scheme, provides a superb site for development on the coast. Similar schemes in the United States have revealed what can be done by bringing housing and shops into a former industrial coastal site of this kind. I am glad to hear that a number of private developers are expressing interest in housing development in south Cardiff; and my belief is that high quality development could take place here which would be important in realising the potential of the area.
A good deal of preparatory work has been done. Local authorities, Associated British Ports and private developers are becoming involved in the discussions. Successful redevelopment on the scale and speed that I would like to see will require the fullest possible cooperation between all these bodies; it will particularly need the encouragement and enthusiastic support of the Cardiff city council and the South Glamorgan county council. The whole thing will require sensitive planning and, if the project is to succeed, will depend on a series of developments following one after the other, each one encouraging others to follow. As the local authorities have a central role, I am asking them to consider what I am now suggesting and to pursue discussions with ABP and potential developers. I very much hope that they will, as a matter of priority, bring forward some outline proposals so that we can consider them together before the summer.
While I can at this stage make no specific commitments, I have made it clear that I will consider sympathetically for inclusion in any future UDG programme any project which commands the support of the local and planning authorities, which attracts investment by the private sector, and which offers a good prospect of viability.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
I do not want the position to be misunderstood in any way. I welcome what UDG can achieve. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are about to introduce a special Bill, which will be passed through the House rapidly, to ensure that they have the proper legal basis upon which to dispense the public money that has been dispensed over the past few years?
§ Mr. Edwards
Some local authorities have raised the question of legal provisions. The Government have been considering those representations, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will make a statement about the matter in the near future.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
What the Minister has said this afternoon is of great significance and importance. As he knows, south Glamorgan and the Cardiff city council have already begun to consider seriously how they can implement the proposals. I am sure that all Cardiff hon. Members, and certainly myself, will do their best to ensure that there is maximum co-operation between all the areas involved.
The Minister will be aware, as we all are, that the British Transport Docks Board was extremely miserly in 1175 hoarding its land for far too long. Has he any assurance from the new body that it will behave reasonably and will let us have the land at a reasonable price?
§ Mr. Edwards
It was because I was anxious about this matter, and because I realised the crucial importance of resolving it, that I invited Mr. Stuart to meet me and, subsequently, asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to have detailed discussions with senior management. Everything that was said at the meetings encourages me to believe that we could go ahead in the way that I am sure both the right hon. Gentleman and I should like. I am grateful for what he has said.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
Does the statement by Associated British Ports constitute a definite change of policy? As my hon. Friend is aware, there is a great deal of former British Transport Docks Board land in Barry that the board has refused to release in previous years. Will it inure to the benefit of Cardiff, Newport, Swansea, Barry and all the other ports?
§ Mr. Edwards
Associated British Ports has reasonably and rightly said that large dockland development involves the use of a great deal of land for storage and other purposes. It does not want to inhibit its future ability to attract industrial development. However, in the discussions that I and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary have held, Associated British Ports has shown that it appreciates fully that there are many ways in which the best use could be made of the land, and that it is in the company's interest that it has a thriving and prosperous city around the docks. I am sure that that must be true in Barry as elsewhere. The company will therefore look sympathetically at any development that will improve the area's general prosperity and is therefore likely to inure to the company's benefit.
I have laid particular emphasis on these major schemes in Swansea and south Cardiff. Already in Swansea, there are further projects being prepared and under consideration which will build on the announcements that I have made this afternoon. I believe that the empty land and dereliction in the middle of our two greatest cities remain a blot which we should not be prepared to accept. It must also be right that we press on with the use of this available land in preference to taking more land from agriculture. However, I would, in conclusion, emphasise that my interest in urban renovation and in the involvement of the private sector is not in any way confined to Swansea and Cardiff. I hope the projects that I have announced today will be the forerunners of many other worthwhile developments in urban areas throughout Wales, increasingly supported and funded by private capital, which will not just remove the scars of the past but lay the foundations for a new prosperity.
§ Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda)
The Secretary of State made a remarkable speech. We shall now have to scurry to the Library to read the details of the schemes that he has announced. I do not want to disparage them. I should like to comment on his choice of Rhondda, Arfon and Anglesey as vanguard areas. I am sure that I am speaking for Arfon and Anglesey as well as for Rhondda in giving him my assurance that he will receive from those areas the co-operation on which the success of the schemes will depend.
1176 I was fascinated by the proposed developments al Swansea and Cardiff, using urban development grants, and by what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about flats in Rhondda being financed by a similar method. I was genuinely pleased that he had decided to continue support for women's aid organisations, althought it is on only a two-year tapering off period. Those organisations are well worthy of our support.
As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech I became more convinced that this Welsh day debate was likely to be the last one before the general election. His speech was like an election prospectus, with all the goodies at the front—
§ Mr. Jones
It is a good prospectus, but it is probably as false as the last one. However, none of the difficulties was in sight. All the difficulties and problems were kept away from view. If this is to be the last debate on Welsh affairs of this Parliament, the speech to which we have listened is an end-of-term report on the activities of the Secretary of State and his two parliamentary colleagues.
When I was a practising teacher I frequently had to write comments on end-of-term reports. I wondered what comments I would put on the report of the hon Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts). I carte to the conclusion that it would most suitably read, "Could have done better. Must pay more attention." In the report that I would draw up for the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts), my comment would be, "Must try a little harder. Should concentrate on his weaker subjects." In all honesty, it is much more difficult to be as generous to the Secretary of State. His end-of-term report would have to be labelled, "A total failure. Has not even tried."
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
But he has just received the warm congratulations of a number of hon. Members for what he has announced.
§ Mr. Jones
If the right hon. Gentleman will announce similar programmes every day, he will only be scratching at the problems in Wales and many of the problems of his own creation.
At the last election, the right hon. Gentleman in his election address to his people in Pembrokeshire said that he felt that the moment was coming whenI can do something effective for Wales and for Pembrokeshire.The right hon. Gentleman has had an effect on Pembrokeshire—a devastating effect. Unemployment has risen from 2,558 in June 1979 to 7,577 in January 1983. The dole queue is three times longer than it was when the Conservative Government took office. No part of Wales has been spared from his efforts. He has beer equally effective, or ineffective, in all parts of Wales. Even according to the Government's fiddled figures, unemployment is high. The Secretary of State did not mention that there are 180,000 in the dole queue—one in six or our people.
§ Mr. Jones
Indeed, not a word.
In eight of our travel-to-work areas unemployment is over 20 per cent. In 16 the unemployment figures are above the Welsh average. Despite what the Secretary of State announced today, many of those areas will be completely excluded from what he had to offer. However, I suppose that the unemployment figures are in accord with 1177 the election address published by the hon. Member for Conway. His election address stated in bold letters, "More jobs—lower taxes." I doubt very much whether the hon. Gentleman would want to be so bold today.
§ Mr. Jones
The hon. Gentleman apologised to me for his absence. He has to attend a Cabinet Committee meeting. I am sure that he will be sorry that he has missed what I shall say about him.
With regard to lower taxes, I shall take an example of a married couple with two children. If the earnings are three quarters of the national average, the family's tax bill has risen by 17 per cent. since 1978–79. If the same family was on national average earnings, its tax bill has risen by 14½ per cent. On twice average earnings, the tax bill for the same family has increased by 9½ per cent. If the family happened to be on five times the national earnings, the tax bill will have been cut by 6½ per cent. Therefore, presumably that is what the hon. Gentleman meant. He meant tax cuts to be intended only for the wealthiest in Wales. The hon. Gentleman has just come into the Chamber. Croeso. I was referring to his election address, in which he promised more jobs and lower taxes. I was saying that unless one earned five times the national average, one was now paying more taxes. I was saying that what the hon. Gentleman had in mind in his election address was that tax concessions were intended only for the wealthiest in Wales.
I do not know how many people are on five times the national average in Conway or Wales. One thing is certain. I guarantee that there is not one person in Rhondda earning that much. With the general election coming up, which is obviously having the effect of concentrating the mind wonderfully, come 15 March the Chancellor of the Exchequer will proceed to oil the machine prior to issuing another false prospectus for the general election.
I do not want to be unnecessarily unkind to the hon. Member for Conway. For the sake of greater accuracy I obtained a copy of his election address, which reads:Every Conservative Government since the war has left office with more people at work than when it started.The Secretary of State for Wales will have the rare distinction of being the man to break that record. We should put the record straight. When the Labour Government left office in 1979, 30,000 more people were at work than when we took office. Under this Secretary of State, at least 145,000 fewer people are in work than when he took office.
That is the remarkably effective contribution that the Secretary of State has sought to make today. It is no wonder that the feeling is growing that the Welsh Office under him is more concerned with foisting Government solutions on Wales than with fighting for Welsh interests. There have been massive increases in unemployment, which has risen by more than 100,000 in Wales and massive decreases in the numbers of work. We have lost more jobs than were created by regional policies in more than 20 years. That has been coupled with a fall in the level of the index of industrial production for Wales from 108.2 in the first quarter of 1979 to 93.7 in the third quarter of 1982. Despite all that, the Secretary of State has acquiesced throughout his period of office in policies that have compounded our problems in Wales.
1178 Last Monday we had some exchanges about the Welsh Development Agency, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will readily acknowledge that, from its uneasy birth, through its somewhat struggling adolescence, and even through to its more robust manhood, I have supported and still support the WDA. Nevertheless, as I said on Monday, I was more than marginally disturbed to see the HTV programme on the subject of the agency last week. The allegation was made on the programme that 40 per cent. of its factories were empty and that it created only about 5,000 jobs. In my view, the WDA made a grave error of judgment in refusing to be represented on the programme, because it could have set the facts right. The Secretary of State confirmed this afternoon that only 15 per cent. of its factories were empty, and I understand that the WDA claims that it has created 13,000 jobs. Unfortunately, the programme was seen by thousands of people in Wales. The considerable difference between the figures demonstrates the need for an explanation of the true, up-to-date picture of the agency.
I do not blame the agency for many of the problems that beset it. The agency is only an instrument of the Government. It can succeed or fail only in so far as the Government's general economic policies succeed or fail. Earlier the Secretary of State repeated what he said on Monday, that 1.6 million sq ft of factory space had been allocated and let in 1981, and nearly 2 million sq ft last year. I do not dispute those figures, but I should like to know whether they are net figures. Do they take into account the factories that were let in 1981—and possibly last year—which have since closed for a variety of reasons? From my knowledge of my constituency of Rhondda, a factory at Wattstown, Automotive Engineering, and a factory at Ferndale, Webb, Son and Company, were built and taken over in the past two years, but they are no longer occupied by those firms. So we need a clearer understanding of the use of the words lettings, take-ups, and so on.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
May I give a current example of the misleading nature of the statistics which the Secretary of State used in giving just the gross lettings and ignoring those that have lost their tenants? Dragon Computers, which no doubt will be quoted as a successful WDA letting, moved to Kenfig to take a 60,000 sq ft factory, but has left Swansea with inducements from the Welsh Office and the WDA, leaving behind a factory of 70,000 sq ft. The net effect of that successful letting is that the WDA will now have 10,000 sq ft more on its book of empty factories than previously.
§ Mr. Jones
I thank my right hon. Friend for that information. If we are to assess the effectiveness of the agency and the range of regional policies, we must know more of the facts. If one looks at the reports of the agency, one finds that it is far from easy to understand which factories have been let and are still let, occupied and in production today. That is the key issue.
The Secretary of State said on Monday that he is shortly to meet the new chairman of the WDA to discuss its long-term strategy. I was therefore surprised to read the Western Mail's account, suggesting that that would lead to a major shake-up of the agency. Is the Secretary of State envisaging this major shake-up? I understood from him that he was not contemplating any change in guidelines, apart from the change in guidelines for derelict land, which were recently published.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
The right hon. Gentleman will sometimes have been surprised at headlines in the Western Mail. The reporter on that paper had no more information to go on than the statements that I made in the House. His interpretation was his alone, or that of his headline producer.
§ Mr. Jones
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because I confess that when I listened to the Secretary of State, and read the questions afterwards, I could not read into them this demand or hope for a major shake-up. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman meets the new chairman he will tell him what my right hon. Friend and I have said about factory take-ups by the WDA and assure him that Labour Members want a flourishing, active and more interventionist agency, and one that will tackle the most urgent problems in Wales.
If we want to measure the size of the problem and match it to what is being done in Wales, we could use—although not with 100 per cent. accuracy—the unemployment figures for the Welsh counties and compare them with the number of manufacturing jobs in the pipeline over the next three or four years. I realise that the figures are only for manufacturing and that there may be others. Over the next three to four years, in the county of Gwynedd there are 250 jobs in the pipeline in manufacturing industry, but already there are 14,000 unemployed. In Clywd, there are 3,500 jobs in the pipeline, but 26,000 unemployed. In Powys, there are 750 jobs in the pipeline and 4,000 unemployed. In Dyfed there are 350 jobs in the pipeline and 20,000 unemployed. In mid-Glamorgan, my own county, there are 2,100 jobs in the pipeline, but 34,000 unemployed. In west Glamorgan there are 1,000 jobs in the pipeline, and 28,000 unemployed. In south Glamorgan there are 950 jobs in the pipeline, and 25,000 unemployed. In Gwent there are 6,100 jobs in the pipeline, but 31,000 unemployed.
I suggest that that picture of Wales today is very different from the picture that was painted by the Secretary of State in his opening remarks. I accept that those figures are for manufacturing jobs, but, as we all know, the development of service industries has a vital role to play, particularly in certain parts of Wales. The Secretary of State said that in his view the present guidelines give the Welsh Development Agency sufficient flexibility in aiding service industries. I genuinely hope that when the Minister winds up the debate he will give us more details of how this flexibility is working and say to what extent aid can be given to service industries, both by the WDA and by the Development Board for Rural Wales.
We must also take into account the thousands of jobs in local authorities that have disappeared in the past year. The last Conservative election manifesto for Wales said:We shall seek to enlarge the responsibility of local authorities".That enlargement of responsibility, in practice, has left local authorities with the responsibility only of spending less and less, cutting more and more, and avoiding the nightmares associated with close-ending and holdback.
Let us consider what the Secretary of State has done for local authorities in the past four years. In each successive year the Government share of rate support grant has been reduced and the burden on the ratepayers increased. The right hon. Gentleman has nearly halved domestic rate relief, and that has added to the burden on the domestic ratepayers. He has virtually removed local authority 1180 representation from the Welsh water authority, which was the only democratic component in that authori:y. He has forced cuts in local authority staff of about 8,030. So we come, fortunately and thankfully, to the end of his four years, although their effect will last for a long time.
As a consequence of what the Secretary of State has done to local government, fewer houses were completed in Wales last year than in any year since 1947, and that is a pretty miserable level. Instead of taking advantage of falling school rolls to improve educational standards and the opportunities for young people, the number of teachers and lecturers in posts has been reduced by about 2,000. County council social services departments are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain, let alone improve, the services for increasing numbers of old, handicapped and disabled persons, now thankfully living longer, and for the increasing numbers of children now kept out of long-stay hospitals and living in the community. When we compare the need there and the way that it has been handled with the over-generous handouts to the wealthiest members of our society — five times the national average — it confirms that the Government motto must surely be that greed not need is their concern.
If this is an end-of-term report—and it is a miserable one—where on earth do we go from here? What would another term of office for the Government mean to Wales? What of our basic industries? That subject was dented this week and I do not propose to deal with it in detail. B at one thing is certain, and that is that investment in the South Wales coal industry has declined, particularly when one compares that with other coalfields in the United Kingdom. We discussed the liquefacation plant at Point of Ayr. If that is to continue at all, it will be on a much reduced scale. Welsh miners and their families can have no assurance from the Government about their industry.
Steel imports are flooding in—67 per cent. from the EC. After suffering a 50 per cent. reduction in its work force, can BSC in Wales give any guarantee to its present work force? Last Monday the Secretary of State confirmed that unemployment in Newport—one of our major steel towns—was 18.8 per cent. He told my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) that Newport in Gwent was an area for which he had many exciting projects in mind, and I hope that he has. But the following day British Alcan announced 350 redundancies at Rogerstone. That is the background for the future.
The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) gave certain assurances about the Serpell report even before the House debated it. Option A has been rejected, but that is not sufficient for Wales, where most of the other options are equally offensive. It is not good enough to say that we must wait until after the election before we know which of those other options will be implemented. I must tell the Secretary of State—fortunately he will not be here to worry about it—that when the Serpell and other reports say that railway lines can be withdrawn because they can always be replaced by bus services, our experience is that that just is not true. Bus services are seldom reliable and seldom last any length of time. People in south Wales were conned some years ago to accept closures by the promise of adequate bus services, but not one of those bus services is still in existence.
In many parts of Wales people are concerned about the future of telecommunications. After the general election the Government propose to sell off 51 per cent. of British Telecom. Last year British Telecom, in its service to 1181 telephone users in Wales and the Marches—which still strikes me as an odd phrase—lost £20 million. If 51 per cent. of British Telecom is sold off, does anyone believe that a private company, the raison d'etre of which is to make a profit, is likely to continue that loss-making service which is so essential, particularly in remoter rural areas? Can the Secretary of State or any member of the Government guarantee that the existing public telephone service will continue to provide the essential means of communication, particularly in parts of rural Wales?
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the state of Georgia, which is by no means a rich state in American terms, the telephone service is incomparably better than anything in the United Kingdom and is run by a private company? The same is true in Canada where some areas are sparsely populated. The telephone service there is far superior to anything that we have here.
§ Mr. Wigley
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a Congressional Committee of the United States has been reviewing the effects of trends in United States telecommunications and that the cost for rural areas has escalated out of all proportion and it is a real worry whether services can be maintained?
§ Mr. Jones
That is the fear that has been expressed to me by people from rural Wales. If the sell-off takes place, either prices will rise and put the services out of people's reach, or the services will be cut off. I am not an expert on American affairs. I have enough trouble looking after Welsh affairs.
About 98 per cent. of the people in Wales use the NHS and no other health service. As far as they are concerned it is the only health service and that is why we are rightly anxious about its future. There were some flurries in the dovecote a few months ago and the Prime Minister gave the assurance that the NHS was safe in the Government's hands. I am not so sure now about in whose hands the NHS is or will be.
I have here the minutes of an inaugural meeting of the All-Wales management efficiency group, held at Preswylfa, Mold, on Thursday 7 October 1982 at 11 am. The chairman is the chairman of the Clwyd health authority, appointed by the Secretary of State. The group consists of three officers from the west Glamorgan health authority, one officer from the Clwyd health authority and three civil servants. Who appointed those people and to whom will they be responsible? Are their reports to be published so that we can all know what they are proposing to do? That group has already agreed that the current membership should remain for a period of two years—that is looking after themselves.
There then appears a very interesting phrase:Members favoured a radical approach to their tasks.I am not sure what that means, but when one turns the page one sees that the sort of tasks that are considered are land disposal, privatisation of the Welsh health technical services organisation, privatisation of laundry services— 1182 [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—privatisation of cleaning services—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and the privatisation of catering services—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Those are political matters and ought not to be discussed in some secret group in which civil servants are expected to play a role. Those are areas into which civil servants do not fit easily. I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will draw aside the veil of secrecy surrounding that group so that we may all know the Government's plans for the NHS in Wales.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
My right hon. Friend referred to an inaugural meeting. Who inaugurated the meeting? Why is it that some of the large health authorities which have chairmen of a different political persuasion may not have been invited to the meeting? It was not just a secret meeting. It seems to be a small political caucus.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
I should like to put the right hon. Gentleman quickly out of his misery. This is one of a number of groups appointed by the chairmen to report back to the chairmen and then to submit their reports— [HON. MEMBERS: "Which chairmen?"] — the chairmen of the health authorities — for consideration by the health authorities. It will be, as it always is, for health authorities to take decisions about what they do in their individual areas.
§ Mr. Jones
I wish to press the Secretary of State further on this matter. Is he now saying that it was Mr. E. M. W. Griffith, the chairman of Clwyd health authority, who decided to gather these people together, who picked them himself and then set about a programme of activities without any reference to the Secretary of State for Wales, who is responsible for health matters in Wales? Does that mean that any area health authority chairman can set up his own private committee? We could have the chairman of the mid-Glamorgan area health authority setting up his own investigation into whether we should close all private hospitals in Wales and remove all pay beds. Would that be acceptable to the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. Edwards
The chairmen of the health authorities in Wales appoint their own committees and appointed these committees. They were not appointed by me. They have a number of working parties which are reporting on a number of aspects of the Health Service. Their reports, when considered by the chairmen collectively, are then considered by individual health authorities. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is nothing obscure or secret about it. They are not appointed or selected by me.
§ Mr. Jones
I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment. I hope that the House will not blame me for taking up too much time, but I have had many interventions in my speech.
My hon. Friends are keen to have an answer on this matter, and presumably the Secretary of State is receiving an answer now. If everything is as innocent as the Secretary of State says, where did the three civil servants on the committee, out of the eight members, including the chairman, come from? Were they self-elected? Did the 1183 civil servants decide to join the committee? How did they get on to the committee? Will the Secretary of State allow his civil servants to sit on any such committee set up by any chairman to discuss any subject that they might think suitable?
§ Mr. Edwards
The meetings of the chairmen on this and a whole range of other issues concerning the management of the Health Service are attended by officials of my Department. I imagine that meetings of health authorities were attended by members of the Department under my predecessor. The arrangements under my predecessor were that there were carefully structured meetings every month, chaired by a Welsh Office Minister. Now the chairmen frequently meet to discuss their plans collectively. Officials sit in on these meetings. Minutes are circulated generally and there is nothing secret about them. The operating decisions on the ground are taken by the health authorities, which consider the reports and recommendations put to them.
§ Mr. Jones
The right hon. Gentleman is missing the point. It is not a meeting of an area health authority. This is a hybrid or mongrel organisation consisting of members from various health authorities, with three Welsh Office civil servants who are not just sitting there taking notes. Welsh Office colleagues were asked to regard themselves as equal members, taking a full part in the development of projects and working groups. That is not an appropriate role for civil servants to play, especially when one takes into account the high political content of some of the subjects that we have discussed.
I wish now to move away from health, having stirred up that debate.
We referred to jobcentres in a debate in the Welsh Grand Committee some time ago. Some decisions have now been made and announced, but only some. The Government have decided to close four jobcentres in Wales, at Bethesda, Dolgellau, Glyn-neath and Llandovery, and to cut back the hours of opening at two others, at Beaumaris and Penygroes. The future of the two being cut back, as well as 11 others, is to be reviewed again later this year. That means that the threat of closure has not been lifted from those 13 offices.
In addition, a further 16 offices are to be reviewed. The total number of jobcentres threatened in Wales is not four, as has been announced, but 33. Once again Wales is disproportionately affected. Although overall, throughout the country, 125 jobcentres are being reviewed, 26 per cent. are in Wales. More than one third of the jobcentres in Wales are under threat. The majority of them are in mid-Wales and north Wales, so the effect on those areas is the greater.
When those four jobcentres are closed, the cheapest return fare to the nearest alternative centre will be 77p. For the others, the return fare is more than £1. The unemployed in Dolgellau will have to pay £1.70, return, to visit the jobcentre at Barmouth. The Government do not realise that for the unemployed, particularly for the long-term unemployed, these fares are a major deterrent to their visiting a jobcentre, which is the only place which gives them a chance of a job.
Further blessings—or curses as I prefer to call them—are likely to lie in store as a result of discussions taking place at present. The closure of tax offices at Carmarthen, Merthyr, Neath, Rhyl, Pontypridd and 1184 Pontypool will cost about 400 jobs. In addition there will be a far inferior service for those already bedevilled with income tax problems. There are threats to the Property Services Agency, with proposed closures of offices at Cardiff, Haverfordwest and Colwyn, with the loss of 160 jobs. If the Government proceed to scrap th.:, present regional set-up, with a headquarters at Cardiff, a further 200 jobs could go.
Many of those matters are now being discussed, but the Secretary of State was extremely coy about taking us into his confidence. If they are only fears which can be dispelled, I am sure that the Minister, when he replies to the debate, will guarantee that our fears are completely unreal.
The major problem facing us in Wales today is the level of unemployment, despite the fact that that issue was completely neglected by the Secretary of State. The problem is not only of unemployment, but of the length of time that many of our people have been unemployed. Many of them see no hope or prospect for the future. That is a dreadful indictment of any Government.
I sometimes feel that we talk in large numbers—180,000 unemployed, 17.4 per cent. unemployed, or one in six unemployed—and that sometimes we become hypnotised by the numbers into forgetting that behind them there are human beings and that underneath it all lies a deep human tragedy.
Last week I spoke to a young 18-year-old man from my constituency, Darryn Walker. Apart from being on one youth opportunities scheme, he has not worked since he left school. The Government have failed to channel their energies into dealing with that sort of problem. Because the Secretary of State has failed not only Darryn Walker, but many thousands like him, he has failed Wales and stands condemned as the most ineffective Secretary of State that Wales has ever had the misfortune to know.
§ 6 pm
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
The right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) made a quite legitimate party speech and we should not complain about that.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
I am not sure that it was all that good. He appeared to think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues in the Welsh Office should work independently of world events and that they should be able to work quite efficiently with complete disregard for what is happening in Europe and in isolation even from the rest of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that, no matter how bad things are in the rest of the world or in the United Kingdom, an efficient Secretary of State can succeed in isolation and proceed just as effectively as when Europe, the United Kingdom and the whole world were prosperous. That is a remarkable point of view. Fortunately, the right hon. Gentleman has not been a Secretary of State. If he had been, he might not have spoken in those terms.
§ Mr. Hooson
Does not my hon. Friend agree that within the last week both Germany and Belgium have announced record unemployment figures, reaching, in the case of Germany, 2.5 million?
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Another thing that amazed me was that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues seemed to think, although they regarded such issues with 1185 among the Conservative party and presumably among other parties. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that all of us are profoundly concerned about unemployment. During Welsh Question Time last Monday I referred to it as the "evil" of unemployment. It certainly is an evil. We must check it and then eradicate it as soon as we can. That is no easy task, although the right hon. Gentleman gave the impression that it could be done quite easily by a change of policy.
In all changing and progressive industrial societies some people will be unemployed. If new industries emerge and others disappear, that is concomitant with a progressive industrial society. However, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, Welsh unemployment now stands at over 180,000 and is higher than 17 per cent. It is infinitely worse than might be expected of such a society and it is, of course, serious. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recall that in all countries with such problems, opposition parties tend to put all the blame on the incumbent Government. That was probably the reason for the defeat of Giscard d'Estaing in France and probably one of the chief reasons for the fall of Helmut Schmidt's Government in Germany. In every such country, the incumbent Government take the blame. Irish history suggests that even if a Government have been in office for only a few weeks, they get the blame.
That excessive unemployment is not a purely Welsh phenomenon and not solely a Welsh or even British disease is shown by the OECD figures for standard unemployment at the beginning of 1983. I hope that the right hon. Member for Rhondda will take account of the fact that unemployment in the United Kingdom is 3,224,000 or 13.8 per cent. and in Wales, 180,664 or 17.5 per cent. In Holland, which is a small country, unemployment is 644,200—a percentage, admittedly lower than in the United Kingdom, of 12 per cent. However, it is only 1.7 per cent. lower than in the United Kingdom.
In the United States of America, which is a large federal country, unemployment stands at 11,400,000 or 10.4 per cent., which is again a very high figure. In Ireland, which is a very small country, unemployment stands at 179,900, or 14.7 per cent. In a centralised country such as France, unemployment stands at 2,131,400, which again is nearly 10 per cent. Even West Germany, which has been so successful since the last war, has 2,223,300 people unemployed or 8.4 per cent. That is a lower percentage, but it takes little account of the many thousands, or—I believe—millions of guest workers, many of whom have been repatriated.
The world recession affects the industrial West and the countries of the Third world, and has had serious repercussions on the Communist countries of eastern Europe. The paramount need is for urgent international co-operation and action at the earliest possible date. Can we hope for that after the economic summit to be held in Williamsburg, in the United States of America, in May this year? Previous summits have been very disappointing. Their results have not been what the world sought. However, the international community cannot long afford failure and certainly cannot afford it this time. I fear that protectionism, which has been advocated by some siren voices from the Opposition, cannot provide a cure for the problems of the industrial West, or of any other part of the 1186 world. The economic summit must surely find remedies for fluctuating exchange rates and must seek some liberalisation of trade.
I do not wish to overstate the case, but I thought that there was something brighter and more hopeful in the latest CBI survey. It gives some ground for cautious encouragement. It reports that Welsh firms expect increasing orders, some rise in exports and more expenditure on plant and machinery in the months ahead. It also reports that slightly fewer firms in Wales now appear to be working below capacity. I would not overstate that, but it shows that at least there is some silver lining.
Despite what has been said in criticism—I am not sure to what extent the right hon. Member for Rhondda was criticising the Welsh Development Agency—I praise, once again, the exertions of the WDA and of the industrial department of the Welsh office. I should also like to extoll what has been done for many years, under somewhat difficult conditions by the Development Corporation of Wales, which is to be replaced by a new body. I am sure that all hon. Members hope that that new body—announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—will take over successfully the task of bringing inward investment into the Principality. Generally, I approve of the priority that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gives to improving the infrastructure. In that context, communications seem to demand a high ranking. Many of us were no doubt encouraged by what my right hon. Friend said about the M4 and the north Wales coastal expressway. As soon as those projects are nearing completion, I hope that further consideration will be given to speeding up the northward extension of the Cardiff to Abercynon road. My right hon. Friend announced some slight extension today—[Interruption.] Perhaps it was considerable, but I hope that we shall soon hear that it is to be extended into Merthyr and beyond. That is very important. Those hon. Members who represent valley communities will no doubt agree that the northward extension of that road is vital.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
It is indeed vital. Perhaps my hon. Friend is not aware that the work has actually started and that we are pressing on with this important project with all speed.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
I am very pleased to hear that.
My right hon. Friend referred to certain bypasses. This should be regarded as a vital matter in the months ahead as they are very necessary in some places which have not yet even been considered.
I should like to make a special plea to my right hon. Friend about the proposal of Welsh-Irish Ferries Ltd. to institute a new freight-only ferry service between Barry dock and Cork. The promoters have been reassured by a feasibility study and have applied to the Welsh Office and to the WDA for support and grants, since when I have been in correspondence with my right hon. Friend and with the WDA. I was informed this morning that a grant had been approved by the Secretary of State, though which Secretary of State was not specified. I assume it must be my right hon. Friend. This is encouraging. I hope that both the Welsh Office and the WDA will do all they can to support this venture A new project of this kind will need all available help. It could not have been contemplated earlier. It was not 1187 pressed with any optimism until it became clear that the ferry service between Pembrokeshire and Ireland could not survive. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the docks at Barry and local industry have suffered in recent years. This new ferry service will be a useful addition to the Mr. Anderson: Does the hon. Member not agree that one must be a little wary of this proposal since B and I first had public funds to locate at Swansea for the ferryport there for the Swansea-Cork ferry? It then moved to Pembroke for the same route, obtaining at that time at least £4 million of public money from European funds for the venture. Anyone who is concerned about the public purse, therefore, must be pretty wary about additional public funds for this new project.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
Perhaps I can tell my hon. Friend that the major B and I service at Pembroke to Rosslare continues. It is only one particular service to Cork which has been discontinued. Clearly, he has not received the letter I have written to him, confirming that a grant has been given to the new service. I wish it well but it will be operating over an extended sea route and it will obviously have to strive very hard to achieve the viability to which the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) has referred.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that information. I accept the hon. Gentleman's statement that we need to exercise care in matters of this kind. Nevertheless, it is a fact that there was originally a service between Ireland and Barry which ran quite successfully for some years. it was only the difficulties at the beginning of the economic recession which helped to bring about its failure.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to anxiety in Wales about the railways. I quite understand the importance of that. I fully appreciate that the report merely posed certain alternatives and diagnosed the respective consequences. I put it to my right hon. Friend, however, that a lack of information about our reaction to this report could be the foundation for exaggerated fears and sometimes exaggerated suggestions. There is a need for a clearer statement about this in the near future—not, of course, from my right hon. Friend but, I hope, from a Minister. I would certainly wish one of the suggestions to be rejected out of hand, that which involved reductions in maintenance and safety, which I regard as completely unacceptable.
I acknowledge that the problems of meeting the industrial needs of Wales against a background of world difficulty are extremely hard. Nevertheless, there are hopeful signs. One of the most significant is that, although Wales has suffered badly, it has not suffered quite as badly as parts of the United Kingdom which were formerly much more prosperous than Wales. For example, even the very prosperous industrial west midlands now has unemployment figures comparable with those in the Principality. Thus, our recession, based on a much worse foundation, has not gone as far as that in some more prosperous parts of the country.
The second encouraging feature, already referred to by my right hon. Friend, is the readiness of numerous companies to come to Wales from many parts of the world and other parts of the United Kingdom, and the continued 1188 diversification of our industry. We cannot deny that we have suffered heavily from the decline of the old traditional industries but in the long term it is preferable that we diversify. I would not wish to see merely a rebuilding of the old industries without our industrial scope as a whole being considerably enlarged.
I do not, therefore, believe that the final words of the right hon. Member for Rhondda were at all justified, when he said that the present Administration had been completely unsuccessful in Welsh terms. Set against the background of what has been happening in the world at large, it is remarkable how well the problem in Wales has been contained, despite the very serious problems of one or two major industries.
There are still hopeful signs. I do not believe we should be completely despondent. There are difficulties ahead, but they should not be regarded as insurmountable.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
We have heard a remarkable speech this afternoon from the Secretary of State. I have heard of people turning the other cheek before they are attacked but he has managed to do a juggling trick, turning both cheeks at one and the same time. To make a speech on Welsh day, which is traditionally regarded as a "state of the nation" speech for Wales, and to make not one mention of the tragedy and misery of unemployment is remarkable. There were, of course, passing references to it, but it should have been the cardinal part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. To ignore the reality of life in the Principality was remarkable.
It was also a conciliatory speech. The right hon. Gentleman praised all that had been done before him. I was blushing from the praise accorded to roads, hospitals, factory buildings, the Development Board for Rural Wales, the WDA and all the good work which had been carried out. Good for him, but much more is needed. Let me not be misinterpreted, however. I very much welcome what he announced for Swansea and Cardiff. I have lived and practised in Swansea and over the last 25 years have spent a great deal of time in Cardiff and I happen to know a little of the real needs of the urban areas of those two cities. What the right hon. Gentleman announced will be very welcome indeed but it will meet only a fractio of the needs of Wales. If that is all the Secretary of State has to offer, in what will go down as a two-hotel speech, A is not enough, not half enough, not a quarter enough, for the real problems in Wales today.
There is only one thing more painful than re-reacting one's own speeches, and that is reading those of one's opponents. I have gone to the trouble of reading again the first speech made by the Secretary of State after he took office. It makes miserable reading. It must make particularly miserable reading for the Secretary of State himself. What has the right hon. Gentleman to show for his four years of steering the ship of state in Wales? In what sphere can he claim that he has been successful? The right hon. Gentleman must be the most miserable man in Wales as he looks back upon those wasted years.
Soon, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will be approaching the electors of Wales, and they will have to account for their stewardship. For a time after taking office, they were able to blame their predecessors. When that began to pall, all that remained was world conditions. According to the Government, they are never wrong They 1189 have carried out the tenets of their mistress that "there is no alternative". Like the words of the national anthem of west Wales, Dai bach y sowldiwr, their view is that they have always been in step. Everyone else has been out of step.
In every field of endeavour, except one, the Government have fallen flat on their faces. The Secretary of State pins to his chest the proud badge of increased lettings of factories built by the WDA despite the recession. That is good. It is a proud record, about which the right hon. Gentleman is right to feel pleased. He was right to commend the previous Labour Government who were set on a rising course of buildings in preparation, of land acquisition and of a land bank. During our period of office, lettings were breaking records year after year. That progress has been maintained and improved. I commend the Secretary of State. I am pleased that, in a period of adversity, the level of activity has been maintained.
I must return, however, to the question that I posed last year. How many new jobs have come to Wales from WDA factories since 1979? Indeed, how many new jobs have come from anywhere? We hear about jobs in the pipeline. How many actually materialise on the ground? It is jobs that count. In an outstanding speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) recounted the scale of unemployment in each area. My right hon. Friend accorded unemployment the wide priority that the Secretary of State did not. In the Port Talbot travel-to-work area, over 8,000 people have been unemployed for more than six months.
Over three years ago, £48 million was given to the steel areas and Cwmbran. I have tried over the months to discover how many jobs have resulted from this injection of money. According to a reply by the Under-Secretary of State on 22 November, 550 jobs had materialised in the Port Talbot travel-to-work area and 600 in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes). I pressed the matter further. On 13 December, the Secretary of State said that the 550 consisted of 390 in Bridgend and 160 in Port Talbot. Those are the figures—a total of 550 jobs to meet the needs of over 8,000 people who are unemployed in the area.
That is the scale of the misery which the Secretary of State failed to appreciate or to accord priority to in his speech. From the fastness of his London office, he does not understand what is happening in Wales. Fortress Falklands may be the policy internationally for the Prime Minister. Fortress Gwydyr House, with the Secretary of State shutting his eyes to the reality of what is happening in Wales and almost totally ignoring the problem in his speech today, is an insult to every elector and citizen in Wales. I have tried to obtain in my area an increased build from the WDA above the mere nine factories at Baglan. The Secretary of State is right in saying that the provision over a wider area has to be taken into account. On that basis, however, one has to take account of unemployment in the Neath and Swansea travel-to-work areas. The miserable provisioning by the Govenment can never hope to meet the needs.
I am sorry to say that there is little hope for my area so long as present policies are continued. Can the Secretary of State, in his quieter moments, as he looks at each area, 1190 say honestly when he expects unemployment to come down? No one can make that prediction so long as the Government continue on their present course.
I wish to deal now with an area where there is hope. I was glad to hear from the Secretary of State for Industry on December 20 that the Government were discussing the importance of a new hot strip mill at Port Talbot. A few days previously, effusive congratulations had appeared in the Western Mail on the Secretary of State's great victory. Even the poor Secretary of State had to be congratulated on something. The right hon. Gentleman had obviously been trailing his coat to the media a few days before the announcement. Despite the words of the Secretary of State for Industry, we are still awaiting a firm decision.
The truth is that we cannot decide the matter for ourselves. It has to be discussed within the European Community. The project, I understand, needs the Community's approval. The deadline, I believe, runs out next week. Is it a good omen or a bad omen for Port Talbot that all this time is being taken to decide whether the project should go ahead?
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry made it clear that he would announce this decision with others on the corporate plan. My right hon. Friend hopes to announce those decisions on the corporate plan before the Easter recess.
§ Mr. Morris
I am glad to have that assurance. The right hon. Gentleman should know that a great deal of work has been done in Port Talbot to plan for the project. Months have been lost. The delay removes hope from people in my area. I hope that the delay is not an adverse omen of the EC's attitude.
In the Secretary of State's first speech after taking office he stated that there was too much interference by the Welsh Office in local government, and that he would reduce the number of circulars. He may have done so. I warned him at the time that it was resources, not circulars, that local authorities were concerned about. The right hon. Gentleman has throttled local government in Wales. He has taken the word "local" out of local government. This has been the most centralised Government of all time.
In his first speech, the Secretary of State said that when he opened his brief on the Sunday morning he saw that he had inherited massive problems. One of the problems was an unemployment figure of 83,000. That is, of course, far too high, but Wales would be happy indeed if the figure was still 83,000 and not 180,000. The figure of 83,000 was a reduction from a previous level of 101,000. More people then were actually employed in Wales than at any time in our history. Since the right hon. Gentleman has taken office, unemployment has doubled and the numbers in work have gone down substantially.
The Secretary of State went on to say that he recognised the importance of coal and that he was going to make an early visit to the coalfields. How many pits has he visited since he took office? What does he know of the problems of the industry? My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) asked him how many factories, how many service industries and how many extracting industries he had visited. The Secretary of State was very coy in his 1191 reply, and said that he had been to a large number of industrial premises, industrial estates and service industries, but said no word about the extracting industries. Where is this visit to the coalfield? Has he been to see the fears and the needs of the coal industry?
The Secretary of State went on to say that the first priority of the Government was to revive the economy, to stimulate enterprise and job creation, and to encourage small firms. Where has the economy been stimulated? Where is the job creation? Where is the revival and stimulation of enterprise? How exactly have small firms, that have increasingly gone bankrupt all over Wales, been helped?
The Secretary of State said that housing was important to Wales. All I can say is that he qualifies for the booby prize for house building. As an arch-monetarist—we recall the speeches that the Secretary of State made in the early days of the Government from one end of Pembrokeshire to another—and a chief Government apologist in Wales, he must feel pretty sick at the desolation he now sees from one end of Wales to the other.
I quote a translation of one of our most eminent dramatists:My country of Wales is a vineyardGiven into my safe keepingTo be handed down to my children and my children's children As an inheritance for all time.What an inheritance․ What animal-like devastation has taken place from Anglesey to Gwent. Can the Secretary of State or any of his colleagues be proud of what they have done to Wales, my country, in the past few years?
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)
We are all well aware that there is an election pending within the next 12 or 18 months, but we know, too, that in Wales over 180,000 people are unemployed. Although the Secretary of State has made promises today—I must confess that his presentation was good—I fear that in 12 months' time over 200,000 will be out of work.
The old saying is that there is none so deaf as he who will not hear. All along, the Government have been deaf to the advice of those who have the best interests of Wales at heart. They have ignored valuable advice on how the problems could be alleviated. Instead, the same platitudes are heard repeatedly, while the recession deepens and the unemployment figures rise. Many of our constituents ask us, as their Members of Parliament, "Will my job be the next to go?" Thousands in Wales are afraid that their jobs will be next.
However, perhaps today the Government will come to terms with the problems and take the advice offered to them. We can only hope. Plenty of advice has and will be given today, and I shall make my contribution. I hope that the Secretary of State and others will heed my advice.
It is recognised that one of our greatest problems today, and what causes most fear among the electorate, is unemployment. It has been created by the disintegration of our basic industries, followed in turn by failure of businesses large and small. This has created a climate of fear that eats into the very fabric of our society.
I wish to concentrate largely on my constituency of Cardigan, which is in many ways typical of the rural constituencies and where, although there has never been any heavy industry, none the less the tourist trade and small businesses have suffered as a result of the depression that affects the rest of the country.
1192 The Secretary of State is well aware of the depressing state of affairs that prevails in places such as the vale of Teifi, where unemployment is extremely high, and there seems to be no relief in sight unless the Government take positive steps to tackle the problem.
My party and the alliance believe that one way to attack unemployment is to use the available work force to improve communications by road and rail and to improve facilities at all levels. By this means we can attract further industry into the area to take advantage of the advance factories set up under the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Welsh Development Agency.
The Secretary of State referred to the road improvement schemes to be carried out within the next five years. Perhaps he forgot, or perhaps the Under-Secretary will clarify, the position of the Cardigan bypass. When will the bypass be started and what improvements will be made to the bypass already at Aberystwyth? I hope that the Secretary of State will give us some information on this important issue later.
Instead of this kind of investment, however, we have been horrified to learn of the Serpell proposals, which I trust the Secretary of State will reject out of hand. The Government who accept these proposals will commit political suicide. Any further cuts in our rail service would add to the serious fears of people in our part of the world. They would threaten us with even greater isolation. I would much rather hear confirmation from the Secretary of State of a plan to extend the inter-city service from London to Shrewsbury through to Aberystwyth, with improved track and rolling stock provided. This would, I feel certain, bring great benefit to the area. Can the Under-Secretary tell us what are the latest developments on this scheme?
More money could well be spent on roads in, and leading to, west and mid-Wales. This again would help bring work to the area, while at the same time providing better facilities for industrial concerns. Wales as a whole would derive great benefit from a trunk road between Wrexham, Deeside and Cardiff, running through mid-Wales.
A great deal remains to be done in improving sewerage schemes in rural Wales. In my constituency alone, many communities are still without mains drainage. Another project that has hung fire in Ceredigion is the development of the second phase of the Bronglais hospital. This has been put back year after year to the detriment of the health service in this area. If my memory serves me right, Conservative Administrations in the 1960s and 1970s promised that the second phase of Bronglais hospital would be built within five years. That promise has not been kept. I trust that the Under-Secretary of State will have some good news to give the people of Aberystwyth tonight.
My constituents are worried about the policy that dictates the closure of small village schools. That policy is wrong. In many cases those schools provide the best possible education for the pupils and give them a start in life scarcely equalled elsewhere. The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) went to a small primary school in Aberffrwd. There were fewer than 10 pupils in those days. Since those days at Aberffrwd he has gone a long way. I am sure that he is indebted to that local school in Ceredigion.
§ Mr. John Morris
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but he has got the school wrong. I went to Capel Bangor.
§ Mr. Howells
I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman went to Aberffrwd for a period. The small schools should be allowed to remain. In addition, we should be looking towards developing better nursery education in every community and finding sufficient facilities and small buildings for them to be held.
There are two university colleges in Ceredigion. Apart from providing first-class education for students from all parts of Wales and the United Kingdom, they bring substantial revenue to the area and provide employment for local people. The part that they play in the community is of the utmost importance, and I am alarmed that Government policy may well affect them adversely. We have seen savage cuts in their budgets, and now we learn with trepidation of a loan scheme for students.
The University College of Wales was established with the pennies of working people throughout Wales. It has always been proud of its record of educating the sons and daughters of people from all walks of life, regardless of their ability to pay. It is feared that the loan scheme will deter many students from poor homes from venturing into an academic career. That, surely, would be a great loss to the nation as a whole.
I am most interested in the DBRW's latest scheme to encourage harbour developments in New Quay and Aberystwyth. I should be glad if the Minister could furnish me with further details as to when the scheme will start. Will local labour be employed, and what long-term benefits does he see arising from those developments? I congratulate the Development Board for Rural Wales on its far-sighted policy, and urge the Government to give it more financial assistance, if at all possible, because of the excellent work that it has done during the past few years.
§ Dr. Roger Thomas
Does the hon. Member realise that if the boundary commission recommendations come into effect, part of his new constituency will lie outside the remit of the Development Board for Rural Wales? How will he then be placed?
§ Mr. Howells
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas) said that the new proposals will affect my constituency. If he is saying that the Liberals will win the new seat of Ceredigion and North Pembroke, he has conceded defeat already.
I was very disappointed that neither the Secretary of State nor even the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones), mentioned agriculture. We must be fed whether we are employed or unemployed. Agriculture has done excellent work during the past two or three decades to feed the people of this country. It is one of the largest industries in my constituency.
I conclude by referring to this important aspect of rural life and economy. Agriculture, as we are all aware, has made great strides in recent years. Despite many faults in the system, it has prospered under the common agricultural policy. We are celebrating our tenth anniversary of membership this year. I hope that during canvassing for the next election hon. Members will urge the electorate that it is wiser for us to stay in Europe than to be outside. There is scope for improvement and revision 1194 in the common agricultural policy. I believe that it would be foolish to withdraw from the European Community at this stage.
My great disappointment with the Government's approach to Welsh agriculture has been their refusal to commit themselves to financial aid to marginal land, an injustice that has rankled with farmers for a long time. I hope that the Minister will come clean tonight and commit the Government to giving financial aid to hill farmers once the scheme and the proposals have returned from Brussels.
Pig producers are in dire trouble in Wales and in other parts of Britain. I should be pleased if the Minister could suggest to his counterparts in Europe, as he has the right to do, that deficiency payments schemes should be introduced for pig meat as we have them for beef and lamb.
The Government should give aid to new entrants to the industry. Extra financial aid should be given to local authorities and county councils to buy land to let to young farmers at a reasonable rent. I should like further capital grant schemes to be introduced, or farmers given the option to go for a capital grant scheme or cheap credit facilities. When the members of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs went to Brussels some time ago, we were told by the commissioners that if the Government wished, they could operate a capital grants scheme or give them the option of free credit facilities.
My right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal party—I am delighted that he is present—and all of us, have pressed for years for a land bank. Now all the political parties are calling for the setting up of such a bank. Will the Minister, in his wisdom, say when the Government intend to set up a land bank to help our young farmers?
After the next election the people of Wales may be governed by an alliance Government. Then the interests of Wales will be looked after and justice will prevail in the Principality.
§ Mr. Tom Hooson (Brecon and Radnor)
I was disappointed, although not surprised, by the inadequacy of the remarks on unemployment by both the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones), and the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), the previous Secretary of State. I make no complaint about discussing this vital human problem. It is correct that that subject should take more of the time of the House than any other. I find quite startling the intellectual inadequacy of the Opposition's attack on the subject.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) said that there was not a hint anywhere in the remarks from the Opposition that unemployment was anything but a local phenomenon produced in Wales by my right hon. Friend, or at least in Great Britain. There was no hint that West Germany is now within 10,000 of 2.5 million unemployed. Every major Western industrial nation is fighting figures that are very comparable to British levels. That is the first element of inadequacy. The second is the lack of a positive and coherent plan in all the negative dirges that we hear constantly from the Labour and alliance Benches.
The degree to which solutions are presented by the Labour party shows that Opposition Members are wise to avoid referring to positive proposals, because they are talking essentially about solutions that have already been attempted by previous Governments of both parties and 1195 that have been discredited. Under the previous Government, those efforts led to a doubling of unemployment in Wales from the 38,000 that they inherited to the 82,000 that the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) left when he fell from office in 1979. The Left of the Labour party—of course, there are two or three Labour parties, including those hon. Members who have abandoned ship—increasingly advocates protectionism, which will guarantee the production of poorer quality goods in an uncompetitive country whose problems were caused by the decline over decades in our ability to produce competitive goods. There is also the nostrum of withdrawal from the European Community. Amazingly, the Opposition Members who are most enthusiastic about withdrawal are those whose constituencies would be hit most catastrophically by the loss of access to the European market.
I remind the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) that the development of companies such at Mitel and those which produce microcomputers—the whole important area of electronic development—is wholly dependent upon access to the European Community market. My complaint is about the sheer inadequacy of the Labour party's attack, not the fact that the subject has been discussed.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes
Will the hon. Gentleman explain how a withdrawal from the Common Market would mean the loss of access to European countries? Does it mean that we need not import Volkswagens, Fiats, Renaults, butter and wine from those countries? Does he mean that they will no longer wish to sell those goods to us?
§ Mr. Hooson
I assure the hon. Gentleman that there would certainly be a major diminution in trade between Britain and western Europe if Britain were outside the Common Market. I need give only one example to emphasise that point. Within the Community there are many mischievious tendencies towards non-tariff barriers. It is obvious that those barriers would go up very quickly if Britain were not entitled to a place at the table.
§ Dr. Roger Thomas
Will the hon. Gentleman say where the words Timex, Dundee, Besancon and Fred Olsen fit into his equation?
§ Mr. Hooson
Many companies are in trouble in every part of Europe. I am willing to recite the disastrous figures that the French can give us. The hon. Gentleman accompanied me on a visit of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs when we discussed some of the French regional employment problems. At times, the pull of jobs is in one direction, but undoubtedly we have been net gainers from the European connection.
The fact that the world recession appears to be bottoming out has had a good effect[Interruption.] It would be helpful if hon. Members would wait until I have given my information. The OECD has taken an over-gloomy view of the world for some time, but it recently found new optimism. That optimism has been shown in newspaper reports during the past week and is based on several promising economic indicators. My hon. Friend the Member for Barry cited the fairly positive undertone to be found in the CBI survey published on 1 February. The director of the CBI in Wales, Mr. Kelsall, said:We can be cautiously optimistic as a result of this survey.The report shows that the industrial climate in Wales is better than in Britain generally. The volume of new 1196 business expected by Welsh firms is higher than the national figure, and firms in Wales can feel that they have better prospects for exporting than the picture that emerged nationally. There are some crumbs of hope, and one wishes that there had been at least a slight acknowledgement of that reality in the rather sad speeches of hon. Members of both Labour and the Liberal parties It has come as excellent news today that 32 factories will be established in nine locations in mid-Wales. I was delighted to hear that Ystradgynlais and Llandrindod Wells will house further factory development. A very useful innovation by the Government in recent weeks was the announcement of a 35 per cent. grant for the conversion of redundant buildings in rural areas for industrial use. I am convinced that a fair number of buildings can be converted into useful hives of activity, such as crafts and small factories. It is a very welcome development.
As the Member for a predominantly rural constituency, I shall make some brief comments about rural housing and about our main industry in mid-Wales, agriculture. Those who live in the rural areas are taking up the house improvement schemes enthusiastically. My right hon. Friend was right to extend the period for which funding is available for a further year until the end of 1983. It is remarkable that, according to the most recent house condition survey, the highest proportion of inadequate housing in Wales is to be found in Dyfed and Powys. Therefore, we must welcome anything that encourages the improvement of pre-1919 dwellings. The first benefit will be healthier housing, and such expenditure will revive the economy. I am especially glad that my right hon. Friend placed special emphasis on the large proportion of substandard homes occupied by pensioners. The Government clearly have a responsibility to improve those dwellings.
The second aspect of housing policy that shows the Government's positive record—the right hon. Member for Rhondda was anxious not to find a positive record anywhere—is the remarkable success of the right-to-buy legislation. The scheme has been equally successful with tenants in urban and in rural Wales. About 16 per cent. of council house tenants have applied to buy their houses, which compares with about 10 per cent. in England. It confirms what Welsh Conservatives have been saying for some time—that the Welsh people wish to own the homes in which they live. It is reflected in the fact that Wales has one of the highest proportions of home ownership in the country, at 60 per cent., and those who live on council estates have shown that they have the same taste for independence and for controlling their own environment as is found among the 60 per cent. who own their homes. The Labour party should join us in congratulating the Government on enfranchising those who live in council houses.
We are debating a Welsh economy that has been sick for a long time. It did not suddenly turn sick in May 1979. Its sickness has been a cumulative process that goes back for decades. The sickness is due largely to evasions by previous Governments in facing the problems that were clearly marching towards them.
One notably vigorous sector in Wales is the highly efficient private enterprise agricultural industry. Had manufacturing industry achieved a 4 or 5 per cent. annual improvement in productivity, which agriculture has managed to maintain since the second world war, we 1197 would have very different unemployment figures in Wales. Agriculture has shown that there are areas where a good partnership between enlightened Government policies and the drive that is achieved by private individuals working in their own small businesses can achieve high productive output.
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, despite agriculture being extremely productive, farm labourers have not benefited from the advantages of increased productivity?
§ Mr. Hooson
The record of the past few years shows that the improvement in the remuneration of agricultural labourers has been considerably superior to the rise in farmers' incomes.
§ Mr. Hooson
No. I have given way already to the hon. Gentleman and he will have the chance to make his own speech if he catches the eye of the Chair.
The increased efficiency of agriculture over the past few years has not been matched by increased returns for farmers. Farmers' incomes showed an improvement in 1982, and it was high time that they did, for they had shown a decline in the previous three years. It is necessary to achieve a balance between the efficiency that is being achieved by agriculture and farmers' incomes. We must ensure that increased efficiency finds its way in reasonable measure to the bottom line of farm accounts.
The Government's achievement of a sheepmeat regime was a triumph for European diplomacy. As the right hon. Member for Rhondda is finding it so hard to find things with which to credit the Government, let him add that to the list of positive Government achievements which can be reflected in mid-Wales and throughout rural Wales. The result is that Welsh sheep flocks are very close to an all-time record level. There has been a great change in the sense of confidence of Welsh agriculture since the gloom to which it was reduced under the Labour Government.
The sheepmeat regime has done a great deal to bring confidence to the hills and it is important that the success of the regime is recognised on both sides of the House. The regime will continue only until 1984 under the present plans. It is important that we emphasise that we are satisfied with the regime's workings, so that there is no question about our desire to negotiate with our quite difficult Community partners an extension of the regime.
There is no less importance in the combined effect of the beef suckler cow premium, which the Government introduced in 1980, and the hill livestock compensatory allowance in less favoured areas. It should be remembered that Welsh hill farmers farm about 75 per cent. of the agricultural land in Wales. The premium and the compensatory allowance have increased by 80 per cent. since 1980 in the income that they produce for Welsh farmers. Let us not forget that the health of the uplands depends upon the combined effect of these schemes.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that he should give a great deal of credit to our counterparts in Europe for the fact that we have a thriving agriculture. The majority of the money spent on the hills and the sheepmeat regime comes from Europe.
§ Mr. Hooson
The hon. Gentleman and I will not find ourselves differing on our commitment to the European connection, although I must say that faith wavers a great deal when Britain encounters the EC's bureaucracy and obscure language. However, the desirability of the European connection is demonstrated by the evidence that I have cited and by the impressive results of the polls which have recently been reported by the Farmers Weekly, which reflect the overwhelming support of farmers both for the European connection and for the Conservative party.
§ Mr. Hooson
It is very important that there should be a push forward with the slowly evolving policy on disadvantaged land. The Government presented their proposals to the European Commission in December. The agricultural department of the Welsh Office verified the existence of about 660,000 acres in Wales that should qualify within the European definition of disadvantaged land. It is important that we secure recognition of the particular needs of Wales. The acreage of disadvantaged land is about 18 per cent. of the total agricultural land in Wales. Assuming that this land is accepted by the European Commission as qualifying within the rules, will the matching funds be available in due course from the domestic Government? This is frequently the snag with European schemes. I look forward to a definitive reply from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
We have had an extraordinary speech from the Secretary of State for Wales. We did not have the usual abrasive, aggressive and blustering attack. On the contrary, never have I heard the right hon. Gentleman more soothing and more placatory. It is not surprising, for it is a method of defence. It has been used, of course, to mask the appalling catalogue of woe that Wales has experienced. I have rarely known the right hon. Gentleman more insouciant. He made, as is usual on these occasions, a lengthy speech, which is what is due to Wales when these debates take place. I believe that it was, however, impertinence to make only a passing reference to the grave problem of unemployment.
I sometimes wonder whether it is possible to shame the right hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) has endeavoured to do so. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) followed my right hon. Friend's example. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is shameless. The Under-Secretary of State is a former schoolmaster. I wonder whether he is aware of the various streams in society as he always was aware of the streams in his school. Does the hon. Gentleman ponder on the composition of the unemployed of Wales as of elsewhere and the extent to which unemployment falls upon those within the community who need more aid, more help and more succour because they are socially disadvantaged? Men are not born equal, and we know that there are intractable problems. Does this not mean that if the pretentious and old policies of paternalism, which are always claimed by the Tory party, are applied, its hand will be stretched out first? I do not expect that from the Secretary of State. From the moment that he took office he has been a hard-line monetarist. As he is a satrap of the 1199 Prime Minister, we do not expect him to take a different stance. With extraordinary complacency, he is prepared to allow unemployment in his constituency to rise to 30 per cent. That being so, how can we expect him to pay attention to unemployment in the rest of Wales? The Under-Secretary of State knows the difficulties. We have high graduate unemployment and high unemployment among older men who cannot get new jobs. Nevertheless, we cannot fail to notice that the vast majority of the people who are unemployed are those who need a policy that is directed towards full employment if they are to be assimilated rather than left stranded.
The real gap between the two sides of the House is that we on the Labour Benches believe in the welfare state. We believe in it because we believe that there are people who need special help, just as there are children in every school who need special help.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Michael Roberts)
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. He mentions the gap between his side of the House and mine. When he supported the previous Labour Government, he could have said that the then Secretary of State for Employment allowed nearly 30 per cent. of the people in Ebbw Vale to become unemployed. The hon. Gentleman did not make that judgment then. I recommend that, when he advances a good case for people, he should be aware of the dangers and difficulties of the under-privileged and adopt a generosity of mind and appreciate that we care, too.
§ Mr. Abse
There should be a translation from theory into action. In terms of action, the Government have completely failed. I have touched the Under-Secretary on a sore point. He understands the intractable problem of a large population, some of whom do not have the skill or ability to be absorbed. We have submerged a section of the nation. To judge from speeches that have consistently been made by Conservative Members, those people have no hope. Only pessimism has come from Conservative Members. They use what the previous Government did or the recession as an alibi.
We are not prepared to concede that economic woe and travail is predestined or predetermined. Our nation has considerable wealth in coal, oil and skills. It is human will and leadership that determines whether one takes the bold and radical measures that are necessary. The Secretary of State failed for example, to mention that Wales is suffering from the bungled intervention of the Government in the water dispute. We must rebuild the infrastructure in Wales. The strike is revealing yet again how fundamental it is that we should tackle our obsolescent and ageing infrastructure. The Secretary of State is silent on the problem.
The Government say that we must choose. They have chosen to spend billions of pounds on Trident. They mock the women of Wales who gathered at Greenham common. The people who are concerned with the quality of life, not death, react differently. The bold and radical economic policies that are being spelt out by the Labour party are at least a positive response. Conservative Members may say that they are not proven. There is a great difference between doing nothing and launching a bold attack, being prepared to face up to the consequences of import controls and being prepared to gain the confidence of the unions in a policy that will improve productivity. Irrespective of 1200 whether those policies succeed in practice, they represent action. The Government and all their supporters are completely passive. They accept the problem as if it were inevitable and an act of God rather than recognising that it requires resilience, strength and the type of leadership that is singularly lacking in the present Government.
§ Mr. Abse
Have no fear, the debate will continue until 10 o'clock. I know how many hon. Members are bursting to speak. That is not surprising given the problems that they are presented with.
Bearing in mind the clear mood of Wales, the feelings of depression and despair, I should have thought that anyone with a ha'porth of sense would not exacerbate the problem. No one with any sense would add to the anxieties of the Welsh people. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda probed the Secretary of State determinedly. The Secretary of State may laugh, but tomorrow Wales will realise for the first time that a cabal has been established under a Tory chairman with civil servants who must carry out Government policy. A cabal has been formed to create a prototype for health authorities for privatisation. When they know that, the people of Wales will pay as little attention to the denials of a deliberate savaging of the Health Service as they pay to the equivocations of the Secretary of State. I gather from the fact that the Secretary of State wishes to intervene that there will now be more equivocation.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
I have just reminded myself that I announced the formation of that group during the debate on the Health Service in the Welsh Grand Committee. I announced who its chairman would be. There could hardly be a clearer example of open government, openly declared. Moreover, the drive towards efficiency was welcomed by the Opposition. In the same debate, I pointed out that for all the worthless rhetoric of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), this Government have increased resources for the Health Service more in real terms than did the previous Government.
§ Mr. Abse
The right hon. Gentleman seems incapable of mastering the fact that he has condoned, if not initiated, terms of reference that are concentrated not on the real needs of the Health Service, but on the desire to privatise and give out to private enterprise everything that it is possible to give.
We all know that there are grave problems in hospitals from Bangor to Newport to Cardiff. The Secretary of State does not talk about that. Nor does he talk about the structural dangers that we all know exist, although Wales is not talking loudly about it. He does not mention the dangers that involve enormous capital expenditure. In Cardiff, for example, if the hospital in the Heath area is to survive, millions of pounds will have to be spent on the roof.
The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary are looking at each other. If they do not know about some of the problems that face the hospital in the Heath, I suggest 1201 that instead of examining the schemes that they talk about for getting rid of some of our technical services, they should bend a closer ear to the hazards that exist.
Further privatisation is proceeding all over Wales. Newspaper reports today describe yet another Government blunder. They are selling off the docks and handing over millions of pounds to the speculators. Either through lack of commercial skill or through a clear determination that others should enrich themselves through the disposal of public assets, they are bungling things in the same way as they did in relation to Britoil and other public asset stripping operations.
The Secretary of State now wants to get rid of Cwmbran new town. One would have thought that the Government would leave well alone when they are in so much trouble already. However, with yet another political appointment—a new Tory chairman—of the type that we have seen all over Wales, the plan is to dispose of the assets not just at a loss to the public purse but in a way that could exacerbate unemployment.
There has already been one abortive attempt to get rid of the industrial assets of Cwmbran. Like all the other new towns, it was the pride of Wales. Created by the 1945 Labour Government, the new towns attracted praise and pilgrimages from all over the world. Cwmbran is one of those monuments to public enterprise of which we are so proud, but it is now being hawked around for sale. The Government's first utterly inept attempt to sell off the assets involved hawking the industrial assets, the estates and the buildings, around London estate agents at a time of most severe recession. But for the intervention of the Treasury, those assets would already have been sold off at disgraceful prices, with predators wresting guarantees from the Government and from the new town corporation.
Only the intervention of the Treasury prevented even worse schemes from coming into effect. The Government therefore waited. Now they are starting again. Once again, they are plotting to get rid of those industrial assets.
I sometimes wonder whether the Government realise what that may mean. A great deal of work has been done to build up 320 small units of 10,000 or less sq ft, an enterprise that would not have interested private investors. As a result, many new small firms have been attracted to the new town, creating a structure of pioneers in small factory units. A comprehensive service can be given to those businesses and there is enormous expertise in building up and offering small units from 500 to 5,000 sq ft. Now it is suddenly suggested that all that should be taken over by private investors, and that type of comprehensive service cannot be genuinely provided under private ownership.
Worse in many respects than the attempted sale of the industrial assets is the way in which the whole town centre is to be hawked around the big estate companies. The 1202 reconstruction costs for Cwmbran town centre are at least £30 million and the historic costs, £10 million. Yet it is already well known in the City estate market that those assets are to be hawked with a view to obtaining £10 million to £15 million. That is the bargain basement offer to be made by a Government so ideological that, although this is a wonderful public investment that will be increasingly valuable as the years go by, they wish to engage in this ugly exercise of asset stripping which can bring only trouble for all the small shopkeepers in the area and sabotage and dislocation for all who use the services.
People come from far and wide to use the services available at Cwmbran. The corporation provides more than 3,000 free parking spaces. If they are sold, there will inevitably be high charges with consequent severe damage to the shopkeepers and to all the major attractions which benefit from facilities that are second to none.
The Government are plotting to dismantle an entire new town and to sell it off as cheaply as possible to the kind of people who finance the Tory party and keep it going. The Government are desperately offering the town and its assets to their friends even though that will sabotage the creation of jobs.
In exactly the same way, the Government want to privatise all the ordnance factories in Wales, spreading anxiety in their eagerness to hand over public assets to the private merchants of death and armaments. Thousands of workers in those factories already believe that they are in danger of being sold as chattels to new and unknown masters. The regular employees who have worked as civil servants for decades are now full of anxiety because they do not know where they stand in relation to redundancy payments, pensions and agreements, because the Government have made it clear that they want to introduce legislation to privatise those factories in such a way that many of the employees will have to leave. If the workers there are offered the chance to remain employed, it will certainly be on new terms and modified contracts.
I should have thought that this should be a time of diffidence, of concern on the part of the Government, given the widespread distress that their economic policies have already caused. I do not expect to change the attitude of the Secretary of State who I hope has now made his last speech as Secretary of State on a Welsh day in Parliament. I make it clear to the Under-Secretary, however, who affects to have some understanding and concern for people, that the paternalistic attitude that was once part of the impress and pretensions of the Tory party has gone. He and all the other wets in the Welsh Conservative party should realise that their day is done and power has passed to the political thugs, of whom the Secretary of State is a true representative. I am confident that, with that knowledge, the people of Wales will reject not only the thugs but the wets who have acquiesced in creating a Wales so far removed from the hopes and aspirations that its people had under Labour Governments.