HC Deb 28 February 1985 vol 74 cc494-555

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

5.15 pm
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)

The year since our last Welsh Day debate has been overshadowed by the coal strike. The dispute has brought suffering, hardship, violence and waste that seem all the more tragic because of the unity and loyalty displayed by Welsh miners. That loyalty has been cruelly misused by Mr. Scargill. After seven rounds of negotiation had failed; after proposals from ACAS had been rejected; and after Mr. Scargill had repeatedly boasted that he had not budged an inch, the TUC painstakingly produced a formula that it thought offered a fair and reasonable basis for a settlement. As The Guardian put it last Friday, it was an honourable and decent framework and the NUM Executive tore it up". We are confronted today, as we have been for nearly a year, with the impossible demand that no pit should be closed on economic grounds. It is a demand that every Labour Government would have regarded as an absurdity. Yet we continue to be faced with a dispute that is closing coal faces, wasting resources, losing markets and damaging hundreds of other businesses. National economic growth has been less than it would otherwise have been; unemployment higher than it would have been.

The TUC has discovered as painfully as the rest of us that it is impossible to negotiate with Mr. Scargill. There is only one way now to end this tragic dispute and that is for the miners to end it themselves. They have the best offer on the table since nationalisation; there is the prospect of new pits in south Wales; there is a bright future for the industry if losses can be reduced and if the industry is prepared to compete again on quality and price.

If the miners hesitate they could do no better than to look to the example of the steel industry. Its performance has been remarkable. Despite the obstacles placed in its path, it has maintained production, held its market share and kept its customers' confidence at home and abroad. The health of steel is a crucial element in determining the future size and shape of the coal industry in Wales. The strike has proved very clearly that steel can and will be produced without Welsh coal, using imported coal if necessary. It is not the steel industry that has been damaged by the strike but the long-standing partnership between coal, steel and rail. For the railwaymen in particular the strike has been a disaster. They have lost business and jobs that I fear they will never recover.

It was a privilege to be present at the annual dinner to mark St. David's day at Llanwern a couple of weeks ago, along with the chairman, management, trade unionists and representatives of every section of the works, together with those who have operated the convoys and the wharves and the men who have controlled an immensely difficult operation to keep the great steelworks in full production.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is now saying that the continual danger experienced by road users, including myself, on the M4 during the period of the strike, with the convoys that are such a danger to motorists, should continue?

Mr. Edwards

What I am saying is that the steel industry will decide what is the most economic and sensible way of moving the raw materials it needs and that I think it likely that some of its materials that had previously been carried by rail may well continue to be carried by road in the future.

It is a particularly sad fact in the light of the efforts of the steel men that one consequence of the mining dispute has been to postpone investment decisions that affect the industry, particularly the decision about the highly important concast scheme for Llanwerne. But at Port Talbot very good progress is being made on the £171 million project for refurbishing the hot strip mill. It has been a tremendous feat by those at Port Talbot that has maintained very high levels of production, despite the inevitable disruption and despite the coal strike. At Shotton, BSC is working on a £25 million galvanising line that is expected to start production in 1986.

The positive reaction that we have seen in the steel plants and generally throughout manufacturing industries in Wales has been particularly important in view of the continuing very high level of unemployment, with 185,529 on the register. Particularly disturbing has been the increase in long-term unemployment, which causes the greatest social distress and is the firmest indication of this country's continuing inability to compete even in a situation of rising demand.

One of the more sobering sets of statistics that I have seen recently showed that in this country unit costs have risen by 5 per cent. or more over the last year during a period when they have fallen by 5 per cent. in Japan. If we cannot reduce the differential between high unit costs here and overseas, there is no possible course of action that Government can take to get unemployment down. Neither the policies of this Government nor any of the alternatives that are proposed can work if we fail to compete with other countries.

It cannot be a shortage of demand that is the cause of high unemployment. The demand is there. Output has been rising for nearly four years. It passed the 1979 peak in 1983; it went higher still last year and all the latest economic forecasts — including two this week — suggest that it will continue to rise substantially in 1985. That increase in demand, the sharp rise in company profits and last year's 13 per cent. increase in manufacturing investment are now creating a substantial number of additional jobs so that there are approaching half a million more people in employment in the United Kingdom than there were 18 months ago.

The good industrial relations we have in Wales and the determination of individual companies to lower costs and compete, especially at a time when export opportunities are so strong, is the best way of accelerating that process of new job creation. When David Jenkins, secretary of the Wales TUC, joined our inward investment team in Japan last autumn, he and I found one striking change from the response during my previous visit three and a half years earlier. Then, every Japanese industrialist expressed anxiety about British industrial relations. On this occasion, they went out of their way to tell us that they understood that the coal strike was wholly exceptional and that industrial relations and performance in their plants in Wales and in their suppliers' plants were first-class. That is why we shall see this year very substantial investment by Japanese companies in major new projects in Wales.

This investment will not just be Japanese. I think it likely that after two years of exceptionally high levels of capital investment by manufacturing companies, both foreign and British, the volume of manufacturing investment will be even greater in Wales in the year ahead. I am encouraged in that view by the number and scale of the projects notified to the Welsh Office. During 1984, 245 offers of regional selective assistance were made with a value of over £53 million, and nearly 18,000 jobs were associated with those offers. In 1984 we saw a doubling of the number of new industry projects and expansion schemes and all the indications are that in 1985 we will do better still. Since we established WINvest in April 1983 we have secured 46 entirely new projects by overseas companies involving capital expenditure in excess of £200 million with a promise of nearly 4,500 new jobs and in the same period we have had the announcement of 24 investment projects by overseas companies already operating in Wales involving capital expenditure worth over £100 million and more than 2,000 new jobs. In 1984 we successfully maintained our 1983 achievement in securing around 24 per cent. of new overseas projects and jobs coming to the United Kingdom. Taking new projects and expansions by overseas companies together, Wales has increased its share from 14.4 per cent. to 18.5 per cent. of the total number of United Kingdom jobs created. That is a magnificant record.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

The Secretary of State referred to selective financial assistance. Does he accept that the rush of applications to the Welsh Office in recent months has been caused by the deadline for investment grants? Does he further accept that the areas that will receive selective financial assistance will not obtain the old-style investment grant and are in real danger of missing out when the rush comes to an end? Areas outside development areas, but which have similar industries based in them, will qualify for consideration for investment, which means that development areas will miss out.

Mr. Edwards

We are receiving a very large number of new applications, including applications from the areas that will be eligible only for selective assistance. New visits by those interested are running at a very high level. Interest in investment in Wales continues, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's fears are justified.

Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)

Is it not a fact that since 1 July 1975, 79 per cent. of all jobs associated with selective financial assistance applications that have been accepted have actually come under a Conservative Administration?

Mr. Edwards

It is undoubtedly a very high figure — I think, more than 70 per cent. The level of investment is rising substantially.

What is encouraging in the light of the present unemployment figures is that many of the largest projects that have been announced in recent years have only just begun to reach the point at which they start to make a significant impact in terms of jobs. For example, the buildings for Parrot at Cwmbran and Sharp at Wrexham, which between them will provide some 900 jobs, are now just at the point of occupation. The Invacare Bridgend project and Laura Ashley at Newtown and Wrexham, together providing more than 1,000 jobs, have not yet made an impact on the employment figures. At Newport, the work force at Inmos has been building up steadily at Dyffryn park, and we are looking for over 600 further jobs at the assembly and test facility at Coldra, now in an advanced stage of construction. In Clwyd, the Shotton paper mill project is on schedule and will start providing significant permanent employment in the months ahead. These are only a few examples of a large number of cases where investment already made is going to contribute to the number of people in work during the next 12 months.

The new investment requires new skills and it will be an increasing priority of Government to see that the expenditure on employment and training measures, which at present are costing more than £2 billion in the country as a whole, are used effectively to provide the training and skills that we need and as the means for ensuring that employers themselves provide training on the scale that is required. We have already announced a major expansion of training provision by the MSC. In Wales as a whole, the number of training opportunities to be made available through the MSC will increase by some 65 per cent. from just over 4,700 in 1984–85 to over 7,700 in 1985–86 and is expected to have almost doubled by 1986–87.

To achieve the maximum amount of the most effective training does involve a reorganisation of existing provision and a re-examination of skillcentre provision. But MSC's plans—far from reducing skillcentre training—envisage an overall increase by 1986–87 in the number of people trained in skillcentres in Wales. The MSC strategy has identified particular places, notably Llanelli and Pontllanfraith, where it believes scope may exist for better use of skillcentre provision and its replacement by other types of training. However, I emphasise that no final decision will be made about the future of any skillcentre, including those at Llanelli and Pontllanfraith, until I am satisfied that arrangements are in place that safeguard the quantity, quality and accessibility of training in the areas concerned.

Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)

I am grateful for those remarks. Can the Secretary of State confirm that my understanding is correct, that the decision to close the Llanelli skillcentre has not been taken and that, if the MSC review is favourable, that skillcentre will be kept open?

Mr. Edwards

It is correct that no final decision has been taken. The chairman of the MSC has used the same words that I have just used about the necessity to ensure that alternative arrangements will provide the necessary quantity, quality and accessibility of training before any decision is taken.

I referred to the role of local authorities, and I welcome the fact that Dyfed and South Glamorgan have now joined the other Welsh education authorities that have decided to launch projects based on the technical and vocational education initiative. I have also made arrangements for additional financial provision for the advanced further education sector in Wales.

Having referred to the schools, I want to deal with the allegation that is so frequently made that there has been a substantial cut in education provision. In reality, and taking account of inflation, the figures show that expenditure on the education service has not been reduced at all during our period in government, despite the fall in pupil numbers that has taken place. Current expenditure on education, excluding meals and milk, in real terms has remained virtually constant, though the number of pupils has declined by more than 10 per cent. As a result, pupil-teacher ratios have improved and the expenditure per pupil has risen. Undoubtedly individual schools face real difficulties; but when we have the best ever pupil-teacher ratio and the best ever expenditure per head this must be because local authorities are not making the best possible use of resources.

If improved training and education are one contribution we can make to economic recovery, the effective use of capital expenditure is clearly another. I have already referred to the fact that manufacturing investment is sharply up and that we are seeing a surge of major capital projects. Capital investment is not confined to the private sector. We are running very large public sector capital programmes in Wales. Over the next three years, on present plans, capital expenditure by local authorities, the Welsh Office and its agencies is likely to be of the order of £2 billion.

Investment in the trunk road programme has averaged about £116 million over the last three financial years and will average about £126 million over the next three. We are spending over £42 million this year on building new hospitals, which is over 11 per cent. more in real terms than when this Government took office. The Welsh water authority, which is spending £40 million this year on capital projects, is planning to increase expenditure to £55 million next year and approximately £70 million the year after. One consequence of the relative success by Welsh local authorities in holding down current expenditure—I am glad to see that average rate increases in Wales are likely to be less than 7 per cent. this year — has been that net capital resources that we have been able to make available to local authorities are at a level nearly double those of England in per capita terms.

It was in the course of the Welsh day debate just two years ago, in February 1983, that I announced the first projects to be approved in Wales under what was then the new urban development grant scheme. The present position is that 31 projects have been approved under the UDG scheme. They include industrial, housing, hotel, office and commercial developments, and grants amounting to some £10.5 million are helping to bring forward total investment of over £65 million in urban areas throughout Wales. One of the most encouraging features of the UDG scheme in Wales has been the way in which it has stimulated private housing development in some of our valley areas where there has been little or no new private housebuilding for many years.

Recent UDG approvals have included a grant of £1.4 million o ensure that much-needed refurbishment of the Kingsway shopping centre in Newport will go ahead shortly. The total development will cost £4.8 million and there are good prospects of very substantial additional shopping investment as a direct spin-off from the refurbishment scheme.

In Cardiff the Holiday Inn project, which I announced two years ago, is going well. In the Welsh day debate two years ago, I called upon local authorities, public bodies, landowners and developers to come forward with imaginative proposals for the comprehensive redevelopment of the largely derelict dockland areas of Cardiff south of the main railway line. I was heartened by the enthusiastic response from all quarters and proposals came forward from several major development companies.

Proposals put forward by Tarmac plc were eventually selected and submitted to me by South Glamorgan county council for consideration for urban development grant support. I am delighted to be able to announce today, following discussions in which the county council has been fully involved, that I have approved an urban development grant framework based on a grant of £8.5 million in respect of the Tarmac proposals. There are, of course, many points of detail still to be resolved and I must emphasise that no development can take place until all statutory procedures associated with the acquisition of the necessary land are fulfilled. But, subject to those provisions, I am confident that the UDG framework which I have approved will enable the county council and Tarmac plc to proceed with the detailed work involved in implementing its exciting proposals for the regeneration of this part of our capital city. The chairman of Tarmac assured me today that he was enthusiastic to go ahead with the scheme and that the company would do everything it could to make the scheme work as it was originally conceived. He committed the resources of Tarmac, and I for my part said that we would approach our commitments with the flexibility that is necessary for a scheme of this scale and complexity. This is a very important day for Cardiff. My one regret is that Michael Roberts is not with us to see it through; he was in at the start.

While on the subject of capital projects I want to say a word about the Severn bridge. Hon Members will recall that our programme for the maintenance and strengthening work on the Severn bridge was announced as long ago as February 1984. The hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) sought information in a parliamentary question last week, and there was no new information in the answer except that a lot more work has now been done on the detail of the five-year programme. A major objective of the timing of this programme is to avoid delays on the bridge; immense care is being taken in planning the work to achieve that.

I can also tell the House that the consultants who were appointed in August 1984 to carry out a study of the second crossing have now completed the first part of the study and copies will shortly be placed in the Library. Moreover, they have already started work on the second phase and it is the intention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport to give full details of the possible options very shortly. I can assure the House that we are absolutely determined to safeguard this vital crossing and to ensure that there is the minimum possible interruption to traffic at any stage during the repair programme. Nothing has changed since the announcement of the repairs and the feasibility study on 7 February 1984 and it is irresponsible for the hon. Member for Newport, East to suggest that there are new and unknown factors that give cause for alarm. I can assure him that there are not.

I have described the way in which we are using capital resources in the public sector to improve the infrastructure and the social and working environment in Wales. Increasingly that public sector investment is being paralleled by the contribution from the private sector. The developments that are taking place in Swansea, Cardiff and Newport are examples of urban renewal based on that partnership.

Health care is, and will remain, pre-eminently and overwhelmingly the responsibility of the state; but here too the private sector can supplement the resources available to the National Health Service. This Government have provided a substantial increase in real resources to the Health Service. With these extra resources we have been able to provide an increase of over 15 per cent. in the numbers of front line staff — doctors, dentists, nurses and others directly concerned with the care of patients. We are achieving a substantial increase in the number of inpatient and outpatient cases and the introduction of important new regional services.

One important reason for involving the private sector in the provision of renal dialysis services within the NHS is not just to make use of the considerable experience of the firms involved but the fact that they are providing capital resources for the units at Carmarthen and Bangor amounting to about £400,000, enabling us to spend comparable sums on other services. My "open door" policy for renal dialysis with a network of subsidiary units is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. The third main renal unit at Swansea, which I announced at this lime last year, is nearing completion and will begin to accept patients in March. The bone marrow transplant programme, which I also spoke of at that time, has been in operation for some months. On other fronts, we are now at the detailed planning stage of the expanding cardiac surgery and cardiology service and are relocating the burns and plastic surgery unit. I take this opportunity to reaffirm my previous commitment to the all-Wales strategy for the development of services for mentally handicapped people.

To make the best possible use of resources I have taken decisions to strengthen at all levels the general management of the NHS in Wales. I was delighted to be able to appoint Mr. John Wyn Owen to be the new director of the NHS in Wales. He has very wide relevant experience both inside the Health Service and in the private sector, and he is already making his presence felt. All district health authorities in Wales have now appointed district general managers. In 1985 I shall set timetables for the introduction of strengthened general management, including the appointment of general managers, in each health unit.

The past year has been intensely difficult for farming and particularly for the livestock sector. The dairy industry is undergoing a traumatic process of readjustment following the introduction of quotas for milk. This is having a spin-off effect on other sectors, notably beef and the suppliers of agricultural machinery and feedingstuffs. Added to these difficulties, farmers in Wales were badly affected by the drought during 1984.

There will be a warm welcome among milk producers, as there was from the Opposition Front Bench earlier, for the announcement made by my right hon. Friend that milk producers who have both direct and wholesale quota can now switch their production between these two within their overall quota. Representations from farmers in Wales are concentrating on three main areas of concern. The first is the outcome of the consideration by the tribunal of exceptional hardship applications and appeals against local panel decisions, together with the allocations to be made under the outgoers scheme. The tribunal has completed its work, except for a few straggler cases, and is notifying producers of its decisions as quickly as possible. We are all indebted to the chairman and members of the tribunal and its local panels for their hard work — it was very hard work — in completing a difficult task under considerable pressure. Our present estimate is that development awards will be scaled down by between 35 per cent. and 40 per cent.

All applicants under the outgoers scheme have been asked to indicate by 13 March whether they wish to join. We expect that, taking England and Wales as a whole, we shall obtain sufficient quota to meet our objectives to offset exceptional hardship claims and ensure that producers selling less than 200,000 litres will have their 1985–86 quota restored to the 1983 pre-quota production levels. That would be of immediate benefit to 54 per cent. of Welsh producers.

The second subject about which we are receiving representations is the CAP price-fixing proposals. The prime concern of livestock producers will be to correct the imbalance that exists between cereals and livestock. Bearing in mind that there are still huge surpluses within the Community it must be in the interests of this country to avoid price increases. A 5 per cent. cut in cereal support prices, required by the guaranteed threshold, should be applied, and the British Government have made it clear that we would have preferred a further reduction in the co-responsibility levy to the target price increase of 1.5 per cent. for milk. Other key objectives will be the maintenance of the sheepmeat regime in essentially its present form and the retention of the beef premium scheme. Against a background of excess production and United Kingdom spending on CAP measures and national price guarantees that together are expected to amount to over 1.4 billion in 1985–86, it is not unreasonable that we should seek some savings in expenditure on capital grants.

The third matter to which the Government are devoting a great deal of thought and on which they are consulting widely is the way in which we can develop policies that will enable farmers to plan for the future with greater confidence. There will be a need, for example, to reach agreement on more flexible rules for the transfer of quota and provision for new entrants; but, more generally, there is a need to devise support systems that maintain rural communities and family farms without creating excess production at a cost to the taxpayer that is unacceptable. During the period ahead, it will be vital to ensure that Welsh farmers continue to benefit from England and Wales support and marketing arrangements. The advantage of such England and Wales arrangements can clearly be seen in the outgoers scheme, which will transfer substantial quota from England into Wales. Wales has surrendered about 11 per cent. but it is estimated that it will receive about 25 per cent. of reallocated quota.

There are those who urge us to seek special quota from the European Community for Wales or for Dyfed, the part of Wales worst affected by milk quotas. I have regretfully come to the conclusion that it would not be helpful to Welsh farmers to seek to reopen the European Community 1984–85 agreement on milk quotas. The Commission has made no proposals to change the quota package including the special quota reserve but already, as we heard this afternoon, the Irish are bidding for more, and it is unlikely to be in the interests of British farmers to have a revision of quota limits. It would be difficult to do as was suggested earlier and resist that Irish demand and at the same time make a comparable demand ourselves.

In any case, other producers in the United Kingdom outside Wales with similar problems would demand similar special treatment. Producers with similar problems deserve similar treatment whichever part of the Milk Marketing Board area they come from. I have no doubt at all that, if the special treatment were conceded to Welsh milk producers the integrated Milk Marketing Board for England and Wales would come under stress and there would be a counter demand to separate Wales from the England and Wales arrangement. We faced and resisted just that demand in connection with the outgoers scheme. I can think of nothing that would be more disastrous for Welsh agriculture than to find itself isolated in this way.

Mr. Thomas

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the argument of Dyfed county council that there is a case for special treatment for Welsh producers in view of the relatively greater importance of the milk industry in Dyfed and other parts of Wales and in view of the impact of the quota system on production and employment in the industry?

Mr. Edwards

I understand that argument. It has already been advanced by producers from the south-west who hurried off to Brussels in pursuit of those from Dyfed. Dr. Ventura from the Commission has told my Department that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to add a region to the reserve and that we have no chance of getting a share of the reserve for Dyfed, which could not be considered as a region in European Community terms. There are immense difficulties.

During this period of change, Welsh agriculture will particularly need to improve the marketing of its products. I welcome initiatives such as that of Welsh Lamb Enterprise and studies by the development agencies. These initiatives will need to be vigorously pursued. I am sure that the House will be glad to know that Mr. John Elfed Jones has accepted my invitation to join the Council of Food from Britain. He played a key role in marketing the industrial advantages of Wales during his period as industrial director at the Welsh Office. He, together with the chairman of the development agencies and the tourist board, met me recently to discuss the effective marketing of Wales.

The House must understand this: it is absolutely crucial, if we are to create the jobs, the opportunities and the kind of environment for living that we would all like to see, to sell successfully Welsh products, the industrial advantages of Wales, the tourist attractions of Wales and the potential of Wales for investors and financial institutions. We have to make better known the cultural and creative activity that is going on within Wales. We of course have difficulties, but a great deal is changing for the better as well.

Tonight we shall no doubt hear the usual dirge from the Opposition. There will be every sort of complaint. In strident terms, for their own political advantage they will run their scares, repeat their libels and sell Wales short. That is always their cry and it does some damage. Fortunately, fewer and fewer people listen and more and more recognise and applaud the transformation taking place in Wales and wish to be part of it.

5.49 pm
Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

The Welsh people are having to pay for the profligate folly of this Government through higher interest rates, higher mortgage rates and the loss of jobs. It was totally unnecessary. Those are not my words, but the words of the Secretary of State when he held my position in 1978.

The Under-Secretary of State said then: We shall return to the subject of employment time and again in all the ways open to us, because we regard it as of supreme importance to the people of Wales. It is important to us as a party and we shall never let the Government forget that there are still more than twice as many unemployed now as when we left office in 1974." — [Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee; 29 November 1978, c. 23, 77.] Just before the Secretary of State finished his speech he tried to libel the Opposition, but I have faithfully reproduced his and his hon. Friend's words when they tried to libel the then Government.

I note that the Secretary of State has promised us massive inward investment and, by implication, many jobs in the coming year. Of course, we shall need those jobs, because he failed to get the Nissan project. I wonder whether, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Under-Secretary of State will be able to tell us whether the Honda company visited the Secretary of State. The headline in the Western Mail of 27 February concerning Cardiff was: Blow for city as 400 jobs are axed. Recently in Delyn, Courtaulds announced 232 job losses; Sealink in Anglesey talked about 70 job losses; in Aberavon, Borg Warner announced about 800 job losses; and in Cardiff and Swansea, Howells Motors announced about 90 job losses. The Opposition wish to make the point that, however many hundreds of jobs the Secretary of State promises in the year ahead from inward investment, they are unlikely to equal the number of jobs lost during the past few months.

Mr. Best

Does the hon. Gentleman know what he is taking about in relation to my constituency? He mentioned 70 jobs, which will go by way of voluntary redundancy. Is he aware that those redundancies are being sought to secure a freight liner contract for the next five years which will put beyond doubt the continuance of the container service — an issue which under his Administration was hanging by a slender thread?

Mr. Jones

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point, but I was pleased to give him the chance to make it. In his constituency of Ynys Môn there are 4,951 jobless people. In Holyhead, male unemployment is 25 per cent. I look forward to hearing the speech which the hon. Gentleman may make later in the debate urging the Secretary of State to take action so that some of the unemployed in his constituency might have work.

The Secretary of State slanted much of his speech in the direction of the economy and of unemployment. I must remind the House that there are 185,000 jobless Welsh people, which represents an increase since 1979 of 125 per cent. In Wales as a whole, one in five men is jobless. in the Secretary of State's constituency of Pembroke, 7,151 are jobless. In my travel-to-work area, 13,517 people are jobless and male unemployment is 20 per cent. The question that I must ask the Secretary of State is this: when, under his policies, will our fellow Welsh citizens have a reasonable prospect of work? For five years he has promised us the broad sunlit uplands, but unemployment increases inexorably, Wales is deindustrialised, public expenditure is cut, the rate support grant is slashed, regional aid is cut, the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales are given insufficient funds to carry out their onerous tasks, and the housing budgets are cut.

Why do the Government wish to close skillcentres during an unemployment crisis? Both Welsh centres scheduled for closure are supported by local industrialists and trade unions, and they are vital to the needs of the area. The west Gwent centre at Pontllanfraith serves a vast industrial, densely-populated area, and it is immensely popular with local industry. People attend it for top-level training from throughout the south Wales valleys — an area with unemployment of more than 20 per cent. I would argue that it is among the worst afflicted areas of Great Britain.

If the Pontllanfraith centre is to close, people who require skillcentre training will face journeys of up to 60 miles each day to the nearest centres at Cardiff and Newport. There is a clear need for the west Gwent centre, because, with such high unemployment, it is criminal to reduce training in the valleys. I have visited the centre, which runs a superb industrial electronics course. Llanelli has 18 per cent. unemployment, and more than a third of the unemployed have suffered the indignity and despair of being without work for more than a year. During a visit to that centre I saw some superb examples of success. I saw teenagers engaged in learning skills which will increase their chances of permanent jobs. If the centre at Llanelli is closed, there will be no skillcentre to the west of Port Talbot. The Llanelli centre can already boast a 72 per cent. placement record.

It sometimes happens that industry suffers a shortage of skilled labour at the peak of a boom in the economy, but in Wales we are suffering skill shortages at the trough of a depression, with the Principality losing 145,000 jobs in five years.

Many of us fear that the Secretary of State is in danger of exchanging the substance for the shadow of a peripatetic training team system. We fear that the new system will be lacking in quantity, accessibility, continuity and quality of skill training. I shall always sponsor improvements to skillcentres, but I warn the Secretary of State that the local communities are deeply offended by the closure proposals. It is now arguable that there is no longer a majority of MSC commissioners in favour of the closure proposals. The Scottish local authority member has resiled from his previous position, and the Opposition argue that there is now a six to four majority against doing what the Secretary of State for Employment announced in the House last week.

Scotland has outpaced Wales in the electronics industry. The silicon glen has proved to be a thundering success, and Scotland enjoys 40,000 jobs created by more than 200 new companies. It has the highest concentration of integrated circuits in Europe. I believe — the Secretary of State may agree with me — that high tech for Wales is crucial and that we must aim to have a modern, 21st century economy. But the silicon valley has yet to make its mark, and I believe that the Secretary of State has been remiss in this area. I urge him to increase the number of research places at our universities, to enlarge the links between the electronics industry and secondary schools, to double the places for electronics graduates at Cardiff and Swansea universities and to push ahead with his plans for science parks in north and south Wales. The Deeside industrial park and the University College of North Wales at Bangor could be growth points for technology.

The right hon. Gentleman did not dwell upon housing in Wales. The Government allow some 18,000 Welsh building workers, drawing an estimated annual dole payment of £90 million, to remain jobless when Welsh housing conditions are the despair of our housing officers.

A recent report into housing conditions in Cynon Valley showed that a staggering 48 per cent. of all privately owned homes were unfit and that almost one quarter lack the most basic amenities. The belief held by Welsh housing experts is that such dismal statistics are not limited to Cynon Valley—there is a similar problem in many of our poorer communities — and that with the continued lack of Government investment the position is likely to worsen. What they and I find most disturbing is that Ministers seemingly have little knowledge of the scale of the problem. The Cynon Valley figures came to light because of a detailed investigation by that district authority.

Housing authorities' new build in Wales is down 50 per cent. on the figure for two years past. Repair schemes have been cut and large numbers of renovation grants are outstanding in every Welsh district authority area. All sectors have repeatedly made the point that Wales, with its disproportionate number of old and decaying properties, is a special housing case and that it needs special levels of investment.

With those disturbing figures from Cynon Valley in mind, it is clear that we need a meticulous and detailed investigation into the Welsh housing problem, taking the country district by district. That call has also been made by south Wales chief housing officers.

Mr. Best

Can the hon. Gentleman explain why under the last Labour Administration public sector house building fell by 85 per cent?

Mr. Jones

I believe that the record of Labour Administrations compares well with that of Conservative Administrations. I urge the hon. Gentleman, if he can catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to remind his right hon. Friend that 4,951 of his constituents are out of work and to urge him to step up house building so that many of his unemployed constituents can obtain jobs building houses for unemployed people.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wyn Roberts)

The hon. Gentleman has talked about the need for special measures with regard to improvement grants. The Government are spending about £80 million this year, and we spent about £107 million last year on improvement grants. That compares with a total of only £58 million or so during the whole of the five years in office of the previous Labour Government.

Mr. Jones

I must remind the Under-Secretary that the Association of District Councils said that capital spending for Welsh local authorities had suffered a real cut of £100 million in two years and that the brunt of that reduction was being borne by the housing services, for which capital spending was being cut by one third, or £80 million. Housing in Wales is, of now, the Augean stables of the Government's activities, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will give some account of himself if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

There is a savage irony for Welsh people. They have seen their cash-starved local authorities suffer reduced spending through Government interference, targets, penalties and the threat of rate capping, yet the Government now interfere with the water authorities in the opposite way. The Government denounce local authorities for raising their rates higher than the rate of inflation, but force the Welsh water authority to increase its charges hugely. Despite prudent budgeting and severe cuts in the labour force, the Welsh water authority has been forced by the Government to increase domestic charges by more than 12 per cent. It is clear that the authority does not want to impose such a savage increase. It is equally clear that, with inflation running at 5 per cent., those increases in water charges will be the cause of fierce resentment in Wales.

The harsh point is that the water authority has said that it prefers to keep its charges in line with inflation. Its attempts to budget carefully and to keep the interests of the consumers to the forefront have been sabotaged by the Government. At present Welsh water consumers find their already unfair position worsened through what amounts to a tax on the water that they use.

The Flintshire branch of the National Farmers Union wrote to me about the proposal to increase water charges by 12.5 per cent.—as it put it—for 1985–86. It said: It is difficult to understand why a Government which takes strenuous steps to keep down inflation to 5 per cent. directs Water Authorities to increase their charges by 12½ per cent. We believe that the Government is applying pressure on Water Authorities to make excess profits in order to avoid capital borrowing. … It surely must be wrong for a Government to raise revenue from a public monopoly which is indispensable to everyone but which bears harshly on many least able to pay these charges. The right hon. Gentleman referred to agriculture. I, too, must welcome the relief that he has announced to those who produce wholesale and retail milk. It is an important step. He has had many representations from throughout Wales. The industry has taken harsh knocks during this past year. Wales was dismayed by the cuts at the Welsh plant breeding station at Aberystwyth. The milk quota crisis created unprecedented apprehension among dairy farmers, and it caused financial and business difficulties.

There have been strains in the sheepmeat and beef markets. Cuts in capital grants have been badly received. It is calculated, allowing for inflation of 4 per cent. for 1985–86, that the Welsh Office agriculture budget faces an 8 per cent. reduction in real terms this coming year.

I warn the right hon. Gentleman that, as Wales has one quarter of Britain's 9 million sheep, he had better carefully consider the sheepmeat regime. The same applies to the beef sector. Welsh farmers in those sectors expect better of the Government than the dairy quota saga, which hurt so many small farmers. I must stress that 90 per cent. of Welsh farmers depend upon livestock for their living. They have no prospect of turning elsewhere if they have to leave that sector.

The Opposition are anxious about the declining prospect for rural Wales. The dairy quota crisis carried with it job losses in the creameries. We fear job losses and declining services in villages and towns as a result of the Transport Bill. The parliamentary opposition to the Transport Bill will be the stiffest possible.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned coal. A programme of pit closures in south Wales will leave many valley communities desperately vulnerable, both economically and socially. The male unemployment figures for the south Wales coalfield are too serious to contemplate closures. In Gwent, male unemployment stands at 20 per cent.; in mid-Glamorgan, 23 per cent.; in west Glamorgan, 20 per cent. and in Dyfed, 20 per cent. It is arguable that unemployment may double to 40 per cent. in some of the pit communities in the valleys. We know of an area—

Mr. Stefan Terlezki (Cardiff, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give me a straight answer? Does he agree with the TUC or with Mr. Scargill on pit closures?

Mr. Jones

The situation is far too serious for the hon. Gentleman to attempt to precis a complicated matter. It does no right hon. or hon. Member any good to push too hard on issues which may be being resolved now, or which may be resolved soon.

Last month, when I visited St. John's colliery in Maesteg, the lodge officials told me that their town could ill afford to lose the colliery's 900 jobs. They reminded me that the Llyfni valley once yielded 10,000 coal-mining jobs, but today has only 1,100. They were young men with families, and they were worried about the prospects for the boys and girls leaving school. They wanted to know where these young people could get jobs locally. They told me that they could see no prospect of alternative jobs if the colliery closed.

The Secretary of State was not able to say how, in the years ahead, he could see mass unemployment in Wales being reduced. These are the questions which the mining communities, and the valley communities as a whole, are asking. Where will new jobs come from, given mass unemployment as it now exists? The Secretary of State and the Tory party are not giving many answers to that crucial question.

The Welsh coalfield has special and vital coals that are in short supply. Britain is short of anthracite, prime coking coal and first-class domestic fuel coal, and we shall need every tonne of power station coal as well. There is a market for more than 9.5 million tonnes of Welsh coal a year. On this basis, we support the south Wales NUM. At best, there are only 20,000 jobs in the pipeline for the next four years. What hope can this present to the almost 50 per cent. of Wales's jobless who have been unemployed for more than a year?

The Secretary of State should tell his colleagues in the Treasury that Wales needs jobs and hope. We need a reversal of housing cuts, an immediate announcement of a second crossing over the Severn, a greatly strengthened regional policy, the restoration of the cuts that have been announced in regional aid, high-tech coal faces for our coalfield, major rail investment programmes, including the electrification of the Crewe-Holyhead and Swansea-Paddington lines, action on Wales's decaying sewers and water mains, and the setting up of co-operatives in the knowledge that they generate jobs in the manufacturing sector and offer full worker democracy. These projects are desirable in themselves and are capable of generating many new jobs.

I have travelled extensively in Wales and frequently to areas which I previously visited as a Minister in the 1970s. I am concerned at the incidence of poverty, the degeneration in housing conditions and the despair created by unemployment and its frequency.

The consensus in Wales—that is, of all but the most obdurate and ideologically committed Conservatives—is that urgent action must be taken to lessen the evils of the mass unemployment problem. At Merthyr last Monday, 300 people crowded into the town hall to attend a conference on unemployment. I report to the House anger and fear at the lack of prospects for the jobless. It was not an assembly of extremists—indeed, it was addressed by the Archbishop of Wales. It is clear from meetings such as that at Merthyr that the Welsh people are desperately anxious for a change of course in the Government's policy. The Opposition suggest that the Budget presents the Government with a major opportunity to lessen the evil consequences of their policies. We want to see a lessening of the misery and despair that mass unemployment creates. We demand from the Secretary of State and the Government an urgent and decisive change of policy in favour of the unemployed.

6.15 pm
Sir Raymond Gower (Vale of Glamorgan)

The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) made a long speech attacking the ills of the Welsh economy, but one cannot consider the ills of Wales without considering the Welsh economy in the context of the British economy, the EEC economy and the world economy, which he entirely failed to do. The factors that have handicapped industry in Britain and Wales in the past decade or more have not been those that can easily be rectified solely within the Welsh setting. Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that the loss of the captive markets of the Commonwealth and the decline of the old basic industries such as coal, iron, steel and tinplate have happened not only here but in every comparable country? The lateness of Britain's entry into the Common Market created another great disadvantage with which we had to contend.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

You can say that again!

Sir Raymond Gower

No, it was the lateness of our entry that caused the problem. Had we entered the Common Market sooner, we should have been in a much stronger position.

We have a bad heritage not only from obsolete machinery but from obsolescent labour attitudes in industry, bad labour relations and bad practices to which, even now, we have not found a solution. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside does not recognise the effect that the vast growth in the economies of Japan and many other countries in the far east, such as South Korea, the great competition that has emanated from there and even the growth of the industrial economies of countries such as Spain has had on Britain and Wales.

The new technologies have made our traditional skills relatively less important and the burden of excessive bureaucracy, not only in our administration but in our public industries and, to some extent, in private industries and overmanning in industry have all created problems that we have not even yet succeeded in solving. There has also been the failure of successive United Kingdom Governments—I include Governments of both parties—to recognise in full the magnitude of these changes. They have not been tackled when they could have been tackled more easily.

All this is a heritage that is extraordinarily difficult for a country to overcome. The result has been that the huge task of not only changing but reviving the Welsh economy and meeting these new challenges has not been carried out.

On the other hand, some encouraging features have not yet been mentioned. It is a great advantage that for some time there has been a consistently low rate of inflation. It is still not sufficiently low, and is still greatly in excess of that of many comparable industrial countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world. We should be encouraged by the proportion of the newer industries, both internally created and from abroad, that have come into the Principality. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned this point, and it is encouraging that the rate is far greater than we might have anticipated. It is an enormous achievement for us to have 24 per cent. of such industries coming into a relatively small part of the United Kingdom. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside seldom refers in Welsh debates to the credit side of the balance.

The work of the industrial division of the Welsh Office and of the Welsh Development Agency is highly to be commended. Their achievements have not been inconsiderable and have exceeded many of our expectations.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman would comment on the practice of some multinational companies in Wales which recently threatened employees that, unless they accepted wage cuts, investment would be deferred. Some have also demanded early retirement, as happened recently in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd).

Sir Raymond Gower

I deprecate such threats, but we lack realism. When, three or four years ago, there was industrial difficulty in the United States, trade unions accepted reductions in earnings. That agreement has borne remarkable fruit. I do not attribute blame to one side of industry, but we must recognise collectively the magnitude of the task. The hon. Gentleman's intervention shows that he does not recognise it. I have no evidence of such threats, but I accept the hon. Gentleman's word that there might have been some in some obscure place. I have not heard of any in a major industry.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way as he referred to my constituency as an obscure place. Is he aware that the Japanese company Hitachi recently asked employees aged over 35 to take early retirement?

Sir Raymond Gower

I did not refer to the hon. Lady's constituency. I am aware that Hitachi has been in some difficulty.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

We should welcome the substantial investment that Hitachi is making to provide future employment.

Sir Raymond Gower

Indeed. I should have thought that all hon. Members would welcome that investment.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside welcomes the institution of the first Welsh business centre for technology in his constituency. The hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) must be pleased that a similar business technology centre has been established in Newport. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the setting up of WINvest for inward investment and the establishment of WINtech to stimulate the technological development that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside agrees we badly need. We must admit that Wales still lacks high technology. Like the rest of the United Kingdom, Wales lacks robot technology. Unfortunately, Britain is lowest in the European league in that innovation.

I do not disagree with the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside that far too many of our people are out of work. I agree that far too few jobs are available. I assure him that worry on that count is not confined to one side of the House. We also are keen to find a solution, but it will not be easy to reconcile the control of inflation and management of the economy with the creation of new jobs. Nevertheless, that must be our objective. It is an operation that will require the co-operation of every interest and person in the Principality. Wales cannot act in isolation.

Ministers must not be reluctant to explain or to desist from explaining the urgency of the task. The solution cannot be achieved by Government alone, or by industry alone. However, I do not believe that things are as dismal as the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside would have us believe. There is now greater confidence in industry than there was a few years ago. Most of the jobs that have been lost have been in the old industries which have been in difficulty throughout the world, while the not inconsiderable number of new jobs are in modern industries. That is encouraging.

Mrs. Clwyd

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in one of those new industries — electronics — Wales has lost 521 jobs during the past 10 years?

Sir Raymond Gower

When new industries start, some will falter and some will fail. It is remarkable how, in difficult circumstances, many have established themselves and are contriving to do reasonably well. Britain must contend with highly competitive markets.

Although there are signs of revival in industry, companies have been handicapped by the coal industry strike. It is understandable that people in mining areas are worried about employment, but the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside must agree that it is extremely sad that the continuance of the strike has imperilled some pits that were not originally threatened. There cannot be a victor in a strike such as this, but it would be a sombre day for Wales and for Britain if it appeared that violence and mass picketing has triumphed. We must hope that an early resolution of the dispute will be followed by a readiness on both sides to reconstruct and restore the industry.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the Severn crossing. We can expect the publication of the feasibility study in just over a year. I hope that it will be followed by prompt and fearless action by the Government to ensure that we have a reliable link across the Severn. If it is practical, I should prefer a Severn barrage with a road over the barrage. Such an imaginative development would be beneficial on both sides of the Bristol channel. I assure my right hon. Friend that, if the Government show a lack of readiness to take effective measures after publication of the study, right hon. and hon. Members from Wales will be united in trying to force a quick response from the Government. This is not a partisan issue. It is particularly important to the southern half of Wales.

An unpleasant disease has appeared in Wales, which is colloquially described as AIDS. I have long taken an interest in the work of the Welsh transfusion centre at Rhydlafer which, until recently, was in my constituency. I have asked Ministers in the Welsh Office, the Department of Health and Social Security and the Scottish Office many questions. Whatever Ministers may say, the signs that we have from other countries of the growth of that disease, with which medical science has only a limited ability to deal, show that this is a much more dangerous and horrific disease than either the British medical profession or Ministers are prepared to acknowledge.

I am afraid that there is an undue amount of complacency about this terrifying disease. I am particularly worried about the position of those who administer our blood transfusion centres. I hope that Ministers will bear in mind the strong case, which has so far been resisted, that AIDS should be a notifiable disease. If ever there were a case for making any disease notifiable, this is it. Health in the Principality is part of my right hon. Friend's responsibility. This may be one of the most formidable and horrifying problems with which he has had to deal.

6.31 pm
Mr. Leo Abse (Torfaen)

Tempting as it would be to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower) on AIDS and his foolish suggestion that it should be a notifiable disease, which would probably drive the whole issue underground and undoubtedly add to the genuine concerns of all of us about that, I shall not do so.

Fortunately, as a result of the vigorous and wide-ranging speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), there is no necessity for us to concentrate upon the broader issues. Instead, we can deal with those particular issues which Back Benchers fortunately have the opportunity to deal with on a Welsh day.

It will not surprise the Secretary of State for Wales to hear that I shall be returning to all the problems that are arising out of the proceedings relating to bad work in our hospitals in Wales. I do not wish to recall again the attempts to mask the now notorious settlement of the University of Wales hospital. I do not want to go again into the details of how the surveyors' report was denied to the House and never placed in the Library until more than 12 months after the settlement. I do not want to go again into the details of how that settlement was presented only after vigorous press and House of Commons questions. I do not want to go again into the detail of how derisory it was and how it sought to exclude parliamentary surveillance and how evasive even when the storm had burst was the Secretary of State's approach, hiding, as it was, the revealing statement of claim of the action until he was forced to disgorge it.

Wales has made its judgment on the bungling and failure to monitor the issues with which the Secretary of State for Wales has so recently been involved. The taxpayer groans again as he observes that he will now be likely to be compelled to pay yet again as the architects sue the Secretary of State because of his appallingly maladroit handling of the issue.

I record these matters only to emphasise that it would be intolerable if, in the new set of claims on which the Secretary of State's agency is now embarking in respect of the defective work of the residential blocks of the Bangor hospital, we were to find displayed the same equivocation and bungling that characterised the University of Wales hospital affair. Those new claims, of which we are now belatedly learning, involving as they do two main companies, IDC Ltd. and HDC Ltd., with both of which Mr. Denis Thatcher is associated, raise issues which are deeply troubling.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

The Hospital Design Consortium consists of S. W. Milburn and Partners, W. T. Hill and Co., quantity surveyors, and W. S. Atkins, engineers. I know of no connection between that consortium and Mr. Thatcher. The hon. Gentleman is muddling that consortium with another organisation.

Mr. Abse

In September 1981 The Times referred to the IDC Group Ltd., of which Housing Development Construction Ltd. is a wholly owned subsidiary. I would welcome the chance to give the Secretary of State the opportunity to explain that there is no association in respect of that company with Mr. Denis Thatcher.

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman has answered his own question. He gave the name associated with the letters that he spelled out. The Hospital Design Consortium was appointed in 1970 under the old Welsh hospital board and carried through the design work on that hospital. I have given the hon. Gentleman the companies that comprised that consortium.

Mr. Abse

If the acronym is misleading, as the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to point out, I welcome that. But it does not detract from the main substance of what I want to say since, clearly, the main company concerned, IDC Ltd., is associated with Mr. Denis Thatcher. Would the right hon. Gentleman like to intervene again to dissociate Mr. Denis Thatcher from IDC Ltd.? I notice that he does not and I am not surprised.

I notice in a vigorous and lively column by Mr. Paul Foot in the Daily Mirror that, on being questioned, IDC Ltd. was not prepared to say that Mr. Denis Thatcher was not associated with it.

The tactics that were adopted over the University of Wales hospital to mask the facts have, I regret to say, evidently taken place again. The evasion first began when the Welsh Office was questioned by the press about the defective buildings at Bangor. The Western Mail has made it clear how the press were initially sidetracked. On 20 February Mr. John Hibbs reported: Two weeks ago in response to press enquiries the Welsh Office provided details of legal action against the consortium responsible for the overall design of the hospital complex at Bangor. But it said nothing then about the preliminary action under contract against IDC or a sub-contractor both of which were involved in the construction of the nurses home. We began with what I believe to be an evasion. The press did not then appreciate and was not helped to appreciate that IDC, the company with which Mr. Thatcher is associated, was in any way involved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside raised the issue on 11 February when, among other questions, he asked the Secretary of State: may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether legal proceedings and writs are involved involving any other major hospitals in the Principality? How did the Secretary of State reply? He said: A writ was issued on 1 November in respect of Ysbyty Gwynedd and a statement of claim is being prepared."—[Official Report, 11 February 1985; Vol. 73, c. 4.] Did the right hon. Gentleman say against whom? Did he mention in any manner or form that one of the companies, the major company involved, was the company with which Mr. Thatcher was associated? No. He displayed extraordinary reticence.

What happened next? A statement was made in the House of Commons. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside asked: Has he issued writs against the construction company that built the nurses' home, which has major problems? Is the IDC construction company the company that built the nurses' home? What is the scale of moneys that the right hon. Gentleman seeks as compensation?"—[Official Report, 12 February 1985; Vol. 73, c. 172.] Those were three clear, important and unequivocal questions that the Secretary of State was asked, and he did not show that he was pressed for time in the statement that he made on that day. One can look through Hansard, read it again and again, and find no answer at all to any of those three questions. However, the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside had revealed that IDC Ltd. was involved inevitably meant that the Welsh Office was bombarded with questions, knowing the association of IDC with Mr. Denis Thatcher.

Then and only then, after all that diffidence, out of the blue came a letter from the Secretary of State addressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside, dated 18 February. Suddenly it appeared that the Secretary of State for Wales was using Hansard for his light reading — it was nothing to do with the bombardment of questions on the Welsh Office in respect of IDC. The letter came spontaneously, saying: On reading the Official Report for 12 February I see that although I gave a generalised answer there were specific questions that you asked about the IDC construction company and the nurses home in Bangor which I did not answer. So out of that light reading, not prompted by civil servants or the bombardment of questions on the Welsh Office, suddenly that spontaneous letter came in which the right hon. Gentleman felt he should reveal what we now know. The credibility of that will be judged by Wales, as it will be by the House. In the statement we learnt that a claim had been submitted to IDC Ltd., which was the main contractor, about defective construction work. In his letter the Secretary of State said: This is presently the subject of negotiation. The question of a writ will only arise if negotiations are not successful. The right hon. Gentleman added that IDC Ltd.

has also been joined as a Third Party by the sub-contractors, Haden Young Ltd., against whom WHTSO has issued proceedings as a result of fire damage to the residences.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Does my hon. Friend recognise that he is luckier than some of us in the House have been when we have tried to probe the Thatcher involvement in commercial contracts? Many of us spent five months trying to establish whether the Prime Minister knew or did not know of her son's involvement in the Cementation contract at the time that he was in Oman with her. She evaded and evaded in the same way that the Welsh Office has evaded for several months. She successfully evaded for five months, using every blocking system available. Therefore, I congratulate my hon. Friend on having completed that investigation, so we can return to the Oman question.

Mr. Abse

I shall return to the Oman question as I seek to develop my argument because what my right hon. Friend says is relevant to the issue.

I should like to know how those matters between the Secretary of State for Wales and the company concerned will be dealt with by him. Let me put the issue to him bluntly. How can the taxpayers feel confident that the Secretary of State, without fear or favour, will pursue those claims against his premier's husband? In particular, how can Wales feel confident that the claim is being pursued vigorously when it is known that the Secretary of State intervened at Mr. Thatcher's request—some would say command—on behalf of that self-same company to expedite a planning hearing?

Wales recalls the "Dear Nick" letter written on 10 Downing street notepaper to the Secretary of State and how, thanks to a leak in The Times, we learnt how the Secretary of State responded to that letter from Mr. Thatcher. He responded like a circus dog to his trainer. He said: The explanation … had better be good and quick: ie, this week. Such obeisances by the Secretary of State in the past do not encourage the belief that he will now pursue Mr. Thatcher's company for every penny that is due to the taxpayers, money which, evidently, Mr. Thatcher's company is refusing to acknowledge is due.

Let me make this clear. The fact that the Secretary of State and Mr. Thatcher are on first-name terms does not necessarily mean that the Secretary of State would feel inhibited from dealing with that matter. After all, the Secretary of State writes to me quite frequently. He calls me Leo. I am bound to say that when I send copies of his letters to my constituents, I hope that they do not so misinterpret that as to imagine that I have any friendship with the Secretary of State. However, we know that the relationship between the Secretary of State and Mr. Thatcher goes far beyond that. On 18 September 1981, the Secretary of State boasted to The Times: I have known Denis Thatcher for a long time. He is a friend of mine. We meet quite frequently. I do not know what is involved as we have not yet been told. I do not know whether hundreds or thousands, or millions, are involved. What I do know is that the more we examine the issue, the more unnerving it becomes from the point of view of the taxpayers of Wales. After all, IDC has been a haven for Conservative politicians out of office, from the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) to the former Member who represented Ashford.

Mr. Thatcher's role is far from clear. As The Times put it on 18 September 1981: The reason for the group appointing Mr. Thatcher is vague. —Indeed it is.

A spokesman said: 'He has wide business experience and it was thought this would be of benefit to IDC.' He said Mr. Thatcher's duties covered general business and organisational matters. No doubt that includes letter writing.

With this background, clearly there are certain questions that have to be put to the Secretary of State. How much is involved? How much are the claims that are being pursued? There are two claims. There is the claim against the subcontractors with which IDC is joined, and the direct claim upon which the Secretary of State has said that he is negotiating. We want to know how much is being claimed. Indeed, since if any of these claims are compromised, suspicion is bound to loom over such settlements, it is important at this stage that we know the figures claimed so there can be no question again, I trust, of derisory settlements, this time favouring Mr. Thatcher's company.

In view of the friendship declared between Mr. Thatcher and the Secretary of State for Wales, I think that we are entitled to ask what steps the Secretary of State is taking to distance himself from his friend. Has any correspondence taken place on these issues between the Secretary of State for Wales and Mr. Thatcher since that last publicised and ill-fated leak in the correspondence about IDC at that time? Is the Secretary of State for Wales still meeting his friend frequently, as he was?

Mr. D. E. Thomas

In the case of this much publicised event in the constituency of Meirionnydd, I remind the House that relevant essential parts of the Welsh Office file are still missing.

Mr. Abse

These facts, if such are the facts, only add to the aura of suspicion with which these matters are surrounded and only make it more necessary that we should he given full, clear and not diffident explanations now.

Has the Secretary of State for Wales, because of this relationship, considered whether it is right that he should use his offices to endeavour to obtain a settlement? If he has, has he failed? Does he intend to use his private links to meet Mr. Thatcher privately and, if so, how does he intend to ensure that any settlement, which may well be genuine, is seen to be in the interests of the taxpayers and not in the interests of Thatcher's company? There is clearly need for full clarification from the Secretary of State of how he sees the position and how he intends to deal with it now that Denis Thatcher's association with this company has led to the position that the Secretary of State has had to issue against his boss's husband's company a writ, and is presently engaged in negotiation with that selfsame company over what may well be a large sum.

The third and most important question that I put to the Secretary of State for Wales is this. Has he made representations to the Prime Minister pointing out how impossible his personal situation is in these claims because of her husband's association with this company? I, of course, do not know whether this association of Mr. Thatcher with the company is continuing. We know that it was in existence in 1982, and it appears still to be in existence. What we do know is that in no way, even if he had already left, would it be irrelevant to what I have been saying, since the claims arise in respect of work done between 1978 and 1982 when we know Mr. Thatcher's interest to have been in existence; and, short of full disclosure of the terms of his financial association, any detriment or profit arising to the companies out of that period would clearly affect Mr. Thatcher personally. It would of course assist in the future if we knew that Mr. Thatcher had broken his connection with those companies, but, as I said earlier, I am not encouraged to believe that that has happened. The Secretary of State perhaps can tell us—he must know. Will he tell us?

I am not suggesting that Mr. Thatcher, if he chooses to continue with his private commercial life while he is the Prime Minister's husband, does not have the right to do so. There may be many justifications for his motivation. After all, he may be feeling insecure. The election is a long way off. [Interruption.] The knives are out on the Tory Back Benches now and indeed Conservative Members may find it less droll if I remind them of one other reason why Mr. Thatcher may feel that he should continue in his commercial activities. We all remember — it may be recent enough for even the young fogeys on the Conservative Benches to remember—

Mr. Best

I would rather he a young fogey than an old fogey.

Mr. Abse

We all remember that in the early 1970s food shortages could have arisen had people panicked and purchased excessively. We all remember the example that the Prime Minister, as the then Secretary of State for Education, set. She was discovered to be a hoarder. Her unconvincing apologia for that shabby behaviour was: With my husband facing retirement, I see the prices rising so one does lay in a quiet store of food and household things that one thinks one will need. If it is within such a family domestic ambience that Mr. Thatcher is living, it may well be that he continues to feel sufficiently insecure that he must go out to work and, if he does so, we are in no position to criticise him. That is his right. However, whatever may be the motivation for his desire to continue in commercial life, I say that Caesar's husband is no ordinary man.

Mr. Best

Caesar was heterosexual. [Interruption.]

Mr. Abse

Conservative Members will not be able to laugh this one off, as they will find. When the last incident took place, The Times carried an editorial about the "Dear Nick" letter containing comments with which I entirely agree. The Times said: Ministers and MPs are rightly expected to make their business commitments public, and in some cases to lay them aside. Their husbands and wives are under no such obligation, and should not be; nor can they be expected to keep their business and political friendships in sealed compartments. Nevertheless, the power they may have behind the scenes can be considerable, and all the more formidable in that its extent is impossible to access from outside. The editorial concluded, a conclusion with which I agree: If ambiguous situations are to be avoided in the future, a little more care is needed than Mr. Thatcher has shown on this occasion.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

This squalid little smear has been well heralded. I should like to take the opportunity to say about four things to the hon. Gentleman. First, this contract was entered into in 1978 under the last Labour Government. Secondly, unlike the situation in the Heath hospital, when no effective action of any kind was taken during the period of the Labour Government to protect the interests of the taxpayer, on this occasion prompt and effective action was taken to protect the interest of the taxpayer arising from the errors in design and construction that occurred in the hospital. The work done by IDC is a small part of the total. The claim will be, and is being, vigorously pursued. I shall not hesitate to take legal action if that is necessary. A substantial offer has been made by the company, negotiations are taking place, and I shall report the outcome of them or the terms of the settlement fully to the House, and the House will be given full details.

Mr. Abse

The Secretary of State seems to be suggesting that I am querying the fact that the contract was given to IDC. I have never queried it in any way — [Interruption.] Perhaps the Secretary of State would like to intervene again.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

The hon. Gentleman has suggested so many squalid things in the course of his squalid speech that I am at least entitled to point out that this contract—as far as I know the only contract that the company has had in Wales — was placed at the time of the Labour Government.

Mr. Abse

I am not impugning the giving of the contract. The Secretary of State does not wish to recognise that I am saying that, in the light of what he did for IDC, he is in an impossible situation in negotiating this claim.

What is squalid about the matter is that, despite the advice and guidance of The Times and others in 1981, Mr. Thatcher still continues to co-operate in the work of a company that seeks public contracts. It is inappropriate that the Prime Minister's husband should be joined with a company that seeks contracts from Ministries. If the Secretary of State thinks that I am being squalid in identifying that problem, he should bear in mind that I am trying to identify a problem that could easily have been resolved if the Prime Minister had had the necessary tête í tête with her husband, and had removed him from that position.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Before the hon. Gentleman adds yet another squalid little smear to his now long list, may I say that I am not aware of the company seeking any contracts, at least from my Department. I repeat that the only contract, as far as I know, that the company has entered into in Wales — and I have answered a parliamentary question on this subject—was entered into under a Labour Government. That Government must answer for the circumstances in which they entered into contracts.

Mr. Abse

The Secretary of State is stubbornly and wilfully refusing to see the point. Judging by the example of that hospital, the company is obviously the sort of company that goes out—as it is entitled, in the normal course of events, to do—to seek public contracts from Ministries. I repeat that it is inappropriate that the man who acts as the consultant to that company should be the Prime Minister's husband. It is no use the Secretary of State trying to defend his friends by suggesting that even to query such matters is lesé majesté. That is no reason for him to suggest that any probing of the issue is squalid. His defence does not stand up, because he is not facing up to the constitutional position.

The Secretary of State said that he would monitor the situation carefully and that he would ensure that the matter was vigorously pursued. But how can he expect any credibility when everybody knows that no one is more subservient to the Prime Minister's policies? Everybody knows that he is the Prime Minister's representative in Wales, and that he is not the voice of Wales, representing Wales in the Cabinet. With his hubris, I doubt whether he understands how small his credibility is on this issue, particularly in view of the squalid manner in which he dealt with the University of Wales issue, and in view of the way in which, even in this matter, he attempted at the beginning of the probe to conceal from public knowledge the allegations that have been made.

I have had my say, and others outside will have their say. After the issues raised as a result of Mr. Thatcher's intervention over IDC Ltd, no one will be satisfied that there can be a fearless approach to the claims that are being waged against that company as long as those claims are in the Secretary of State's hands.

7.5 pm

Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)

That interminable, irrelevant and distasteful speech was entirely characteristic of the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse).

Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, Central)

Hardly honourable.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Indeed, perhaps "honourable" is stretching it a bit. I intend to be no less controversial than the hon. Gentleman, but I shall be a great deal briefer. Unlike him, I do not intend to deprive those very few Opposition Members who have taken the trouble to turn up to this debate of the opportunity to speak in it.

This is a big day for those of us who have the honour to represent Welsh constituencies, and naturally we want to use it to draw attention to the matters that are of principal concern to them. In my own case, now that the threat to put Colwyn Bay power station on to daymanning only — a threat that was causing the gravest possible concern to the people of Colwyn Bay, due to the many residential homes for the elderly — has been lifted, my constituents' principal concern extends well beyond the boundaries of the constituency. Their concern is directed at the decision of some teachers' unions to back their pay claim by action that can only damage the well-being of the children in their charge, and that gives the children an appalling example, by the refusal to acknowledge any duty higher than personal advantage.

I want, in this speech, to touch on the wider and deeper issues which underlie the now crumbling miners' strike. That strike has been supported more fully in Wales, or rather in south Wales, than in any other part of the country, not even excluding Yorkshire. I shall be saying some pretty harsh things about the Labour party, which comes out of this affair far worse than the leadership of the NUM. I want to be fair.

There are two things to be said in defence of the NUM in south Wales. First, as far as the rank and file of striking miners are concerned, and as far as their leaders in south Wales are concerned, this is a strike to defend jobs. In fact, it is only too horribly clear that more miners' jobs will be destroyed by the strike than were at risk from the original closure proposals. But it is precisely because this strike, unlike the teachers' antics, is a strike to defend jobs—and not always only one's own job—and is not just a strike for more pay, that it has until the last few days commanded such an extraordinary degree of support in south Wales.

That brings me to the second point that I wish to make in support of the NUM in south Wales. Although there have been appalling individual acts of thuggery — perhaps the worst in the entire country — I do not believe that intimidation has played a decisive part in maintaining the solidarity of the strike in south Wales.

The miners of south Wales believe, perhaps wrongly, that they are fighting a battle to save their and their mates' jobs, and to save the communities in which they live, and they will fight to the end. Both as regards the objective which they pursue and as regards their chances of victory, they are tragically, heroically, but excusably wrong. The Labour party, in the half-hearted support that it has given to the strike, is knowingly, cravenly, and inexcusably wrong. Labour Members know perfectly well that the uneconomic pits push up the price of coal so as to make the cost of heating for old people, and the cost of energy for industry, much higher than it need be. They know that the money and the men poured into keeping those pits open are not thereby available for developing pits with a bright, long-term future. They know that promising new projects such as oil from coal are being starved of funds by the drain of resources to keep these uneconomic pits open.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that very point?

Sir Anthony Meyer

No, I will not.

They know that it is vital for the future of Wales to keep moving steadily away from dependence on traditional industries into new patterns of economic activity of the sort of which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales spoke with such hope and which the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) acknowledged. New patterns of economic activity will create greater wealth and provide better jobs. Labour Members know that the coal strike is a tragic and mistaken attempt to arrest this essential process of change.

In short, Labour Members know better than anyone else about the path of self-destruction along which the miners are being led. Worse still, they know why the miners are being led along that path. They know that Arthur Scargill brought about the strike and kept it alive for purely political reasons; to try to destroy by direct action a Government who cannot be destroyed by constitutional means. Every Labour Member knows — every one of them says, in private, of course — that Arthur Scargill represents as great a threat to the Labour party as he does to the coal industry. He is no threat to my party. Indeed, he is our most handy weapon since General Galtieri.

Is there a Labour Member who will dare to say in public what every one of them says in private? Even now, with the big, brave bulk of Mr. Norman Willis to shelter behind, Labour Members dare not speak out lest they spoil their chances of reselection. Let them remember that they will not be reselected by being cowardly and running away. I can speak with some experience about that.

In north Wales, Nottinghamshire and elsewhere, some miners have continued working throughout the dispute. Others have had the sense to realise that they are being led to disaster and they have returned to work. They are all members of the National Union of Mineworkers. They have all scrupulously obeyed the overtime ban. Most of them, despite all that has happened, are still loyal supporters of the Labour party. Which Labour Member has stood up for them?

The hon. Members for Alyn and Deeside and for Wrexham (Dr. Marek)—the latter has not honoured us with his presence today — pride themselves on being great champions of their constituents. When did either of them last publicly salute the courage and good sense of the many hundreds of their constituents who are union members and Labour party members and who are working at Point of Ayr or Bersham?

The hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) likes to pose as the champion of the steelworkers of Llanwern. He has not had much to say about the achievements of those steelworkers in keeping their plant going and maintaining production despite all the efforts of NUM leaders to close it down.

What about those two exhausted volcanoes, the right hon. Members for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan)? What about the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris)? What have they done to help the miners of south Wales get off the hook on which they have been impaled by Mr. Scargill's revolutionary scheming? I know that those three wily old birds know what needed to be done.

And then there is the Duke of Plaza Toro himself, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), the Leader of the Opposition, who is leading his army, as ever, safely from behind. He, more than any one else, knows that, so long as the party that he is supposed to be leading continues following Mr. Scargill's seductive piping, his chances of getting to Downing street are zero.

We know that the right hon. Member for Islwyn condemns violence. Indeed, he abhors violence. When some of us were beginning to hope that he was growing a backbone and might screw himself up to denounce Mr. Scargill's connivance at violence—we all love the right hon. Gentleman dearly—he explained that the violence which really bothered him was that of policemen trying to uphold the law. There is not much chance of that right hon. Gentleman giving the miners a brave lead back to the path of sanity.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House know that I am no uncritical supporter of the Government. I am especially unhappy about the sour relations which they have allowed, and on occasions seem positively to have encouraged, between central Government and local government. However, I must acknowledge that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has at least tempered bad policy with firm and clear administration.

I am more profoundly unhappy about the conscious refusal of some Ministers to call on latent feelings of national solidarity which would make the prosperous south-east more sharply aware of the very different state of affairs in Wales and in the north of England, or which would make those lucky enough to have a good job—perhaps their wives are in good jobs as well — more ready to accept sacrifices if that would help those who are trying desperately to find employment.

Over and above this, I know something of greater importance. There is no future for Wales and no future for Britain unless we make our industries competitive. There is no world system of supplementary benefit to keep an impoverished Britain from starvation. There is no world subsidy to keep open the Great Britannia mine when it is no longer economic. It is this Government, with all their harshness, clumsiness and all too frequent incompetence, who have the guts to take the tough decisions. The Labour party, for all its professed solicitude for the poor and the unemployed, does not have the courage, when the c hips are down, to take any decisions which might upset its own extremist supporters.

The Labour party has done nothing to help the miners in their agony. It will have no contribution to make to the process of reconciliation, which must surely begin now, even before the final convulsions of the strike, to bring peace to our strife-torn communities, peace between those who have been striking and those who have been working.

I hope to God that the party and the Government which I support can now find restraint, generosity and vision to match the courage and resolution which they have shown in the past 12 months.

7.18 pm
Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

We are all well aware that this debate is held traditionally to mark St. David's day. I shall not celebrate, because we in Wales have little to celebrate on this day. Over the past months and years we have witnessed a most savage attack on our institutions, our industries and our way of life by a Tory Government who resolutely refuse to admit that their policies are damaging the fabric of Welsh life. At a time of high unemployment, those in government have removed the development status of vulnerable areas in various parts of Wales. They have caused the rundown of major industries without replacing jobs or making adequate provision for those who have found themselves on the dole.

The Government have forced cuts in primary and secondary schools and have threatened the well-being of our institutes of higher education. Even now, they are planning to cut our research establishments and to centralise Government Departments. I was told at the end of January that the Government contemplate making cuts of up to £30 million within research establishments in Britain. I have been told that that will mean that 1,000 employees in various institutions and agricultural research stations throughout Britain will be made redundant and that many stations will be closed.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Conwy (Mr. Roberts), will reply on behalf of the Government at the conclusion of the debate. He knows that we are proud in Ceredigion and Pembroke, North of the Welsh plant breeding station at Gogerddan, Aberystwyth. I wonder whether he will say that the future of the establishment will be secure and that he will do everything in his power to ensure that the world-renowned establishment in Ceredigion will remain intact.

With the Transport Bill, the Government are threatening to disrupt the whole structure of public transport in Wales. I have been in touch with district and county councils in Wales and the response from them is entirely hostile to the Government's plans. They express great concern about the utter chaos that will result from deregulating bus operations, and they fear that standards of safety will fall drastically. Rural areas in particular will suffer as cross-subsidisation will no longer keep non-profitable routes going.

I have often criticised the agriculture policies of the Government and their mishandling of the quota system for milk producers. Those policies have caused great hardship in some areas and, as I have said before, too little has been done too late to help agriculture in Wales through this difficult period.

I am sorry that the Secretary of State has left the Chamber, because I wish to make a personal appeal to him, one that he has refused on many occasions to heed from Opposition Members. As the right hon. Gentleman has full responsibility for agriculture in Wales, I urge him to go to Brussels on behalf of our farmers, in particular our dairy farmers. Even if he is not successful in his deliberations this year, the dairy farmers of Wales will be complimentary to him, for he will have tried to defend their rights.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not shake his head every time we ask him to go to Brussels. He is duty bound, in his role as Secretary of State for Wales — being responsible for agriculture—to go to Brussels now and then to defend the rights of those who are in dire trouble.

Many people have complimented the Government on the outgoers scheme. I do not believe that it is working well. At the end of the day we shall have about 300 fewer small dairy producers in Wales. It is a shame that we should be getting rid of small producers—dairy farmers with fewer than 40 cows — to ensure that other small producers in Wales may remain in business.

I am wondering what advice the Welsh Office gave to farmers who accepted the outgoers scheme. I am sure that many of them now regret having signed on the dotted line, as their little farms, without milk quotas, are worth much less now than they were 12 months ago. No real advice was given to them. It is a pity that so many of them have left the industry. That is why I appeal yet again to the Secretary of State to go to Brussels on their behalf.

Many dairy farmers who bought their farms in 1983 are in dire financial trouble. Those young people decided to expand. They heeded the advice of the Government. Those who bought in 1983 and who do not have a quota have large financial commitments to the banks. I am afraid that many small dairy farmers in Wales will go bankrupt, having been persuaded by the Government and the banks to expand their smallholdings. I am worried on their behalf, especially those families with children. For many of them there is no alternative but to sell up and get out, at the same time becoming bankrupt.

Agriculture and tourism have become the two biggest industries in Wales. Tourism is important not only to the economy but to the community. In many areas, tourism is the lifeblood of the community, providing a livelihood for the shops, garages, pubs and other services. In Welsh-speaking communities it is helping to curtail rural depopulation by boosting the local economy, thereby ensuring the survival of the Welsh language and culture.

Tourism can successfully be linked with agricultural opportunities. In these days of changing economic fortunes, it is reassuring to have a supplementary income to the main farming activity. The growth of farm tourism is one of the big success stories of rural Wales. Recent research shows that there are about 6,000 agricultural holdings in Wales engaged in some tourism enterprise. There are about 1,250 farm guest houses providing accommodation and meals. In many cases, tourism is used to subsidise the traditional types of agricultural activity.

A feature to have emerged clearly in recent years is the increasing professionalism of all those involved in rural tourism. Marketing is becoming more professional, with the formation of group marketing co-operatives and the introduction of central booking facilities.

The Wales Tourist Board has done excellent work in recent years. The current agriculture policies being applied to Wales are not creating jobs. Indeed, confidence in agriculture is at its lowest ebb since the war. I hope that by helping those engaged in the tourist industry, we are also helping those engaged in agriculture.

Today, the day before St. David's day, is a suitable occasion on which to press the Secretary of State on his intentions about the future of Wales as a nation. Does he consider that Wales is a nation with problems and peculiarities that place it apart from the rest of the United Kingdom? Or is he content to regard it as just another region of the United Kingdom?

Does he have any plans for devolved government for Wales? It has been amply illustrated during the lifetime of this Administration that centralised government from Westminster has failed to help Wales and that the ills that have befallen us are due largely to the mismanagement of politicians, far away from the Welsh borders, who have no conception of the problems further north than Watford and further west than Reading.

It is essential that we look once again at the possibility of a Welsh assembly that would bring power closer to the people of Wales and give them a measure of control over their destiny. I am sure that, when he replies to the debate, the Minister will refer to what happened on 1 March 1979, when, he will say, the Welsh people voted overwhelmingly against devolution. But they did not vote against the principle. They voted against the proposals. The principle still stands that we should have our own assembly to look after the interests of the Welsh people.

Has the Secretary of State any plans to support further the Welsh language and the culture of Wales? I have in mind the introduction of a new Welsh language measure to bring legislation up to date, to suit the present situation in Wales and safeguard the future of the language. Is he in favour of the principle of bilingual schooling throughout Wales and will he support wholeheartedly the movement that has been set up to extend Welsh language education? Is he in favour of the independent authority for the development of Welsh language education?

Dr. Roger Thomas (Carmarthen)

While the hon. Gentleman is on the subject of bilingual schools, will he impress upon Ministers the need for extra finance in order to carry children from outside catchment areas to the schools, because there are huge areas of Wales that do not fit within any particular catchment area?

Mr. Howells

I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas). He has stated the facts as he sees them in Carmarthen and I hope that the Under-Secretary will listen to his plea, which is genuine and sincere.

Finally, may I ask the Secretary of State whether he has taken any action since my early-day motion of last year, which called for St. David's day to be declared a public holiday so that the people of Wales may be able to pay a tribute to the memory of their patron saint and renew their commitment to Wales and its future. Here we are on the eve of St. David's day and I am afraid that 12 months from now, on the eve of St. David's day 1986, the unemployment figure in Wales will have risen and very little will have been done to save the language, the culture and the historic institutions that belong to us as a nation.

7.31 pm
Mr. Stefan Terlezki (Cardiff, West)

On the eve of St. David's day, what pathetic, appalling, synthetic speeches have been made by the Opposition so far. I except the last speaker, the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells), and I agree with him that the Welsh heritage, culture, tradition and education should be preserved, if that is what the people of Wales wish. Every nation is entitled to its history and tradition and everything that goes with them.

I was appalled to hear the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) saying absolutely nothing about Wales, Welsh culture, Welsh history, the Welsh language or the Welsh economy, but merely talking about Mr. Thatcher, Mr. Thatcher, Mr. Thatcher, and credibility. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman, who is now absent, that the credibility of the present Secretary of State for Wales is very high indeed in the Principality. I shall introduce some records about education, the economy, transport, and social structure, grants, housing and many other things that will show how much our present Secretary of State has contributed to Wales in comparison with previous Secretaries of State under Labour Governments.

Strikes, mining communities and mining leaders have been mentioned. How regrettable, appalling and, indeed, unethical it is for Labour Members always to attack the police, their behaviour and their obstruction, but never to attack the behaviour of the pickets and of what I would call the apparatchiks within the NUM and on the pickets lines. Nobody on the Labour Benches has mentioned, in the past or this afternoon—nor will they mention in the future—the behaviour of the pickets in south Wales and the tragedy that occurred when an innocent taxi driver was killed taking a miner to work, a miner who wanted to earn his livelihood to keep his family. That was the cruel killing of an innocent man.

Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a matter which is the subject of a murder charge. Is it proper for even this Chair to allow that sort of innuendo and that sort of prejudicial material to be spoken about in the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I do not think that this matter is sub judice. If it is, the hon. Gentleman must not refer to it.

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This particular case is now before the courts; it has been referred to a Crown court.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand that this case is sub judice, in which case it is out of order for the hon. Gentleman to refer to it.

Mr. Terlezki

I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and if I have to withdraw, I will do so.

A great deal has also been said about the leader of the NUM—Scargill. That man, who deceived his members, the people of this country and the world, thought that he was the king of the miners. He is not. He never will be anything but a pathetic political Marxist, having helped to lose millions of tonnes of Welsh coal for export and approximately £10,000 in wages for every miner in Wales. He is the most discredited man, nationally and internationally, in a civilised society and the industrial world. He has divided mining communities. He has instilled fear and hatred in the mining people of Wales through intimidation, which I am afraid will continue for many years to come. He deserves no help whatsoever from anybody, now or in the future.

Of course, in matters of the economy and expenditure there is always room for improvement and we must not be complacent about the Principality. I think that it is a matter of so far, so good, in the present circumstances. But Labour Members, with their synthetic rhetoric and crocodile tears are saying that more should be done. We certainly would like to do more. What they do not say as how much it is going to cost to do more. Is it £1 billion, £2 billion, £5 billion or £10 billion? Why do they not spell out the projects that they have in mind? If they wish there to be implemented, let them put a figure on them, then we shall know what we are talking about.

As it was in the past, so it will be in the future. Labour Members have done nothing good for Wales; they never did and they never will. Our electoral results prove the point. In 1963 there were only three Conservative Members for Wales. Now we have nearly a rugby team, and we shall have a full one.

A lot of statistics have been quoted by the Opposition in connection with housing, transport, WDA, tourism, education and, indeed, coal mining. I shall concentrate on some of those statistics and figures.

I was most encouraged by what the Secretary of State said about the redevelopment of Cardiff, South — the docks area. This is wonderfully encouraging news, since it means that there will be some employment available for the people in Cardiff, West whom I have the honour and pleasure to represent in the House. I cannot wait to see the increased employment that will come to the Principality. I hope that it will rub off on my constituency. It is wonderful news. The £250 million project will mean job creation in the future. The Holiday Inn in Cardiff is adding to the number of bedrooms, which will make Cardiff more attractive for conferences and other events.

I regret to say that my constituency has many old council houses. More should be done by way of improvement grants for people living in Ely, Fairwater, Caerau, Canton and Riverside who need sanitation amenities inside their homes. The general standard of repair work needs to be improved.

Council tenants who have spent 30 or more years in their homes and paid rent have, in effect, bought their homes three or four times over. I believe that the councils should give them their houses. They should not spend taxpayers' and ratepayers' money on improvements, but should give the houses to the tenants who could then carry out their own improvements. I am sure that the tenants would be delighted if they were told that from tomorrow their houses would be theirs. I hope that the Minister will take that point on board.

Opposition Members quoted synthetic and pathetic figures on housing. I shall give the facts about housing expenditure and renovation grants in Wales. I hope that the Opposition will take note of the facts and be more accurate in future. Under a Labour Government in 1978–79, only £10.2 million was allocated for house renovation grants. Under the Conservative Government in 1983–84, £144.5 million was allocated. The Government have an excellent record and all credit goes to the Secretary of State for Wales for fighting hard to spend that money.

Between 1974–75 and 1978–79, the Labour Government spent £58 million on home improvement grants. The Conservative Government more than doubled that in 1983–84. We are proud of our record and Opposition Members should be ashamed of theirs.

A total of £5 million was allocated to 15 Welsh local authorities through an enveloping scheme in 1984–85. Between 1974 and 1978 only 2,713 local authority homes were sold to tenants in Wales. By the end of March 1982, 12,000 local authority homes had been sold under a Conservative Government. Opposition Members want to keep tenants in their tight-fisted hand so that they can direct them to do what they want them to do. They do not want tenants to have castles of their own and be proud to own them.

I want to give some facts on expenditure on roads in Wales. In 1977–78, only £55 million was spent on roads by the Labour Government. In 1982–83, the Conservative Government spent £120 million. Many road improvement schemes will begin before the end of next year, including expenditure of £216 million on the A55 covering 18.2 miles, £16.3 million on 8.5 miles of the A40 and £20.3 million on 8.6 miles of the A48. Work on the A483 will cost £51.75 million and will improve 15.7 miles of road. That is something of which the Conservative Government can be proud.

The Opposition have shed crocodile tears and spread scaremongering stories about the Severn bridge, which has hindered potential industries coming to Wales. They said that the bridge was unstable and was collapsing. Two years have passed, and the bridge is still standing. The Conservative manifesto pledged to strengthen and repair the Severn bridge to meet the requirements of modern traffic. The Government are committed to that and stand ready to begin building a second crossing when that is necessary. They will adhere to their pledge.

I am pleased to put certain statistics on the record about selective regional assistance. From July 1975 — [Interruption.] If Opposition Members do not like statistics, they should not quote them—I will not repeat them. During the periods 1 July 1975 to 30 April 1979 and 1 May 1979 to 26 February 1985, the number of offers of selective regional assistance in south Wales alone were 46 and 149 respectively.

Factory allocations by the Welsh Development Agency have been at a record level for the past two financial years. Let me remind the Opposition of their record. In 1978–79 under Labour the space allocation was 1 million sq ft; as for new job promises, they were zero zero. In 1983–84 under the Conservative Government the space allocation was 1.59 million sq ft and new job promises were 6,100.

Mr. Geraint Howells


Mr. Terlezki

I will not give way.

As for tourism, I am very proud of the tourist board, which is doing an excellent job in Wales. Over 90,000 jobs have been created in the tourist industry. We must look ahead. More jobs should be created in tourism because people now have much more leisure. We also need foreign currency. The income from tourism is about £500 million per annum. I hope it will not be too long before we can double that figure so that we can employ more people and show our beautiful Wales to more people from outside the United Kingdom.

In regard to education, under Labour from 1975–76 to 1979–80 there were 56,620 school leavers with no formal qualifications. Under the Conservatives from 1981 to 1983 the relevant figure was 25,930. That shows that we care about education and about the children. We have spent a record capital amount on education. Again, that is a record of which we are proud.

Enough has been said by the Opposition to convince me that no one will take any notice of them. For the sake of the Principality they should not keep on knocking their own country but should try to see how they can beautify it and help it. Members of Parliament represent people of all persuasions and colour. Those people need guidance; Opposition Members should not mislead them. Opposition Members should not discredit Wales and the people they represent. They should not have the audacity to stand up in this Chamber and criticise their own people and their own country.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. May I appeal for shorter speeches? We have had some very long speeches from both sides of the House. There are many right hon. and hon. Members who still hope to speak.

7.53 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

I should have preferred to follow the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), who has provoked me to intervene. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman, who made the charges that he did, has left the Chamber. He insulted all Members on this side of the House and the National Union of Mineworkers in Wales by suggesting that what we have advocated in this House throughout the dispute has been different from what we have said in the country. That is absolutely false, and he should know it.

We have sought throughout to get a decent, honourable settlement of the dispute. If our advice had been accepted, or if our warnings had been listened to, in the first few days or weeks of the dispute, there could have been a settlement then and the rest of the strike could have been avoided. As some hon. Members may remember, it was the Government who prevented the Department of Employment from taking action which might have avoided the strike in the first place. The Government said that they would not intervene. The claim of the Government, of the Secretary of State for Wales and of the Department of Employment was that they would not intervene. As we know, that claim was false. A committee was meeting all the time. We do not know whether the Secretary of State for Wales had any influence upon it.

During the early part of the dispute the Government were sitting back gloating over it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer even had the nerve to come to the House and say that it was a worthwhile investment. All through those weeks and months we were urging that there should be a proper negotiated settlement. My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme), acting on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition, sought to get negotiations going before many of the horrors and difficulties developed. Right from the beginning of the dispute all of my hon. Friends have been trying to get a negotiated settlement.

All the Welsh Labour MPs have been seeking from the beginning of the dispute right up to today to get a proper negotiated settlement. That is why we went to see the Secretary of State for Energy. The Secretary of State for Wales was there on that occasion. The church leaders in Wales had put forward reasonable proposals for a settlement. If the Secretary of State for Wales had been doing his duty he would have given support to those proposals, or at any rate would have sought to ensure that they were properly considered. When we saw the Secretary of State for Energy, he said that he did not want the strike to end with people being forced back to work because they could not keep their families together. He wanted a negotiated settlement.

The following day the Secretary of State for Energy saw representatives of the churches from Wales. They knew much more about both sides of the dispute than Ministers have ever tried to find out. They put forward proposals which should have won the backing of any Government who wanted a decent, honourable settlement, but the Government would not do anything about it. When the Secretary of State for Energy made some moves to try to get a settlement, and when NACODS tried to get a settlement, on each occasion the Prime Minister intervened and blocked it at the essential moment.

When the full story of the strike comes to be written, it will be shown that time and time again during the past 12 months there could have been a settlement if the Government had been doing their job properly. If they had tried, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East did, with the full backing of the Leader of the Opposition, the strike could have been settled. It is absolutely false for the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West to say that we have not acted consistently to try to get the dispute settled. No one bears a heavier responsibility than the Secretary of State for Wales. He should have lifted his finger at some point to try to ensure that there were decent negotiations.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that more than half the miners are back at work at Abertillery. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Government should intervene to prevent the TUC from achieving a settlement?

Mr. Foot

The Government should have gone much further. They should have responded earlier to the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East. The Secretary of State dares to talk about the miners in my constituency who have shown courage, determination and comradeship. The right hon. Gentleman should just sit quietly on his backside, as he has done during the past 12 months. Of course, a number of miners in my constituency who have supported the strike are now going back to work. They are doing so not because they wish to see a breach in the ranks of the NUM but because of what they have had to bear. They owe nothing to the Conservative party. Throughout the dispute my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), have tried, in association with the NUM, to achieve an intelligent settlement.

The background to the strike is the economic situation, which the Secretary of State accepts. The right hon. Gentleman has shown deep complacency about the strike. Wales is facing the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. Some years ago my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) presided over a Select Committee which inquired into problems in Wales. With unemployment increasing at such a pace, the Government should attempt by every means at their command to assist Wales, but instead, one door after another has been slammed. The Government's actions have prevented us from dealing with the problems. Instead of recognising the seriousness of the unemployment figures and the industrial crisis in Wales, the Government have repeatedly taken measures that add to our difficulties.

How dare the Secretary of State mention skillcentres? I can speak with some authority about skillcentres, because one of the first actions that my constituency faced after the 1979 election was the Government's decision to back the MSC's proposal to close a skillcentre. That skillcentre had played a notable part in bringing new industries to the region, and we were determined that it should not close. The Government said, "Close the skillcentre and let the people go to Pontllanfraith." They now propose to close the skillcentre at Pontllanfraith.

The people in my constituency said that they would maintain the skillcentre and that, if the Government would not provide the money necessary to maintain it, they would do so, even if that meant placing an extra burden on the rates. That skillcentre has been kept. Hundreds of jobs and scores of industrialists in my constituency have paid tribute to the contribution of skillcentres. A person has a much better chance of obtaining a job in Ebbw Vale because of the skillcentre. People in Pontllanfraith and Llanelli have a much better chance of getting a job if there are skillcentres there.

The Secretary of State says that he bears the responsibility for deciding whether closures should occur and that he will not shuffle the decision on to the shoulders of the MSC but will ensure that training as good as that provided by a skillcentre is available. Skillcentres should be provided in Wales on a larger and more imaginative scale, and the idea of closing them is absurd. The proof can be seen in what we did in my constituency. We said, "If the Government will not do their job, we shall do it."

I can extend one note of congratulation to the Secretary of State. He was wise not to mention regional policy. He did not dare do so, because he has taken several millions of pounds from Wales, especially the special development areas, with his new form of regional policy. He threatens to take great resources from us, but we shall use every means in our power, just as we did with skillcentres, to circumvent the Government's proposals. It is no good the Secretary of State smirking as though he were clever in dealing with these matters. We had to fight to save the skillcentres, and we shall keep the regional assistance that he tries to take from us. The right hon. Gentleman should restore special development status and the moneys that go with it to parts of Wales.

The Government acknowledge that there must be special assistance for some areas where there are pit closures. Under the Government's policies there will certainly be large-scale pit closures in many parts of Wales. The Labour party, because it was the first party that had to deal with the problem in the steel industry, said, "We shall establish a system whereby the British steel industry has a special department to provide assistance to certain areas." This Government now say that they will do the same for the coal areas, and I hope that they will do so. I hope that they will provide this assistance, but not on a derisory scale. Initially, to provide for the most hard-hit pit areas, the Government said that they would spend £5 million throughout Britain. They have now increased the amount to £10 million, but that money could be spent successfully in my constituency alone. Most of my hon. Friends face the huge scale of this problem.

The Government should tell us that the scheme, under which £10 million will be provided, has been entirely overhauled and that increased funds will be available. It is no good the Secretary of State talking about the transformation of Wales, because the transformation in the parts of Wales that are most heavily hit is appalling. Month after month, year after year, there will be more closures. Shops are closing in the streets of Welsh towns. We have to fight against the same types of problems as those against which we fought during the 1920s and 1930s. Of course the valley towns will not give in. The Tories will not beat us today, any more than they were able to do before. We shall fight them at every turn.

In speaking as he did about the transformation of Wales, the Secretary of State showed that he has no idea of what is happening in many parts of Wales. On many grounds, the right hon. Gentleman is totally unfit for his job. That is why he should be cleared out of it. The Secretary of State should change the economic atmosphere in Wales and provide the backing and support for which the Labour party cries out.

8.8 pm

Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

During last year's Welsh day debate the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas) said that I had made a bad-tempered speech. After the contribution by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), I certainly cannot be in line for that bouquet tonight. It is sad that such a distinguished member of the Labour party could not summon up one word in support of working miners, such as those at Point of Ayr in my constituency, who have so bravely gone to work throughout the dispute. They are much more representative of the people than the right hon. Gentleman.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) said, this is an important day for Wales. His speech rose to the occasion. It was a noble speech. I have always been proud to be his parliamentary neighbour, and I am even more proud to be his neighbour tonight. As long as the Conservative party can accommodate independent-minded men like him, it will never be defeated by the Labour party, whose members' independence of mind is currently being squashed by reselection.

This is the major Welsh debate in the parliamentary year, and it is only right to focus on the central problem in Wales — unemployment. First, I should say that the Opposition have no monopoly of care and concern for the unemployed. My constituency is as hard hit as any; indeed, I believe only about half a dozen Conservative constituencies have higher unemployment than mine. I am fully aware of the tragedy. Perhaps I may quote the words of my fellow Scot, Thomas Carlyle: There is a perennial nobleness, and even sacredness, in work … in idleness alone is there perpetual despair. At my surgeries every weekend I meet that despair, and I know it and understand it as well as any Opposition Member.

The second point I wish to make is that, if the debate is to be balanced, we must have the whole picture. Opposition Members cannot be selective. It is extraordinary how amnesia seems to afflict Labour Members so easily, from the University of Wales hospital to unemployment. It is not that they wish to rewrite history; it is almost as though they want to erase it. It is as though they say to themselves, when their record fleetingly catches their attention, "Better by far we should forget and smile, than that we should remember and be sad." But we shall remind them constantly that they once had the responsibility of government, and they cannot get away from their share of responsibility. They were in office between 1974 and 1979, although I noticed that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones)—I am sorry that he is not here now — said, no doubt with a slip of the tongue, that they left office in 1974. Would that they had.

In February 1974, there were 38,424 unemployed in Wales; in May 1979, the figure was 78,200. Yes, they doubled it. Their policies failed then, and the people of Wales are entitled to ask, as we are, "Why should policies that failed then work now?" Labour Members suffer not only from amnesia but from blindness—blindness to the good news, because every bit of good news is another nail in their political coffin, another blow to the lingering political hopes that the few of them here have. The rest are no doubt attending constituency reselection conferences.

Let the House hear some more of the good news we have already heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and from my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Terlezki). Since 1979, the number of Welsh businesses has increased by 13.5 per cent. That is good news. In 1975, there were 12 advance factory allocations in Wales; in 1983, there were 456. That is good news. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) talked about the dramatic percentage of total selective financial assistance offers that had been made by this Government. In 1976, the Labour Government made 90 offers of selective financial assistance; in 1984, the figure was 232. That is good news.

When the Welsh Grand Committee debated regional policy as it affects Wales, the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside asked the Secretary of State, as he did again today, why the Secretary of State for Scotland had so greatly outpaced my right hon. Friend in the sphere of electronics. He said, "They have silicon glen. Why can we not have silicon valley?" It has escaped his attention, and apparently that of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), that there is a silicon coastal strip in Wales. Scotland has 40,000 electronics jobs in 200 companies. Wales has 20,000 jobs in 150 companies and it is more than keeping pace with developments in Scotland.

The indigestion of Labour Members must be beginning to suffer from this surfeit of good news now, and they are looking a little tired. The last bit of good news that I shall inflict upon them concerns inward investment in Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was his usual modest self and used statistics only sparingly, but let me give more of them. The share of new projects funded by overseas companies in Wales in 1979 was 9.8 per cent; in 1984, it was 23.4 per cent. — a dramatic increase. In 1979, as a percentage of the United Kingdom total, the number of jobs created by those new projects in Wales was 6 per cent.; in 1984, it was 23.9 per cent. That is not good news; it is great news. It is greatly to the credit of the Welsh Office, Ministers and officials alike, that Wales, with only 5 per cent. of the population, should have 25 per cent. of all inward investment.

My right hon. Friend prefers me to keep quiet on this issue. I am speaking loudly this evening because 612 of our colleagues — the English, Irish and Scottish Members—are not in the Chamber and therefore cannot hear me. If they could hear me, they would be breathing down the back of his neck, and my right hon. Friend's Cabinet colleagues would be on top of him, too. I do not wish to inflict that on my right hon. Friend. He has enough problems, although not many from the Opposition. This is a great achievement, and it is set to accelerate — [Interruption.] I am glad to welcome the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) to our midst. His learning process on Welsh affairs will continue as long as he listens obediently to my speech.

The Government's success in attracting inward investment is set to accelerate. Overseas company visits to Wales last year were up 78 per cent. on the year before. That is good news. No wonder that Opposition Members cannot bear it. The true picture is that the sun is shining through in Wales, except for the Labour party. All that we have from them, as my right hon. Friend said, are dirges. Today all that we have heard is doom and gloom. The speech of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside reminded me of the opening lines in Jan Morris's new book: Brooded over by mist.… drizzled rather than storm-swept. Labour Members have perpetuated this myth of Wales, denigrating the achievements of my right hon. and hon. Friends. That only damages our industrial reputation and drives away investors. That is not just irresponsible—it is much worse.

Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

As it is good news day, and the hon. Gentleman seems to be acting like an American evangelist, can he say whether he expects the current unemployment level of 180,000 to fall to below 150,000 at the end of this Parliament, and whether my constituency, which is by no means the worst for unemployment, will have fewer than 27 people chasing every job?

Mr. Raffan

The hon. Gentleman will not tempt me into predicting levels of unemployment. All that I will say is that I shall do everything I can to reduce unemployment, and I am trying to do so. I know that one man can do only a little, but I hope that what all of us can do in our constituencies will help. However, I shall not be tempted into the statistics game, and the hon. Gentleman, who has followed me in debates previously, should know better.

Much the same criticism can be made of the Labour party's attacks on regional policy changes. They should know that 90 per cent. of the working population in Wales lives in the new assisted areas; that assistance is now linked far more to the creation of jobs, which is what the Welsh TUC called for. It was absurd for the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside to suggest in the Welsh Grand Committee that areas such as mine have been downgraded. They have not. They still have the highest level of grants.

When are we going to get that through to the hon. Gentleman and to other Opposition Members? That crucial point has been made not only by Ministers but by the chief executive of Clwyd county council, Mr. Mervyn Phillips, who is no great admirer of me or my party. It has also been made by the chief executive of Delyn borough council, who said that, as a result of the changes, the Delyn enterprise zone is now the most attractive industrial location in Wales. It is true that £60 million has been saved by changes, but that sum has been more than counterbalanced—two and a half times counterbalanced — by the £140 million given back by the Government to industry in Wales as a result of the abolition of the national insurance surcharge — that iniquitous tax on jobs imposed by the Labour party.

Enterprise zones are a part of regional policy. But if the Labour party had its way, we would have no enterprise zones. During the previous Welsh Question Time, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) was sceptical about the zones. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) speak up for enterprise zones. The Opposition Front Bench has greatly criticised them. In a former incarnation, the shadow Home Secretary said that he would have no more of them. While the Labour party in Parliament takes that view, its local councillors do not. Local councillors in areas where there are enterprise zones strongly support them. The Opposition had better change their views about them before we go to the country the next time around.

I speak for Delyn borough council tonight, even though it is a hung council. It is grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the £4.6 million so far invested in the enterprise zone. So far 260 jobs have been provided. That does not sound many, but when we consider that those jobs have been provided in a 1.5 acre site out of an enterprise zone of 190 acres it is a stupendous achievement. I pay tribute to council officials and all who have been involved in the Welsh Office and the WDA. The clearance of the derelict land and the infrastructure there is near completion. The enterprise zone is poised to take off. I welcome that wholeheartedly.

Mrs. Clwyd

The hon. Gentleman has been fond of using quotations tonight. As he mentioned the infrastructure, will he tell me whether he agrees with this quotation from a recent survey on Wales in The Economist: It is the roads and rails within Wales between north and south and east and west that would disgrace a newly emerging African country.

Mr. Raffan

I read the profile in The Economist. I read a great many things in The Economist. How did it describe the Labour party's policies — "prehistoric and in-coherent"? I think I quoted it in my speech last year. There were worse things about the Labour party than that, but I am in a charitable mood tonight. I should love to see improvements. The hon. Lady is in grave danger of extending my speech by tempting me into a prolonged discussion with the Government Front Bench about the Northop bypass. I shall not get on to that subject because it would probably finish off my right hon. Friend.

Of course we need to improve the roads and the railway system. We need communication from north to south. I agree with the hon. Lady. However, we must also find the money to pay for such developments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West said, that is the fact that the Opposition will never face.

It is true we are still seriously affected by the rundown of old industries. In the Welsh Grand Committee debate the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside spoke of "hundreds of redundancies" announced at Courtaulds in the Delyn area. It is not hundreds. I am glad today that he has done his homework. He came out with the statistic of 232.

Mr. Wardell

That is hundreds.

Mr. Raffan

That is an old statistic. If the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside had bothered to consult me, he would know that it is now less than 200. That is still far too many, but I pay tribute to the work of the trade union officials — for example, Jackie Jones, the chief shop steward of the TGWU. He is a good friend of mine, if not a political supporter. He has worked hard with his colleagues to reduce the number of redundancies.

The hon. Gentleman, in his speech in the Welsh Grand Committee, quoted a letter from the chief executive of Delyn borough council, Mr. John Packer, which said: My Council are particularly concerned that strenuous efforts made by Local Authorities and other Agencies in reclaiming land, building factories and attracting new industries to the area are nullified by the continuing rundown of existing industries".—[Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 23 January 1985; c. 14.] There was a clear implication in the hon. Gentleman's speech that the chief executive was criticising the Government. On behalf of the chief executive, I wish to make it clear that no such criticism was intended or implied. In fact, the chief executive has some difficulty in seeing how his letter could be interpreted in such a way. Let me quote him. He said: The rundown of old industries has taken place under Labour as well as Conservative Governments. That is true. The largest redundancies at Courtaulds were under the previous Labour Government, in 1976 when there were 440 and in 1977 when there were 1,553. The chief executive continued: The rundown in the textile industry is due, of course, to external factors outside Government control. That is true. The decline in the viscous fibre market was expected but it has been much steeper and more dramatic than anticipated. It has been largely due to the Chinese flooding the world market with low-priced cotton.

I wish to put on record what the letter was about, because the hon. Gentleman quoted it selectively. In the chief executive's words, it was about more help of the kind so very generously given by this Government in past years. Whether the redundancies at Courtaulds are one or 200, the tragedy is the same. The shop stewards at Courtaulds know how strongly I feel about the matter and how I have worked with them. They have been kind enough to pay tribute to what I have been trying to do for the plant. I have had a long meeting with my right hon. Friend about Courtaulds, and three weeks ago I had a morning-long meeting with Courtaulds' chairman, Sir Christopher Hogg, and the chairman of its fibre division, Dr. Norman Wooding.

I should like to tell the House some more good news. Earlier this afternoon Delyn borough council issued a press release with my permission and that of Sir Christopher Hogg saying that as a result of our meeting negotiations had been initiated between Courtaulds and Delyn borough council for the transfer to Delyn borough council of a major portion of Courtaulds' No. 1 unit at Greenfield. The chief executive's press release stated: The transfer of No. 1 unit to the Borough Council will provide the opportunity of a major initiative to bring new jobs to the site by the clearance of some 18 acres for new industry and the utilisation of existing surplus buildings. In my short time in the House, nothing has given me greater pleasure or delight than to help initiate this transfer. I should like to pay tribute to John Packer, Delyn's chief executive, and David Warburton of the land division of Courtaulds for so speedily and so efficiently carrying out those negotiations. David Warburton struggled up to north-east Wales two weeks ago in the worst weather. This transfer is more good news for the Opposition that they will find hard to take.

Last, and most certainly least, I come to the policies of the Labour party — last because, like my speech, they are near their end, and least because they are no longer relevant to the future of Wales. On 21 October last year the shadow Secretary of State unveiled a major economic survival plan for Wales. I was not sure whose survival was involved. Was it that of Wales or his? It was, of course, a pure coincidence that the plan was unveiled just four days before the shadow Cabinet elections. It was difficult to avoid the conclusion that the plan was designed to have an inflationary effect on his vote in those elections. That is not where the inflation would have ended. The policy, of course, was not costed or analysed, but then, as The Times said recently of the leader of the party—in this, if nothing else, Opposition Members follow the Leader faithfully— He is not renowned for interest in the nuts and bolts of policy. The same is true of the shadow Secretary of State.

I can understand the Labour party's reluctance to have the policy costed because it calls for extra expenditure on everything. We should all like that. There is to be extra capital investment in industry, a regional investment drive, the extension of RDGs to buttress existing jobs, more investment in the coal industry — it already amounts to £2 million a day, and I do not know how much more was being talked of — an extension of nursery education, an expansion of academic research and a blitz on housing expenditure—four times the amount that we are currently spending is to be spent over 15 years—and the electrification of the Crewe to Holyhead railway plus further new railway investment. It is fruit machine politics. We press the button, and if three lemons come up in a row we hit Barry's jackpot. The Labour party will carry no credibility with the people of Wales as long as it talks in that way.

I understand the Labour party's reluctance to have its policy costed. When I was a journalist I covered the by-election of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) and I remember questioning the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent at a press conference about Labour's alternative economic strategy and the Treasury model. He looked quizzically at me when I said "Treasury model" as if one of the Treasury's more nubile officials had suddenly appeared on page 3 of The Sun. When that alternative economic policy was put through the Treasury computer, it blew a fuse, and the same would happen with the policy put forward by the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside. "A policy to save Wales" is what the shadow spokesman on Wales called it. It would not save Wales; it would sink it.

The Opposition Front Bench resembles nothing so much as one of those old Hollywood film sets. From a distance, it might almost deceive the eye, but the nearer one gets, the more unreal it becomes, until one recognises it for what it is — one-dimensional and propped up somewhat precariously from the rear. I and my hon. Friends can afford sympathy for the hon. Members for Alyn and Deeside and for Newport, East. After all, they pose no threat to us. They are a living, almost joyous reminder of what the Labour party has become—a party in irreversible decline. Is the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) nodding in agreement? I thought he would hope to benefit from that.

We know what the Welsh people think of the Labour party. Some 20 years ago, it had 60 per cent. of the vote in Wales, but now it has only 37 per cent. Some 20 years ago, it had 32 out of the 36 seats, but now it has only 20 out of the 38 seats. Not only do we know what the Welsh people think of the Labour party; we know what its former leader thinks of it.

In the words of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, today the Labour party hardly presents the image of the natural party of opposition.

8.31 pm
Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)

The name of Saatchi and Saatchi comes to mind after the speech of the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), because it did a wonderful job at the last election, with the help of an uncritical press. It helped to persuade the British people, and the people of Wales, that, given a further period of office, not only would the record low of the economy be put right, but services would be improved, with the added bonus that they would pay less for them because of tax cuts. These promises were made nearly two years ago.

Wherever I go in my constituency, people ask me why things are so bad and where the improved services are. There are no improved services for the families on supplementary benefit. DHSS staffing levels have been cut at a time when more people than ever before need help from local offices. There is no improved service for the homeless and young couples waiting for a home of their own. The home improvement and house building programmes have been cut and are to be cut again by restrictions on local authority capital spending. There is no improved Health Service because Government spending in this sector barely allows the NHS to stand still, let alone cope with more elderly patients and the use of improved techniques for better care. There is no improved education service, because rate capping and the cuts in the rate support grant have meant local authorities cutting to the bone, not only on the periphery of education, in transport and school trips, but on books and repairing school buildings.

People are concerned about the cuts in services in the wide-ranging and complicated sectors of welfare, housing, health and education. They find it difficult to pinpoint a sector and say that there should not be a cut there because they know that if the reduction is not enforced there, it will be made somewhere else. However, in one of their services they are facing a cut with which they can come to grips and which they want to prevent. They do not want to lose their sub-post offices. The postal service operates profitably without a subsidy from the Government, but last year the Government decreed that the Post Office should make a 4 per cent. profit on turnover for the financial year 1984–85.

As we know, the Government have no method of allowing for social benefit in the costings of the Post Office. The right price for the Post Office is one with a high profit margin, while the level of service and the social obligations to communities, which have traditionally been part of our Post Office, have gone by the board. The Post Office response to this demand has been its document, "The Post Office Counters Network: A strategy for the future". This document is nonsense and has very little relevance to the Post Office service which the people of Wales want or need. The strategy begins by explaining and showing how the British Post Office service is the best in the world in terms of access and the facilities provided, but by the time it gets to section 4 it is outlining ways to reduce a service which it describes as "above standard". In what other sector can Britain boast that it is the best in the world, and then use that as an excuse for making the service worse?

By 1987, the Post Office plans to serve the whole of Britain by 1,493 plush, posh Crown offices, all bristling with faceless new technology. It plans massive investment to move into the bank and building society business, where there is already tremendous competition. It plans to do this in the town and city centres, where there are already banks or building societies every three or four blocks. To pay for this misguided policy, it will close about 5 per cent. of the urban sub-post offices.

National savings and the National Girobank together make up 23 per cent. of Post Office business. These are the facilities which the Post Office wants to expand in city centres. However, common sense tells us that many people who use the Girobank do so because there are many outlets and they have a bank on their doorstep, in their local post office.

The mail service makes up 22 per cent. of Post Office business. DHSS payments make up 33 per cent. and this is the part of the service that matters. It matters to the people, because those collecting pensions and benefits are those who physically cannot get into town or who cannot afford the bus fare to go to collect their payments. They need a facility in their community, and a local service. This matters, or it should matter, to the Post Office, because if a local service is not available, these people will transfer their business to the very banks with which the Post Office seeks to compete. So much for the sense of the strategy.

Wales will suffer at least as much as other areas of Britain from the cut in the number of urban sub-post offices. However, Wales, apart from Cardiff, does not have a city with a population of more than 250,000. We do not have urban areas comparable to those of London, Birmingham or Manchester. Our urban sub-post offices are usually the second office in a town. In many cases they were the village post office before the town grew. These sub-post offices are very much part of the communities which are separate from the town and retain their own identity. The differentiation between "urban" and "rural" sub-post offices has little relevance to Wales. That is why the people of Wales are so annoyed at the cut in their services.

Merthyr Tydfil borough council, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) is to be congratulated on its initiative in drawing together the campaign to oppose these closures and to redefine in Wales the status of urban sub-post offices. There is no doubt that these closures will cause hardship to many pensioners and great inconvenience to others, especially young mothers.

There is a further aspect of the Post Office strategy document that causes me great concern. I am referring to the code of practice which will be followed when a sub-post office is being considered for closure. The Post Office promises to take into account considerations such as the type of business done, whether a large number of pensions are paid, the difficulties that customers would face in getting to another office, whether there is a bus service and whether there are steep hills, the ability of nearby offices to absorb extra work and the likely future development of the area.

I have a sub-post office in my area, at Bolgoed road, Pontarddulais, where the code of practice has proved to be useless and has not been applied. Bolgoed road is used by many pensioners—nearly 100 of them have written to me. The alternative office is the main one in Pontarddulais. The Post Office has measured it as being 0.4 miles away, but it has not taken into account the fact that all the Bolgoed road business will go to Pontarddulais. It will not be split between two or more offices, and many people walk nearly 2 miles to get to Bolgoed road. There is no bus service. Bolgoed road is at the top of hilly Pontarddulais, and few pensioners will be able to walk down into town and back again. Those who can will swell existing queues at the Pontarddulais office — queues which existed before the DHSS strike. Moreover, there are plans to develop Pontarddulais, and an old people's complex is under construction, but still the office is to be closed. If the code of practice cannot be applied to the closure of Bolgoed road sub-post office, it is meaningless and the supposed consultations are a farce.

The Post Office should rewrite its document and rethink its strategy for Wales, especially in regard to urban sub-post offices. The Government should actively encourage the Post Office to do so. If the Government cannot get right the services that they provide in a small area such as post offices, what hope is there that they will get right the level of welfare, housing, health and education services?

8.42 pm
Mr. Gwilym Jones (Cardiff, North)

I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's strong and hopeful speech. We all congratulate him, his fellow Ministers and officials on the excellent level of inward investment achieved for Wales in 1984. As in 1983, Wales secured almost one quarter of all inward investment in Britain. That is a most worthy achievement. I was also pleased that he announced that, subject to final strings being tied up, he has concluded an £8.5 million urban development grant framework for Tarmac for the development of south Cardiff. It is excellent that that project is progressing so well.

I should be depressed if I took too seriously the dismal Johnnie approach which is too common in Wales, especially among those who claim to represent Wales. A good example is South Glamorgan county council. How can anything be achieved if, at every turn, the response is to throw in one's hand? A negative stance can produce only negative results. That approach was shown up clearly in the reply to a parliamentary question tabled by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) to the effect that, from July 1975 to May 1979, 39 offers of financial assistance were accepted and produced 2,000 jobs and that, since 1979, 198 offers of assistance have been accepted, producing 9,700 jobs.

The recent changes in regional assistance policy were also greeted with a negative attitude on the part of South Glamorgan county council. One would have imagined that a tax had been put on jobs. The Labour party knows that there used to be such a tax — the national insurance surcharge — which the Government abolished, thus relieving Welsh industry of having to find £140 million. Following the changes in regional policy, Cardiff has intermediate status. That enables all new ventures to apply for assistance here or from the Common Market. Only last weekend I had a letter from South Glamorgan county council asking me to note that it is unhappy about moves to make further education more responsive to the needs of training and to provide skills that are essential for the jobs to combat unemployment. The council objects especially to the involvement of the Manpower Services Commission, which is especially relevant in training and jobs. I am appalled at the council's apparent lack of concern about unemployment.

It is time that more people adopted a positive approach, such as some of us have already taken. Cardiff is a great place to locate. We do not need to rely entirely on bribery to attract industry because we have too much going for us already. We have good communications, ease of access to all important markets, an excellent industrial relations record, a beautiful city, pleasant countryside and a forward-looking planning authority, which responds correctly to opportunities. Two examples of that are the expansion of Amersham International and the new plant for AB Electronics adjacent to the M4. We are a sunrise location, playing an increasingly important part in high technology.

Our forward-looking planning authority played a strong part in support of my right hon. Friend in securing the location of Chemical bank, which has brought many jobs and will bring even more. South Glamorgan county council would do well to emulate the capital city of Wales.

I should like to consider a local matter — the University Hospital of Wales. We all know that the Welsh Health Technical Services Organisation recently settled for £300,000 on condition that there be no publicity of that settlement. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for ensuring that all of the information about the settlement was brought out. By his statement of 12 February, he overturned the "no publicity" condition, despite threats of a suit being lodged against him by those who wanted to maintain the confidentiality. There is much to be worried about in the handling of the claim by WHTSO, which the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs ought to examine. The claim might come within the purview of the Public Accounts Committee, but its handling is of great public interest. The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs ought to consider how WHTSO acted and whether it acted in the spirit of public accountability.

Much of what happened in regard to the university hospital occurred before 1979 and questions about responsibility have already been asked. On the same day that my right hon. Friend made his statement, there was another in another place. It is ironic that the noble Lord who asked questions on behalf of the Labour party was none other than Lord Prys-Davies, who was the chairman of the Welsh hospital board.

It was to that board that the University Hospital was handed over in October 1970. The responsibilities of the Welsh hospital board were transferred to WHTSO on reorganisation in 1974.

I had intended to refer to that matter before the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) made what I can only describe, in the same way as my right hon. Friend, as a squalid speech on that matter. His speech was entirely designed to achieve headlines in tomorrow's papers in Wales, but it will present the journalists on the papers in Wales with tremendous difficulties. While they will find glaring headlines, they will find no content in his contribution today. It was a speech entirely filled with innuendo, rumour, gossip and guilt by association. I do not know what motivated the hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether it was his difficulties in achieving reselection. Nor do I know what odd words are being said in odd places, including around the House. I certainly do not know what odd words are being said in, say, Annie's Bar. But one odd thing has occurred to me. Recently I gave an interview on the subject of the University Hospital and the reporter put to me what I thought then was a peculiar question. I now see a peculiar coincidence in the matter of the other hospital where the contract was let under the Labour Government.

The reporter asked whether yet another attack was being made on the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), who, as a junior Minister at the Welsh Office during the period until 1979 had responsibilities for health matters. I shall make no comment on the subject, as I am sure that he is well able to answer for himself in the matter. But in view of the fertile imagination of the hon. Member for Torfaen I wonder what Machiavellian actions are taking place. They are actions with which I do not want to become involved.

Instead, let me deal with a matter of particular local concern. South Glamorgan county council has proposed to sell off of school playing fields, in particular the Ton yn Ywen playing field in my constituency. South Glamorgan county council says that it is being instructed by the Government to sell that off. That is not correct. The county council has chosen to spend at a particular level and it is financing that spending by selling off land.

Naturally, many of my constituents have looked to the Welsh Office in the hope that it could act as a court of appeal in this matter. I realise that my right hon. Friend's responsibility in planning affairs is limited and certainly does not extend to a matter of purely local concern, with no strategic or other significant implications. I fully appreciated that when he announced last week that he could not call in that planning application. But it is understandable that my constituents look to the Welsh Office as a court of appeal.

An applicant putting forward a planning application may be turned down and he has the right to make appeal to the Welsh Office, but this does not apply to others who use public open spaces—sports clubs as well. Here we have a county council acting in complete disregard of the people. It can act as judge and jury and can profit substantially by turning land over to housing, giving itself planning permission and obviously increasing the worth of the land substantially. At the same time, it ignores an offer by the city council to preserve it as public open space.

In response to public concern, my right hon. Friend put a stop on that while he considered whether to call the matter in. However, the county council pressed on and the matter will now be settled irrevocably within a short time if it has not already been settled. I wrote to my right hon. Friend to suggest that the matter might be held up until after May but he correctly told me that that would not be a normal use of his powers. Many in south Glamorgan would ask what mandate the county council now has for acting in complete disregard of the people. If the matter had been delayed beyond May it would have allowed the electorate to make a judgment on the matter. There are important matters for us to consider and I am grateful for this opportunity to do so, and particularly to raise matters of local concern.

8.54 pm
Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

I shall not follow the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) but I want to point out some facts. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Terlezki) insisted that we should do that. In particular, let us look at the Government's public expenditure tables and at the fall in expenditure on housing. The figure for housing in Wales in 1979–80 was £206 million. That has dropped to a projected £130 million for 1987–88. Those are cash figures, not real terms figures They are paralleled only by the massive drop in nationalised industries' external financing limit, which will fall from £37 million in 1979–80 to a projected £10 million in 1987–88. Not surprisingly, if we turn to the section on nationalised industries, we find that the cash limits for the National Coal Board are not yet determined. The public sector starts in Wales over the same period show a drop from 5,198 in 1971 to 1,150 in 1984. Those are the real facts of the Tory Government.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Let me complete the facts. The hon. Gentleman has quoted accurately the net figures. He will realise that gross housing expenditure is a great deal higher because of the proceeds from sales.

Mr. Thomas

I am also well aware that the Secretary of State has recently reduced the ability of local authorities to use those capital receipts for their own purposes.

Much of the debate has turned on the mining strike and I make no apology for concentrating on that. I only wish that some Conservative Members had followed the lead of the hon. Member for Clwd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) by talking of conciliation rather then continual conflict.

The Secretary of State has a grave responsibility to the people of Wales as a result of the stance that he has taken personally in the dispute. He assumed that it was his role to represent the Prime Minister and the chairman of the NCB in Wales. He took a personal hand in the so-called campaign to get miners back to work and made speeches along those lines. It is about time that he apologised to the House and to Wales for some of his speeches at that time. He should realise that he has been unable to defeat the strength and solidarity of the South Wales miners. He should have the courage of his hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West to pay tribute to the community values that inspired that stand and solidarity.

The fact that the right hon. Gentleman will not intervene now to do that shows that he cannot take his defeat gracefully. He must realise that the dispute has been a personal defeat for him. Not only did he take the Prime Minister's side and denigrate Welsh miners and their families but he compared the men in South Wales with people involved in terrorism. He made that speech in Cardiff and I gave him the opportunity during Welsh questions to withdraw those remarks and he refused to do so. I give him the opportunity now.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

That is pure invention. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the text of my speech—I shall send him a copy—he will discover that, and I hope that he will withdraw that remark.

Mr. Thomas

I read the right hon. Gentleman's speech at the time. I also read press reports and had conversations with Conservatives who were present at the dinner and who were equally appalled. I shall not withdraw the remarks. He has a personal obligation to make his position clear and to say that he supports the conciliation attempts of his hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West.

I shall be brief, as I know that other colleagues wish to intervene before the wind-up speeches. I should like to refer to the central issue of the dispute, which will not go away, however the dispute is resolved — the central argument about the economics of energy policy, to which Conservative Members, yet again, have failed to address themselves. I refer in particular to the major report on the coal industry in Wales, produced by the economists and social historians at Aberystwyth — Tony Cutler, Colin Haslam, John Williams and Karel Williams. It is entitled, "Aberystwyth Report on Coal". I ask the Secretary of State and his officials to find time to read it because I am sure that they will find within it a critique of Government policy that it might be a useful exercise for them to read. If there are Clive Pontings in the Welsh Office, that might inspire them.

The conclusions to that report make it clear that the NCB accounts do not provide a basis for the definition of an economic pit or an economic coal industry. Indeed, that follows on the calculations made in the Andrew Glyn report and the studies published in Accountant's Magazine showing the inadequate basis of the NCB's accountancy. In particular the report stresses the argument that, it is the failure to invest that makes uneconomic pits. I spoke about that in the coal debate recently, and I do not want to repeat those remarks. However, it is important that we should make the one clear argument that, if the Government were to implement the policies of the European Community on environmental conservation, particularly the policies on clean coal, Welsh coal and Scottish coal, which is cleaner in its sulphur content, would immediately become much more economic.

Indeed, economists such as Dr. Mark Barret, from the Open University energy research group, have stressed the difference in value per tonne of coal that would result from the imposition of sulphur emission controls on power stations in the United Kingdom. That is one clear example of the way in which the economics of an extractive industry and electricity generation are not the same as the economics of the production of commodities in manufacturing branch plants. I only wish that Conservative Members applied the same argument to the economics of energy policy that they are prepared to apply to the economics of farming, another extractive industry.

There is no such thing as a free market in energy. The Secretary of State lectures the Welsh miners by comparing them with steel workers. Those are two entirely different industries. In Britain we have reserves of coal to maintain an energy policy for well over 250 years, yet the Government are going for the nuclear power option, which is much more expensive and environmentally unacceptable. That is the Government's decision because they are keen to defeat the forces that have massed in the NUM and among its supporters.

Therefore, there is no such thing as a free market in energy. The NCB has been used to subsidise the Central Electricity Generating Board over the years. The decisions to centralise coal production in high investment areas have led to an economics that denies the viability of the so-called peripheral coalfields in Durham and south Wales. Because of that, the basic question about the nature of uneconomic pits cannot be dealt with in terms of unit costs of individual pits allocated in order to calculate the viability of each pit. The economics of the coal industry has to take into account the overall economics of energy policy. The Government's failure to do that and their willingness to treat coal as if it were another commodity demonstrates a long-term failure in planning. Of course, one does not expect long-term planning from the Government. We can see clearly a failure to take account of the real issues, and rather than addressing themselves to economic policy, the Government have determined on the destruction of the communities of south Wales.

Of course, the Government will have to pay a high price for that, because it is the Government themselves who have adopted that course of total confrontation with the south Wales mining communities. At the same time, the Tory party has been trying to polish up its image in other parts of Wales as the party that distributes largesse to S4C and specific client groups in Welsh education. However, the people of Wales are not conned by that strategy. The basis of Wales is a sound economy that is controlled for the benefit of the community of Wales. The Secretary of State is not interested in developing such an economy. He is interested only in ensuring that the Tory party can achieve additional support from certain sections of the Welsh population while destroying the basis of Welsh democracy as represented by the NUM and the coalfield communities. However, what the Secretary of State has succeeded in doing in the dispute is to create in Wales new forces of extra-parliamentary opposition, which will survive his period of office as Secretary of State. I refer to the Wales Congress in Support of Mining Communities, which has the support of the Labour party in Wales, Plaid Cymru, the Communist party, the churches, language groups, and trade unions beyond the coal industry — a broad spectrum of radical opinion in Wales opposed to what the Tory Government are doing to Welsh communities.

As a result of the way in which the Secretary of State has declared class war upon the people of Wales and their communities, we shall respond in specific terms. We shall defend our communities. We shall defend the values of solidarity and culture that are part of those communities. The communities of Wales will triumph over his rule as governor-general in Wales.

9.5 pm

Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, Central)

I think that the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) will find that his rainbow coalition of forces will have as much effect as the democratic presidential candidate found it to have last year in the United States. The right hon. Gentleman served the people of Wales ill, as leader of his party claiming national leadership and helping to lead them to believe that strikers could triumph over the democratically elected Government of this country. They could not triumph, and they will not do so.

The right hon. Member had a bit of a cheek to suggest that this Government failed to negotiate with the unnegotiable Mr. Scargill in the autumn, when he was in full cry and his members were terrorising miners who wanted to work, especially as they now reject, at the very last gasp, negotiations that have been worked out by the TUC. If they reject those negotiations now, what on earth would they have been doing accepting anything from this Government in November or October of last year? That was a pipe dream, just as the right hon. Gentleman's leadership of his party at the last election was a pipe dream. Those Opposition Members who had to fight on the manifesto — which was, I think, described by a fairly well-known right hon. Gentleman as the longest suicide note in political history — will remember that it called for £35,000 million or £40,000 million in extra public expenditure.

We did not hear that today from the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). He just wanted a little more expenditure—just the odd few thousand more—but not £35,000 million or £40,000 million. But of course the hon. Gentleman had to stand by that manifesto at the time. The hon. Member knows that breaking off from the EEC would be suicide, but the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent did not seem to know that. It is the curse of the lack of standardisation in our products and services that is dragging down Europe. Unemployment, and the slow disregard of Europe in the face of Asia and north America, is a European problem. We must seek standardisation, and it is the Government's policy to knock down those internal barriers to the Common Market in order to create a real Common Market that will create the jobs that we need.

At present, jobs are going to the bigger international economic units and not to the European countries If the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent really believes in the medicine that he sought to give the country at the last election, why does he not look to President Mitterrand, who sold it with much more panache to the people of France, but who had to turn smartly on his heels in a 180 degree turn? President Mitterrand is now pursuing monetarism and showing a regard for economic reality and discipline in the market that puts even this country and Government in the shade. That was French pragmatism facing up to reality in a way that I am afraid Opposition Members have signally failed to do.

Incidentally, like my hon. Friends, I welcome the Tarmac announcement today. I know that the development of south Cardiff is dear to the heart of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I and the people of Cardiff thank him for it. Many things point in the right direction. Investment is now running at a record level. That will mean jobs in the future. We do not hear quite so much about the need for investment, of course, now that it is high. Inflation is being held, but with the fall in the pound it will be even more important to keep down the rise in labour costs, as otherwise inflation will increase.

Exports are rising faster than the growth in imports, and the fall in the pound means that the increased export volume should outstrip the growth in imports for the first time since 1977. Our efforts to bring industry to Britain, and in particular to Wales, should be helped by the cheaper pound, especially with regard to America. The ending of the miners' strike will have a signal effect on the economy in all sorts of ways. Last year the strike dragged down our growth rate by at least two clear points. Presumably that rate will rise by an extra two points once the strike is ended. That will begin to restore jobs and will provide people in Wales and in the rest of the country with an opportunity. Oil imports will fall. The strike has also affected electricity. The British Steel Corporation and, we hope, the railways will be assisted by the ending of the strike. In addition, small shops will be helped, and the money diverted in various ways by councils will now be put into the proper coffers or left to fructify in the pockets of local people.

All those things should flow from the ending of the miners' strike, and all of them have been damaged by it. We hope that interest rates will begin to fall, but responsibility for them rests partly with the United States. I hope that Opposition Members will not go off again this year and support the teachers' strike, which is wilfully damaging youngsters in schools in Wales. Opposition Members know perfectly well, just as the Labour chairman of the south Glamorgan education committee knows, that if the employers pay more than is on offer at the moment, the money will come out of the allocation for school books, equipment and other materials needed by the pupils.

I should like to have said more about the youth training scheme. I wish next to mention some of the points which the Economist article brought to the fore and which the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) mentioned. The Economist said of Wales: To many industrialists it is a place where fierce unionised workers live in small terraced houses alongside derelict steelworks and slag heaps. That is precisely the image that Opposition Members always like to paint. If that image has got out, it is because they help to push it out year by year. The Economist continues: Never mind that these are gross calumnies. So long as they are widely believed, the country will not attract sufficient investment from manufacturers, financiers and the tourist industry. The first thing that Opposition Members can do to help Wales is to stop painting this picture.

Praise was given to the Welsh Development Agency for helping to bring Japanese industry to Wales by drawing to its notice the other advantages in coming to Wales besides its regional policies, matters to which I always draw attention—our golf courses, theatres, beaches and the great beauty of the countryside, all the assets that we enjoy. The Economist says: Companies, especially hi-tech companies"— by inference, the young people in charge of them— in searching for a site are often now as interested in finding a nice place to live and work as they are in making money. I hope that they make money as well. The Economist continues: So poor is Wales' quality of life image … that those who actually take a look at the place are bound to be pleasantly surprised. That is another matter. We want to bring people into Wales. What better way than bringing them in as tourists in the first place? Only 3 or 4 per cent. of international tourists come to Wales, and we must increase that figure. We have to have better hotels. There is to be a Holiday Inn in Cardiff. We need more international sized hotels of first rate standard to begin to draw in international tourism. From tourism, one can begin to produce business as well. The twinning of towns should be advantageous in bringing in foreign industrialists.

The Economist puts its finger on another point concerning Cardiff: Cardiff is a fine city, large enough to be interesting, not so large that it is impersonal. Its St. David's Centre is one of the best anywhere. The city has good music … In a single month last year St. David's Hall advertised appearances by the BBC Concert Orchestra, the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, Van Morrison, Bob Hope, Segovia, the Commodores, Tom Paxton, Roberta Flack, the Everley Brothers, and the Band of the Welsh Guards. One could perfectly well have added darts, the iron maiden and wrestling. Those are the things which help to bring people to Wales.

We are an attractive country and we have much to sell. If we sell ourselves properly, we will also get the jobs to go with it.

9.12 pm
Dr. Roger Thomas (Carmarthen)

Exactly a month ago the Secretary of State for Wales issued an unprecedented press notice bitterly attacking the expenditure plans for his own home county of Dyfed. It was the action in my opinion of a panic-stricken and desperate person. The elections of May will soon be here. It is obvious that the Secretary of State has to bolster the flagging influence of his own constituency's ultra-Tory representation on the council. As a result of the Secretary of State's roughshod intervention, we could well, thank God, have a Left radical coalition majority on Dyfed county council after 2 May this year. The balance of opinion in that elected council has brought about a cautious response since the council came into being in 1974, erring on the side of prudence rather than profligacy, but even those most prudent people are now being punished by the Secretary of State.

Dyfed has always attempted to strike the right balance, but the present situation is that if it spends £1 above the penal target figure of £130 million the authority is penalised £1.50. An extra £1.4 million for services means that the ratepayer would have to pay £4 million. This is the financial balance of the madhouse because it is the central Exchequer and not the people of Dyfed, the receivers or the givers, who ultimately benefit.

The search for constant efficiency is there for all to see, but the Secretary of State is dissatisfied and is determined that Dyfed services and staffing are to be undermined. The authority's expenditure next year is to be reduced to the target figure that the Secretary of State has set. It will be £3 million below that which the Welsh Office assesses that Dyfed needs to spend. Dyfed ratepayers know what reductions of such magnitude will mean. Since 1977, Dyfed councillors, parents and electors generally have become more uneasy and worried about the effect of constant cuts. The cuts in the education service in Dyfed have amounted to £9 million since 1979.

The Secretary of State accuses Dyfed — I quote his press release—of distorting the facts and abrogating its responsibilities. He advises Dyfed to avoid a confrontation course. But Dyfed finds itself with a target figure that is well below that which the Welsh Office assesses Dyfed council should be spending. The target is a full £3 million below that assessment.

The voters of Dyfed will be told in the May elections exactly what reductions in services they will have to face if control of the council remains in the hands of the independents, who will have kow-towed to the bully-boy tactics of the Welsh Office and its "I-know-best" attitude. That attitude is constantly coming our way in Dyfed from the Secretary of State.

The people of Dyfed know that the result of further cuts will be the closure of rural schools. We all know of the effect on communities when rural schools are closed. These schools are the focal points of community life in Welsh Wales. Community care will suffer. We all know how the Government have decided to close hospitals and to send patients out into the community, which is often ill-prepared to receive them. Those who are sent out often require mental care.

There has been a deterioration in the roads and infrastructure of south-west Wales. We need good roads and infrastructure if we are to bring jobs to south Wales, especially in the Teifi valley, which has an unemployment rate of between 20 and 25 per cent.

We in Dyfed are not prepared to accept the bully-boy tactics of the Secretary of State. When the education committee meets on Tuesday next, I hope that it will reverse the county council's decision to impose cuts amounting to £2 million in the education service. I hope that it will seek to maintain our standards of education of which we in Dyfed are proud, even though I doubt sometimes whether the Secretary of State shares our pride.

Mr. Speaker

I call Mr. Bright.

9.18 pm
Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)

I hope that the few minutes available to me, Mr. Speaker, will be bright indeed, although I cannot claim to have that name. I shall not follow the path taken by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas). The hon. Gentleman is a nice man but it is unfortunate that he often speaks in a way that is as miserable as the way he sometimes looks. He must do himself a favour by trying to match the visage that he now presents to us—he bears a smile on his face—with some of the things that he says.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen talked about Health Service cuts. If he had taken the trouble to consider the facts, he would not have made those remarks. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) accuses the Government of being profligate. I suspect that that is an accusation that he will live to regret. However, he is right to say that their spending on the Health Service is profligate, as is their spending on welfare payments. The spending in both directions has increased dramatically under this Government. It is somewhat amusing when the hon. Gentleman talks about housing being the Government's Augean stables. The hon. Gentleman cuts an unlikely figure as Hercules.

The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside was right when he said that Wales needs jobs. He must understand that Wales is going through a change in its society as fundamental as the industrial revolution. Unfortunately, the Labour party cannot comprehend that. The Government have comprehended fully this change and they are taking the appropriate measures.

It is typical of the Labour party to talk about the massive shopping list of expenditure that it would have, without making any costings whatsoever. It is the shopping list of the man who knows that he will have to burgle the house next door before he can pay for any of the goods that he wants to buy.

It is a pity that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside did not take the trouble to read a comment that was made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) shortly after the 1983 general election, when he attributed the defeat of the Labour party to its £17 billion unemployment package and added: It sounded too good to be true. What should have been our greatest advantage was turned into a drawback. It was a drawback because nobody believed it, and nobody believes it now.

The hon. Members for Alyn and Deeside and for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) are the Owl and Pussycat of Welsh politics. They sit there, one hunched up spreading misery and gloom, eyes unblinking, the other wishing to claw like a pussycat at anything that he can grab hold of. If they really want to do a service for the people of Wales, they will sail away in their pea-green boat, because both they and their policies have no further relevance.

9.21 pm
Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

This annual Welsh day debate has turned into a sort of annual general meeting of hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies. It is the time when we take stock of the economic state of our beloved homeland.

We had the usual fairy story from the Secretary of Slate, with ample reference to the closure of uneconomic pits. There was no mention of National Coal Board Enterprises, the vehicle which will allegedly provide new jobs in our mining communities. We should have been told whether there is to be a Welsh dimension to that organisation and what revenue will be available to it. The miners and their families will draw their own conclusion. It was left to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), in an eloquent speech, to develop that point.

I begin where we left off on 28 February 1984, when the Under-Secretary's first words were: A dark and gloomy Wales, heavily overcast by black economic clouds blown there by Government policy."—[Official Report, 28 February 1984; Vol. 55, c. 220.] Admittedly, he was trying to ridicule the image of Wales portrayed by Labour Members, particularly in respect of what had been said about the effects of Government policies. But 12 months later we are entitled to ask the Government: where is the sunshine?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to live in a world of his own. He believes that we are going through an economic boom. His contention reminds me of a song — I was a boy at the time — that Bing Crosby used to sing, "It's June in January." The hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) appreciates the contradiction. In a recent article in Reformer, the journal of the Tory Reform Group, he wrote: To be told that we are in the fourth year of recovery with unemployment at 3½ million is a definition of an economic boom unknown to me. He is right.

Let us examine more closely the Welsh unemployment figures. In our annual Welsh day debate last year we were told that the number out of work in January 1984 was 174,707, or 16.3 per cent. By January 1985 it had risen to 185,529, or 17.4 per cent. Almost 11,000 more people had joined the dole queue, a sort of "Rake's Progress". By any logic, the dark clouds are hardly breaking.

When, in years gone by, there was high unemployment in Wales, people moved to other parts of the country. My mother's brothers, for example, moved to Birmingham. Others went to Slough, Oxford and elsewhere.

I am very glad that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has made such a wonderful recovery from the terrible Brighton bombing. He became famous for his advice to the unemployed to "get on their bikes" In present conditions this advice seems to me to be absurd. We all recognise that unemployment is now 3.5 million and, according to William Keagan, the economics editor of The Observer, in his article last Sunday, the vacancies are now 157,000 and there is a huge imbalance in the labour market. The country is simply crying out for new investment, which this Government are not prepared to sponsor.

My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) outlined the sort of programme which a Labour Government would engage in to try to eradicate this problem. But even with those in work there is still a sort of uneasiness. People are looking nervously over their shoulders and wondering whether it will be their turn next — for the chop, that is. This is the hallmark of Thatcherism.

It could be argued, of course, that there are economic benefits when people are cowed in this way, but such benefits are only temporary. It is certainly no way to run the economy of an advanced industrial country in the closing years of the 20th century. Today, industry can be efficiently and effectively run only by co-operation and consent. The Government have gone completely against principles of this sort. For example, they planned the confrontation with the miners.

There is no need to speculate about this; it is on record. We have the so-called Ridley report, the leak of which appeared in The Economist of 28 May 1978. I will put it on record once again: The group believes that the most likely battleground will be the coal industry. They would like a Thatcher Government to: (a) build up maximum coal stocks, particularly at the power stations; (b) make contingency plans for the import of coal; (c) encourage the recruitment of non-union lorry drivers by haulage companies to help move coal where necessary; (d) introduce dual coal/oil firing in all power stations as quickly as possible. The group believes that the greatest deterrent to any strike would be 'to cut off the money supply to the strikers and make the union finance them'. Finally it says: There should be a large, mobile squad of police equipped and prepared to uphold the law against violent picketing. 'Good non-union drivers' should be recruited to cross picket lines with police protection. These plans were laid well before Mr. Scargill came to power in the National Union of Mineworkers. The only fact that the document left out was that an American hatchet man was to be recruited, at extraordinary cost, to carry out the exercise. The Ridley report is an important social document. It will be recalled in south Wales for generations to come, long after all the twaddle about Caernarfon castle and malicious old maids has been forgotten.

I cannot do other than applaud the magnificent stand of the south Wales miners. Their loyalty, solidarity and dedication to their cause has been of the highest order. They have been fighting for their communities. They, as much as anyone, recognise that unemployment is the No. 1 problem and the greatest social evil facing Wales today.

What are the Government doing about that dreadful position? The traditional method of inducing new jobs to an area is regional aid. Yet the Government have recently taken a considered decision to cut regional aid by £60 million—money that is sorely needed in Wales. In the Welsh Grand Committee on 21 January, I said that a major international company was considering a major development in Newport, which would use new plant and new technology and employ 700 people. I received a report that the Secretary of State had made a derisory offer to that company and, ultimately, it said that if it was not more favourably treated the development would go to the Continent where the company already had other operations—

Mr. Raffan


Mr. Hughes

No. I heard enough from the hon. Gentleman earlier.

During Question Time in the House yesterday, and also during Welsh questions on 11 February, I raised the issue of the Honda motor company and the fact that it has acquired a 330-acre site in Swindon. Yesterday, the Minister tried to clothe the issue in secrecy. To add insult to injury, he more or less implied that he could not care less whether a Japanese company wanted to invest millions of pounds in Swindon. The Government have no concern for the regional imbalances in the British economy.

Surely the Secretary of State for Wales should be concerned about that matter. Will he tell us what part he has played in the Honda project and what efforts he is making in bringing such a project to Wales? I am waiting to hear from the right hon. Gentleman, and I shall willingly give way. He seems to have lost his tongue.

In just over two hours it will be 1 March, the national day of Wales. If Dewi Sant were to come back, he would wish to continue his missionary endeavours. His efforts would not be confined to Wales; he would be concerned about the rather more affluent communities in the southeast of England. However, he would first have to get to the south-east of England, and I do not know what he would make of the masses of bollards on the Severn bridge. We shall never know. They certainly give a most deplorable impression to visitors to Wales.

Nearly 18 months ago, in an Adjournment debate, I revealed the true state of the Severn bridge which apparently the Government were trying to hide. Subsequently the Secretary of State for Transport made great play of the fact that £30 million was to be spent on repairs and maintenance of the bridge. In answer to a parliamentary question last week the Minister of State, Department of Transport again talked about the £33 million which was to be spent. In a corkscrew type of answer he said that, since the bridge had opened, £10.3 million had been spent on repairs and maintenance. The bridge was opened in 1966 and a lot of money was spent before we had the announcement about £33 million.

What is more, the Minister of State indicated that the work would take another five years. This is a snail's pace, which the Secretary of State tried to gloss over this afternoon. Does it mean that there is an attempt not to make too big a dent in the finances of the Department of Transport? In other words, are a few million pounds being allocated for the work each year? This is not good enough. We are entitled to ask what the Secretary of State is doing to speed up vital work on this most important artery for Wales. Again I offer to give way to the Secretary of State if he wants to give an explanation, but he seems rather shy.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

The problem of doing major work is to keep the traffic flowing over the bridge. The sort of programme that the hon. Gentleman is advocating would cause traffic jams that I should have thought he would want to prevent.

Mr. Hughes

What I have complained about is the disastrous image of Wales that the bridge gives to visitors. There are lane closures and traffic hold-ups from time to time. I live fairly close to the bridge and I have been able to see it better than the Secretary of State.

Last Thursday, 21 February, there was a very interesting article in the South Wales Argus by its deputy editor, Mr. Steve Hoselitz. He showed that Welsh consumers pay more for gas, electricity and water than is paid in the rest of Britain. Surely this is wrong when Wales is suffering from mass unemployment. We have not seen such unemployment in Wales for 50 years. It is wrong that public utilities, at the instigation of the Government, should cane people in this way. Again I ask the Secretary of State what he is doing in the Cabinet to defend the interests of Wales.

As we approach our national day the dark clouds are getting ever blacker because of the policies being pursued by the Government. There will be no sunshine for Wales while the Government remain in office. Towards the end of the second world war Sir Winston Churchill said, when he realised that Britain would be in an impoverished state when the war was over, that the future was full of foreboding and gloom. So it is with this Government. They have failed Wales, and they should get out.

9.39 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wyn Roberts)

This is an historic occasion. This is probably the only time since the war that a Welsh day debate has ended with more Welsh Conservative Members present in the House than there are Labour Welsh Members. I wonder what Jim Griffiths, Nye Bevan and the great Labour stalwarts of the past would have made of that.

Listening to the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) I could hardly believe that I was hearing an hon. Member who has had 25 new factory units built in his constituency since May 1979 with a further two units planned. He should be smiling, not frowning, at this generous Treasury Bench.

We all have our normal, individual, loving view of Wales, but in a debate such as this, of necessity, we must be highly selective and present a partial view only — partial especially in the political sense. I understand that the Opposition feel obliged to concentrate on the pimples on the fair face of the Principality — it is in their political interest to do so. The closer the leading spokesmen of the Opposition can get to the anchorite of Llanddewi Brefi's description of Wales after the death of Saint David, the happier they are. He said: And then was heard a cry arising from all, a wail and lamentation and weeping and people exclaiming 'Woe to us that the earth does not swallow us, that fire does not burn us: would that God would raise the sea over the land and cause the mountains to fall on us'. And so on—just like a Western Mail leader.

The hon. Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) and for Newport, East did pretty well in cataloguing Welsh woes but I hope, for all our sakes, that no potential inward investor reads their speeches. The summit of a volcano would seem to be a safer place to invest than any of our valleys.

We might brush off these cataclysmic dirges as hackneyed and Labour out-of-office verbiage if it were not for the fact that they are taken up by the mentally impoverished media, which seem only to be able to sell a preconceived, gloom-and-doom view of Wales. Any success we may have has to fit in with their eschatological view that, if the end of the world is nigh, it is nearer in Wales than anywhere else.

To think, as so many of the Opposition seem to think, that the solution to unemployment is a quick injection of public funds is superficial and dubious in the extreme. The London Business School's "Economic Outlook" as reported last Monday in the Financial Times gave a fair assessment of that proposition. Referring to the authors of "Economic Outlook", the article stated: They conclude that, on balance, the Government should stick to its financial strategy for reducing its borrowing, money supply growth and inflation. But special measures, including particular investment projects or tax-cutting measures, could help provide jobs in the short-term. "The Government's Expenditure Plans 1985–86 to 1987–88" in January show that we in Wales have had the capital resources this year, and will have more next year, for major investment programmes. The total capital expenditure within the sphere of responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will grow from £570 million in 1984–85 to £586 million in 1985–86. My right hon. Friend has indicated some of the areas where this additional money will be spent. The local authorities will also have more capital available to them.

Of course the Opposition want still more, as my hon. Friends the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Terlezki), for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) and for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) realise. The Labour party wants a massive flood of public expenditure which will burst through the banks of governmental constraints, leaving our policies as tattered as the Labour Government's policies were when the IMF came in to pick up the pieces in 1976. A fat lot of good that would do for the unemployed in Wales.

An area where there can be more capital investment next year is the Welsh water authority. As a result of the increased target rate of return on net revalued assets, the authority can increase its capital investment to £55 million, compared with a likely figure this year of £40 million. It has also been possible to increase the authority's external financing limit to £20 million despite the overall reduction in EFLs for the water industry in England and Wales. So there will be a substantial programme of infrastructure improvements in this important area of the environment, and I hope that those who have called for the improvements and more investment will welcome our decision.

While on the subject of water, which was raised during Prime Minister's Question Time this afternoon, let me clarify the position on charges. The Welsh water authority has managed to keep its main charges increase to 8 per cent. — one of the lowest in England and Wales. Charges to industry, commerce and agriculture — the hon. for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) should listen to this—will be below the rate of inflation for the second year running, and that should give heart to those sectors of the economy. As to domestic charges, of the 12 per cent. increase, 5.25 per cent. is to cover the expected increase in costs, 4 per cent. is due to the authority's own scheme for making charges as between non-domestic and domestic consumers more equitable, and 2.75 per cent. only is attributable to the Government's new target regime.

We have heard a great deal about defective buildings and alleged deficiencies in the Health Service and not half enough about the advances made in treating patients. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside made no secret of his interest in the National Health Service's shortcomings in his letter to district health authority chairmen. He said: It would be helpful if you could list projects that may not go forward because of funding difficulties. Is he not interested in the projects that will go ahead, and in the initiatives that have been, are being and will be taken by the Government?

The hon. Gentleman made no mention of the 40,000 more in-patient cases and the 250,000 more out-patient attendances dealt with in 1983 as compared with 1979. The House is familiar with our 10-year strategy to develop services for the mentally handicapped. It knows of the development of bone marrow transplantation, cardiac surgery and cardiology, the main renal unit at Morriston and subsidiary renal units at Carmarthen and Bangor. The House knows, too, of the continuing work of the perinatal mortality survey group and the Health Education Advisory Committee, and of the five-year heartbeat programme designed to reduce the 10,000 deaths a year in Wales from heart disease and the 25,000 who suffer from angina and related conditions. On 8 March, we shall announce our further proposals to combat hard drug abuse in Wales. Several initiatives—less dramatic but no less important — are progressing, including the establishment of the new independent family practitioner committees, the appointment of new district general managers and computerisation.

The NHS in Wales is advancing on many and varied fronts and yet again, as my right hon. Friend announced earlier this week, there is to be an increase in funding next year. As the biggest employer in Wales and spending some £900 million a year of the taxpayers' money, it would be a miracle if the NHS was without its problems. None is more important than the problem of the individual patient whom the system appears to have failed. As some hon. Members will know, such individual patient problems are often taken up by Ministers and we give them our fullest, most detailed attention. The Prime Minister brings her own personal influence to bear on the thorough and intensive examination of such cases to ensure that the rights of patients and relatives are fully respected and safeguarded. Against this background, I am appalled by the squalid, paranoid attack launched against my right hon. Friend in connection with Ysbyty Gwynedd.

We all know that the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) is the hatchet man of the parliamentary Labour party. A Labour hatchet man fighting for reselection throws his hatchet with the accuracy of an injured Indian brave.

My right hon. Friend has already made a clear statement to the House, spanning three or more Administrations, on the university hospital of Wales, Cardiff. He has made a full disclosure of the facts. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) appreciates that.

There are questions still to be asked. Let me pose a few questions. What happened during the period up to 1973 when the first piece of mosaic cladding fell, when the Welsh hospital board was responsible and when Lord Prys-Davies was chairman of the board? He was singularly reticent on that point when he questioned my noble Friend, Lord Caithness, on his statement about the hospital defects in the other place on 12 February. He did not even declare his interest.

What happened during the five years of the Labour Government from 1974 to 1979 when the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) was in charge with Lord Prys-Davies, as his special adviser and the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside as his Under-Secretary with responsibility for the NHS? Did Ministers approve the issue of the final certificate in 1975 when, according to Mr. West, the clerk of works, "hundreds of defects" were being reported? The issue of that certificate proved to be a serious obstacle to the pursuit of legal remedies. Why was it left to the incoming Conservative Government to pursue such claims as were open to us? The last Labour Government have a great deal to answer for.

With regard to Ysbyty Gwynedd, the contract for the residences was awarded to IDC in 1978 under the Labour Government. It was left to us to remedy the defects and to ensure that the taxpayer gets full value for his money.

The hon. Member for Torfaen, as a solicitor, should know well that it would be wholly inappropriate for me to give figures relating to current claims subject to negotiation and possible litigation. The House will be informed in due course.

With regard to the hospital itself, a writ has been served on the hospital design consortium. Proceedings are therefore under way and again it would be wholly inappropriate for me to give details. Again, the outcome will be reported in due course. We make periodic reports to the PAC.

Mr. Abse


Mr. Roberts

The hon. Gentleman has had a fair time. I have a great deal to answer.

A number of hon. Members have mentioned housing. All arguments about housing come back in the end to the question of finance, and this afternoon the Opposition have again charged us with providing inadequate levels of housing finance, but that charge is again not supported by the facts. Public capital expenditure in Welsh housing during the first five years of this Administration exceeded £790 million. That is over £80 million more than in the last five years of Labour Government. In the past two financial years alone, capital expenditure on housing totalled about £460 million. Those are substantial figures and compare well with the Opposition's record. In real terms too, the comparison is good—expenditure in 1983–84, when we conducted a major attack on the problems of unfitness in the private stock, was the highest in real terms since 1976–77.

This time last year, I was forecasting housing capital expenditure for 1984–85 of about £200 million, based mainly on the gross provisions for local authorities and the Housing Corporation. We know now that expenditure by the year end will be higher than that, but I remind the House that we expect gross housing capital expenditure for 1985–86 to be very close to the 1984–85 provision of some £200 million. The Housing Corporation's net provision of £39 million has been maintained for next year, and gross provision for local authorities, at £146.5 million, is only £5 million, or 3.3 per cent. down on this year's provision. That reduction is entirely due to falling receipts. In fact, we have estimated that receipts income will be nearly £20 million less in 1985–86 than that forecast for 1984–85 and we have protected authorities' expenditure to a very large extent by increasing net provision by nearly £15 million.

Labour Members accuse us of making swingeing cuts in the education service and I am sorry that they have been joined by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North. We have not heard much on that line during the debate, perhaps because the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside remembered the time when he had ministerial responsibility for education in Wales. In 1975, he had to predict that there would be little scope for major new initiatives in the coming year or two. He had to admit that increased resources were not the only way to safeguard and improve the standard. It is worth my confirming what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, that current expenditure on education in Wales has remained virtually constant in real terms.

The fortunes of Wales are inextricably tied to those of the rest of the United Kingdom, and we should be glad that the prospects for the United Kingdom are as healthy as they are. They are so because of the Government's relentless pursuit of the strategy of reducing inflation by monetary restraint and stimulating output and jobs by enabling our economy to adapt to new demands, as some of my hon. Friends have appreciated—my hon. Friends the Members for the Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower) and for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) in particular. The strategy is working. We have lowered inflation, output has been growing over the past four years and employment is higher than in the first quarter of 1983. With inflation under control, those trends are expected to continue and we in Wales can expect to benefit along with the rest of the United Kingdom.

We are going through a long period of change in the structure of the Welsh economy. Nobody should doubt that there is still a major role for coal and steel in Wales, but we need a wider base on which to stand firm — hence the new industries that we are attracting. We have done extremely well. The Opposition have not paid due credit to my right hon. Friend for some of what he announced today. The people of Wales are highly adaptable and our work force is second to none, as the many foreign companies that have established themselves in Wales will testify. In addition to continuing our effective coal and steel—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.