§ Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Durant.]3.43 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)
I intend to concentrate on a few subjects of special importance. Before turning to the central economic and industrial theme, I shall say something about agriculture, rates and the Health Service. At this delicate moment in the negotiations, I do not intend to speak about education, save to say that I hope that all the unions will now join in bringing this damaging disruption to an end by sitting down to talk about pay and conditions of service in the knowledge that the Government are prepared to make very substantial additional resources available to get a better paid teaching profession with extra pay for those with skill, responsibility and experience.
In agriculture, this has been another difficult year for Welsh farmers and the supporting industries. Fortunately, many in Wales were able to recover some of the harvest during the few fine weeks in September. Farming incomes have declined but not so severely as in other parts of the country. The Government made available £1 million weather aid to help the worst hit. Hill livestock compensatory allowances have been increased and part of the sheep premium for farmers in less favoured areas has been paid early.
Most milk producers have adjusted to the quota regime better than was expected a year ago. As a result of the outgoers' scheme, all small milk producers of up to 200,000 litres — that is, more than half the milk producers in Wales—were restored to their 1983 levels of production. We can now issue more quota producers whose development awards represented a high proportion of their total quota. These will now have at least 90 per cent. of the total quota that they would have had if there had been no cut. We shall end completely the 35 per cent. cut in development awards for all producers with quotas of up to 200,000 litres.
At recent meetings, the farmers' unions have emphasised the importance that they attach to maintaining support for beef in the price-fixing negotiations and opposing proposals by the European Commission that discriminate against British farmers. The Government share those objectives.
Over the years ahead we face fundamental changes in the pattern for agriculture. We shall need to make full use of a range of measures to achieve those changes and to give farmers the time that they need to adjust. Among the instruments are price restraint, quotas, quality control, income support, assistance with countryside and conservation measures and the encouragement of new crops.
I am surprised that, at a time when the National Farmers Union in Wales is pressing for much wider use of quotas, Liberal spokesmen have announced their total opposition to quota systems. I look forward to hearing their alternative policies.
§ Mr. Howells
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but first of all he said that the Government had plans to introduce quotas; I am just wondering for what commodities.
§ Mr. Edwards
As I thought, we are not to hear the alternative policies. All I am saying is that quotas are one of the instruments that will continue to be needed. We shall clearly continue to need them for milk. The National Farmers Union in Wales, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is suggesting that they should be used for a wide range of commodities. I do not entirely share the views of the NFU on that issue, but the Liberal party has said that quotas should not be used as an instrument at all, and I find that surprising.
The rate support grant settlement for local government that I announced before Christmas was a good one for Wales. It provided for a 5 per cent. increase in current spending, which is more than the likely rate of inflation. Local authorities have complained of a reduction in grant, but this year we were proposing an increase to 67 per cent. Local authorities understood very well that the system was designed to discourage high spending and that authorities spending above the settlement figure would lose grant. I had undertaken that any grant unclaimed would come back to local authorities, but that the method of recycling would be decided only when we had a clearer indication of spending plans.
While the system undoubtedly had the effect of discouraging authorities from proposing even larger increases in spending—I am glad to say that on average they have been substantially less than in England—some have chosen to impose very high precept demands on ratepayers.
I make no apology for seeking to discourage high spending, or for trying to protect ratepayers from what the chairman of the Welsh Counties Committee at the meeting with me described as "horrendous rate increases". I agree with Mr. Arthur Harris of Dyfed that:
vast endeavours must be made to reduce the burden on ratepayers".Local councillors talk about the pressures on their services caused by high unemployment and the need to fund high pay settlements in the local authority sector, but private sector firms cannot pass on high wage settlements, or their rate bills, without losing business, and high rate burdens add to unemployment.
When representatives of the Welsh counties came to see me, asking for immediate recycling of grant, I believe that I was right to suggest that if I did so they should trim their expenditure as well. What shocked me was not that they refused to reduce by 2 per cent., or by 1 per cent. but that they said that it was impossible to make any economies or to reduce by a single penny. I was even more shocked when Dyfed's "vast endeavours" to help ratepayers led to a further increase in spending and precept, despite its receiving extra police grant.
Following that meeting with the Welsh Counties Committee I decided that I would give the maximum possible immediate relief to ratepayers through a recycling of RSG, on the clear understanding that it would be passed on, while maintaining pressure on the remaining counties to reconsider their expenditure plans. The decision of the Clwyd county council, both to reduce its precept by 10 per cent. and to make a £1.5 million reduction in expenditure, 27 proved that this was the right approach, and it made nonsense of the argument that expenditure reductions were impossible.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
How much extra unemployment will result if the £1.5 million cut takes place, as opposed to appearing on paper?
§ Mr. Edwards
I have just said that, because industrial firms and businesses cannot pass on the demands to customers, with high-spending decisions fewer people will be employed in commerce and industry. So far from increasing unemployment, the cut will protect jobs which would otherwise have been lost.
§ Mr. Edwards
No, I have just given way and I want to get on. I know what will happen. The last time that I spoke from the Dispatch Box I was criticised for giving way too often and for making too long a speech. On this occasion, the proper thing is for me to allow everyone to speak, and I shall try not to take too many interventions.
I am glad that other counties have reduced their precept as well, and there are good reasons for thinking that the pressure of the system will lead to further reductions in expenditure during the year. Last year, Welsh local authorities undertook to exercise restraint if we removed the system of targets and penalties. Regrettably some of them have failed to do so; but I am quite clear about three things: first, that our system has and will continue to put pressure on local authorities to restrain expenditure, secondly, that I have been able to obtain direct reductions in the rate burden for the benefit of the ratepayers of Wales, and thirdly, that the case for our package of reform of the local government finance system has been further reinforced by these events.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Vale of Glamorgan)
South Glamorgan's proposed rate increase is the highest in Wales, and I should like to know whether my right hon. Friend has made a special appeal to it. There seems to be little difference between the circumstances of the Welsh counties, and certainly not one which would merit such an enormous increase.
§ Mr. Edwards
I agree with my hon. Friend. The leaders of the councils made it clear at our meeting that they were proposing increases in their spending programmes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) observed at Question Time, the system is such that, if the authorities continue to spend in this way, they will lost grant and low-spending authorities will benefit when we come to the further redistribution of grant withheld.
I have now given way three times, twice to Opposition Members and once to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower). I should like now to get on with my speech.
We are at the time of the year when health authorities are having to face the difficult decisions that they have to take about priorities. That will always be the situation because funds cannot be infinite, while demand is virtually unlimited. What the House and the public must understand 28 is that health authorities are dealing with the problems and the priorities of an expanding service and changing needs, and that the allegations of widespread cuts are false.
The Government are providing record levels of financial resources for the National Health Service in Wales. We are carrying out one of the largest programmes of hospital building ever. Taking account of inflation, recurring revenue allocations to district health authorities have been increased by over 23 per cent. between 1978–79 and the financial year which is just ending. We have recently announced that, in total, a further £44 million in revenue provision will be made available to health authorities in Wales for the coming financial year, which represents a cash increase of more than 7 per cent. over the provision in 1985–86. Between 1979 and 1985, the number of staff concerned directly with patient care has increased by more than 12 per cent. allowing for the reduction in the standard working hours of nurses.
Among new services announced in 1985 was an eight-bed bone marrow transplant unit in Cardiff. In August I announced that high-resolution CT scanners would be provided at Morriston and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, supported by five or six small to medium scanners at other locations. The third Welsh renal dialysis unit became fully operational at Morriston in 1985, while the two new subsidiary renal units at Bangor and Carmarthen both opened in the summer and are working well.
There is, of course, considerable concern about waiting lists, which have risen under this Government just as they did under the previous one. There is one difference between the situation then and now, and that is that already by 1984 we were treating 63,000, or 18 per cent., more in-patients than in 1979 and 51,000, or 12 per cent. more out-patients. These figures have continued to rise since. The acceleration in the number of patients treated and in the range of services has been far greater than under our predecessors: it is a remarkable achievement. Health authorities have been checking on their waiting lists and report that in many cases the numbers include double counting; but that is no consolation to the patients who are having to wait and we are undertaking a major exercise with health authorities to try to get on top of this longstanding problem.
§ Mr. Anderson
The right hon. Gentleman has boasted about an increase in the number of in-patients. How much of that increase is accounted for simply by demographic factors—the aging population—and how much is a real increase?
§ Mr. Edwards
Of course there is an aging population, but we have provided not only additional resources to deal with it but a wider range of new and improved services. It is a considerable achievement to have been able to extend the service in the way we have and to treat this large number of additional patients.
§ Mr. Edwards
I think that this must be the last time I shall give way, or I shall be accused of speaking for too long.
§ Dr. Thomas
How much has the fact that people are leaving Wales and seeking specialist treatment elsewhere contributed to reduced waiting lists in Wales?
§ Mr. Edwards
I fear that it has not contributed as much as perhaps it should have. Although we have greatly improved and extended the service, there will always be opportunities for some patients to go elsewhere. Indeed, in some specialist cases, it is right that they should do so. We must use all the available resources for health care in a particular district both within Wales and within the United Kingdom as a whole. I hope that authorities will look at that as one way of reducing health pressures in the short term.
I turn now to the economy. In the last year, the coal industry in south Wales has undergone a major change, hastened and made more severe by the miners' strike. Eleven of the heaviest loss-making pits have closed or merged. The number on colliery books is down to about 13,500 and the total work force to just under 16,000. The coal board has fulfilled its commitment of finding alternative jobs for all those who wanted to remain in the industry, while those who chose to leave have received generous redundancy terms.
While these closures have been taking place, the work force has responded very positively to good management and the result has been a dramatic increase in performance. Productivity has increased by 46 per cent. in eight months; and the coalfield, which had been losing £100 million or more a year, expects to break even in the March quarter. It is a remarkable achievement. It has enabled the board to announce since the beginning of the financial year investment of £80 million—the largest capital development programme in so short a time in the history of the coalfield. Much of this new investment has been directed into new coalface equipment. I am particularly pleased that the board has approved the investment of £30 million in a new anthracite project at Carway Fawr, thereby safeguarding 800 jobs. There are good grounds for thinking that we have now reached the end of a period of decline that has lasted for many decades in south Wales, and caused much hardship.
The 6,000 job losses in the coal industry, along with losses in a number of other industries including the closure of Courtaulds in north Wales and the loss of jobs at BP Llandarcy, have contributed to the distressingly high unemployment in Wales, now at a record level. I very much regret these closures and loss of jobs, and the impact that they have on local communities, but the process of industrial change is continuous. Whatever general economic policies are adopted, particular companies will cut back or go out of business.
Fortunately, there have been many positive developments. Two major steel projects have been completed on schedule—the £171 million hot strip mill project at Port Talbot and the £30 million Galvalume project at Shotton. Work is well advanced to provide Llanwern with the concast facility which will further improve its performance.
We continue to see a high level of industrial investment in Wales. During 1985, offers of regional selective assistance and new-style regional development grants totalled nearly £60 million, with the aim of creating 12,500 new jobs and safeguarding over 4,800 existing jobs.
During 1985, Wales continued its record of attracting around one fifth of all the inward investment to the United Kingdom with 25 new overseas projects and 23 expansion projects by existing overseas companies involving a combined capital investment of £143 million. In addition, 30 United Kingdom firms from outside Wales decided to locate 20 new projects and one expansion project in Wales with a promise of nearly 2,750 jobs and over £14.5 million in capital investment. I am glad to say that only today it was announced that Nimbus records, the sole manufacturer of compact discs in the United Kingdom, has decided on a major expansion in Cwmbran which will lead to the creation of 275 jobs.
In 1985 the small firms centre dealt with over 17,000 applications, over 9,000 from individuals seeking to start up in business. The business improvement services scheme received over 900 applications in steel closure areas and made offers to over 550 small firms with a value of £2.8 million. The number of self-employed in Wales is rising fast. An example of what projects of this kind can lead to is the firm in the Rhondda, Valdons Ltd., which just three or four years ago was launched by two redundant workers and which now employs over 70 people, about 60 of whom are making plastic mouldings to the very high standards demanded by National Panasonic.
I am encouraged by the very wide range of projects started during the year. The list covers almost every industrial sector, including electronics, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and aircraft, as well as high-volume consumer products such as video recorders and microwave ovens. I was particularly pleased by the decision of an outstandingly successful British high technology company, Renishaw, to establish a manufacturing plant in Cwmbran backed by high quality research and development, providing over 500 jobs; and by Warner Lambert's decision to consolidate its United Kingdom manufacturing operation at Pontypool which will provide 250. Similarly, Pirelli has announced a major new investment at its Aberdare factory, which will provide over 150 jobs. The further expansion of Amersham International at Cardiff will provide over 200, and a notable success was the safeguarding of over 500 jobs at Borg Warner after a long period of uncertainty.
Our success in attracting Japanese companies continues with the announcement during the year of projects by Brother Industries, the 10th Japanese company to come to Wales, and Sharp, which will lead to the creation of over 350 jobs at Wrexham, I was also particularly struck on a recent tour by the scale of the modernisation and expansion of the major factories of Hitachi, Sony and National Panasonic in south Wales, involving the creation of nearly 450 jobs. United Paper Mills, a Finnish company, began production two months ahead of schedule at its mill at Shotton in which it has invested well over £100 million to create over 250 jobs on the site as well as providing a major boost to the forestry industry.
The Welsh Development Agency, with its offshoots WINvest and WINtech, continues to play an important role in encouraging investment and preparing industrial sites. During 1985 the agency contributed 1.5 million sq ft to the total of more than 2 million sq ft of Government factory space that was allocated. The agency expects to spend about £11 million on land reclamation and environmental improvement in the current year and is, at this time, drawing up a further programme.
The Welsh Office, the agency and Mid Wales Development are working up further programmes to help job-creating business activity in the rural areas, and I hope to announce details within the next few weeks. I believe all Welsh Members will welcome the Government's 31 decision to maintain the present system of tourist boards, and in particular to retain the Wales tourist board, which is doing much good work.
Despite all those encouraging developments—with continued growth in the economy and high investment—we have not been able to make any impact yet on total unemployment levels at a time when large numbers are joining the labour force and job losses continue to arise from changes in the industrial structure. Against that depressing background, the Government have reinforced their employment and training programmes.
The growth of the number of long-term unemployed is a particularly disturbing aspect of the situation. During the year, we have more than doubled the number of available places on the community programme, and I am pleased to say that the Manpower Services Commission is well on its way to meeting the June target of 20,500 filled places. Pilot schemes in Neath and Port Talbot aimed at getting the long-term unemployed into jobs or training are already showing encouraging signs. Fourteen thousand places are planned for the adult training programme in Wales in the coming year, representing a threefold increase since 1984–85. The revised training arrangements announced last year are developing well.
I have been particularly encouraged by the success over the last year of the enterprise allowance scheme, which provides a weekly allowance of £40 to unemployed people wishing to set up their own business. We shall have 5,192 places available in Wales this year, an increase of more than 1,000.
The two-year youth training scheme is being introduced from 1 April, and that major training programme will provide school leavers with high quality training and work experience. I am pleased that the problems in Mid Glamorgan have been overcome and the area manpower board has unanimously approved the plans.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
On the subject of the second year of the youth training scheme, the right hon. Gentleman talks of problems being overcome, but the Government are imposing a considerable increase in the amount that the local authorities have to pay. Will he not look at that afresh, particularly in the light of the meeting we had at the weekend, representing all the heads of the valley areas, which are all facing the same problems? The Government boast about what they are doing about training, when a considerable part of the burden is being put on the local authorities. Will the right hon. Gentleman look at the financing of that matter again?
§ Mr. Edwards
I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman says. As I said, we have allocated massive additional funds to start this training programme, which, regrettably, was not started when the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) had responsibility for such matters. We had to catch up with other countries and I am pleased with the progress that is being made to introduce better training for young people. [Interruption.] The Opposition do not like being reminded of their neglect of these matters in the past.
§ Mr. Edwards
I will not give way again. I have just given way to the right hon. Gentleman.
32 I turn now to another package of measures which we have developed in our drive to tackle the problems of unemployment, urban dereliction and social hardship which are the consequences of industrial change. In addition to a major road programme—last week we went out to tender for the Conwy crossing, one of the largest road and bridge contracts ever undertaken in this country—during my time in the Welsh Office we have set in motion a dramatic and far-reaching transformation and reclamation of the urban areas of Wales that have been symbols of industrial decay for so large a part of this century. One instrument has been the urban programme. We have increased resources from £7.1 million in 1979–80 to £29 million in 1986–87. I am pleased that it has proved possible to approve 200 new schemes at a total cost of £14.4 million for 1986–87, which represents a 53 per cent. increase in the value of new schemes approved over 1985–86.
In addition to the urban programme allocations, nearly £10 million has been earmarked for urban development grant projects throughout Wales. Since we introduced the urban development grant scheme in 1982, it has proved to be a highly effective tool in bringing forward private sector projects which together have a total investment value of about £115 million. As well as many other benefits, those projects are expected to create nearly 4,000 permanent jobs as well as some 1,800 temporary jobs during the construction stages. By far the most significant project so far approved is the £42 million redevelopment of the Bute east dock area in Cardiff by Tarmac, which is now well under way.
We are now looking at what development opportunities might be created in the wider south Cardiff area if we were to construct a barrage across the harbour mouth, and we are awaiting the results of the feasibility studies. Already the proposal has stimulated widespread professional and business interest in the considerable development potential of south Cardiff.
What is being achieved in south Cardiff also points the way to what can be done elsewhere. It is with that in view that I am today launching a new initiative to improve the environment of the south Wales valleys.
The special problems of the valleys cannot be tackled in isolation. Just as business in the communities of the coastal plain and the valleys grew and prospered together, so the future of the valleys must be related clearly to the tremendous progress which is being made in modernising and diversifying the economy of the rest of south Wales. A key to achieving that lies in the improvement of communications. The new road between Cardiff and Merthyr and into the Cynon valley is complete. We are continuing to support major improvements to the A467 beyond the Rogerstone to Risca section and have supported the construction of the important new access roads into the Rhondda valley.
We have approved capital expenditure allocations to the major development programme that British Rail is undertaking, in partnership with the county councils, for the Cardiff valleys network. It involves the replacement of the existing rolling stock, together with new stations, and other major improvements to services and facilities. With other important road schemes planned to improve access to the valleys still further, this is the moment to launch a fresh initiative to help ensure that the valleys share in the regeneration of the rest of south Wales.
33 A great deal can be done to improve the valley environment. That is especially true of the town centres and the areas lending to them, where poorly maintained buildings and a damaged environment sell short the enormous attractions which the valleys have to offer. What we shall seek to do is to trigger a series of co-ordinated initiatives by the local authorities and private and voluntary organisations to improve those areas. I am not proposing Welsh Office solutions. Where communities have sound ideas and the willingness to back them, the Welsh Office will focus the many existing mechanisms of assistance and will also make available additional resources to reinforce them, and to promote the contribution that is necessary from the private sector.
I am making available initially in 1986–87, for that specific valley initiative, on top of the other Government funding, £2 million of special capital allocations for housing-related initiatives and £1 million from urban programme resources, quite apart from special capital allocation of £3 million for housing priority estates projects, much of which will go to the valleys, and which I shall refer to later. Inevitably the bulk of developments under that initiative will fall in later years and those planning those projects can work on the assumption that we shall want to reinforce successful schemes in the years ahead.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
I am not sure whether I heard the Secretary of State correctly. Did he say that £3 million is available for each of the 12 or so districts in south Wales, or is there £3 million for the whole of the south Wales valleys?
§ Mr. Edwards
I am saying that there is a substantial allocation of resources to local authorities under the housing schemes, to urban programme schemes, and to the work of the Welsh Development Agency and other agencies, all of which will be directed and concentrated. In addition, we are making available £3 million in the coming financial year for the initiative, and a large part of the £3 million of special capital allocation for housing priority estates projects will support the initiative.
I have set out my proposals in a statement, which I have already circulated to hon. Members and to organizations that we expect to be involved. We have shown in south Cardiff and in Swansea what can be achieved. The opportunity is there for the valleys as well. It will not surprise the House if I say that I do not always agree with the Bishop of Durham, but I felt that for once perhaps we shared a common approach when he spoke recently about the need for financial pump priming for community self-help. That is exactly what I am seeking to achieve.
Our drive to tackle housing dereliction has the same objectives. I have been able to increase local authority housing capital allocations for 1986–87. Within the total of over £141 million, special allocations of some £40 million have been made to encourage local authorities to concentrate on the renovation of both public and private housing stock. Taking into account the available spending from housing receipts, local authorities will be able to spend well over £140 million on the renovation of unsatisfactory housing in the coming year. In addition, I have increased net provision for the Housing Corporation by almost 15 per cent., to £44.7 million. A good deal of those resources will go into the valleys, and particularly into the programme of priority estates projects.
34 What can be done is already being demonstrated at Penrhys in the Rhondda and by the Afon project in Wrexham. The number of long-term unoccupied properties has already been greatly reduced, rent arrears have started to come down and vandalism is being brought under control. There is now a sense of commitment to make the estates places where people can live decent lives.
A new project in Bute Town, Cardiff got under way last October and is already making encouraging progress. We are now launching a further phase with new projects in Merthyr Tydfil, Pontypool and the Rhymney valley as well as in Barry. In total, special capital allocations of £3 million will be made for projects in 1986–87 and we are providing extra revenue support. Most important of all, we are making possible a much more sensitive style of management, which recognises the essential contribution which the people who live in the estates can make to improving them.
No doubt there will be a great deal to divide us in the debate this afternoon, but I hope that at least we can unite to make possible a real success of those important initiatives, and I seek the support of the House for them.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas) hopes to wind up for the Opposition, and to be able to pick up some of the many points raised by the Secretary of State, particularly about agriculture and health.
I should like to remind the Secretary of State that last month, in his own county, 1,000 people demonstrated in the county hall against cuts in the education service in the county of Dyfed and for higher rates.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to training in reply to an intervention by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). When the right hon. Gentleman was in opposition he used to say that training places were not proper jobs. Many of us remember the attacks that he used to make in that sphere. However, I want to give a positive welcome to his announcement about Nimbus Records—275 jobs in Cwmbran will be much welcomed.
The Secretary of State mentioned an opening at Shotton in my constituency. I can help the House by telling hon. Members that one of our evening papers has written:
Welsh Secretary Nicholas Edwards certainly has a talent for bad publicity. He can drive into a bed of roses and come up smelling of—fertiliser.BSC has invited him to open the new £30 million … line at Shotton in June but Alyn and Deeside councillors are to write to the Steel Corporation saying Mr. Edwards is not welcome on Deeside.Rightly, the Secretary of State made the economy the central part of his speech. I agree with him on that. He also made important remarks about our valley communities. Before I take up the points that he made, I should like to make a plea to him to raise in Cabinet the need for extra help for old people in the present freezing weather in Wales. I remind him—the House should know—that our housing problems in Wales are arguably the worst in Britain. Elderly people in leaking, draughty homes, particularly in the south Wales coalfields, are at risk. I have in mind pensioners who are partly disabled through arthritic hips, and live in homes that can be reached only by climbing many steps.
Many pensioners are trapped in the coldest of homes. The chief housing officers in Wales say that the elderly 35 live in some of the worst housing. What prospect is there of a special payment? The Secretary of State must fear, as I do, the manifestation of hypothermia in Wales. Despite our record of neighbourliness, there is no doubt that many of our fellow countrymen and women in Wales are at risk.
I should like to refer to tourism. For once, I can fully agree with the Secretary of State. His stand is right. He was right to stand up for the Wales tourist board. He would have been greatly criticised had he not. I very much appreciate the alacrity with which he moved to make sure that nobody got any idea that we were to lose our tourist board.
I advise the Government to exclude Wales from the unpopular Sunday trading legislation—the Shops Bill. The Secretary of State and the Cabinet to which he belongs have under-estimated the disquiet and opposition to it in Wales. For the archbishops of the Church in Wales and the Roman Catholic Church to agree, for the Free Churches, the Mothers' Union and the Salvation Army to agree, when all-party unease is expressed and when the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers agrees with these bodies, there is clearly considerable evidence of the unease about the Bill in Wales. At a recent press conference in Cardiff, the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower) made a fine plea for second thoughts by the Cabinet about this important matter.
§ Mr. Anderson
Conservative hon. Members may be laughing now but, come the election, they may have a very different expression.
Hon. Members may like to know that I addressed a meeting in Cardiff four weeks ago where there was only one person in favour of the Government—and he was a Conservative councillor. I addressed another meeting in Swansea on Friday and again only one person at a large meeting was in favour of Government policy. Again, he was a Conservative councillor doing his inadequate best.
§ Mr. Jones
Even the South Wales chamber of trade came out against the Cabinet's proposals on the Shops Bill.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) can recall the figures published by the Minister of State, Home Office relating to the number of letters he received for and against the Bill. I believe that the Minister received 310 letters in support of the Shops Bill and 37,000 against it.
§ Mr. Jones
All Opposition Members have found that their mail bags feature this issue strongly and emphatically. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to take the views of the House to Cabinet and at least exclude Wales from the Sunday trading legislation, even if he cannot have the Bill killed in its tracks.
The right hon. Gentleman wriggled somewhat over the issue of rates in his speech. I want to put it on record that since 1980–81 it has been estimated that almost £451 million in cash has been lost by local authorities in Wales in terms of rate support grant and penalties. I advise the right hon. Gentleman—and he knows virtually all the authorities and is on first name terms with them after seven years—to work with the local authorities. He should not take them on or attack them. By not taking that approach, 36 the right hon. Gentleman was forced to make one of the most incredible U-turns in the history of Welsh Office Ministers. I quote from the Swansea Evening Post:Tory joy at £13 million U-turn.The article continues:The Labour Leader of West Glamorgan County Council has been congratulated by his Tory counterpart for spearheading the successful campaign to secure an extra £13 million of Government money for Welsh county councils.The Daily Post ran a large headline on 21 February. It read "Edwards gives in." There is no doubt that the Daily Post correspondent, Mr. David Rose, was correct when he reported:In an astonishing climbdown, the Government is to hand over an extra £13 million … But Mr. Edwards' announcement amounts to an embarrassing about-turn for the Government. Only four days ago he told the Welsh counties that they could only have the extra cash on condition that they reduce their overspending first.What has happened is that, late in the day, the right hon. Gentleman has realised that the Government's policies, which have pushed up unemployment in a huge fashion since 1979, have left the local authorities desperately short of the financial resources to cope with the demands made on their services by the unemployed. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has become a kind of St. Paul on the way to Damascus.
The right hon. Gentleman raised an important matter regarding community investment in the valleys. Nothing is more important to us in the House than the future of the valley communities through to the end of the century. The concept of assisting the valleys is a good one and I welcome it. Any help for these beleaguered communities is most welcome. If the right hon. Gentleman can enhance the scheme with greater cash backing I would welcome it even more. However, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many jobs will be provided by the six schemes? Despite references to the high level of unemployment in the valley areas, there is no suggestion that the schemes will provide any new jobs. Indeed, the first four pages of the document are a eulogy to the policies that have helped to bring about industrial dereliction, mass unemployment and critical housing conditions in the valleys. Has investment in the coal industry really been substantial? Why does the south Wales coalfield have only one high-tech coalface compared with almost 50 in the rest of Great Britain?
When explaining the method of cash allocation, the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that initially there will be only six places and that the valley communities will be in competition with each other. What is the sense in that? Is it not true that the communities least able to mount an effective challenge for cash will be those with the least resources and most desperately in need of assistance? Is the Secretary of State initiating a programme which will merely lead to the survival of the fittest? What will happen to the communities which fail at the first hurdle? Will they receive no help?
The cash allocation for housing must be described as derisory. The £2 million cannot provide hope to undo the damage caused by the 25 per cent. cuts in housing budget made by the Government the year after the general election. The Chief Housing Officers Association suggested that billions of pounds in cash over 15 years is required in south Wales to avert a major housing crisis.
If the right hon. Gentleman would allow Welsh local authorities to use the many millions of pounds from housing sales, if he would free the receipts from these 37 sales, the communities would have a better chance of correcting the amazing dereliction with which they have to cope.
To put the right hon. Gentleman's statement into context, I remind him that when steelmaking at Ebbw Vale was ended, the Labour Government pumped £25 million into the area and when steelmaking at Shotton was finished, the Department of Industry in 1980–81 put £12 million into that area. On that basis the right hon. Gentleman's initial offer in relation to the coalfield communities and valley communities is not enough.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the housing associations will be able to take advantage of the scheme?
§ Mr. Jones
The right hon. Gentleman has said yes and I thank him for that information.
The Welsh Office has identified the problem but in some respects, given the amount of funding that it has announced, it has passed on the responsibility for dealing with the problem to the local authorities which have been starved of cash since 1979. The two pilot schemes outlined in the appendices are worthy enough. However, as an assault on unemployment, an attempt to attract new industry and as a means of reducing poverty and improving the quality of housing, the schemes are inadequate. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to consider the weakness of the schemes in terms of funding.
I would like the right hon. Gentleman to meet representatives from the Coalfields Community Campaign. He should explain his intentions to them and attend a meeting of the Heads of the Valleys standing conference and discuss the document. The right hon. Gentleman should call the coalfields county councils together and tell them how he views the way forward. He should discuss these plans at length with those whom he hopes will promote them in the years ahead.
If the right hon. Gentleman doubts what I am saying, I will give him an uncomfortable minute by reading the latest unemployment figures for the valley communities. Aberdare has male unemployment of 29.5 per cent.; Blaenau Gwent and Abergavenny have male unemployment of 25.7 per cent.; Cardiff has 21,966 people seeking work; Bridgend has male unemployment of 22 per cent.; Merthyr and Rhymney have male unemployment of 25.4 per cent.; Newport has male unemployment of 19.9 per cent.; Pontypool and Cwmbran have male unemployment of 19.5 per cent.; Pontypridd and Rhondda have male unemployment of 22.4 per cent.; and Swansea has male unemployment of 21.5 per cent. Those are horrendous figures.
The statistics can never adequately explain the humiliation, sadness, deprivation and poverty in the homes of unemployed men and women. The right hon. Gentleman's valley initiative is minuscule compared with the task that we shall have when we take office. As the general election nears, the right hon. Gentleman's language becomes softer. It is dawning upon him slowly that his proposals are insufficient for our people.
On the economy generally,we have blown North Sea Oil. We have sold the assets. We are a society too anxious to consume and an economy too reluctant to invest. There is a world of ownership and a world of managers and they don't meet. The whole psychology of the City is profoundly anti-industrial.That was said by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). The Government have been successful—
§ Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)
Why is capital investment in Britain at an all-time high of £55 billion?
§ Mr. Jones
Why has Wales lost 105,000 manufacturing jobs since the right hon. Gentleman took office? Why is one in four men in Anglesey out of work? Why are 11,000 people in Gwynedd out of work? The hon. Gentleman cannot answer that. He should have remained in his seat. He knows that the Secretary of State is not delivering enough new jobs to Anglesey and the county of Gwynedd. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his timely intervention.
What will be the plight of the Welsh economy when the oil revenues cease? Wales has suffered more than the rest of the United Kingdom in the depression. I look to the Secretary of State to fight in Cabinet for a major change in policy and for a policy that will ensure an attack on the unacceptable unemployment in Wales. If he believes that he can delay that, I must tell him that Carmarthen town has lost 400 creamery jobs; Metal Box has decided that 800 jobs at Neath must go; we have lost 1,200 Courtaulds jobs at Flint and Wrexham, and in that area 14,000 people are jobless; 130 plastics jobs will be lost in Ruabon; and in the Swansea valley, Lucas is destroying 260 jobs. What plans does he have for pumping replacement jobs into the Severn tunnel, Margam and Llanelli following the British Rail job losses?
Why did the Secretary of State fail to halt the closure of the Islwyn and south Gwent skillcentre? Why did he not fight for it? He talks proudly of training investment. Why did he let the Llanellii and Islwyn skillcentres go to the wall?
I repeat that Gwynedd suffers from 23 per cent. male unemployment and 4,000 people in Holyhead are looking for work. For as long as the county of Clwyd is desperate for new jobs, Gwynedd has few prospects, because it is far to the north and to the west. I heard nothing today from the right hon. Gentleman about how he would help that county.
The Secretary of State glossed over our unemployment problems. Officially, in January, 190,000 people were on the register. This month, we hear that the figure is 188,000. It is fair to say that the true unemployment figure, making the generous allowance that half of those on special training will find employment, is probably 210,000. The trend is becoming worrying. The loss of more than 5,000 pit jobs in the south Wales coalfield in less than a year has caused much anxiety to the president of the south Wales NUM, Mr. Emlyn Williams, and to Mrs. Moira Sharkland, the chairperson of the Coalfield Community Campaign in south Wales. Both of them ask for more money for the activities of NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. The Opposition say that the money earmarked is insufficient for the post-closure tasks.
In response to the Secretary of State's initiative announced today, I ask him to make another. He should initiate an investigation of the state of disrepair in Wales' crumbling infrastructure. I remind him that the National Economic Development Council has called for an in-depth examination of infrastructure investment needs in the United Kingdom. The English regions are analysing and quantifying what needs to be done. The Confederation of British Industry has asked the right hon. Gentleman to invest heavily in infrastructure improvements. I have in mind the current state of housing, schools, colleges and hospitals in Wales. There is a major backlog of 39 improvements in the operations of the Welsh water authority and there are many outstanding road improvement schemes. Such a national audit of the Welsh infrastructure would give us a gobal picture of the task that we face. If the right hon. Gentleman had had the benefit of such an audit and perhaps more funding, his announcement about the valleys might have meant that we could have worked constructively until the end of the century to right much that is wrong in the valleys and in the rest of Wales.
It is not widely known, but the conservative estimate is that the 190,000 unemployed people in Wales cost the taxpayer, at 1984–85 prices, more than £1 billion a year. According to the latest quarterly report of the Manpower Services Commission, about 77,000 men and women of all ages have been jobless in the Principality for more than a year. The right hon. Gentleman must tell us how to return them to work. How can we lessen the humiliation of the families of the long-term unemployed?
I hope that the Secretary of State will go to the Cabinet and insist at least on the proposals made by the Select Committee on Employment, which have received widespread commendation. The Financial Times said that they were "not outlandish" proposals, and they could become the basis of a fight back for jobs in Wales. I have tried to adopt those proposals to the Principality, and I hope that the Secretary of State will consider urgently what I propose: 17,500 jobs subsidised at £40 per week per job; 15,000 jobs, at a cost of £5,000 per job per year, centred on a long-term programme for urban rehabilitation, housebuilding, house renovation and local building projects; and 5,000 jobs at a cost of £4,000 per job per year on improvements to social services. The latter could provide helpers and carers for the elderly, especially in Arctic conditions such as we have now, and people to care for the disabled and those recently discharged from hospital. This would be centred largely in the Health Service and the local health authorities.
It is estimated that the entire programme would cost about £165 million, or £55 million a year for three years, and that it might remove 37,500 people from the dole queues. That is the least that the right hon. Gentleman should do. It is the bottom line. The Opposition are not aiming an ideological arrow at the right hon. Gentleman. The proposals come from an all-party Select Committee and are endorsed by the Financial Times. I hope that one of the Ministers will respond sincerely to that tonight.
Because there is a pressure on time I shall, like the Minister, keep my remarks to a reasonable length. We are critical of the Secretary of State not only for his past record but for the huge increase — 137 per cent. — in unemployment in the Principality. We are also critical of him and the Government because they have no strategy to help the unemployed.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Vale of Glamorgan)
There is a temptation on these occasions to be parochial and to sound constituency themes. There is also a temptation to be partisan. However, seldom has there been a greater need to be as objective as possible rather than subjective. We should seek to speak about the economic realities rather than political panaceas. It is quite natural for 40 Members to adopt constituency matters which are so important to us all, but it would be inconsistent with our main objectives if we dwelt upon them.
It should be possible to view the problems of the Welsh economy in the context of the United Kingdom. We are witnessing general economic problems arising out of a deep-seated malaise of our industries, which have been declining for many decades. Coupled with this malaise is the somewhat different problem of unemployment—the two things are not always the same. Indeed, if we take steps which are designed to deal with the long-term economic malaise, the immediate effect may be some increase in unemployment, either short-term or long-term. Similarly, steps to counter unemployment — though helpful in the general economic context — can be damaging to long-term trends.
An increase in the activities of the building and construction industries would have an obvious advantage in dealing with unemployment levels. Whatever disadvantages there may be in increasing the activity of the industries, they are on the whole fairly labour-intensive and do not use a great number of imported products. Such an increase in activity would also benefit other industries. There would be an increased demand on the manufacturers of paints and materials, and furniture. Housebuilding and other forms of building would increase the activities of these industries and would, by definition, be likely to lead to an increase in their exports. In this case there would be a contribution to solving the long-term problem of inflation and to the prosperity of our economy.
To adequately reconcile attempts to deal with the deep-seated problems of our economy and at the same time with unemployment are matters of nice judgment on the part of the Chancellor and the Government. In the context of the type of unemployment referred to by the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), there is a strong case for increasing the production of the construction industries above the levels which have been contemplated previously. This should be done not least in Wales. I hope that serious consideration will be given to this shortly by Ministers in general and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in particular.
There are, of course, particular problems in Wales. I understand the views of those who continuously express the wish to restore the old basic industries of coal, iron and steel. It is possible to increase the efficiency of those industries and a good deal has been achieved, but it does not seem likely that we shall see a return to the former levels of production. What can any Government do to deal with these problems? What should be their main efforts?
I would suggest, somewhat differently from others, that the first consideration should be communications. There is a good deal of evidence that, more important than regional grants and any other help which the Government can give directly, industrial growth benefits more from good communications than any other single factor. Successive Governments have a reasonably good record in this connection.
One project which has been cited already is the completion of the M4 and the completion of the dual carriageway beyond the M4 to Dyfed. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) mentioned the north Wales coastal road. The Secretary of State also referred to the dual carriageway from Cardiff to Merthyr Tydfil. One might mention the dual carriageway from Newport to Ross-on-Wye and its connection by motorway to the 41 industrial midlands. Some bypass schemes—which have not been mentioned in this debate — have been invaluable. I feel that more could and should be done.
While there is evidence that the motorway and dual carriageway schemes have progressed satisfactorily, other main roads are in need of attention and repair. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State what is the degree of his Department's inspection of the condition of those roads for which the county councils are largely responsible. Is there any system by which these roads are regularly inspected and the defects brought to the attention of the county councils?
There is also the problem of the Severn crossing. I have been encouraged by the steps which have been taken recently to effect certain considerable repairs, but I still believe that there is a need for a second crossing. I do not believe we shall be forgiven in Wales if, within the next year or two, we do not give a strong assurance on this issue. I have heard the view expressed frequently in Wales—it is wrong but quite understandable—that it would be ironic if we had a tunnel to France but an inadequate connection between England and Wales. This is a poor comparison, but I must tell my right hon. Friend that it is a view which is unfortunately held by many Welsh people. Much attention should be given to roads which are maintained by the county councils, and the permanent question of the Severn bridge.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
The hon. Gentleman cannot shift responsibility solely onto the counties. The current expenditure, the non-capital expenditure, comes out of the rate support grant. What constructive suggestions does he have to ensure that the county councils can repair the roads?
§ Sir Raymond Gower
We must first identify the need, and in some cases I believe that there is a need. That is why I have asked my right hon. Friend about the extent to which there is an adequate system of inspection to enable us to know what is needed, because we can then make suggestions along the lines that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
The Cardiff Wales airport is another factor in communications. The steps that have already been taken are most invaluable and helpful, and should ensure the continued growth of the airport. The improvement of the runway enables that airport to handle much larger aircraft than most of its rivals, and that is laudable.
The second priority has already been mentioned. Wales wants a fair share of the newer, highly technical and modern industries to compensate for the real loss of jobs caused by the decline of the older industries. Here I disagree with the Labour party. It is not easy to attract into Wales the sort of industries that will provide the required number of jobs, because by definition these newer industries employ fewer people. They are much more highly technical and capitalised. In that sense, it is a formidable task to arrange for a sufficient number of such industries to come into Wales so that they provide the number of jobs that have declined in the labour-intensive industries. Labour Members are wrong to minimise the difficulties associated with that task.
Whatever Labour Members may think, I believe that my right hon. Friend and his Department have done an amazing job in their efforts to obtain new industry from abroad. The success of that has been evidenced by the 42 number of new companies that have come to north and south Wales from Japan and other countries. In that regard, Wales has been more successful than any other part of the United Kingdom, and my right hon. Friend, his fellow Ministers and all who work in the Welsh Office deserve much praise.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Such a tribute is deserved. I do not believe that I am the only hon. Member who thinks that. I extend such praise to the Welsh Development Agency and its efforts to attract new factories and new jobs. I am not so convinced that it has yet been as successful in relation to the financial part of its remit—its role as merchant banker. That is much more difficult, and I hope that in future that part of its business will be as successful as the construction of new factories.
I too shall curtail my remarks, but I should like to mention the work of other authorities as well as that of the Welsh Development Agency and the industrial department of the Welsh Office. Work is also done by some local authorities and by organisations such as Cardiff and Vale Enterprises — which operates in south Glamorgan — as well as the Thomson International Organisation, which has done invaluable work at Neath and is now starting to do the same in my own constituency. Such efforts are to be admired.
But part of the remedy lies in the hands of our own people. We must not ask that all these things be done for us. There must be a determination throughout the Principality to assist in this major undertaking. I hope that there will be wholehearted party co-operation, irrespective of whether we are in government or opposition. This is a long-term job which will not be achieved in the lifetime of one or even two Parliaments. We shall need the co-operation of all.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
I have taken part in a number of Welsh day debates since my election to Parliament, and I have had the privilege of representing my constituency for 12 years. I am delighted that in the Chamber today there are three other hon. Members who were elected on the same day as I was. There is the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist), the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), and the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas). I believe that we are the only four hon. Members from Wales elected in February 1974 who are still here. All of us have in our own ways tried to play our part for the Principality that we all love so much.
On each occasion, I have wished to have the opportunity to celebrate progress in the life and economy of Wales. Many of us celebrated St. David's day last weekend, but alas there was no joy. With each passing year it seems that the cause for celebration gets less and less. Indeed, when we look at the state of Wales today—with its ailing economy and mounting unemployment — any feeling of optimism fades away at the dismal prospect before us.
I believe that the Government's faith in market forces is entirely misplaced, and to adopt an attitude of laissez-faire, as they do, towards Welsh problems is thoroughly reprehensible and unforgivable. We need only look at the statistics published in the latest Department of Employment bulletin.
43 Three of the travel-to-work areas in my constituency have unemployment figures of 24.5 per cent., 26 per cent., and 27.6 per cent. respectively. I again make a plea that the top end of Pembrokeshire, Fishguard and part of Carmarthenshire should come under the jurisdiction of the Development Board for Rural Wales. That would be a step in the right direction. I hope that the Secretary of State and his colleagues will again look at the plight of that area.
The travel-to-work area of Aberystwyth, which is also in my constituency, has only 12.4 per cent. unemployment —a respectable figure by today's standards. But there the economy is underpinned by a thriving university college, several other educational institutions and research establishments — a sector that is increasingly coming under threat from the Tory Government's policies. It seems that this Government are entirely anti-education and anti-research—a fact that bodes ill for my constituency and for the whole of Wales.
It is extremely short-sighted of any Government to starve these centres of excellence of much-needed funds. That is the kind of investment that is absolutely necessary if we are to compete in any way with other nations in Europe and throughout the world. Will the Secretary of State scotch the rumour that one of the Welsh university colleges is to be closed?
How safe are the Trawscoed establishment, the Pwllpeiron experimental farm and the plant breeding station at Gogerddan?
I believe that unemployment in Wales, which is already well above tolerable levels, will, before the end of 1986, be at or near 200,000. That is ample proof, if any were needed, that, whatever the Government's claims, their theories and policies are just not working for Wales. Instead of investing money in improving the housing stock, renewing the infrastructure, giving us better roads and easier communications—which would in the long term provide a better environment for job creation—
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
Nonsense. We all acknowledge that we have great difficulties and problems in Wales, but it does not help to throw out three wholly spurious scares, as the hon. Member has done. I have not heard the vaguest suggestion from anyone about the closure of the university college. He knows perfectly well, because he came with a delegation recently to see me, that very firm assurances have been given about the future of the Welsh plant breeding station. The hon. Gentleman should not invent things.
§ Mr. Howells
They are not spurious at all. These rumours have been floating in Wales and the Secretary of State knows it. There is no need for him to get excited. We know what has happened in Wales during the past few years, and more may happen. We are well aware that the Welsh plant breeding station has lost its status, but I hope that it will remain and be successful. After all is said and done, it has lost its status, and the Secretary of State knows it.
§ Dr. Marek
I completely agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about education in Wales. Everybody in Wales is aware of the enforced cuts in the Welsh plant breeding station and indeed the cut at the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service at Trawscoed. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will charge 44 farmers for its services. It is a dismal story. The Secretary of State jumped up to deny that the university college of Wales was to be closed. I wonder if he would jump up to deny that Cartrefle teacher training college is to be closed. I understand that it is to be closed. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Conservative Members are denying that. In that case, I would welcome the Secretary of State jumping up now to deny it.
§ Mr. Howells
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I am afraid that the Secretary of State has by now regretted jumping up and intervening so rapidly.
I doubt very much whether privatising the Welsh water authority will create any employment. Still less will it benefit the consumer or the Welsh economy, and conservation, safety and the general management of our rivers and lakes cannot but suffer. Why on earth give away part of our most valuable natural assets in the pursuit of irrelevant dogma?
While we are scaremongering, in the view of the Secretary of State for Wales, what about the Forestry Commission? Who started that scare last week? I have tabled a question to the Secretary of State for Wales. He dare not give me a reply. He referred me to the reply given by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I wonder what his private views are regarding the Forestry Commission in Wales. We may know later. He may jump to his feet now: who knows?
The Secretary of State is nominally responsible for agriculture. I trust that he will forgive me for emphasising, yet again, how important it is that he should represent Welsh farming interests in Brussels and endeavour to make out a special case for Welsh farmers. Many of us have pressed him to go to Brussels during the past seven years. If my memory serves me right, he went once—in 1979–80—to defend the sheepmeat regime. He has full responsibility for agriculture in Wales. The Welsh nation depends on agriculture. If only to show good will, the Secretary of State should go to Brussels to represent Welsh farmers and to give them more moral support.
Farm incomes throughout Britain have been eroded during the past few years—production costs have risen faster than farm prices. Agriculture in Wales has been especially hard hit. In some areas, farmers have still not recovered from the milk quotas, which affected whole communities with devastating suddenness a couple of years ago, ruining many lives. The Secretary of State said that the Liberals do not favour quotas. I have said that there was no need to introduce quotas when they were introduced. I am sure that the Secretary of State would like to turn the clock back and that he does not favour quotas. Nor do the dairy farmers of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthen or Cardiganshire.
We should examine our marketing system in the EC with a view to getting rid of the surpluses. No Welsh Office Minister has mentioned our doing away with the intervention system and improving marketing. A child could buy a bullock for £500, sell it into intervention, leave it there six months and then sell it to the Russians for £50. That is happening. I do not know whether it is the system that the Government advocate, but it is time for the Secretary of State to go to Brussels and tell them that we want to change the system.
Leaders in Brussels should also be told that we want to keep the variable beef premium. Welsh farmers, 45 especially those who combine dairy and beef production, are worried about the EC threat to replace the premium with a new direct support scheme of headage payments for specialist beef producers. The premium, though not perfect, has been an important and stable influence in Welsh beef production. It has worked much more efficiently than any intervention system on the continent. The Farmers Union of Wales and the National Farmers Union have said that it is vital to retain the premium which store and fat cattle producers consider essential for survival now. We must not have a repeat of 1973–74 when the change in the system made the bottom drop out of the beef market, thus creating instability in the industry.
I remind the House once again that it was the Tory Government of 1973 who abolished the deficiency payments and a guaranteed price for beef in Wales. It was the Labour Government of 1974 who, with the backing of the Liberals and other minority parties, introduced the variable beef premium. I hope that the Secretary of State will do everything possible to ensure that the system continues during the next few years. Welsh agriculture has suffered enough traumas in the past couple of years to last a lifetime. I ask the Secretary of State to fight vigorously for Welsh farmers. Their welfare is vital to the rural economy in Wales.
I should like to quote a press release of the Farmers Union of Wales dated 28 February 1986:
FUW President, Huw Hughes, told Pembroke farmers at Martletwy on Saturday (March 1) that despite the drop of 43 per cent. in farm incomes last year, Welsh farmers could expect no tangible help from this year's European price talks. He added that the UK Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Jopling, instead of safeguarding the interests of UK farmers, was taking the lead in cutting farm incomes still further.I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Wales, who has full responsibility for farming in the Principality, shares his right hon. Friend's view that further cuts are needed in farm incomes in Wales during 1986–87. I am afraid that the inevitable will happen and the industry will suffer once again. Let us look forward to the day when a new party will be in government within the next two years, and let us hope that the people of Wales will have a Welsh Assembly within the next five years to look after their interests better than they have been looked after during the last seven years.
§ Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, Central)
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howell) gave me a nice opening. I remember St. David's day in 1979 which heralded the Tory Government. It turned the key for us. That is a happy memory and I thank him for reminding me of it. If he continues to prescribe his policies for Wales, the Conservative party will remain in government, sure as eggs is eggs. He, the hon. Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) and for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and I—it is fortunate that the names have not changed too much — represented the first major break in the Labour stranglehold on Wales. Indeed, we continue to represent both urban and rural areas.
Those who came to Cardiff on Saturday, whether or not to go to the match, may have seen a steam railway engine proceeding down the street, accompanied by a band, to the Holiday Inn hotel. That is part of the spirit of Cardiff and part of the history of the area. The old and new together show a pride and confidence in the future. I have frequently pointed out the advantages of Cardiff, which is 46 a shining example of how a city can be transformed with the invaluable help of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Cardiff has never had such a good friend in Gwydyr house.
Cardiff is on the verge of being one of the most exciting cities in Europe. We have magnificent shopping facilities, the south Cardiff development, the old docks area, which is being modernised into the 21st century, fine universities, art galleries, museums, live theatre in quantities of which no other city of the same size can boast, new and modernising hotels, first grade national and local sports facilities, the finest conference and concert hall in Europe, an airport now capable of receiving jumbo jets, and communications by sea, air, rail and road to all parts of the United Kingdom and beyond which serve as a platform from which to go forward to the future.
§ Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a great pity that Cardiff, for all its tourist attractions, should be about to lose a major attraction when an important collection of impressionist paintings will go to Japan for almost a year? Does he think that that is good for the tourist industry?
§ Mr. Grist
The hon. Lady shows the sort of insularity that damages Welsh interests. Those great paintings, which were left in the main by two sisters whose family money came from coal, will go to Japan. We have learnt that the tenth Japanese company is to invest in Wales. Those paintings will spread the name and fame of Wales, and will act as a hook to bring more work to our people. Just as the hon. Lady must have seen great exhibitions from abroad in the United Kingdom, we should be proud to have pictures to send around the world so that others may see them.
This should be one of the hon. Lady's days. Cardiff has served as a focal point for the valleys and hinterland of south Wales and, indeed, to a large extent was built on them. She should welcome the Secretary of State's venture of community investment and initiative in the valleys. I echo the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower) that it is a chance for people to put forward their ideas, raise interest in their area, and bring pride back to their area, instead of having to rely on the politicians whom they elect and who rarely speak of the glories of the area but always of its dereliction, troubles and difficulties. It is a chance offered to them by the Government to help themselves.
It is absolutely certain that inefficiency, which the Labour party sometimes seems to espouse, and indiscriminate subsidy, which it certainly espouses, have never created or preserved jobs. They merely serve to lose jobs and make the position worse. Inflation, whether of promises or expenditure, wrecks confidence, undermines investment, is socially ruinous, and ultimately spells less work and employment. That is why we are looking forward to the Budget on 18 March and to a continuation of the fight against inflation. [Interruption.] Opposition Members should take note that this year the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development predicts that our unit labour costs will be the highest in Europe, and higher than in Japan and the United States. That is the sort of damaging inflation that we are imposing on ourselves, and that is supported by the attitudes of Opposition Members, which undermines jobs. High unit labour costs are one of the most damaging aspects of our national life. 47 Just as our productivity is improving and we are attracting the investment we need, we are managing to lose jobs because we are increasing labour costs rapidly compared with our competitors.
§ Mr. Best
Did not the OECD report show that we had been paying ourselves a 9 per cent. increase every year, which is a real increase of about 5 per cent.? The effect of that is that those in work become richer and improve their standard of living at the expense of those out of work. Is it not material that Labour Members always advocate higher wages and side with those who seek to push through higher wages when those policies directly damage those who are unemployed?
§ Mr. Grist
Indeed; and the figures show that in 1985 hourly earnings in the United Kingdom rose by 9 per cent. compared with a 5 per cent. average in OECD countries, and that this year the increase will be 8.5 per cent. for the United Kingdom and 4.5 per cent. for the total OECD countries. That is at least one of the answers to the question of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) why we have lost jobs. They have been lost because of the inefficiency, out-of-dateness, uncompetitiveness and unawareness of what competitors are up to in industry after industry, and political party after political party. For many years the Tory party was as guilty as the other parties of being unaware of what was happening outside the United Kingdom.
Within the overriding priority of dealing with inflation, I hope that it will be possible to reduce interest rates. Their present levels are especially damaging to small businesses and to all those with mortgages. Today many more people have mortgages because more people are buying their homes than when we first came to office. I hope that more funds — even more than my right hon. Friend could announce today—can be made available for housing and house repairs. They are essential in constituencies such as mine, which have many ageing houses teetering on the brink of becoming slums, and many ageing constituents in need of specialised safe accommodation. During the past six years a marvellous job has been done in that respect. When I walk round my constituency I can see how many new roofs and windows have been installed, and the effect of the enveloping scheme in Rumney street. Much more remains to be done, and what better way to provide work and socially necessary investment than through housing?
Just as the Government have done so much to further home ownership and bring to reality the dreams of many people, I hope that my right hon. Friends have taken careful note of the opposition from all quarters to the proposals to review the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1972. The need to lighten the bureaucratic and tax burdens on small businesses and enterprises is well recognised by all Conservative Members. Nevertheless, the virtual free-for-all proposed in the use of private houses is not, and never will be, accepted.
Equally unacceptable is the extraordinary, and extraordinarily damaging, proposal of the South Glamorgan county council to raise local rates by 25 per cent. I quote from a letter that I received last week from one of my constituents. He writes:Dear Mr. Grist, I have just penned a letter to the Rev. R. Morgan to protest, most strongly, about the proposed 28 per cent"—48 the figure has gone down to 25 per cent. since then, thanks to my right hon. Friend's actions—
rate increase by S. Glamorgan. What you can do about it, I really don't know, but I feel I really must let my feelings be known, in the hope that others like me will put on enough pressure to reverse this diabolical situation.Let me say I am, and always have been, a Socialist, but"—[Interruption.] The fact that I cannot read this properly speaks for former education standards.whatever happens next year neither I, nor my family, will ever vote Labour again … I am being used as a political pawn and I object to that.The Rev. Morgan blames the present Government—and I admit that there is some truth in that.That is fair enough.But I feel there is also a lot of bad management and many crocodile tears being shed. I pointed out to him for instance that much can be saved with a more competent Administration than exists at the moment.The Audit Commission would agree with my constituent in that respect. He concludes:the effect on industry, small businesses and so on could be catastrophic.My constituent is quite right. I told him that I would be making use of his letter today. There speaks a local resident who understands better than the county council the effect of rates rises on businesses.
We all appreciate that the change in rating support this year favoured cities at the expense of counties to some extent, but it was nevertheless a remarkable achievement that Cardiff city council held its rate steady. It is equally remarkable that the county council should put up its rate by 28 per cent.—a staggering figure and the greatest in Wales. Even now, the 25 per cent. increase that it is now going for will have profound effects. For example, a firm such as Amersham International will have its rates bill increased by £37,000.
Such increases, when applied to all the hotels, shops, and other businesses, firms and manufacturers around South Glamorgan, mean that claims by the county council that making cuts would cost jobs hide the fact that increases in costs mean that jobs go elsewhere. The person who retires is not replaced, the extra hand who could be taken on is not. These effects are not so easily seen, but they are there, and they make the area that bit less competitive than others.
Clearly, money is being wasted, for example in the education system, as schools are run half-empty, and painful decisions about their future are being shelved. That damages not only the economy of the county, but the opportunities for our children, who are consequently robbed of a wider curriculum and better equipment as a result of spending on echoing classrooms and underused facilities.
A further opportunity that is wasted locally, and this applies to county hall, city and local health authorities, stems from the appalling refusal to put out services to tender. Only by doing so can we be sure that local ratepayers are not being asked to subsidise inefficiency. The savings for many authorities have been outstanding and nationally the Government and the National Health Service have saved over £50 million by going out to contract. For instance, Ogwr council, in a slightly different league, has saved over £100,000 by putting out its building and local housing maintenance for tender. Bath city council, a little town in comparison to South Glamorgan, has saved £63,000 by putting out to tender catering in the council and the sports hall. Dudley council 49 has saved over £600,000 on school cleaning and Kent county council has saved nearly £1.4 million on the same service. There is now a long list of such savings. When will local authorities and health authorities in South Glamorgan and elsewhere wake up to their opportunities in this sector?
We should all be looking for opportunities. By their taxation policies, investment schemes and general ethos, the Government are seeking to promote a risk-taking and opportunity-taking state, and a responsible one.
This brings me to the teachers' dispute. I declare an interest as the father of two boys taking their O-levels in a local comprehensive school. Not all teachers are taking part in the dispute, and all credit to them for putting their pupils first. Many teachers, including some now taking action, are first-rate in their jobs, many are perfectly adequate, and some are downright poor. Most deserve higher pay, and, especially where their subject is in short supply, notably higher pay.
However, there must be a pro for this quid. The terms insisted on by the Government of assessment, job definition and increased in-service training are neither remarkable nor onerous. The only remarkable thing about them is that they have not been the norm for years. To deny that and imperil the future of our children as so many teachers have been doing, especially those in the NUT, is a scandal and a shame on the teaching profession. Let us hope that the current talks lead to better treatment for teachers and pupils alike.
We heard little today from the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside about the multifarious and manifold promises that he goes around making in Wales, but even they pall beside the £24,000 million extra expenditure promised by the Labour party leaders. Even if such promises could be kept, which is almost unthinkable in reality, the resultant rise in taxes and inflation would bleed the economy dry. Investment would flee the country, the pound would crash and inflation rocket. What choice then for jobs to maintain all the social expenditure called for by the Labour party? The country's course must be that set by the Government — realistic but imaginative. It must not be the opportunism—or occasionally the dishonesty—built on populism shown by the alliance. It must be built on a coherent, well-tried and deeply-rooted philosophy.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
In these debates, it is easy to go over the Government's global failures in their policy in Wales and look at the massive and increasing unemployment figures that are blighting every part of the Principality, at the increasing dereliction of our housing stock and the increasing waiting lists, and at the effect of public investment in social services, which have caused such misery in the Principality. I propose not to look at the global figures.
The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower) enjoined us to be, as he intended to be, non-partisan and non-parochial. I shall be parochial and partisan—I make no apology for that—because these debates give us a good opportunity to invert the process of looking just at the overall picture, and instead look at the effects of Government policy in our localities among the people whom we have the privilege to represent.
I came back from my constituency today in a state of anger and shock at some of the things that I had seen and learned. I shall mention only two factors contributing to 50 my state. The first came when I picked up my local newspaper, the South Wales Evening Post, of 27 February. One page has the heading "We Want to Work". It has photographs of 24 people in the local area, whose ages range from 19 to 59. On the left of the advertisement, we are told that the feature has been made possible by generous donations from various companies. What are we coming to when decent people have to go through the humiliation of parading themselves in such a way?
I do not criticise the local newspaper, which is trying, albeit against the odds, to get these people into jobs. I do not criticise the jobcentre or the advertisers who paid for the advertisement. Least of all do I criticise those who are desperate for jobs and who are prepared to suffer the indignity of having their faces put before their friends, relatives and neighbours in a kind of cattle market. Conservative propaganda would have us believe that the unemployed are in some way at fault. That is reflected in the Government's social security policies for the unemployed. If the Government looked at the employment histories of those 24 people, they would say, as I do, "What a waste of talent and training." Decent people are being forced to allow their photographs to be so published in a local newspaper.
The Government were completely unprepared for this avalanche of job losses. I recall that, at the second meeting of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, Sir Hywel Evans, who was then the permanent secretary at the Welsh Office, was imprudent enough to answer a question about the figures that the Welsh Office was working on for the expected ceiling in unemployment. He said that they were working on the basis that unemployment would peak at 125,000. The Government have massaged the figures, but they still show that unemployment is over 170,000.
The Government were completely unprepared for what has happened. Their policies mean that they are ideologically and psychologically ill-prepared to deal with a situation that is largely of their creation. Who can doubt that the policies pursued in 1979, 1980 and 1981, when the value of sterling was high, were responsible for the destruction of so much of the manufacturing base upon which Wales depends? During the last five years, 2 million jobs in manufacturing industries in the United Kingdom have been lost. Wales has lost far more jobs than any other part of the United Kingdom because of the structure of its economy. Wales is dependent upon public investment in the economy as a whole.
I had my second shock over the weekend when I met two trade union representatives from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre at Morriston in my constituency. The traditional theme of this Government has been to cut the public sector, to curb trade union rights and to increase the privatisation of services. The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist) praised those policies a few moments ago, but let us look at their effects in one place, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre.
In practice, the Government's policies mean that, because a three-year cleaning contract expires on 24 March, the DVLC management has negotiated a new contract with Exclusive Cleaners Contract (Western) Ltd. The old contract was for £287,000. The renewal tender costs amount to £155,000. Therefore the DVLC — in effect, the Government — can say that £132,000 of public expenditure is being saved. The director and the personnel chief at the DVLC are happy and the contractor is no doubt happy; he is keeping his profit margins.
51 But what is the effect on the cleaners—women who are already on low wages of £27 a week gross? The effect will be a reduction in cleaning staff from 139 to 102—a loss of 37 jobs — a reduction in cleaning supervisors from five to four and a reduction in wages—let us, in our comfort, listen to this—from £1.80 an hour to £1.50 an hour. There is also to be a reduction in hours from three to two-and-a-half. Thus, the women employed as cleaners at the DVLC will have to cover a larger floor area, because there will be fewer cleaners, in a shorter time. To add insult to final injury, their holiday pay is to be abolished. They have been told by the contractor that they can take it or leave it. If they do not like the new terms, he will go to the jobcentre, where he will find women who are more than ready, in a high unemployment area, to take their jobs.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
Does my hon. Friend accept that these figures, appalling and unacceptable as they are in their meanness and in their penny-pinching character, are made even worse when one bears in mind that, over the life of the last three-year contract, there has been an increase in inflation of over 15 per cent.? One therefore has to bear in mind that an increase would be necessary just to keep the wages at their original value.
§ Mr. Anderson
My right hon. Friend makes an entirely good point. They are miserable wages for women who are at the bottom end of the working sector. Many of these women are from one-parent families, or they are the only breadwinner in the family. The industrial relations legislation does not cover them. The Government have so dismantled the protection that was available to workers that the fair wages legislation has disappeared. This means that they can either take it or leave it. Is this the brave new Tory world? Is this the model for other privatisation contracts in schools, hospitals and Government service?
The unions at the DVLC advise me that the next group of workers whose jobs may be contracted out could be typists and the reprographic staff. In their defence the Government cannot say, like Pontius Pilate, that they were not responsible. They cannot be absolved from their responsibilities. They must have known what would be the effect of the contract into which they were entering. There will probably not even be a public expenditure saving. There are to be job losses which will have a consequential effect upon social security expenditure because the families of those who are made redundant will have to be maintained. Even according to the narrow and petty economics of this Government, it does not make economic sense. They have increased the misery of these miserably low-paid workers in west Glamorgan.
I shall contrast the effect of that policy on these women in Swansea with what is happening in the City. The Secretary of State is personally much more at home there than in dealing with low-paid workers. The investment climate in the City has seldom been more favourable. There has been a bid frenzy in the City and a shares boom.
If they wish, those ladies on slave wages at the DVLC in Swansea can read in the newspapers that during the last 12 months there has been a shares boom of 26 per cent. and that there has been an 8 per cent. increase in the last month. They can read about the City gold frauds. The bullion fraud amounts to an estimated VAT loss of £500 52 million. They can also read about the salary explosion in the City. The Government are doing nothing about that. There is to be a salary explosion in preparation for the "big bang" deregulation which is to take effect in October. The salaries of many young men in their twenties will be increased from £30,000 to £60,000 per annum.
§ Mr. Anderson
They toil not, neither do they spin. They are pushing around figures in the City, yet these ladies in Swansea are to have their wages of £28 a week, gross, reduced to £25 a week.
§ Mr. Anderson
No, I shall not give way.
That is the direct result of the Government's policy. It is a mean Government who pursue such policies. There is a sour smell of decline about the Government's values. Perhaps the party of the City cannot comprehend the effect of their policies on those ladies in my constituency. Those effects—deliberate in that they arise from Government policy—should shame the Government.
A critic wrote of an earlier state of national malaise in whichwealth accumulates, and men decay".Wealth is certainly accumulating as the two-nation divide deepens as a result of Government policies. The Government's priorities are those of the City while men and women decay. Our people are the losers, and the Government should go.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)
I was going to say that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) was carried away by his own rhetoric, but it was not even rhetoric because much of it lacked any semblance of plausibility. The hon. Gentleman declined to give way to me as is his right, although it does not make for good debate, when he referred to share prices. He will be aware that recent new issues have been heavily oversubscribed if they appear to have any chance of going to a small premium. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if that amount of private money is available in the United Kingdom it should be harnessed to the kind of infrastructure projects that both he and I wish to see?
§ Mr. Anderson
I see nothing wrong in principle in harnessing every element of private capital to help build the infrastructure in Wales. I heard the appeals made to the City by the Secretary of State in Cardiff, but they were rejected because the prospective profits did not suit the City. If the hon. Gentleman disputes the figures that I gave, I assure him that every one of them was based absolutely in fact.
§ Mr. Best
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that statement. I shall remind him of it when we debate privatisation of the water authorities. He has now confirmed that, like me, he believes that private money should be harnessed wherever possible, rather than always relying on the public sector. The dinosaur attitude of the Opposition suggests that they are still living in the 1930s and 1940s when it was thought that the only way out of certain difficulties was to use the public sector rather than the more adventurous and successful attitude of the present Government. Why bleed the taxpayer and increase 53 inflationary pressures by creating a heavier public sector borrowing requirement — a method that the Labour Government tried and failed — when there is the alternative that we now see? It is no coincidence that companies going into the private sector invariably do well after privatisation because there is a new sense of entrepreneurial movement forward which was totally lacking when they were in the public sector. I shall give an example of that later.
§ Mr. Williams
Inadvertently, I am sure, the hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). My hon. Friend referred to inflation in existing share prices. Those shares represent past investment, so their prices merely represent the price at which existing investment is changing hands. There is no accretion of investment as such. The privatisation of BT is a good example. Within a month or so, shares first issued at 50p were changing hands at £1.90—an increase of £1.40, not one penny of which was added to the investment in BT or received by the Government in extra taxation, but all of which went in windfall profits to shareholders.
§ Mr. Best
I am sure that the mistake is mine, but that is a different point. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that there are two aspects to this. The first is whether one can harness private sector capital for purposes hitherto regarded as the preserve of the public sector. As I understood it, the hon. Member for Swansea, East agreed that, wherever possible, private sector funds should be harnessed to achieve what in the past has been regarded as a matter for public sector investment. That is exactly what the Government are doing through privatisation, especially in the water authorities.
The second aspect is the movement of share prices. I remind the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) that many people of very modest means throughout the country, probably including a number of the right hon. Gentleman's constituents, who had never owned a share in their lives, took up the BT share offer because they wanted to have a stake in their country, an opportunity hitherto denied them.
§ Mr. Best
The right hon. Gentleman digs himself a deeper grave by saying that. The general public did not own BT. The right hon. Gentleman's concept of public ownership is quite different from ours. To him, it means that the state owns the assets. To us, it means that members of the general public own the assets. That is a fundamental philosophical difference between us. The right hon. Gentleman merely digs himself into a deeper hole by making that apparent.
The right hon. Gentleman will be very disappointed by the attitude of the Labour Opposition Front Bench to those assets which have been returned to the general public by the Government. The Labour Opposition Front Bench— I could say, uncharitably, under electoral pressure — knows that it would be electoral disaster to seek to renationalise those assets, to re-acquire them by the state and to confiscate them from the members of the general public in whose ownership they should properly remain. That is true public ownership, and there will be no Opposition commitment to dismantle it.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rymney)
The hon. Gentleman talks about ownership by the British 54 public. Does that include the 20 per cent. of BT shares sold on the New York stock exchange in the first week for £180 million? What contribution did that make to development and investment in Britain?
§ Mr. Best
The hon. Gentleman and I will agree on one thing—that, unfortunately, the percentage of individuals owning shares is still in decline compared with that of institutions. I regret that, but I had not realised that the hon. Gentleman also regretted it. I am glad that he has now made it clear and that he accepts my premise that public ownership means ownership of shares by as many individuals as possible.
§ Mr. Grist
Does my hon. Friend accept that what is happening to shares now is in remarkable contrast to what happened when the Labour party was in power, when savers, often individuals, and pension funds, into which virtually everybody was paying, were robbed blind by inflation, putting money into the Exchequer, not into people's hands?
§ Mr. Best
My hon. Friend is right. There is an inherent dichotomy in what the Opposition say. I do not think that I have heard one Opposition Member say that pensioners should not have Treasury bonds. What is the difference between having a Treasury bond which fluctuates in price and a share in the ownership of a company at home or abroad? There is no conceptual difference. That is another hang-up that the Opposition must face when considering private ownership.
Listening to Labour Members, one is reminded that the late Sir Winston Churchill said:The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.That can never be more uppermost in one's mind than when one has the misfortune to have to listen to the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). If anybody is capable of sharing misery as widely as possible, he has the greatest voice for that in the House.
I want to concentrate on a matter of critical importance which has been adverted to already — the problem of unemployment. I was interested to read in the National Institute Economic Review:Each year that goes by with unemployment at the present level represents additional loss of national output, income and economic well-being. Moreover, both the social and the economic consequences of unemployment may well be cumulative, so that the longer that action is delayed, the worse the ultimate condition of the country will be even after unemployment is reduced.I do not suppose that any right hon. or hon. Member would dispute that contention. The argument arises over how best to overcome that difficulty.
If we had been having this debate 20 or 30 years ago, it would have been regarded as impossible for a Government to sustain office with the levels of unemployment that are experienced now in the United Kingdom, and in Wales in particular. The fact that the Government have sustained office and the fact that, unlike their predecessors, the Labour Government, they not only 55 won the 1979 election but went on to win the 1983 election, proves two things. I shall be charitable and say that it may well have had a lot to do with the state of the Labour party rather than policy but it also had a lot to do with the public realisation that the answers to unemployment are not as facile as the Labour party sometimes suggests. It is because of that root change in the understanding of the British people that the promises of politicians to overcome the level of unemployment through massive public expenditure are seen to be false. That was why, notwithstanding the high level of unemployment, the British people still voted in a Conservative Government.
Labour Members — I say this to them in all seriousness—must address their minds to why that was so. They must ask themselves how it can be that they are still promulgating the policies of yesterday and still articulating the same remedies now as before the 1983 election and yet they lost that election and lost it overwhelmingly. They must look into their souls and philosophy and wonder whether they have got it right.
It is accepted that the answers are not easy. I fully appreciate that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside makes up in simplicity what he lacks in academic argument. But his answers are not persuasive. They will not persuade the people of Wales. The hon. Gentleman believes in massive public expenditure. He thinks that is the answer. But I must remind him of what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) had to say only the other day to the London Business School. He said:The days of the Keynesian dash for growth are over, at least for the Labour party.I do not know how long the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside will hold his place on the Front Bench if he continues to push out what he did a moment ago, because he is at variance with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook went on to say that a Labour Government would only proceedas the inflation constraints allow.That was an interesting description of the state of the Labour party today, because it was an acknowledgement that the control of inflation must come before expenditure to increase employment. That is an interesting acceptance by some Labour Members of the realities of life that I have been mentioning.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside often talks about Holyhead in debates on Welsh affairs and in Welsh Question Time, but it is obvious that he does not often go there. If he did—unless he flew, like some of his ideas in fancy—he would have to travel along the A55 and he would realise that massive public sector investment, in excess of £400 million, is going into roads in north Wales which will have the most dramatic effect on the income and economy of my constituents in Anglesey. Anglesey has a great deal going for it. It has a beautiful environment and a multiplicity—
§ Mr. Ray Powell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will recall that on the last occasion on which we had a debate on Welsh affairs, several Labour Members were not called because Conservative Members took more than their allotted time. I draw that to your attention, because Mr. Speaker made an appeal for short speeches. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) has 56 been speaking now for 16 minutes. One would have thought that he would have appreciated the appeal from the Chair and at least made a short contribution. If he is to make a contribution, let it be a contribution to the debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Speeches so far have been commendably short, and I hope that we shall continue in that way so that we can hear every hon. Member who wishes to speak.
§ Mr. Best
I shall adhere to your injunction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I appeal to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell)—if he is capable of noticing an appeal when it is made — not to seek to intervene from a sedentary position, as is his wont, so that he does not delay me. No doubt he will then have an opportunity to make his contribution.
The improvement of the A55 will have a dramatic impact on the economy of Anglesey, as also will the improvements—
§ Mr. Rogers
The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) making his remarks from a sedentary position. In fact, my hon. Friend was standing. I know that he is short, but he was standing.
§ Mr. Best
I shall not respond to that. I would not want to see the hon. Member for Ogmore having to stand on the Benches in order to prove that he was standing rather than sitting.
I hope that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary replies to the debate he will take on board my exhortations for bypasses along the A55 on Anglesey. He has been extremely helpful in that predicament that I have brought to his notice. It is largely the result of those representations and my hon. Friend's kind response to them that we have a consultants' report on the bypasses coming about. I hope that the contents of the report will come to fruition.
A nationalised industry, Sealink, cried out year after year for investment in Holyhead, and no investment was forthcoming. However, as soon as Sealink was privatised, there was investment of £2.5 million in a deep-water berth at Holyhead. These matters speak for themselves.
The Welsh Office has provided £220,000 in grant under the urban programme for the development of a fishing facility at Holyhead. Following discussions that I had with a New Zealand company, I am happy to announce that the production of electronic pool tables will begin in Holyhead in the summer. Welsh slate will be used, which I know will be of great assistance to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas).
MEM is making advanced switching gear and Wells Kelo is undergoing restructuring. Anglesey Aluminium has seen an investment of £9 million, which has given it a more secure future than it has ever had previouly, but it will be going ahead with only half its work force. When I was first given the privilege of representing Anglesey in 1979, Anglesey Aluminium had 1,300 employees. That work force has now been halved. No Labour Member in his right mind, however rare that occurrence might be, would blame the Government for a reduction in the work force as a result of a diminution in the demand for aluminium worldwide. As I have said, the plant has a more 57 secure future now than ever before. That is a case of massive manufacturing investment, but a reduction in the work force.
Things are moving elsewhere in Anglesey with the restructuring of Associated Octel at Amlwch and with £500,000 of European money gong to Halal in Gaerwen to enable a packaging facility to be established.
Last week I met the chairman of Pringle, which has recently bought Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrnirobwlrllandysillogogogoch station. The chairman told me that the company is spending £1 million at that site on its manufacturing capability. I met an old Army friend of mine last week whose colleague has developed a vehicle which is being tested by the Ministry of Defence. Apparently it has a one-in-three chance of being accepted. If it is accepted, it will be produced by Laird for both the domestic and export markets.
Much is happening which is good news for Anglesey, but the tragedy of unemployment in Holyhead, which is at 25 per cent., means that no one can afford to be complacent. That is why I began by mentioning unemployment. Indeed, it is the subject on which I wish to bring my remarks to an end.
I suggest that three courses of action should now be taken. First, we should set up task forces in order to concentrate resources on areas in Wales with unemployment rates of 25 per cent. or more. The National Institute Economic Review shows that if we can reduce unemployment by establishing a structure which is related to manufacturing, there will be a direct correlation between a person gaining employment and a reduction in the unemployment register. Secondly, sectoral regional aid should be directed to support manufacturing industry. Thirdly, National Health insurance contributions, the welcome reduction of which was introduced in the 1985 Budget, should be directed to those under 25 years and to the long-term unemployed.
If we were to reduce the cost of employing those who are most in need of assistance and employment—those under 25 years and those who have suffered long-term unemployment — we would not have to talk about reducing wages for those people. Instead, we would be able to ensure that employers found it more attractive financially to employ people in those categories than others. If we can keep labour unit costs down, and, therefore, inflation, we help to combat the pressure for higher wages, which so often reduces our competitiveness.
§ Mr. Rogers
When we last had a Welsh affairs debate, Mr. Speaker, some hon. Members were unable to participate because of the excessive length of certain Members' speeches. You have said, Mr. Speaker, that if our contributions are reasonably short, everyone will be able to participate in this debate. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) has been speaking for 25 minutes.
§ Mr. Best
I was about to do so, Mr. Speaker. Before you entered the Chamber, Mr. Speaker, the hon. Member 58 for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) raised a point of order and delayed the progress of my speech. He has caused that to happen yet again and he must be held responsible for the delay.
I was saying that if we were to introduce the measures to which I referred—I hope that it will be announced in the Budget that they will be introduced — we could make an even greater and more significant contribution to the reduction of unemployment which we all want to see.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Many hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. Long speeches will not be helpful if they are all to be accommodated.
§ 6.6 pm
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
I shall not take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) — neither their length nor their rambling nature. I believe that the annual Welsh day should have something to do with Wales, and I accept that constituency matters will arise. However, much of what we have heard from Conservative Members has been extremely general and could have been included in almost any United Kingdom-wide debate. The annual Welsh day debate provides an opportunity to take stock of what has happened and what is happening in Wales. It enables us to study the balance sheet to see how things are moving and to examine the gains and losses. Over recent years there has been a saga of losses.
We heard a few moments ago that the hon. Members for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist) and for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells), and my hon. Friend the Member for Merionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) and I share a 12th anniversary. A seventh anniversary that stands out in my mind is that of the referendum on the Welsh Assembly. I should like to wager that if such a referendum were to take place today, the result would be very different from that in 1979. The people of Wales have experienced the consequences of voting against the creation of an Assembly.
I know that some hon. Members would argue that the first priority is to get the Government out of office as quickly as possible, and I recognise that there is validity in that argument. However, the long-term argument, which is even more important, is that we must ensure that a similar Government are not blown into office by the next ill wind. Such a Government would not be elected by Wales but Wales would have to suffer them although they were voted in by other parts of the United Kingdom. Our priority should be to obtain a system of government that keeps the Conservative party, that lot on the Government Benches, out of office permanently. We must have a system that stops them messing up our country's prospects.
It is worth recalling what happened from 1974 to 1979. In that period, many and varied arguments were advanced by Conservative Members, and regrettably by some Opposition Members, against taking any step towards greater Welsh autonomy. We were warned that it would kill off jobs. We had 80,000 unemployed at that time and we were told that unemployment would be very much worse if Wales gained greater autonomy. There are now 180,000 unemployed. We were told that, in the absence of an Assembly, regional policy and assistance would take 59 off. We know what has happened. It has been killed off in the meantime. There is a great need for a new start for the young unemployed in Wales. That must be a reason for us to put a question mark against those who say that, provided we keep clear of Welsh autonomy, everything will be fine and dandy in Wales and London.
We were told that housing programmes would be cut if we had an Assembly. We did not have an Assembly, and housing investment in Wales has halved since the Government came to office. The people of Wales are suffering from inadequate housing and long waiting lists.
What would have happened to the hospital investment programme if we had had an Assembly? We were told how many hospitals could be built between 1979 and the end of the century if we kept clear of an Assembly. We kept clear of it and we know what happened to the promises. We know what happened to the promises of hospitals being built in Porthmadog, Western Dwyfor, other parts of Gwynedd and many other parts of Wales.
We were warned of what would happen to the road building programme if we had an Assembly. I accept that there is a continuing programme along the north Wales coast, but all parties know what happened to the county roads in Gwynedd, Dyfed and Powys. An increasing number of potholes and less and less investment—yes, we paid in terms of road programmes.
We were warned that splitting Wales from the rest of Britain, even with the minimal devolution talked about, would threaten investment in industries such as coal. Since 1979, the number of jobs in the coal industry has been more than halved. More than one third of the jobs in the Welsh coalfield have gone during the past two years. There were promises of investment in Margam, but they were not fulfilled. So much for the promises that, if we kept away from the idea of autonomy and were good boys, all would be well.
We were told that an Assembly would take money and power from local government but, during the past few weeks, we have seen what has happened to rates. Increases have been necessary because the Government have withheld grants. Yes, power has been taken from local government—it has gone straight to Whitehall, and we in Wales are paying the price in terms not only of lost resources but of lost control and a loss of plans and strategy for Wales. Powers have been centralised not in Cardiff but in London. There has been higher taxation for fewer services and no control.
We were told many things by certain hon. Members during the run-up to 1979. We were told that, if we had a Welsh Assembly, water rates would increase. The threat was that democratisation of the water authority would mean much greater rates. As soon as the Conservative party came to power in 1979, it did away with the Water Charges Equalisation Act 1977 and immediately, at the stroke of a pen, added £4 million to the Welsh water bill.
We were warned what would happen to the Welsh language if we had a Welsh Assembly. We are now living with the consequences of the statement by the tribunal at Colwyn Bay that county council and social services departments in Wales could not employ Welsh-speaking people to look after Welsh residents in old people's homes. The House is not willing to do anything about it.
There has been a long saga of arguments. One hon. Member said: 60there is not a single major deficiency in Welsh life or a single major problem in the Welsh economy that will be touched by devolution or any of the proposals in the Bill. Not a single interest of poeple anywhere in Wales — whether it be democratic, cultural or political—will be advanced one inch by devolution in Wales."—[Official Report, 18 January 1977; Vol. 924, c. 147.]
§ Mr. Wigley
Good question. The then hon. Member for Bedwellty, who is now the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), said that. We have all made mistakes from time to time. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition has learned from his mistakes and from what has happened since then. I hope that he has learned particularly the lesson that, by playing the game with the Conservative party in the run-up to the 1979 referendum, he gave the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) the keys to No. 10 Downing street. The Welsh people are paying heavily for that folly.
We are not advocating a return to the 1979 model or a resurrection of the arguments used then. I put it to the House that there is a strong need for Wales to have more control over its affairs and for greater foresight than we had in 1979. We have paid economically in terms of jobs, houses, regional policy and agriculture. We have paid socially in terms of the cancer of unemployment and the social depression killing off initiative and hope. It is no use Conservative Members talking about community self-help when the Government have put such a damper on aspirations in Wales. We have seen the effect on a generation of the policy of "Get on your bikes and look for work."
We have paid politically by suffering a Tory Government whom we in Wales never elected and by the lack of democratic answerability of authorities, such as the water and health authorities. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) is trying to persuade the health authorities to save our ambulance services, just as we are. We know that our democracy is such that we cannot get into the same room as the representatives of the health authority and the Welsh Office to discuss this vital problem. That is the skin-deep nature of our democracy. The Welsh Office is totally lacking in sensitivity on planning appeals and similar issues which can have devastating effects on many communities, towns and villages in Wales.
The price paid is, at best, a total collapse of morale and, at worst, a total alienation of young people. A high price has been paid in terms of alienation. People wanted a framework within which they could work to improve the position in their country, but they were denied it. They wanted to put forward ideas, socially, economically and culturally, but the 1979 vote succeeded in killing off the exciting ideas bubbling up in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Secretary of State has said more than once that he is looking for new ideas in Wales and for positive thinking for the future. Does he not realise that the Government have helped to extinguish the flames of hope that burned in the 1970s? We were told that the answer for Wales would be found in a Select Committee. I am a member of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. Its members strive to do a good job but it is confined to looking at one subject at a time. We need a body that constantly monitors Government services in Wales. The Select Committee deals only with an investigation, when we need a greater 61 power of initiating positive policy. The Select Committee deals with recommendations, but we want a body capable of executive action, not just of talk.
§ Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Select Committee has powers to carry out one-day inquiries into a particular crisis, event or organisation, if it decides to do so? The Select Committee has made wide use of that power since the last election.
§ Mr. Wigley
But when the Select Committee uses those one-day opportunities, its recommendations are voted down by Conservative Members, as happened with the plant breeding station at Aberystwyth.
The Select Committee can certainly do some work, but it is not enough. It is not a replacement for an assembly or for a national parliament motivated to sort out Welsh problems.
What has happened to the Welsh Grand Committee? It has not met since December, and we are almost through this quarter of Parliament. The Welsh parliamentary party—an all-party group—used to meet regularly. It now meets only once in the lifetime of a Parliament to elect people to serve on outside bodies and then goes back to sleep until the next Parliament. Welsh matters are rapidly disappearing from the House and it is nonsense to pretend that all is well and rosy in the garden. We have a total lack of control over our destiny. We have fewer opportunities than we had 20 years ago to discuss matters in an all-Wales forum. Under people such as Huw T. Edwards there was a Council for Wales. It was a non-elected body but at least it could bring thoughts together. It has been chucked overboard and there is nothing in its place.
People with common interests — a rugby club or social club — have an opportunity to elect a body to make decisions on their behalf. Of course the Welsh people can do this locally—at community, district and county council level—and we can do it at Westminster and in Europe, but not on an all-Wales level. There is something sacrosanct about that level. Power has to be kept in the hands of bureaucrats who can foist on the people policies they do not want. In recent years, we have been moving backwards with a vengeance.
I warn friends in the Welsh Office who may be sitting close at hand that, unless they are made directly answerable to Wales, questions will be asked about the justification of the Welsh Office. Unless the Welsh Office acts in an all-Wales context—bringing forward positive policies responding to Welsh circumstances, not just acting as a rubber stamp for the Department of Education and Science, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Health and Social Security and all the rest—what is the justification for having a couple of thousand civil servants? We need something new and positive out of them, but we are not getting it. There is no point in having a Welsh Office which brings only bureaucratic inertia to Wales. We want something that provides a new dynamism, a Welsh response to the chronic conditions in Wales.
§ Dr. Marek
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Welsh Office. Is not one of the problems of the Welsh Office the fact that it is too small and that it has to cover too many different aspects of work, which means that the quality of decision cannot be as high as it is in Departments in London which have the necessary expertise?
§ Mr. Wigley
I accept that in many cases the Welsh Office is weak in members of staff and in its range of expertise. None the less, it can gear policy to circumstances in Wales, but that is not happening sufficiently. There are many small countries such as Wales; one thinks of a country such as Norway. We can boo-hoo, but they have far fewer civil servants than we have in London and they are doing a better job of governing their country than our civil servants in Wales. We need a new start, a new dynamism in Wales. We need a new democratic answerability and we need a body which co-ordinates policies on an all-Wales level, bringing policies together in order to answer the needs of Wales, not the needs of the City of London and south-east England, as we heard a few moments ago. People of good will should come together now to accept the need for a co-ordinating body and for new initiatives.
We all accept that mistakes were made by all of us in the 1970s, but let us start looking forward to doing something ourselves to sort out our own solutions, not bleat and moan that London is not doing this or that. Until we do that, no one will do it for us. We need a solution now, after seven bleak years. We need a democratic Welsh Parliament, Assembly or council—whatever it is called—which co-ordinates policy and brings it all together on an all Wales level.
I hope that, when the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas) replies for the Labour party, he will give us some idea of how the policy of the Labour party works on those lines, side by side with its policy achieving greater democracy in Scotland.
I began by referring to the need for more than temporary palliatives running as far as a piece of elastic which stretches no further than the next election, if we are unlucky, and to the election after that if we are lucky. That elastic will pull us back into the mess we are in today, and whatever alternative Governments build it will be demolished by another Tory Government. The only solution to the problem is an attempt to democratise our lives.
We in Plaid Cymru want long-term solutions. At the end of the day we feel that only in Wales will those solutions be found. It is up to us in Wales to find the machinery of our own salvation — in Wales, not in London. Until we get that, the rest is transient, trivial and temporary. If Wales has any future it must be up to us. The sooner the people of Wales realise that, the better.
§ Mr. Gwilym Jones (Cardiff, North)
I find it most interesting to have this opportunity to speak in our annual Welsh day debate immediately after the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). Many hon. Members would say that he is always interesting to listen to and I would often want to take time to hear what he has to say. I felt today that we heard the same passion that is always displayed in his contributions but I am not sure that we heard the same considered tones that we might otherwise expect from him. Perhaps I could forgive him because I believe that Opposition Members feel the need to appear more and more Left to appease the key people behind them at home.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon invited us to contemplate the Welsh debate by looking at the balance sheet of Wales to see how it all adds up. I am inclined to 63 go a little way down the road with him, but much of what he said was projecting a balance sheet of politics and Welsh political life.
When this debate ended last year my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, who will reply tonight, replied then by pointing out that there were more Conservative Members in the Chamber than members of the Opposition. I think that he was right to mention the significance of that as one of the turning points in Welsh political life.
As we look at the balance sheet of Welsh political life, seldom has a Conservative Government had the opportunity to look across the Chamber at so many marginal seats. That is a delicious prospect. Those seats are in all parts of Wales. I look across to where the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) sits. With only 2,000 more votes, that will fall our way. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) is not in the Chamber but he was here earlier. With a similar number of votes, almost a handful, his seat will fall our way. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) is in his place. With only an additional 1,300 votes, that constituency would fall to the Conservative party. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas), who is replying for the Labour party, will know how closely the Conservative party is breathing down his neck.
§ Dr. Roger Thomas
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Conservative candidate for Carmarthen in the past two elections who cruised well on the tide of Thatcherism decided to disappear from the constituency with the introduction of milk quotas?
§ Mr. Jones
I think that the hon. Member for Carmarthen will reflect that he is not right to suggest that. I think that he might agree that our recently selected candidate in Carmarthen will at least prove to be the equal of our previous candidate, if not superior. I predict that when the hon. Member for Carmarthen relinquishes his seat it will be to our new candidate, who will take over as the hon. Member for Carmarthen.
Let us not confine this to south Wales or west Wales. I would like to give the Liberal party full credit for its temporary place in the House. The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) made a contribution earlier. He is not here but he has a small majority that will come our way. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) waves his pen at me and returns to his notes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I do not think I will. We have been much interrupted and there has been criticism about the length of speeches.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery is a recent gain in the House and I think that at the next election his seat will be a gain for the Conservative party. I do not even hold out as long a tenure for the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey).
I shall return to the Labour party Front Bench. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) has a majority of about 1,600.
§ Mr. Jones
I apologise. That is still a marginal seat. There is the other marginal seat in Clwyd, that of the hon. 64 Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). The hon. Member for Caernarfon gave me the idea for this political balance sheet. I look forward to travelling to that most attractive mountainous part of north-west Wales. I look forward to the early days when we see the seats of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and Carmarthen falling to us. When were the Conservative party ever able to look from the Government Benches at so many marginal seats?
A major part of our Welsh debate should be occupied with our great concern about the disastrous actions of the Labour party where it is in positions of elective power in Wales. Traditionally, our debate is held on 1 March or as close to it as possible. In 1986, more so than in any other year, we are very mindful of the rate fixing episodes which take place in every district and county council in Wales. Especially burnt into all our souls must be the various decisions that are being taken by the Welsh county councils. Those councils have conspired to produce what in the words of one of their leaders was described — shamefacedly, I hope—as "monstrous increases". What better description can there be for the way the rates are going up and the prospect now facing the people of Wales?
I am sorry to say that that is nothing new for us in South Glamorgan. We have been in this position before. In 1975 we had a 94.5 per cent. increase in the rates and in 1982 a 54 per cent. increase in the rates. In 1986 we now have a 28 per cent. increase from South Glamorgan county council—or what would have been 28 per cent., as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist) pointed out. It is now down to about 24.5 per cent. thanks to the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. It seems that the percentages that I mentioned are decreasing, but at the same time we must remember the success that our Government have had in winning the battle with inflation, which now makes a 24 or 28 per cent. increase more significant than it would have been in past years.
Lest it be too obvious, I should like to mention the electoral pattern that lies behind the rate increases that we in South Glamorgan have seen at least twice previously, and now all of Wales is seeing. In 1975, when we had the first massive rate increase, it was engineered the wrong way round, because the following year we had local elections — the city council elections — and, hardly surprisingly, the Labour party suffered a defeat. The Conservative party took control in 1976.
The year after, in 1977, the Conservative party took control of South Glamorgan county council. Unhappily for the ratepayers of South Glamorgan, the pendulum swung back the other way in 1981, when Labour regained control of the county council, admittedly by the narrowest of margins, with the casting vote of the chairman. That meant that at every council meeting the Labour party was usually dependent on its Liberal allies to sustain it in office. However, at least Labour learnt in the intervening period that instead of going for such a massive rate increase one year before an election it should go in for a massive rate increase one year after the election. There was a 54 per cent. increase, which included a supplementary rate. Now, thankfully, that is not possible.
When the 1985 elections came, Labour was returned to power in South Glamorgan. Due to the electoral reverses of the Liberals, particularly in my constituency, Labour could cheerfully ignore its Liberal allies. The policy was still the same. One year later there was a 28 per cent. rate increase, now to be a 24.25 per cent. rate increase. It takes 65 no genius to predict that that is motivated by the same electoral considerations. The 9 per cent. budgeted increase in the spending of South Glamorgan county council is not for spending this year. A little bit will be let out in time for the district council elections in May 1986, a little for electoral, party political purposes, but overwhelmingly it is for stoking up the balances. In the same way as in 1985, it will be used in an attempt—a forlorn attempt, I trust —to buy electoral victory in 1989.
That is the cynical cycle of the Labour party in power in Wales, but what is the price of that cynicism so cyclically applied? Where is the caring Labour party, constantly referred to by the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside? He seems to talk about the caring Labour party in every part of Wales but Alyn and Deeside. I wonder whether he has now given up any forlorn hopes of defending his own marginal seat in Alyn and Deeside? Is there still such a thing as a safe Labour seat anywhere in Wales? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] But where is the caring Labour party? What is the answer when a pensioner asks, "How can I pay for a Labour council?" What is the answer to the people who will lose their jobs? I am sad to say that it was in my constituency that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited a company and received the unwelcome briefing on how many jobs would be lost through having to meet the rates increase imposed by South Glamorgan county council.
§ Dr. Marek
This is a point of information. The hon. Gentleman asked whether there was a safe Labour seat in Wales. I draw his attention to the seat of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), who got over 70 per cent. of the vote. That is probably the safest seat in the whole of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Jones
I am not sure whether to be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Is it significant that he did not mention his own seat, or is he starting a rumour that the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) will make room for the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside? I wonder.
I was trying to bring to the House's attention the plight of companies in my constituency. I am sure that it is not just one company. How many jobs will have to go to pay for the cost of all those increases, not just in South Glamorgan? Surely many, if not all, employers are in the same boat.
Mention has been made of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. I recall it taking evidence in north Wales, when a representative of one of the county councils was before us. We got on to the subject of past patterns of rate increases and the future implications. The representative sought to assure the Select Committee that his council, and, for that matter, all county councils in Wales, were all too well aware of the impact of high rates on jobs and job opportunities. I can remember him even volunteering the further assurance that the hard Left was not in control of the Labour party in Wales. That description was meant to cover places such as Liverpool and the Greater London council.
§ Mr. Jones
Perhaps the representative meant to add a codicil that the hard Left was not in control at that time. In the few short months that have passed since the Select 66 Committee took its evidence in Flint on Courtaulds, all those assurances and statements have flown out of the window.
There has been a wide welcome for the Green Paper on the reform of rates. While every hon. Member could find imperfections in the Green Paper's proposal of a community charge and the other components, I think that in all our hearts we would join together in saying that, at the very least, it is infinitely preferable to the present system. It seems to be the only answer to the way in which Labour councils are choosing to increase the rates—the only answer for the pensioners, the unemployed and everybody else who will be hard hit.
I can readily understand the calls by business and industry for rate capping as the only answer to the latest savage attack being mounted on their finances, and, more so, their real fears that that is but a trend that will continue, as councils bleed employers to the maximum, perhaps attempting to establish the highest possible non-domestic rate as a prelude to the reform of rates and the levels that councils will have to operate from when that happens. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have to give the closest attention to those fears of business and industry.
Those monstrous increases are not necessary. I ask hon. Members to come to Cardiff to see the example of the council of the capital city of Wales, which levied its rate for this year last Friday. There is to be a nil increase. Effectively that has all-party support. We have two other Left-wing parties on the Conservative-controlled city council. Neither party chose to table an alternative rate for debate on Friday. The city council's rate is being held. It shows that it can be done. Thank goodness that it is being done. There has been a threat of a 28 per cent. increase on the ratepayers of South Glamorgan, but at least with the contribution of the city council the burden on the people in Cardiff, and in my constituency, is only—I use the word advisedly—16 per cent. That greatly benefits the ratepayers.
I particularly welcome the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier that low spenders will receive priority in his consideration when he next examines the allocations of taxpayers' money. I very much hope that Cardiff and other similar councils will benefit not only because they are low spenders but because we can be confident that taxpayers' money will definitely benefit the ratepayers and will not be frittered away or used to stoke up the balances.
In conclusion, I would briefly like to mention what might be the greatest complaint against the Labour party in Wales today. That complaint arises out of the Labour party's contribution to Saturday's rugby defeat. On Friday I was amazed to read the first letter in the correspondence column of the Western Mail written by Mr. J. Vaughan-Jones, the Labour party's research officer. Mr. Vaughan-Jones' letter tried to make a statistical case—and we all know that there are lies, damned lies and statistics—that a Welsh win on Saturday meant the writing would be on the wall for the Tories.
However, as no one would accept that a Labour victory is feasible, even though we are aware that the other Left-wing parties are busy forging alliances to help bring about a Labour victory, clearly all the omens were against the Welsh rugby team as they went out to face France at Cardiff Arms park on Saturday. A veritable pall must have descended on the team. Everyone must have realised what were the implications for the hoped for victory against 67 France in the light of that letter in the Western Mail. It will be a long time before the people of Wales forgive the Labour party for its damaging interference in Welsh sport, Welsh culture or even, as some would describe it, the religion of Wales.
I hope that the hon. Member for Carmarthen, when he replies this evening, will give the House the assurance that this damaging intrusion will not be repeated and that the officer of the Labour party involved will retreat, never again to comment on Welsh affairs.
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)
Today was to be a special day for me as a bus full of pensioners from my constituency were to grace the Strangers Gallery. I am pleased that they postponed their visit for another time.
I should like to bring to the attention of Conservative Members the effects that the Government's proposals for the reform of social security will have in a particular area of the life of the Welsh people.
The reform was supposed to be needed to simplify the system and to direct help to where it is most needed. Of course, all of us in the House who advise constituents on welfare rights and maximising income recognise the need for simplifying the regulations. However, it seems that the Government have gone through the yellow book with a red felt pen and slashed thick red calculation lines through the pages referring to the death grant, pension schemes, maternity grants, single payments, hospital fares, widowhood, free school meals, extra heating and diet additions, invalidity benefit and housing benefits, among others. The Government have sometimes added their own mumbo-jumbo so that people will continue to be overwhelmed when they try to find out which benefits they are entitled to claim. The so-called simplification is basically a new way of denying crucial help at times of greatest need.
The new system will also mean that, far from directing funds to people who need them most, those who need extra help will get as much and no more than others in need. For instance, Shelter calculates that some single parent families will lose up to one-eighth of their net income while some couples with older children may gain from the Government's £450 million cut in housing benefit.
Of course, Conservative Members will know that that is what the review is all about—cuts. To reduce public spending, the Government intend to cut massive holes in what we have regarded as being, and paid contributions to support, a safety net of a minimum income to prevent debilitating poverty in times of need.
On the best estimates that we have—the Government have refused to provide official figures — in Wales nearly 21,000 pensioners aged over 80 will lose up to £5 a week in benefits and housing benefit. Over 100,000 pensioners aged 60 to 79 will lose up to £5 a week. Almost 6,000 sick and disabled people, 6,000 low wage earning families, 18,600 unemployed families, and almost 65,000 single people, childless couples and widows will have their benefits—the supposed safety net—cut by up to £5 a week.
In total, more than 250,000 people in Wales will lose about £459,000 of benefits. That is nearly £500,000— an average across the population of £2 a week. In Wales, the pensioners, the sick and disabled, the unemployed, 68 single parents, new mothers, students and their parents, widows and low wage earners will know what the review is about. It is about cutting costs and cutting public spending on public need.
Last week, we were supposed to rejoice at the Government's commitment to the welfare of pensioners by the uprating of benefits by 40p for a single pensioner and by 65p for a couple. If last week Conservative Members could support platitudes about "every little bit helping", they should know that 20p will pay the 10 per cent. Government enforced increase in Welsh water rates. The other 20p will exactly cover the price rise for a bus trip into Swansea for my constituents who still have a bus service. Will Conservative Members remain silent when ordered to vote for cuts of £5 a week for 120,000 Welsh pensioners who are, by definition, the poorest of Welsh pensioners?
Last Thursday the Minister for Social security went to the media to proclaim that the Government were hoping that all DHSS offices would declare February an exceptionally cold month, so that extra heating allowances could be paid. What absolute hypocrisy. First, the fact that the Minister had to make that statement shows that some benefit offices are so out to touch with reality that they have not got the message from the meteorological officers around the country that last month was the second coldest February of the century. By last Friday, only 360 of the 451 local DHSS offices had declared exceptionally severe weather in their areas. So much for local decision-making. That bodes ill for the working of the proposed social fund, which will also operate on the basis of local discretion.
Secondly, the Minister implied that the Government do not understand why people do not claim the extra heating allowance. More than 80 per cent. of those eligible to claim do not do so, and this represents a saving of £25 million a year to the DHSS budget. Claiming the extra benefit is difficult and, according to the welfare benefits handbook, the benefit is difficult to obtain. Claiming means going to the benefit office armed with fuel bills dating back as far as December 1984 and bank statements showing that the claimant has less than £500 in savings. If he has just bought a bed, for example, which takes his savings to less than that figure, he needs the bill for it and other documents to support his claim. Should he prove all this to the saisfaction of the S manual, he may get £1 a week, or less, for as long as long as the severe weather lasts.
Meanwhile, apart from the increase in the more mundane effects of enduring cold conditions, such as pneumonia, heart attacks, chest and other infections, and the proneness to falls and other accidents, the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys reports that this year more than an extra 100 people a day are dying of hypothermia compared with last year. That is despite increased awareness of the problem by caring agencies and volunteers. The House, as the guardian of the nation's well-being, should be ashamed of that. During exceptionally severe weather conditions, there should be an automatic bonus payment to all people on supplementary benefit and supplementary pensions and all those in receipt of housing benefit should be allowed to claim. That would be simple, cheap to administer— records are already kept of all those people — and effective.
Finally, the Minister for Social Security claimed that the Government have "dramatically increased" the payments for heating allowances paid as part of 69 supplementary benefit and pensions. He claims to care about people getting help, yet the extra heating allowance campaign was not mounted by the Government. It has been left to charities and welfare groups to advise people on the availability of help. I am sure that the House will wish to congratulate Age Concern on its initiative in distributing survival packs to pensioners.
The Government should have mounted a campaign in 1982 using, if necessary, the money that was left unclaimed after the exceptionally severe weather spell during that year. By the time members of the public have absorbed the information and realised their right to benefit and how to claim, all the extra allowances for heating will have gone. The new Social Security Bill abolishes them, in the name of simplicity.
The new income support scheme will include premiums for heating. No doubt they will relate closely to the present figures for heating additions, which are paid at three rates. The lower rate is £2.20 a week. A higher rate for a fully centrally heated home is available at £4.40. An even higher rate of £5.40 is paid to those who can prove that their homes are damp, unable to be draught-proofed and exceptionally difficult to heat. Yet coal, which is still the commonest form of heating in Welsh homes, in my constituency costs £14 for two bags, which is the minimum needed for one fire for a week. The South Wales electricity board's standing charge is 60p a week, before one takes into account lighting, cooking and heating for other rooms.
For years, Age Concern and citizens advice bureaux have been reporting that those rates are inadequate and that they result in hardship, physical or financial, by way of fuel debts and consequent disconnections. The rates are miserly and disgusting. Where is the Government's realism? They were quick and keen to increase energy prices as a cheap and easy way of imposing indirect taxation on us all. Where was their commitment and interest in ensuring that the poorest and neediest could cope with such increases without having to choose between debt and warmth?
It has taken the British preoccupation with the weather to bring this issue to the forefront of the public's mind. Now we all know about the problem and we know that improvements must be made. When the Social Security Bill comes before the House again, the people of Wales — especially pensioners—will be waiting to see how much Conservative Members really care about their needs and welfare.
§ Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)
In contrast to the passionate speech of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), I shall be my usual low-key self. I respect the hon. Gentleman's feelings, as I do his chairmanship of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, but he must be aware that the Government have substantially increased heating benefit and supplementary heating benefit. Would that the Labour Government had shown similar concern for pensioners and refrained from stopping their £10 Christmas bonus for two years running. That can hardly have helped pensioners to pay for their heating.
In reply to last year's Welsh day debate, the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) said that it was the "annual general meeting" of Welsh Members of 70 Parliament—the day when we stop and take stock of the previous year in the Principality. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) echoed that sentiment tonight.
Tonight, I shall look back at and take stock of the part of Wales that I know best—my constituency. The most notable event in Delyn in the past year was not the closure of Courtaulds at Greenfield, our largest factory, but rather the vigorous, effective response to that closure by the local community, fully supported by the Welsh Office. Within hours of the closure announcement, I and the chief executive of Delyn borough council, John Packer, had arranged to meet the chairman and deputy chairman of Courtaulds. Within days, we had impressed upon them the fact that Courtaulds could not simply walk away from the community which had served it for so long and so well, as the company was allowed to do after the closure of the Castle works in 1977, with the loss of 1,500 jobs, after the rundown of the Deeside mill between 1969 and 1980, with the loss of 1,200 jobs, and after the earlier rundown of the Greenfield plant between 1973 and 1981, with the loss of 1,290 jobs.
Within weeks, Delyn borough council had drawn up detailed plans for the future of the Greenfield site and I initiated an Adjournment debate on the closure and the convening of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs in Flint—as an aside, it was the first time, that the Select Committee had met outside Westminster or Cardiff—to take evidence on the closure. Within months, the Government and Courtaulds had announced a package to regenerate Delyn's economy—to bring new industry and new jobs to the area.
Now, little more than 10 months after the closure announcement and seven months after the actual closure, the number one site at Greenfield has been transferred by Courtaulds to Delyn borough council. The site has been cleared of all toxic waste by the company and a former manager of Greenfield, David Watson, a high flier with Courtaulds, has been seconded to run the Delyn enterprise agency — shortly to become the Delyn Business Partnership. Plans are far advanced for new micro workshops on the site. A short distance away, at the former Grosvenor Chater works, the Greenfield young enterprise centre has been set up. This is an exciting project, under the energetic leadership of John Murray, designed to help young people to translate an idea for their own business into the reality of being self-employed.
The old adage applies: "The sky is darkest just before dawn." During the past year, we have begun to see the dawn in Delyn, even if the Labour party cannot. I should also add that the job replacement scheme has been encouragingly successful. Of the 600 people made redundant by Courtaulds at the end of last July, 240 have found new jobs. There are high hopes that the remainder will also be placed in jobs.
It is not only at Greenfield and in the immediate neighbourhood that we are witnessing the rebuilding of our local economy. I mentioned at Question Time today that at Point of Ayr the construction on the coal-to-oil liquefaction plant has begun. Completion is scheduled for December 1987, with the employment of 80 people. At Flint, the Delyn enterprise zone is beginning to make a substantial contribution to the development of a new, diverse and dynamic local economy. In the words of the chief executive of Delyn borough council, Mr. John Packer: 71Perhaps the most enouraging features are the developing commitment of the private sector, and the very positive contribution to the formation and development of small companies, which would not have been possible without enterprise zone benefits.I notice that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas) is listening carefully. I hope that the Labour party is also listening carefully. If it had its way, there would be an end to enterprise zones. The shadow Home Secretary, in his former incarnation, said in a celebrated statement that he would have none of them.
I am aware—I say this in my usual generous spirit— that Labour party policy tends to mutate. I will give the hon. Member for Carmarthen a second chance. I hope that, when he winds up, he will tell us exactly what Labour party policy is now, today, on enterprise zones. It may have changed from yesterday. That is quite possible, as we have seen Labour party policy change before within a short time and on an ad hoc basis. I hope the hon. Member will respond directly to the point, but if he does not I am sure he will give way to my intervention.
If the Labour party is still against enterprise zones, I must warn Opposition Members that that policy will be a vote loser second to none in my constituency. As an issue, it will make Sunday trading look like an afternoon tea party. Since designation, 500 new jobs have been created in the Delyn enterprise zone. That is a remarkable achievement when one considers that for nearly 18 months after designation only two and a half acres of development land were available due to the extensive nature of existing industrial dereliction. The council has now completed its reclamation programme and it has carried out a substantial proportion of essential infrastructure works. As a result, during the past year there has been a quite remarkable response to the opportunities now offered by the Delyn enterprise zone — three new factories were completed, two are under construction, four sites are under offer with the potential of 700 jobs and only three sites totalling just over seven acres are not under offer.
I emphasise the words in the Delyn borough council's report on the enterprise zone:Enterprise zone benefits have been the critical factor in securing the location and development of each of these companies.Considerable public sector pump priming has secured significant private sector commitments and new small businesses are beginning to develop. Much has been achieved, and great credit is due to all those involved— particularly to the local borough council, and to the councillors of all parties who have worked so hard together.
The Labour party at the local councillor level seems to have a vision and a far-sightedness not shared by the Opposition Front Bench. I have tried to get them to convert the Opposition Front Bench, and I hope that in time— after another election defeat or perhaps the one after that —they will be persuaded. Great credit is due not only to the borough council but also to the Welsh Office, which has supported it. I am delighted to give way to the hon. Member for Carmarthen.
§ Dr. Roger Thomas
Will the hon. Member tell us, despite the near-miracle which he has described to us this evening, what has been the actual fall in unemployment in his travel-to-work area?
§ Mr. Raffan
I will come to the economic statistics later. I shall be quite happy to give these statistics to the hon. Member as I come to them later in my speech, if he will allow me to do so. I have no intention of hiding them. Indeed, I had planned to give them to the House. They are, sadly, very high. There has been a significant increase in employment which would not otherwise have happened but for the determined action of the borough council.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman by his words seems to imply an attack upon the local Labour councillors. Such an increase in jobs would not have been achieved but for the determined efforts of the borough council, supported imaginatively and effectively in financial terms by the Welsh Office. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not being affected by the disease which afflicts the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, for his intervention has boomeranged.
§ Mr. Raffan
No, once is enough—I do not want to mutilate the hon. Gentleman.
Much has been achieved and great credit is due to all those involved. More would have been achieved — I hope the hon. Member for Carmarthen, as he is taking such a close interest in my speech, will support me— but for the tight physical constraints of the enterprise zone. There is a limited area of land available for development. This is preventing the enterprise zone from realising its full potential in contributing to the economic regeneration of north-east Wales.
The problem which the Delyn enterprise zone faces is simply its small size. It extends to only 263 acres, whereas the average for all enterprise zones in the United Kingdom is 360 acres. The amount of land available for development is in fact considerably smaller than 263 acres —only 136 are capable of being developed and only 89 of those are available for genuinely new development. The extension of the Delyn enterprise zone to cover the former Courtaulds Greenfield site would make up that deficiency and add 102 acres. That would bring the zone up to the average size for enterprise zones in Britain.
I know that the extension of the zone is ultimately a matter for the Treasury, but I hope that Delyn borough council and I can count on my right hon. Friend's strong support for the application to extend the zone. We want an average-sized zone—the same size as the enterprise zone in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The redevelopment of the Greenfield site and its inclusion in the enterprise zone will not only create jobs for Delyn residents. The review of the Clwyd structure plan has identified a shortfall of between 70 and 122 acres of industrial land in the boroughs of Rhuddlan and Colwyn. The addition of Greenfield would help make up that deficiency.
We must remember the famed mobility of the local work force in north Wales and the fact that over a third of the former Courtaulds Greenfield work force actually live in the borough of Rhuddlan. The redevelopment of the Greenfield site and its inclusion in the zone would of course principally help the town of Holywell, where one in four of the working population were employed at Greenfield.
I now come to the statistics for which the hon. Member for Carmarthen asked earlier. I always answer his questions; I hope that he will take note of that.
73 In January 1985, the unemployment rate in the Holywell jobcentre area — before the closure — was already 27.1 per cent. The male unemployment rate was even higher—tragically higher—at 30.5 per cent.
As many hon. Members will know, Holywell was at the heart of the industrial revolution in north Wales. But as L and R Leisure Consultants says in the Holywell regeneration study which it has prepared for the borough council,Industrial life has drained out of Holywell … Mold has developed as an administrative and cultural centre. Flint is the focus of new industrial activity".I might add that the fourth town in my constituency— Prestatyn—is established as a seaside holiday resort and retirement area. Holywell is the unemployment 'blackest' spot in an area, which has suffered from massive structural unemployment.
As I am sure the hon. Member for Carmarthen will concede, that has not simply happened since May 1979, when the Prime Minister crossed the threshold of 10 Downing street. The area has suffered from massive structural unemployment during the last 20 years. If the hon. Gentleman wishes, I shall give him the figures for the closures in my constituency during the time of the last Labour Government. I am sure that he will not share the amnesia of his hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) and forget that, during the time of the last Labour Government, unemployent doubled in the Principality.
That massive structural unemployment occurred because of an overdependence on the steel and textile industries. The destruction of our far too narrowly based local economy in Delyn means that we must do nothing less than create a new and much more widely based local economy if we are to make a significant impact upon unemployment in the area.
In Delyn, as is widely conceded by Ministers, officials and Members of Parliament, we have an enterprising and determined local authority. We have a labour force which Dr. Norman Wooding, deputy chairman of Courtaulds, has described as second to none, first class, hard working, highly motivated and extremely flexible. Dr. Wooding has gone further and said that he is personally prepared to recommend that work force to any company that is thinking of moving into my constituency.
All we need is for the land available for industrial development at Greenfield to be given enterprise zone status. When fully developed, Greenfield will have the potential of creating approximately 2,300 jobs, which will go a long way towards tackling the local unemployment problem. I repeat that the borough council deserves every credit for its determination, hard work, and imaginative drive to regenerate the local economy. In response to its straightforwardness, its direct approach and determination, I hope that the Government will continue to give in the future the very strong support that they have given in the past.
I have described developments in Delyn over the past year. I have given the good news—and it is good news —with significant expectations and hopes for the future. The picture that I have painted is true, but it is at variance, in sharp contrast, with the speech of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside. That does not surprise those of us who have heard the hon. Gentleman's speeches in the past.
74 The hon. Gentleman belongs to the "weeping and gnashing of teeth" school of parliamentary oratory. As the Bible adds:Behold he cometh with clouds.The trouble is that, at the sight of the hon. Gentleman and his clouds, potential inward investors may flee. They do not know the hon. Gentleman with the same affection as we do. They do not hear him deliver his speeches, but merely read reports of his words. If they had to listen to him, they might be less convinced. In Nye Bevan's words, they might realise that he seems determined to make a trumpet sound like a tin whistle. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman's hectoring style is about as convincing as the last balcony speech of President Marcos before he made a quick getaway in an American helicopter.
The hon. Gentleman carries no conviction. We Conservatives know what he is up to. Like Marshal Foch —and Marshal Foch's words are highly appropriate to the Labour party—he says:My centre is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack.The only slight trouble is that the hon. Gentleman lacks Foch's generalship, his style and his infantry.
If I were in the hon. Gentleman's shoes I would follow exactly the same strategy, although—I say this with my usual modesty—I would not make quite the same mess of it. How can anyone defend the last Labour Government, least of all the hon. Gentleman, who served in it, when they made a 20 per cent. cut in total capital expenditure, a 38 per cent. cut in NHS capital expenditure and a 36 per cent. cut in capital and current expenditure on roads?
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) has suddenly found an attraction in his pencil. How can anyone, least of all the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, defend that record when faced by a Government who have raised capital spending in the NHS by 12 per cent. in real terms and on roads by 10 per cent. in real terms, and when faced by the Secretary of State who in 1986–87 has increased local authority capital allocations by 23 per cent. and urban programme expenditure by 20 per cent.?
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
Has my hon. Friend noticed the contrast between the correct picture that he has painted of a united area trying to regenerate the district and the characteristic support that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) gave to a Labour councillor in Alyn and Deeside who said that I and the Welsh Office were not welcome in that district? That is absolutely characteristic of the destructive intervention that my hon. Friend has been describing.
§ Mr. Raffan
I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend. Humour apart, it is more than destructive. It is tragic that the Labour party for petty party political purposes, in order to scrounge a few votes, should demean itself by such a totally unacceptable and unjustifiable attack upon my right hon. Friend, his fellow Ministers and the officials of the Welsh Office. The Labour party should at least give credit where it is due, and applaud the. achievements of the Welsh Office and the local authority to which I have referred.
I am a modest man, even though I have a 6,000 majority in my constituency. I do not regard that as safe, although like Churchill I believe that a majority of one is enough. I intend to have a majority of 16,000 at the next general election, and speeches such as that we have heard 75 from the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside will enable me to convert my constituency into a permanently safe Conservative seat. The hon. Gentleman will not give credit to the Government's real achievements. He paints a black picture of Wales, which drives off not only inward investors but also companies from England and within our own community that wish to create new jobs. It is tragic that the hon. Gentleman demeans himself in that way.
I have sympathy—almost amounting to pity—for the hon. Gentleman. After all, he must worry not only about his past, but also about the future. The then second permanent secretary to the Treasury described the first year of the 1974 Wilson Goverment as a period "of collective madness". The madness that the Labour party now has planned would be infinitely longer, more intense and more painful should it ever be given the opportunity to implement its policies.
Generously leaving out one-off promises, at which the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside is so adept, as well as renationalisation—which I know is embarrassing for the Labour party, given that the Leader of the Opposition says that it is not a top priority whereas the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) says that it must be— the Treasury has calculated the cost of Labour pledges to be £24 billion a year. There are only three ways in which to raise the money to pay for that extraordinary bill—to tax, to borrow or to print. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has said that he will not raise the basic rate of tax to pay that bill, although he will increase the tax on those earning more than £30,000 a year. Even a 100 per cent. increase in tax on people earning more than £30,000 a year would raise only £1.5 billion, still leaving him with a somewhat uncomfortably large bill of £22.5 billion. Opposition Members could follow the helpful suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and increase value added tax, but it would have to be to 41 per cent., which might cause them slight problems.
I think that the Opposition will negotiate with Rupert Murdoch, buy his old printing presses, move them to Llantrisant and start printing notes like there was no tomorrow.
I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside is not prepared to defend either his record or his party's policy for the future. If Labour's continuing—
§ Mr. Raffan
I am working very hard, overtime for the hon. Member's promotion. He should be grateful.
If Labour's continuing civil war, and Militant and Mr. Hatton, do not put people off the Labour party, their policies surely will. They carry no credibility. They create only incredulity. Their former leader Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, now revered, considering those who have followed, put it in a nutshell:Labour gives a pantomime performance. It is a party of prehistoric policies.We have had this evening yet another pantomime performance from Labour.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
I will not follow the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan). That type of supercilious speech ends in electoral defeat. 76 We shall wait for the electorate to decide. I suspect that, after the next general election, my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) will be here and that the hon. Member for Delyn will not.
I want to look forward to a much more interesting and important aspect of the debate and to respond to the initiative that the Secretary of State launched this afternoon in the document "Community Investment: An Initiative for the Valleys". It will inevitably be a first response because the documents needs to be considered with great care. The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist) said that we come here and run down our communities. I do not believe that we have ever done that. Those of us who represent communities to which this initiative is directed spend our time arguing, fighting and campaigning for the very community investment that the document's title suggests.
I hope that we reflect pride, commitment and belief in our communities. We have lots of problems, and directing attention to them here should not be taken as running down or knocking our communities. We know and understand our problems and we feel angry about them, so we come here and express them.
The document purports to be an initiative on community investment, and to direct itself towards the environmental problems and challenges of our communities. It is not very difficult to identify those environmental problems—they are very easily observed and do not require detailed analysis. We witness them and live among them.
I would categorise the dereliction in three forms. The first is the huge, historic backlog of dereliction left to us by the Victorian coal owners and the iron masters in, for example, Merthyr Tydfil, Dowlais and Rhymney. It is a backlog of blasts, indiscriminate tipping and wasted land down the lines of our major roads, in and out of our communities. Such land overlooks the church that I attend —Christ church Cyfarthfa—and stands cheek by jowl with homes.
The second form of dereliction is to be found in and around urban centres. We have become increasingly resigned to it and accept conditions that would not be tolerated in other communities. The process starts with the decline of one of the traditional commercial properties or retail outlets that cannot keep up with the retailing revolution. The shop falls empty. Sometimes it just remains empty and sometimes it falls into such disrepair that it is cleared, so that only rubble is left. The rubble is almost as bad as the empty property. Such properties are often in the very heart of the town.
We have accepted a third form of dereliction. I still feel angry about it, but I cannot get my own people to feel the same way. It is what I call doorstep dereliction. It is found in ordinary streets. An elderly person dies, for example, and the house falls derelict. The rest of the street might have been redeveloped and have benefited from improvement grants. The problem can arise at the back of houses. The condition of back lanes in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) shook me rigid. Merthyr has done up most of its back lanes, or what we used to call gullies. Unmade lanes still survive, though. They grow weeds, such as those from which we used to make pea shooters. I accepted that as part of life. Derelict fencing might let the sheep in, which makes this doorstep dereliction worse.
77 I hope that I am not painting a picture of a derelict community, for it is far from that. The communities are tremendously vibrant. There is commitment. The money spent on homes shows people's determination to develop and improve. Nevertheless, the problems exist. It is against that background that I consider the community investment initiative to see whether it measures up to our need.
§ Mr. Stefan Terlezki (Cardiff, West)
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about dereliction and the environment. Will he admit that Labour was in power for 15-odd years? The hon. Gentleman was a member of a Labour Government. What has he done about the environment and dereliction in his area?
§ Mr. Rowlands
I should not have given way to the hon. Gentleman, as I was trying to address myself to the future. If he wants me to accept some collective guilt from the past, I shall by all means take my modest percentage of it, but that is not the argument. We must try to improve matters. There was tremendous improvement under Labour. Perhaps it was unfortunate that we handed the running of derelict land reclamation schemes over to the Welsh Development Agency. I had the privilege to be a Minister in 1969 and again in 1974–75, and I saw what could be done through an expansive derelict land reclamation programme run by the Welsh Office. Each five years we should see progress and development. We are measuring progress and making demands for present and future community investment against that backlog.
I have read the document only since lunchtime, and I find it difficult to understand. It is curious, and I am not sure what to make of it. Paragraph 14 deals with the objectives, and states:The Government is anxious, therefore, with the co-operation of local authorities and the communities they represent…to help to bring about substantial"—that is the key word—and visible improvements in the valleys and the environment of town centre areas and the areas immediately leading to them.The message is that the Welsh Office and the Secretary of State, together with local authorities and community groups, will launch a substantial, visible improvement to our environment, both in the town centres and areas leading to them. I then looked at the document to see how we are to co-ordinate and finance that substantial improvement. Appendix I contains an illustrative list, which includes my constituency. I hope that it is not too parochial to use the illustration of my constituency.
One of the major needs in a community such as mine is to make the access to and from it as attractive as possible. The road built from Treharris Quaker's yard is a fine piece of engineering and, environmentally, a most attractive road as it opens up the valley. If I were driving an inward investor along that road even on a cold day with snow on the hilltops, it would give him a remarkably romantic introduction to our community. The road is designed sensitively, and I pay tribute to the designers for some of the finishing touches. The trouble is that then one hits the bottom of the valley and the next major area connecting Merthyr with the midlands is the slip road. It provides the major access to the Heads of the Valleys. I do my damndest to ensure that no one goes near that slip road if I can help it because it reveals the backlog of dereliction and the consequences of large-scale opencast mining. Virtually half the length of a major access road to our community is a disaster area in reclamation terms.
78 For that reason I turned with eagerness to see how the Government's initiative would address itself to such an area. Paragraph 1.2 of the Merthyr Tydfil illustration states:The approach to Merthyr Town Centre … is inevitably influenced by the somewhat bleak scenery and exposed nature of the road. While it is not easy to grow a great variety of trees in these conditions, much could be done by planting shelter belts and removing some of the more unattractive eyesores on the northern fringe of the town.That worries me, especially as I would like to assist the programme to make it work, because it implies that the scheme is about planting and painting. I hope that the Secretary of State does not want to leave us with that impression. The access problem cannot be about the gentle issues of clearing up eyesores and investing in more tree planting. I am not demeaning or dismissing those ideas. Indeed, they have a place in our town centres, as other paragraphs suggest, and we can certainly produce such projects. However, the environmental access problem of my community requires a significant vision of change to the environment. It must also include the decision whether to allow opencast mining along the line of the road. That could continue the dereliction for years to come.
My worry about the document is that, compared with its objectives, some of the illustrations show an ambivalence to facing up to what are not small projects —although small projects are useful and important—and to substantial investment in the community.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
We are looking for a combination of big and small. I am listening with great attention to the hon. Gentleman's speech, and I hope that he will recognise that what we have done in Cardiff is beginning to trigger a major change. I hope that by a combination and variety of initiatives we can trigger a similar change of comparable scale. In putting forward suggestions, we are merely giving some direction to stimulate proposals. I welcome the type of proposals that the hon. Gentleman is making now.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I am grateful to the Secretary of Slate for intervening. As this is an important initiative affecting all our communities I shall spend a few more minutes on it. We shall want to fasten on to the triggering-off concept. The Secretary of State may have to convince us further that the initiative can work in Dowlais and Merthyr, as well as in south Cardiff and the docks. We must first understand the nature and character of the environmental problem with which we are grappling.
In paragraph 1.7 two different propositions about the environmental needs of the community stand cheek by jowl. One is tree planting along the river Taff. The point is made that sometimes jobs are half done and dereliction is not cleared up, even after important investment, such as in the Morlais Brook scheme. A huge slag heap lies behind and overlooks the technical college. We have campaigned for a considerable time for capital reinvestment to do something about that.
The Welsh Development Agency has treated land reclamation schemes which do not produce immediate industrial land as Cinderellas. The figures sound impressive, but matched against the needs and previous programmes in real terms, I am not sure that the WDA has given priority to investment in first-class land reclamation schemes of the type that we have been seeking. I hope that the document will act as a catalyst in bringing the WDA, the Welsh Office, local authorities and local community 79 groups together to ensure that the WDA plays a bigger and more prominent role than it has. During the past few years, the WDA has been less interested in that aspect of its functions.
§ Mr. Edwards
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. I think that the WDA would say that it was a priority to prepare the ground for industrial sites in the recent past. However, the chairman has asked me to ensure that the WDA plays a major part in this initiative. It wishes to be involved in it, and regards it as a priority. It will seek to direct the resources for this type of objective.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I am grateful for that extremely important statement. The investment aspect in the document is extremely important, and the role of the development agency will be vital in making this community investment initiative work.
We have valuable land lying in wait close to, and in, the town centre. The document illustrates the case of the major railway site. I add to that the major Georgetown site, which is super. It is close to the town centre, but at the moment it looks as if it is developing—I hope I am not being critical of the borough council—in a piecemeal fashion. One grabs what one can. If somebody volunteers to carry out a big development on part of the site, rather than wait for a comprehensive and enveloping investment scheme, one grabs the first opportunity, because at least one has done something rather than wait for the grand design, for which one can wait for ever. Many local authorities have tended to go for piecemeal developments on sites such as the one about which I am talking.
We have looked with some envy at the way in which the south Cardiff scheme has got off the ground. Here is an opportunity that we would love to see in our area. We have no political hang-ups about the ideology of private investment combined with public investment to develop the community, as long as the developments are ones that we require and have mutually agreed.
I have been to the director of a major store and pleaded with him to look at the major central site close to the station. It is one of the prize Heads of the Valleys retailing or commercial sites. We have found that it is much harder, being 40 miles north of Cardiff, to trigger off the combination of public and private investment. Rather than say that we know everything, I would be grateful if the Secretary of State would help us to trigger off a Swansea or south Cardiff-type development. That would be ideal and would help us to balance the growing pressure on Cardiff and Swansea.
The director of one of the major retailing outlets told me that the Cardiff and Swansea developments are having a major sucking-in effect, and even the in-between communities such as Pontypridd are finding it harder to get such investment going. I do not say that the Secretary of State has a magic wand, but if he can help us to trigger off such developments and to achieve the success stories of Swansea and Cardiff, Merthyr borough council would, I believe, be the first to welcome it and give four cheers for it.
§ Mr. Williams
We are proud of what has happened in Swansea, as I expect that Cardiff Members are proud of what has happened there. However, one must recognise 80 that real eyesores — the old dead docks — have turned into assets that are readily convertible and have created premium sites. Therefore, it has been relatively easy to attract private capital. The problem that my hon. Friend faces, for example with the coal tip, is that even when it is cleared, it is by no stretch of the imagination a premium site. Therefore, his area will need a larger infusion of public capital than the coastal strip needed.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for underlining my point, which he has made rather better because of his experience and understanding of what happened in Swansea. Any results from the document will be dependent upon triggering off the mixture of public and private investment.
We want this community investment programme to work. We wish to give every support that we can to the initiative. We do not want it to be, and I am glad to understand that it will not and cannot be, a small-time paint and planting exercise. It must be something much bigger and more expensive. In that regard, I should be grateful if the Minister will tell us a little more about the extra allocations set out in the document. For example, £2 million has been allocated for housing programmes. Will we have to bid for six parcels of the £2 million, can all local authorities come in together, or is it to be selectively offered to two or three local authorities? There is also £1 million for urban provision.
I want to believe that this is the beginning of a major community investment programme. It is what we have fought for and will continue to fight for. However, we are worried that in its resourcing and financial provisions, it will fall short and will end up as nothing more than— useful and important as such things are—a rather better version of earlier schemes to clear up eyesores. I hope that the Secretary of State will come to the Heads of the Valleys standing conference and talk about the document. He has declined a general invitation, so let us make a specific invitation to him to come to discuss the document. We need to learn and listen as much as we want to tell him of our views and feelings.
We have seen remarkable developments on the coastal strip. We, as Members representing the communities in the Heads of the Valleys, want to see such exciting new investment in developments in our communities.
§ Mr. Robert Harvey (Clwyd, South-West)
With the exceptions of the speeches made by the hon. Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and for Gower (Mr. Wardell) on heating allowances, which will strike a chord with many on both sides of the House, speeches by Labour Members have repeated the depressing and dismal litany of despair and gloom that we have heard month after month, week after week. It is all the more depressing because that litany fails to take into account the fact that Wales has a Secretary of State who has pursued one of the most imaginative industrial and economic policies to be found on the island.
We have seen how it is possible for the Government, by acting as an innovator, not a crutch, for dying industries, to stimulate a whole economy. One would have thought that Labour, instead of decrying this new, pioneering, innovative role for the state, would be learning from it and seeing where the old experience of the wrong kind of state interference has strayed. Instead, Labour 81 Members stick to the old dogmas that today, in the only strongholds that they possess—in Liverpool and in the councils that they still control—are ravaging the lives and well-being of those whom they claim to represent. In Wales, they seek to pull us back into the economic horse and buggy age from which we have emerged.
The strategy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been straightforward. It has been to stop wasting taxpayers' money supporting dead-end industries producing goods that no one wants, to stop disguising unemployment by this method and to pursue four major objectives. The first is to stimulate outside investment in Wales. Over the past three years, Wales has obtained about one fifth of all inward investment into the United Kingdom, and visits by overseas companies to Wales have been maintained at 300 annually over the past two years. By any standards, that is a staggering achievement. During the last year alone, 25 overseas companies announced that they were setting up bases in Wales, and there were 23 expansions by companies already operating in the Principality. We have heard a great deal about jobs tonight. Taken together, those projects will create some 2,800 new jobs and safeguard a further 1,300 existing jobs.
The second part of the strategy is to channel all available state aid to the task of creating new jobs. During the last year alone, 143 offers were accepted for regional selective assistance, worth more than £35 million. Those offers will help to create 6,679 new jobs and safeguard a further 4,745 existing jobs. In the five years between 1979 and 1985, 49,000 jobs have been created and 24,000 safeguarded at a cost of £158 million, in contrast to the appalling Labour record of 27,000 jobs created and only 8,000 safeguarded, at a cost of £80 million, in the four preceding years.
The third part of the Welsh Office strategy has been to develop the infrastructure needed to provide those jobs in terms of roads and factory development. Last year 282 units were allocated, creating 4,000 new jobs. The vacancy rate at these factories has now fallen to about 12 per cent. Since 1976 more than 9.6 million sq ft of new factory space has been built, 86 per cent. of it under the present Government's policies.
The fourth part of the Welsh Office strategy has been to pursue that dream of Welsh economists through the decades—diversification away from the two products upon which Wales depended for so long, coal and steel, into everything from colour television and vacuum cleaners to car engines, aircraft wings and printed circuit boards. That has been an imaginative, undoctrinaire strategy, using the state not as a burden or as a drag on industrial development, but as a helpful partner to private enterprise in bringing jobs and prosperity to the people of Wales.
In this debate, as in previous debates, the Opposition have made it clear that they reject this approach. They have a duty, though, to tell the people of Wales what they would do instead. Such fragments of an industrial strategy as one can make out from the mushroom cloud of negative gloom that pervades the Opposition Benches suggest the following. No doubt I shall be corrected if I am wrong.
First, from what it has said, I assume that Labour proposes to reopen those collieries and steelworks that it considers have been unjustifiably closed by this Government. The Opposition have a duty to tell us which ones, how much this will cost and for how long they 82 propose to maintain non-jobs in this way. Are the Opposition able to provide an absolute assurance to those of my constituents who were tossed by a Labour Government on the scrap heap of colliery closures during the 1970s, with a pittance in redundancy payments compared with what has been offered under this Government, that that will never happen again?
The second part of Labour's programme will, I understand, be to undertake major public works projects to get people in Wales back to work. The Opposition have a duty to tell us what projects they are considering, in addition to the massive expenditure on new hospitals and roads that is already being undertaken by the Welsh Office, and by how much taxes will be raised to pay for them, or, if the money is to be printed, by how much they reckon inflation is to be permitted to rise.
Thirdly, a Labour Government would encourage greater local authority capital expenditure. Can the Opposition offer a categorical assurance that capital spending will not be slashed again as it was under the last Labour Government when things start to go wrong, as they inevitably will under their kind of programme?
Fourthly, Labour would direct investment into the areas that it favours. Can the Opposition tell us what will happen if the Japanese firms that have found a welcome in our valleys prefer not to be told what to do and pull out instead, or if the domestic investors that Labour wants to direct prefer to spend their money on consumption rather than to be told where to put it by those with the financial management expertise displayed by the Opposition?
Fifthly, as regards the rural economy, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) has pledged to slash the European Community food surpluses. Again, I shall no doubt be corrected if I am wrong. Will the Opposition tell the House and the nation what effect that would have on the small rural communities of Wales that are already struggling in an increasingly hostile environment? I do not believe that the present farm crisis is being taken seriously enough by the Government. In Wales the effects have mercifully not been felt as badly as in the rest of Britain, which suffered a 43 per cent. fall in farming incomes last year. Nevertheless, the farm management survey, just published for 1984–85, shows that there has been a fall of 10 per cent. in the dairy and livestock sectors over the year. Net incomes in the dairy sector have fallen by 28 per cent.
I am also critical of the decision by the Welsh Office to subordinate justice to administrative convenience in the granting of the otherwise very welcome bad weather payments last autumn. But let the Labour party, for goodness sake, stop pretending that it has the interests of that capitalist class of farmers at heart and tell us how many farmers it intends to put out of business by reducing agricultural surpluses.
I shall end with a word about unemployment. Unemployment in Wales and in Britain is too high. I believe that in the next Budget the problem must be addressed directly, along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for the Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower). I hope that the unions will play their part in addressing the problem by ending their practice of seeking higher and higher wages for those in work at the expense of those who are out of work. I am convinced that anything like the industrial strategy proposed by the Labour party would have a devastating effect upon the jobs and prosperity of Wales. The Opposition seem to be incapable 83 of learning from experience, but I urge them to take a leaf out of the Government's book and to start putting the state at the service of Wales, not Wales at the service of the state.
§ Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
No amount of huffing, puffing and posturing by Conservative Members can mask the fact that for Wales this period of Conservative government has been a painful and unmitigated disaster.
I wish to associate my remarks with those of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) who referred to the report that was published this afternoon by the Welsh Office, "Community Investment: An Initiative for the Valleys." He made a passionate case for the valleys, a case that the Opposition have made constantly since 1979 when this Government came to office, and he spoke for all Opposition Members who represent the valleys of south Wales. We feel passionately about the problems that face our communities —the dreadful unemployment rate, the waste of young and middle aged people who want to work but who cannot find work. Day after day they write out applications for jobs. When one has completed 50 or more applications but still has not been offered an interview, one can imagine —perhaps some cannot—the despondency felt by those people. They see no hope.
A man of 35 came to my surgery and told me about his attempts to get a job in Cynon Valley, which has the highest male unemployment rate in Wales and one of the highest male unemployment rates of any industrial area in the United Kingdom. As he went out of the door, he said, "I feel like throwing myself in the river." What does a Member of Parliament say to somebody who feels like doing that? Can one talk about hope? During the almost two years that I have been the Member of Parliament for Cynon Valley, I have seen the unemployment rate climb relentlessly month by month. That is why Labour Members constantly ask the Secretary of State what is to happen about jobs.
I welcome the report as a recognition of the improvements needed in the valley communities, but I must ask, as my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) asked: how many jobs will the proposals in the report produce? I appreciate that that question may be difficult to answer at this stage, but it is one of the most pressing questions in the constituencies that most of us represent. I hope that in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney the Minister will give more information about the £2 million capital allocation for housing and the £1 million urban programme resources mentioned in the report.
I agree that it is important to do something about the environmental problems in the valley areas, especially as we know that industrialists coming to an area look specifically for a good environment. We need to be more scientific about this in Wales, and in Britain as a whole, to discover precisely why industrialists go to some areas and not to others. The Irish Government have carried out a proper scientific analysis. One of the researchers on that project told me how surprised he was that Britain did not carry out similar analyses. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) will recall that 84 when the steel industry in his constituency was decimated the local council carried out its own investigation into why industrialists would or would not come to the area. That type of analysis should be carried out systematically and scientifically throughout the country. I hope that the Welsh Office will give special consideration to that aspect.
One of the worst aspects of the environment in the areas that we represent is poor housing. In the valleys of south Wales there is massive and appalling urban deprivation, which is increasingly unlikely to be tackled in view of the pitiful financial resources at the disposal of local authorities. In a recent study, the Cynon Valley, Merthyr and Rhondda were identified as the three most deprived districts of England and Wales. In the Cynon valley, 92 per cent. of private housing stock—about 40,000 houses —is in an unsatisfactory condition, and 48 per cent. of private houses have been deemed unfit for human habitation. The cost of rehabilitating the housing stock in that one valley is estimated at nearly £105 million. As the Secretary of State knows, the county council has been pressing for extra funds under the urban development programme, but I am sceptical about the likely result. The £2 million capital allocation for local authority housing will not even scratch the surface of the problems of one valley.
I do not wish to be churlish about the report, but I am sure that I speak for all my hon. Friends when I say that we hoped for a lion, but have been given a mouse. To deal with the problems of the south Wales valleys we needed a roar of indignation followed by resources on the scale that those problems require. Instead, we have been given a squeak, although even a squeak is welcome.
The Cynon valley has one of the biggest environmental pollution problems in Britain—the Phurnacite plant at Abercwmboi. The loss of any jobs in the valley is to be deplored, and that plant provides 600 jobs. Since the coal dispute ended, the pollution from that plant has increased, but it is difficult for people in the area to protest because the jobs are so badly needed. Last week 14 members of the Abercwmboi anti-pollution lobby came to my surgery and dumped bags of soot on the table in front of me— the result of just one night's emissions from the Phurnacite plant. When I asked how many of those people worked at the plant or had relatives who worked there, not one hand went up. Yet again, the pollution of the environment had to be balanced against the number of jobs provided.
If the Secretary of State is serious about dealing with the environmental problems of the valleys, and especially of the Cynon valley, he must ensure that the National Coal Board behaves responsibly towards residents in the area. People need the jobs but they do not need the current levels of pollution. Any responsible industry would ensure that people do not have to suffer such pollution just because they need the jobs. It is essential that pollution in the Cynon valley should be properly controlled.
The pollution from the Phurnacite plant is the first thing that people see when they come down the new road. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, I welcome new roads. I only wish that the road to Merthyr came through the Cynon valley, but I am glad that my hon. Friend has such a splendid road in his constituency and that we have the important link road into the Cynon valley. I hope that there will be many more such developments. I certainly do not wish to vie for resources with my hon. Friend in the neighbouring valley, but in the present situation that is almost inevitable.
85 The Secretary of State and I constantly argue about Japanese firms. I should make it clear that we welcome any investment, Japanese or otherwise, in an area of such high unemployment. My only objection to the firm in question was to some of its employment practices. I am sure that the Government and Members on both sides deplore the pressure put on workers to take so-called voluntary redundancy because they had reached the age of 35 and were regarded as over the hill. I hope such practices are not common to Japanese firms generally and that there will be no repetition of a practice which I think the firm now admits to have been a serious error of judgment as well as a serious error in public relations.
The Secretary of State talks about community self-help in his report. We are not short of ideas, and he is well aware of that. My council has applied for money for industrial and commercial development in Aberdare, which is mentioned in the report. It wanted money to develop the commercial sector of Aberdare and various other corridors of land in the older industrial areas. It asked for £210,000. So far it has received £125,000. That is obviously not enough, and it needs the balance. An idea has been put forward which the council would put into action if only it had the money.
The council also wants to reclaim derelict land. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney talked about some of the worst eyesores in his area. One of the worst in my area is opposite the Phurnacite plant. It is a large hill, with black stumps of trees, which is burning underneath. Clouds of smoke can sometimes be seen above the trees. That is an obvious eyesore. It is on the main road and it needs to be removed if it is not to deter industrialists from coming to the area.
My council has put forward a list of schemes to the Welsh Development Agency for the forthcoming financial year. The total sum is in millions rather than thousands of pounds. The basic objective is to clear as many derelict sites as possible for the benefit of industry and the environment. The main schemes are Cmw Cynon and Deep Dyffryn, for which it needs £1.2 million; Aberaman and Cwm Neol colliery sites, Aberaman, for which it needs £1.1 million; and Penrhiwceiber colliery for which it needs £518,000. The council has ideas about clearing those sites, but again it needs the cash to do the job. If the Secretary of State is serious about wanting to clear up the environment in the Cynon valley, he will know that the council has put forward schemes for which it would be pleased to receive the necessary sums of money.
Where people live has important bearings on their health and well-being. Poor housing stock and low levels of household amenities are recognised signs of social deprivation. They increase the difficulties faced by people in coping with illness at home. They also militate against the early discharge of patients from hospital, particularly for families with young children and elderly people.
The south Wales housing officer group produced a report in 1984 which drew attention to the special housing problems in Wales which are compounded by the high percentage of pre-1919 homes compared with the rest of the United Kingdom; the high percentage of houses lacking basic amenities compared with England; the low level of spending per head on housing in Wales; and the particular problems of the elderly and other unwaged groups who tend to be concentrated in unfit housing.
We have heard a lot about severe weather payments, and we know that many elderly, particularly in our valley 86 communities, are suffering because of bad housing. Many of those people have low incomes and are unable to improve their houses, even if they live in private accommodation, because they do not have the income to do so. Many elderly people come to our surgeries and show us how they spend their money, how much they get by way of pension and how little they can afford to spend on heating. Therefore, the improvement of the housing stock is necessary to improve their conditions as well. In 1984 that report concluded that a housing crisis lay ahead unless urgent action was taken to allocate resources for house building and renovation.
The Mid Glamorgan report on deprivation and health drew attention to the particular needs of the Health Service for people in Mid Glamorgan. It talked about the Black report, which drew attention to the association between social class and health, to the increased levels of illness among unskilled workers and to the links between poverty and ill health. The authority's strategic plan highlighted those statements and concluded:
It will be necessary to exercise positive discrimination to the benefit of those communities in Mid Glamorgan whose social structure implies a greater need for services.The Royal Commission on the National Health Service, of which I was a member, suggested that community health services are often inadequate in areas of social deprivation and that improvements are ugently needed. The Royal College of General Practitioners' survey of primary care and the Acheson report described geographical variations both in the problems encountered by primary health care teams and in the characteristics of primary care services delivered.
In the past, following the 1971 census, considerable efforts were made to analyse the collected data. Areas of multiple deprivation, broadly defined by the excessive presence of those factors which together show a low level of welfare, have been the target for social planning, particularly in the context of the physical environment in the past. Policies for positive discrimination are already, to a limited extent, present, in the nation's health care strategies and RAWP, SHARE and SCRAW embrace a belief that areas of greater need should receive more resources.
Health care services alone cannot resolve all the problems identified in areas of social deprivation, but adverse social economic and environmental factors affect a disproportionate number of households in Mid Glamorgan. I have previously gone in some detail into the links between unemployment and health, and I shall not do so again this evening. There has been a lot of research into the effects of unemployment on death and sickness among people out of work, their spouses and families.
The work of people such as Harvey Brenner has shown a consistent relationship between depressions in national economies and changes in the death rate. A recent British study compared mortality rates among the unemployed and the employed in the week before the 1971 census. It clearly demonstrated excessive numbers of deaths among the unemployed, even after allowing for socio-economic differences between the groups.
There is, and there has been for 50 years, enough evidence to show that the duration of unemployment is associated with poor health and even death. In 1984 Mid Glamorgan had a higher unemployment rate for men and women who had been out of employment for one year or more than for Wales or for England and Wales together. 87 Long-term male unemployment is particularly high in the Cynon, Rhymney and Rhondda valleys, and the effect of long-term unemployment on the health of men and women out of work and their families has not been taken into account by the Welsh Office in its calculations.
All the evidence shows that Mid Glamorgan, with its large population, suffers disproportionate levels of illness and disability and at the same time suffers high levels of adverse social conditions, greater than other areas in Wales and England, and that is not simply a matter of the environment.
Much as I want to welcome the report—and I hope that I have been positive in my appreciation of some of the problems that it proposes to tackle—the other areas that I have mentioned this evening must also be taken into account and acted upon because they also affect people in the valleys of south Wales who are looking to the Government for an answer to the intolerable situation in which they find themselves.
§ Mr. Stefan Terlezki (Cardiff, West)
I shall not take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd). Her speech was long and was not of great substance. She shed quite a few crocodile tears and indulged in a good deal of rhetoric.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist) mentioned Councillor Bob Morgan, the leader of the South Glamorgan county council. I remember Councillor Morgan saying that the Labour party in Wales is a broad church. If it is, it will need a broad churchyard to go with it. It is clear that a shepherd like Councillor Morgan is a leader only of sheep.
There is the presence of the Liberal-SDP alliance on the South Glamorgan county council. Part of that alliance is formed by the semi-desperate people who want Socialist policies as long as they do not impinge upon them personally.
Before I address myself to the South Glamorgan county council and my constituency, I shall make a few comments about the assertion of Opposition Members that the National Health Service has been subject to cuts, cuts and more cuts and that the Government have an uncaring attitude towards the NHS.
Since the 1983 general election, Labour party spokesmen have shamelessly promised the earth to every conceivable interest group. The cost of the Labour party's commitments has been calculated by the Treasury as £24 billion annually. I intend to give the facts and figures clearly so that they will not be misquoted by Opposition Members and will not be misrepresented in the propagamda leaflets which they so readily distribute in their constituencies.
The Labour party has a clear duty to explain how it would finance the introduction of a 38-hour working week, minimum wages and huge council house building programmes that would involve the expenditure of many billions of pounds. It appears that the VAT rate would have to be increased to no less than 41 per cent. to meet indirect costs. If the Labour party does not accept that its programme would lead to the expenditure of £24 billion annually, it must explain to the country generally, to Labour-controlled constituencies and to the House which items of its programme it will abandon. If it decides not 88 to take either course, it will confirm that it has not moved forward from the apology of a programme that it put forward during the 1983 general election.
The Labour shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), has been forced to acknowledge the scale of the Government's achievement. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that the Government are right to say that, allowing for the normal corrections for inflation, health spending during the past six years had increased by 20 per cent. Where are the cuts talked about by Opposition Members, when their finance spokesman has stated categorically that expenditure on health provision has increased by 20 per cent. in real terms? That means that that area of spending is breaking all previous records. Top priority will continue to be given to the NHS and by 1988 NHS spending of £20 billion will mean that this item will be second only to spending on social security.
One of the greatest hospital building programmes ever is under way. The Opposition should realise that 58 major schemes, each costing over £2 million, have been completed. Nearly 150 more schemes are being planned, designed or built. In 1984, over 6 million in-patient cases were treated, which was 800,000 more than in 1978. There were 37 million out-patient attendances in 1984, over 3 million more than in 1978. Over 112,000 more elderly patients were treated in our hospitals in 1984 than in 1978. Kidney transplant operations increased by over 50 per cent. There are 5,000 more hospital doctors and nurses, 3,000 more general practitioners and 58,000 more nurses and midwives working to provide better patient care.
That is the national picture but it alone will not counter the talk of cuts, cuts and more cuts. It is the practical evidence of the results of record spending, especially in the form of new and improved hospitals, that will convince voters in different localities that the NHS is safe with the Conservative Government.
We can go to extremes and talk about expenditure of £24 billion, but where is the £24 billion to come from? Would a Labour Government borrow to finance that level of expenditure? Labour Members should realise that, when money is borrowed, the borrower has to pay interest. We all know that the previous Labour Government borrowed and that the borrowings still have to be paid back with interest. If it is Labour party policy to increase taxation and print money like confetti, how is it to face the nation in advocating such a programme? Does the Labour party want to bankrupt Britain? Does it want to return to the winter of discontent? Does it want to return to 28 per cent. inflation? Does it want to take the country back to the power which was once held by trade union barons? Does it want to take us back to the IMF and to mortgage Britain for generations to come? There is no alternative to facing the facts and to carrying on as best we can with the resources at our disposal.
We are all extremely sorry that unemployment is so high. Nothing would please me more than to see thousands of my constituents rising at 5 am or 6 am, clocking in at 7 am and working until 5 pm five days a week, earning wages unashamedly and being proud of having a job. I want to see that. I am sure that we would all like to see buses, cars and bicycles filling our streets in the mornings with people going to work in industries and coal mines for a week, a month, a year, or the rest of their lives.
There is no magic wand. It does not matter how much rhetoric there is or how much we pull the punches—the 89 fact is that we are part and parcel of the industrial world. Unemployment is worldwide. Unless the shop stewards, trade union leaders, management and work force get together, decide what is good for their jobs and industries and put their backs into the work we cannot expect unemployment to decrease. We must never price ourselves out of work. If we ask for wages in two, three or four figures, we shall create unemployment and, once again, hon. Members will be crying crocodile tears because unemployment has increased.
Unemployment will be sustained as long as we cannot compete and as long as we price ourselves out of employment. Some union leaders — I would call them apparatchiks — stop at nothing but continually demand money on the table before using their tools. Unless we compete, we shall always be in the fourth division and not in the first where we belong.
§ Mr. Terlezki
I hope that the team will be in the second division next year.
I should like to consider my constituency, especially South Glamorgan county council and Cardiff city council. It is intolerable and unacceptable that South Glamorgan county council intends to increase rates by about 25 per cent. As a former member of the South Glamorgan county council, I assure the House that, before the election, Labour party members were politically bribing the electorate, promising anything and everything. They were promising to build bridges where there were no rivers, no highways or railway tracks. They were promising everything just for a vote. Now they have been elected, they are robbing the electorate.
It is true that, if one allows a Socialist a free hand, he will put it in the ratepayer's pocket. Before the ratepayer realises what is happening, £50, £70 or £100 a year will be levied in increased rates. First it is bribery and then it is robbery. That is typical of Labour councillors. The same applies to the SDP—those semi-desperate people. They cannot get out of their concentration camp, so they join the Socialist bandwagon and try to promise everything to everyone without being accountable.
I am sorry that my constituents will suffer because of mismanagement by South Glamorgan county council. I am proud—this has nothing to do with politics, unless the Opposition want to interpret in that way—that the city council, which is a good housekeeper, is not increasing rates. The city council must be commended for its courage and good housekeeping. I am sure that Cardiff ratepayers appreciate the fact that the city council is able to manage properly.
I am perturbed because South Glamorgan county council is deliberately selling playing fields in my constituency, preventing children from my school from utilising those grounds for sports and for annual and seasonal events. It is disgraceful that, for 30 pieces of silver, South Glamorgan county council is prepared to deny children of all ages, their mums, their dads and their grandfathers the right to enjoy participation in sport and other activities in summer and winter. That is deplorable. The county council has said that the Government are forcing the council to sell the land. That is a deliberate lie. The council is misleading the mums and dads. Councillors 90 must speak the truth. If they will not, they must offer themselves for election. We will see whether they will be re-elected.
The South Glamorgan education authority is offering so-called peace studies in our schools. I deplore that. The teaching of so-called peace studies in some of our schools is totally phoney, as it is being used to push Left-wing and unilateralist propaganda at our young people. Our young people should be taught the "triangle" — how to read, how to write and religion. Teaching of so-called peace studies is a blatant perversion of the teacher's traditional role and responsibility. Parents should have the right to withdraw their children from political indoctrination classes. Parents want their children to be given a decent education in traditional disciplines and skills. "Peace studies" are a squalid abuse of our children and should be banned from our schools. That is vital.
I should like to go forward, but at the same time backward to 1985, when Marxism received a decisive rebuff in Wales. Arthur Scargill tried, like many aspiring dictators before him, to topple a properly elected Government, and he failed. His coal strike was planned confrontation on a titanic scale. "Profit" was the word which Arthur Scargill spat out in hatred; and, let us never forget, he drew ecstatic applause from the so-called leaders of the Labour movement for so doing. I was here; you were there — every time Arthur Scargill and his apparatchiks were mentioned, you applauded the name. You were supporting him throughout, and the coal industry—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. The hon. Member knows that he must not attribute those actions to me.
§ Mr. Terlezki
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The coal industry is being turned around because the miners are putting their jobs and the welfare of their families above doctrinaire politics. In place of Socialism, the people's democracy has arisen. Two thirds of the people already own their homes. They are now on the way to real ownership of the economy.
§ Mr. Terlezki
The Labour leader, who is starting to give an impression of Lord Wilson as Mike Yarwood, is beginning to realise that. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) behaves in a way that is below his intelligence. He looks like Tom Jones' grass, only twice as green. No wonder he became a Member — the Europeans would not have him.
The voters in Wales will not be fooled when it comes to the next local election for the county council or city council. They certainly will not be fooled when it comes to the next general election.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
Welsh day is a curious mixture of the national and parochial but at the end of the day it is a little easier because one concentrates on one's own constituency.
I do not want to follow the relentlessly juvenile pursuit of the South Glamorgan county council elections, like the hon. Members for Cardiff Central (Mr. Grist), for Cardiff North (Mr. Jones) and for Cardiff, West (Mr. Terlezki). You can hardly wait for tomorrow morning, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and, after a debate such as we have endured, 91 particularly the contribution by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West, I suspect, neither can I. When you do recover your composure to the extent necessary to peruse Hansard, I suggest that you peruse the amazing similarity in subject matter between the three speeches of the hon. Members for Cardiff, Central, for Cardiff, North and for Cardiff, West: three minds without a single thought.
I take on board the points made by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best). He made a misguided, but at least thoughtful, speech about the relationship of money in the economy and the effect upon investment in Wales.
I shall look at that with an example from my own constituency. What we are witnessing today is the accretion of money in corporations, to be used not for organic growth in promoting those corporations, but in takeovers.
Just such a triangle—it is almost as rubber triangular as the three hon. Members from Cardiff—is the Argyll, Distillers and Guinness triangle. I shall tell the hon. Member for Ynys Môn how I think Welsh employment is affected by the consequence of an unchecked growth and slopping around of money which is spare and which is not being used properly. Argyll has made a bid for Distillers. That is common knowledge. It is clear that Argyll wants only some of the commercial products which tie in most naturally with its shop activities. That means that a factory in my constituency which makes dry ice, which is badly needed for medical purposes, will be divested by Argyll if it takes over Distillers. It will mean the loss of 60 jobs and the loss of a great facility for the south of Britain.
§ Mr. Best
I will not detain the hon. Gentleman. I fully accept what he is saying about money slopping around, but I was endeavouring to say that it is a shame that we cannot harness private money for public sector infrastructure work. I do not accept that it is being done at the moment to the extent that I would like.
§ Mr. John
With respect, before we start wishing good works on the private sector, perhaps the Government should redirect their efforts within the private sector towards creating jobs and a manufacturing structure of which we can be proud and in which we can look forward to the future with some confidence.
The hon. Member for Ynys Môn said that he believed in public ownership. His public ownership involved people going along to buy one to ten shares, perhaps 250 shares, in a company. That is a myth, like the golden age. Even the privatisation measures which have recently been so lauded have been shown on analysis to be heavily biased in favour of large corporations and large institutional investors. Therefore, we have seen a transfer not from a monolithic state corporation to private individuals who represent the country in microcosm, but from what the hon. Member for Ynys Môn might call an impersonal state corporation to equally impersonal financial institutions. I do not believe that that is good. I am not in favour of an impersonal corporation approach, but I do not believe that going to the other extreme and making what is virtually a private monopoly—
§ Mr. John
It is a private monopoly in the sense that the large institutions control the investors. I do not think that that counts.
92 Much has been said about the discussion document issued today about the valley areas. Some Conservative Members seem to think that the valley areas need to have everything done for them. Let me remind hon. Members, certainly those who have little or no experience of pre-war south Wales, that our areas were built upon self-help and self-education. If the hon. Member for Ynys Môn provided the money, he would run out of money before we ran out of energy.
I have no wish to dampen the initiative but I suspect that we will fire our energy once more, in great corporative pride, only to find that another recession has come about, with another financial cut. That will create a cynicism more erosive than anything else that has been done by the Government. If the Government mean what they say, they will take care to have the money to be ready to be spent.
I want to concentrate on the Pontypridd hospital, a symptom of health care in my constituency. I listened to what the hon. Member for Cardiff, West said. I have dealt with him several times but he is more used to talking than listening and more used to standing on his feet than reading Hansard but I would ask him to read what I say again. No one is saying that in absolute terms the Government have cut Health Service provision. The gravamen of the charge against the Government is that, now that medical and surgical techniques have exploded and there is great demand for techniques which were unavailable a decade ago, the Health Service is not matching demand.
I want to refer to my own area. The Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Robinson), has implied, as has the Secretary of State, that the real fault with the Mid Glamorgan area health authority is that it is profligate with its money. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West in part gave the answer to that. He said that we should look at all the extra people being treated. He is right: there has been a 41 per cent. increase in the number of X-ray patients seen at East Glamorgan hospital. There have been 88 per cent. more cardiology patients treated, an 80 per cent. take-up of home prescriptions in the pharmacy, a 66 per cent. increase in the pathology department and at our geriatric hospital, Dewi Sant, there has been a 736 per cent. increase in out-patients and a total increase of 121 per cent.
Hon. Gentlemen cannot have it both ways. I concede that more people are being treated, but the opposite side of that coin is that Mid Glamorgan area health authority must be using its revenue to good advantage to enable that to happen. However, when it runs short of money because of the explosion of medical demand and demand on the Health Service, it is told it cannot manage. It is told that a firm of accountants will look at it and that it is its own fault. So the Government propose to close the Pontypridd hospital.
It is inconvenient for the Government that this morning the Western Mail carried an item that showed that the Pontypridd hospital is the most efficient in Wales because its bed utilisation is 100 per cent. That far outstrips any other area. It is inconvenient for the Government that it is the only hospital in the area where beds are committed to general practitioners and it is doubly unfortunate, at a time when out-patient clinics and waiting lists are lengthening, that 8,000 people are treated at that hospital as outpatients, including rheumatology patients.
I ask the Under-Secretary to give this message to the Secretary of State. When he next makes one of his unmemorable visits to my constituency, will he please tell 93 the people what will happen if that hospital closes permanently to the 8,000 people a year whom it now treats? Are they to go on to the waiting list, lengthening it by another 10 per cent.? Are they to wait indefinitely while the Minister says, "We shall get around to that when another firm of accountants becomes more expert at the subject." Will that be the answer?
If the Government are so confident in their belief, why is it that Ministers failed to answer a request that I made to meet a delegation to discuss the closure of the hospital? This is the Government who brook no opposition, and who can take on all comers, yet they cannot take on a delegation from the constituency to discuss the closure of the hospital. Why is that? Why, in defiance of all parliamentary conventions, was my request for a delegation ignored? Concern has also been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and others outside Parliament. That does not give us much confidence in the stewardship of the Welsh Office over health matters, if it can be insensitive to the demands of people who are asking to keep their hospital open. What is it like towards the patients themselves?
Therefore, I believe that Pontypridd hospital is not an optional extra. It is not a cigarette lighter in the motor car of the Health Service. It is a vital service. The county has better economic and social conditions than many of the areas represented by my hon. Friends, but it has a higher morbidity rate and greater suffering. Therefore, it has a greater claim upon the public purse for health reasons than many other counties. Unless the formula for funding reflects that, the people of Mid Glamorgan will be let down at a time when we cannot afford to let people down. Elderly and young people have an expectation of life that their grandfathers and grandmothers never had. To allow them to die wantonly and needlesly for lack of treatment would be the greatest crime of all.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
I am glad to see that the Secretary of State is back in the Chamber because I want to address a few remarks directly to him. This is the third time that I have heard him present his address at our annual Welsh debate. It inspired no more confidence in me than on the other two occasions.
The essence of the Secretary of State's remarks was that we have just about managed to survive; we have weathered the storm. The right hon. Gentleman talked about agriculture and said that the Government policy on milk quotas had not been that disastrous. He talked about the National Coal Board, and said that it had not been too disastrous—productivity is up. However, he did not say anything about the new pits and the investment that he talked about in his speech last year. We heard the right hon. Gentleman talk briefly about education and very briefly about the one new Japanese factory, presumably the product of his stewardship at the Welsh Office. We also heard him talk about the new valleys initiative.
It is not satisfactory when all that the Secretary of State can say to us at our annual debate is that we have managed to weather the storm and that things are bad, but it does not matter because they could be a darn sight worse. That is not an encouraging message.
Suggestions that we have weathered the storm or that things might be worse, or the manipulation of statistics to suggest that things are not quite as bad as they could be, are not satisfactory for the people of the valleys. There is 94 only one criterion that has any value to the people of Wales, particularly those in the valleys. There is only one quality that they look for, and that is the quality of life that they enjoy. They are not concerned about the way in which the Welsh Office manipulates, or about the arguments from the Secretary of State and his Ministers about whether we have spent more this year than last year, or whether we are managing to survive. The only issue that is of any concern is the quality of life.
That depends entirely on employment. The only possible hope for our valley communities is opportunities for employment. The only hope for improving our environment is if we have people in work. The only way that our houses will be improved is if we have people in work, the only way to have a decent Health Service or education service is if we have people in work. Not only does that give them dignity and the personal security that they need to organise their own lives, but it gives the community the resources that are necessary to fund cooperative ventures. That central point is not recognised by the Secretary of State. Either he does not understand it or he will not acknowledge it.
In 1979, when we had the "Labour isn't working" election slogan, we heard all the excuses and all the criticisms of the figure of 1 million unemployed. We had all the suggestions of what was wrong with the British economy. We were told by the Tories that they had the answers. We were told that the problem was inflation. Let us concede the Government's success in reducing inflation from 10.1 per cent. in 1979 to 5.7 per cent. last year. We were told in 1979 that the problem was strikes, and that so many days were lost through strikes. Let us concede that we now live in a different era and now we do not lose 30 million days a year as we did in 1979. Last year the total of days lost was 6 million, one fifth of that total. We are told that British industry, was not profitable in 1979. Trading profits have gone up from £39 billion in 1979 to £68 billion in 1985. We were told that the exchange rate was too high. It has come down from $2.06 to the pound in 1979 to $1.37 to the pound in 1985.
Therefore, all that the Government said was wrong in 1979, by their standards, has been put right now in 1985. What do we have as a result? We have 25 per cent. unemployment in Wales. In parts of our valley communities, there is 75 or 80 per cent. unemployment. In my constituency four out of five people in housing estates are dependent on benefits. That is the product of the success of the Government's policies over the past seven years. The reason is that we have not had manufacturing investment. We heard some interesting arguments from Conservative Back Benchers, who said that investment is now at record levels. It is now lower in real terms that in 1979. In 1979 it was £8,230 million and in 1985 the figure was down to £6,780 million, the lowest rate of investment in manufacturing industry other than in Greece and Portugal, out of 18 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries surveyed last year. It is not a record to be proud of. It is at the root of the problem that we have in the valleys. We do not have employment or investment, so there is no cohesion in our communities.
Government spokesmen will tell us, "Do not talk about unemployment figures or about the 200,000 people in Wales who are unemployed. Talk about the people who are employed." Even on that basis, using the criteria that the Government prefer to use, in every county in Wales 95 there are fewer people in employment now than there were in 1979. Every index reveals that there are fewer people in employment than there were in 1979.
In June 1978 there were 837,000 people in full-time employment in Wales. On the latest date for which figures are available, there were 745,000 people in employment. Whichever criterion the Government wish to choose, the figures show that the Government have neglected the people of Wales.
One would have thought that the Secretary of State for Wales, when he sits in Cabinet, would represent the interests of Wales. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet are now isolated from all opinion in the country. The Confederation of British Industry, the Trade Unions Council, the Churches, the House of Lords, the House of Commons, large sections of the Conservative party and large sections of the public all recognise that the Government are a disastrous failure and that the Government are retreating day by day into a bunker. I believe it is distressing that, in that bunker, the Prime Minister has a staunch ally in the Secretary of State for Wales. Instead of arguing the case for Wales, the right hon. Gentleman is encouraging the Prime Minister to believe that what she is doing to this country will be of long term benefit to our people. That is a terrible indictment of the Secretary of State whose special Cabinet responsibility is for the one area in the United Kingdom which has been worst hit by the Government's policies.
The Government say that there is no alternative. I believe that there is an alternative. The Secretary of State has today announced his new initiative. It strikes me as ironic that the Government, who for the past seven years have said that public expenditue is bad and that problems cannot be solved by throwing money at them, are suddenly now saying that they recognise the problem and that now is the time for a community initiative. I am aware that the Secretary of State has made some move and I welcome his new initiative. I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has now recognised that the Government have a role to play and welcome the new initiative, the new money and the new idea. I will encourage my local authority to make a submission and I hope that the Secretary of State will recognise the value of all the submissions when they are put to him.
I will not pretend that I have any regard for what the Secretary of State has done today. The Secretary of State's initiative is nothing more than a gimmick to divert attention from the real issue which should be the subject of today's debate, which is that, as a direct result of Government policy, one out of four Welsh people are out of work. The Secretary of State will not solve anything by using £3 million of public money to invest in the valleys. To use the Secretary of State's words, that will not even prime the pump. Three million pounds is £15 for every unemployed person in Wales.
The Secretary of State intends to put the money into the valleys of south Wales. If the right hon. Gentleman spent one sixth of that money in each of the six districts of Mid Glamorgan, that would not make a pinprick on the problems there. It would certainly result in some minor improvements but if the right hon. Gentleman spent that money equally in each of the districts in Mid Glamorgan —as he said, to promote employment opportunities— how many jobs will he create?
96 If we assume that £10,000 of public money will provide a job, he will provide 300 jobs. If that money is spent equally in the six counties of Mid Glamorgan, he wil provide 50 jobs. If all the money goes to Mid Glamorgan, the right hon. Gentleman will provide 50 jobs in the Rhymney valley. There are 10,000 people out of work as a result of the Government's policies. No amount of projects or schemes which depend on planting trees, tarting up the local bus station, painting the outside of public buildings — welcome though all those schemes may be — will do anything to solve the deep-rooted problems of the valleys.
We need real investment in new industry as it is only by having new investment and new industries that we will get the jobs we want, and if we do not get the jobs, the valleys will have no prospects or security for the future.
§ 9.4 pm
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
I should like to comment for a few minutes on the new proposals that the Government have made in relation to the valley communities. I follow in the footsteps of many of my hon. Friends who know intimately what has happened in the area and the scale of the problem. It is partly because of the scale of the problem and partly because of the effects that the problems are inflicting on our communities that we welcome almost any proposal that can bring any alleviation whatsoever. I welcome the proposal in the sense that it offers alleviation.
There is a certain irony in that I attended a meeting on Friday in my constituency which represented all the valley ares covered by the scheme and we discussed the matter. Local authorities from all the areas put forward a range of proposals. They had previously suggested that they should meet the Secretary of State for Wales, but he refused to meet them on the ground that he felt that it was better that such matters should be dealt with separately.
A few weeks ago, as soon as I heard about the proposals to assist the inner cities, I wrote to the Secretary of State saying that it would be unfair to leave out the valleys. However, the right hon. Gentleman replied that it might be better to continue with our present machinery. It is peculiar that, after all those refusals, the right hon. Gentleman, in the document that he distributed, should have said:These deficiencies can only in part be removed through financial injections.He is talking about deficiencies in the valley towns. The document continues:
The conditions arise partially from the industrial dereliction and economic decline; but they also stem from the absence of any co-ordinated action by local communities and the responsible agencies and authorities to work together with sufficient imagination and drive to make the very best use of the potential that exists.All the democratically elected valley authorities have been crying out for exactly such co-ordination to help them to overcome their problems. It is strange that, at the very moment when the right hon. Gentleman refused to meet valley representatives, he should try to put some of the blame on them. However, we welcome the initiative, small and belated though it is, for the reason that I gave at the beginning of my speech.
I welcome the Secretary of State's reply to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) about the Welsh Development Agency. Some of us have been telling the 97 Welsh Office for years that it is absurd that the WDA, which does such good work, must make painful choices between spending money on assisting new factories or providing new factories and limiting the amount that it can spend on land reclamation and the development of sites. We have asked why the Secretary of State does not go to the Cabinet and ask for more money to enable the WDA and other authorities — I do not say that it can do it alone—to spend more on reclamation and development. To some extent, the right hon. Gentleman's proposals will mean that the WDA and other agencies will receive more money.
I assure the Secretary of State that there will be no shortage of schemes for which we shall need money and assistance under his proposals, but it is a great pity that it was not done years ago when thousands of construction workers first became unemployed. Indeed, in the valleys, many construction workers have joined the dole queue during the past five or six years, and we have pleaded with the Government to spend more on construction. We have a little money now. But if the projects are to work properly, that sum will be insufficient. One need only compare the £2 million or £3 million which the Government propose to spend with the figures which show what has been spent in Merthyr and Aberdare during the past six years, even on Government schemes. The amount is far more than £2 million or £3 million.
If investment is to be effective, it must be on a much bigger scale. We must also ensure that the Government do not remove with one hand what they offer with the other. They have done that many times. The Government who say that they will help us in some areas are the same Government who have removed much larger sums by cutting the rate support grant.
That is why I was so eager to press my question about the training scheme, although I have not yet received an answer from the right hon. Gentleman and I do not expect one now. I welcome the two-year training scheme. It is no good the Secretary of State comparing the present position with what happened under the Labour Government. When we were in office, much more training was provided, there were many more apprenticeships and many more people obtained jobs in industry. We welcomed the youth training scheme from the beginning, but it is completely unfair that a considerable part of the increasing burden of the scheme should be placed upon the local authorities, some of which cannot afford it. We have always been eager—the same could be said of all other valley constituencies and communities—to play our part in the YTS. Whatever our criticisms, we have always wished to encourage them.
What has happened? My local authority and all the other authorities—as the Minister would be aware if he had attended the meeting on Friday—are having to bear a considerable extra burden for the second year of the training scheme and for the years after that. The authorities are having to commit themselves now to this type of expenditure. The expenditure could be more than the proposed expenditure to be given to the authorities for this scheme. When the Government propose extra resources for local authorities—I repeat we are eager to make the best use of all the resources we can get out of this Government—they must also look at the way in which they cut resources in so many other areas.
There is a simple comparison between what happened under the previous Labour Government and what is happening now. We had to face the same problems—a 98 world slump, rocketing oil prices, the consequences of such a price rise and increasing unemployment. We faced those problems. If the present Government achieved the figures which we achieved in the last months of office, they would be regarded as the biggest miracle since the loaves and the fishes. In the period 1979 to 1980, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) was Prime Minister and when the right hon. Gentleman and his friends were placarding everywhere with "Labour isn't working", employment figures — the Government tell us to look at the employment, not the unemployment, figures — were greater than they shave ever been in British history. They were certainly greater than they have been since. Employment has been heavily cut in this period, and unemployment is now greater than ever before. That is the simple comparison.
In the last year of the Labour Government, facing all the problems—and we dealt with all the democratic problems as well — we Increased employment to the highest level ever achieved. This Government have increased unemployment to the highest level in the history of this country. Unemployment is worse in Wales than almost anywhere else.
We will certainly take any small consideration we can get from the Government and which the local authorities can use. We have been crying out for this for years. We shall try to turn this pittance into a real programme for tackling unemployment.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) has put his finger on the problems from which the country has to suffer under the present Administration. I have listened to this debate this afternoon and the way the Government have misinformed the public and have said that A is A when it is not and that B is B when it is not. It has been their modus vivendi. That has been the Government's policy since 1979.
We have heard a number of speeches from Conservative Members this evening and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) has commented, they were of a similar nature. I hesitate to say that they were from the same brief, although that question springs to mind. What is at stake in the debate is not the Government's policies but the Opposition's policies. The Conservatives have asked what the Opposition will do if we come into government — which we will. The Conservative Members have told us that we will either have to print money or borrow money. The Treasury has worked out that our programmes would cost £26 billion. What Conservative Members did not say and what did not occur to them is that we would place a priority on employment.
If we had the country working again more people would be paying tax and that is where the Government's money would come from. It is no use Conservative Members shaking their heads. The Government are not interested in employment. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent has said, they have raised unemployment to the highest level ever. That is the essential difference between the Government and the Opposition. Consequently, they need taxation from elsewhere, and they have increased taxation to a higher level than I can remember. If a Labour Government get people back to 99 work, those people will be paying tax because they will be earning money. That is what the next Labour Government will do.
Like my other hon. Friends, I welcome this latest initiative, but it is very little indeed. The housing aspect of it comes to £2 million, but the cost of building a council house today is between £25,000 and £30,000. In other words, all the money available this year will build about 80 council houses, yet we have all this trumpeting that at last the Conservative Government have seen the light and intend to do something.
Almost every Labour Member represents a council with a waiting list of about 1,000 people. How far will that sum help? It is an absolute pittance. The newspapers and the media must not be beguiled by the message of millions of pounds. A few months ago a report said that to put right the housing stock in the United Kingdom would cost £20 billion, but that is not mentioned by the Conservative party.
We must never lose sight of that fact, and I do not believe that the Welsh people will lose sight of it. They have had six years of this Government and see hospitals that cannot take patients because they are full and can only treat emergency patients. They see schoolchildren without adequate books, and they see social services crumbling before them.
§ Mr. Raffan
The hon. Gentleman has espoused a new aspect of Labour economic policy, which I am sure will be listened to with great interest by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)—perhaps with some horror. How quickly will he get people back to work? He said that he will use revenue from taxation to support this extraordinary programme, which has risen by £2 billion since I spoke. How will the hon. Gentleman support that programme between the time of taking office and getting people back to work?
§ Dr. Marek
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not answer now, but I have only three minutes left. Perhaps next time, when I have half an hour or an hour, I will be able to respond.
Whenever possible, this Government like to govern in secret. They were badly caught out over Austin Rover, and they will be caught out over the closure of the Cartrefle teacher training college. I hope that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary will tell us whether that college is to be closed. If it is, it will mean a couple of hundred redundancies, and it will have a marked effect on the rest of the north-east Wales institute as many of the courses are interdependent. There is much apprehension in north-east Wales, and in Wrexham in particular.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wyn Roberts)
I know that this matter was discussed last week at a meeting of the Welsh Advisory Board. The hon. Gentleman will know that there is to be a meeting of the committee that rules the board on 4 April under my chairmanship. No decision has been recommended as yet to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in saying that a decision has been taken.
§ Dr. Marek
I understand from a telephone call to Cardiff that the working party has recommended to the 100 board that Cartrefle college should be closed. I understand that on the chairman's casting vote—the chairman is a university person, and no doubt his university departments are quite safe — the board will recommend to the committee of the Welsh Advisory Board that the Cartrefle teacher training college should be closed. If the Government do not intend to close the college, will they say so clearly? If they cannot, I am sorry, but that is symptomatic of their treatment of Wales for the past six years.
My final charge is also of incompetence. The Welsh Office has allowed British Rail to single-track the line between Chester and Wrexham. The Welsh Office took BR's advice. How incompetent can the Government be? Now, of course, trains are delayed for two hours every week. The result is that nobody will take the rail service from Wrexham General any more. That is incompetence. The Welsh Office was beguiled. Instead of spending £22 million on the Gresford to Pulford bypass, they had to spend only £21.5 million because the bridges have to go over a single track. How stupid the Government are when they take such considerations into account, thus ruining the transport system in north-east Wales.
The Government are incompetent. They have been in office for six years and done no good. They should go.
§ Mr. Best
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have no desire to delay the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas), to whom the whole House always enjoys listening, but I know that you will have noticed that every hon. Member who has been rising in his place has been called. I wish to put that on record only because of some of the interventions in my speech.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The Chair is always very happy — it does not happen very often — when every hon. Member who wishes to speak has the opportunity to do so, as has been the case today.
§ Mr. Ray Powell
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of us deliberately did not rise, in order to give others a chance to speak. If the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) had limited his speech, more Opposition Members would have been called.
§ Dr. Roger Thomas (Carmarthen)
The Secretary of State must have set some sort of record today. He presented his seventh state of the nation report since attaining his high office. I must add hastily that the senior Under-Secretary of State for Wales must also be the proud possessor of a record. There cannot be many members of the Government who occupy the same post, allowing for departmental variations, as they did in 1979. Conservative Members can draw their own conclusions.
I am sure that I will not be in breach of any secret act if I say that the Secretary of State little thought that his leader would still be expecting him to carry the Wales portfolio seven years on. Moreover, it is likely that he has another two to go as there is every likelihood that this Parliament will run its full course.
It is singularly regrettable that the Prime Minister continues to feel that no other Conservative Member can be entrusted with the overall responsibility of the Welsh 101 Office. A little while ago, there were palpable signs that the understanding methods of the former Minister of State, who I am sorry not to see with us today, would have brought a welcome consensus to Welsh politics. That would have removed the monotony of clash and counter-clash of the past seven years. We fully understand the disappointment of several very able Conservative Members. I am not looking in any particular direction.
We have reshuffle after reshuffle, but no Welsh Tory Member ever appears to come to the top of the pack. It is a remarkable coincidence that there has been only the welcome promotion of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Robinson). Not only have Tory Members not qualified to go to the Welsh Office, but none appears to have been suitably qualified to be a junior Minister in any other office of state or Department. What can they have been doing wrong? One notices many promotions among their counterparts in Scotland. There have been many changes in the Scottish Office, yet we do not appear to have had changes among Welsh Tory Members. I have often dwelt on that, but it is a matter for the Prime Minister.
The other day I watched a television interview with the Leader of the House. Apparently, he was told at a meeting of the 1922 Committee that one of the Tory Whips with a Welsh name was responsible for the promotion of so many wets into the Cabinet. I cannot understand how a Welshman would not do more for fellow Welshmen, and at least most of them are fellow Welshmen.
Year after year the Secretary of State requests patience and prudence from his critics because just a little more time is needed for Government policies to come to palpable fruition. Each year the tide is about to turn, and each year the unemployment tide obstinately refuses to turn. Our resources keep on ebbing away, and the latest to ebb away is North sea oil.
Thousands of jobs have vanished since 1983, let alone since 1979. How much longer do the people in Wales, especially those now in their second or third year without work, have to wait for Government policies to work? Positive intervention has become imperative. It is not only the accelerated pit closures of the past year that leave people jobless. Joblessness now roams the rural areas as well. Creameries, the backbone of rural viability, now become as desolate as the urban coal mines. In rural areas the spin-off effect of closures can be even more widespread and devastating.
We protest at the inadequacies of NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. It is miserly, if somewhat increased in funding, and it wholly fails to meet the massive pit closure redundancies. That limp scheme appeared late in the day, deceitfully publicised, but woefully short on practical application. Pits close, but coal is now extracted in many of our areas of south Wales by overpowering open-cast methods that bulldoze through much-loved landscapes, human amenities and surroundings. Opposition is cast aside scathingly, as if to oppose such gigantic schemes is a form of treachery and a denial of work by local communities.
I am sure that many Tory Members noticed the article in Saturday's Western Mail. The significance of the St. David's day declaration on the urgent need for powerful Government initiatives to expand the economy, thus ensuring that many who are at present without work are allowed to contribute usefully to society, cannot be overemphasised. I am sure that hon. Members will know the 102 names of those who have signed this declaration—Sir Cennyth Traherne, Sir Brian Hopkin, Sir Goronwy Daniel, Dr. C. W. L. Bevan, the Earl Lloyd-George, Professor Glyn Phillips. They are not notable people in the political life of Wales, not notable Welsh men and women. These people speak over and above party politics and their aims cannot be disregarded. The Conservative party cannot afford to sweep this declaration under the carpet. These people have no political axe to grind or political strategy to exploit.
The Labour party is not alone in emphasising the dire need for direct spending to reduce unemployment rather than rely on the haphazard beneficial effects of tax reductions. The support of the CBI has been further bolstered by last week's National Institute report. It said that tax cuts would havea paltry effect upon registered unemploymentfor what spending power is made available through tax cuts is either saved or frittered away upon imports.
Registered unemployment is expected to stay at 3 million well into the last quarter of this decade, the pace of growth for this year falls to just over half of that during the previous year and most economic experts tell us that by 1987 there will be an adverse trade balance, including oil balances. The Government are being deaf to much of their own hitherto loyal supporters, as the latter press for more spending on roads and infrastructure—that is what we heard from the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower) — with warnings that frugality in this sector will lead to an even more helpless position in hard-pressed regions such as Wales and particularly the more inaccessible parts of Wales.
There is much to commend in a building improvement programme primarily aimed at finding work for the long-term unemployed young who are itching to work. The Select Committee on Employment feels that a scheme could reduce unemployment totals by over 300,000 over the first two years of its implementation. Such urban regeneration and the tackling of substandard housing provision would be of particular benefit to Wales because our valleys have long been left stranded by such neglect of a basic human provision.
Government policy, as exemplified by years that do not immediately precede an election, make no inroads. Such cynicism will linger long in the minds of the electorate, but I do not propose to give such a list of Tory marginal seats as the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) gave of Labour marginal seats.
The Government's complacent inaction, as the teachers' industrial action continues to damage the prospects of thousands of children, has been lamentable. The more caring and informed Government supporters such as the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle), the previous Secretary of State for Education and Science, have pleaded for the setting up of a review body prepared to take full recognition of the position of teachers compared to similar and allied professions. Teachers, irrespective of union representation, feel that their training, qualifications and responsibilities are far from adequately remunerated and that their contribution has been taken for granted.
We have listened in this Chamber to teachers being accused of the worst form of hypocrisy and of aggressive self-interest, but the Secretary of State concedes that many teachers will leave because of poor wages and conditions 103 and that many potential teachers of high calibre quit prematurely during training because their future in the profession is so bleak and will be so deeply unappreciated.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State said that spending on education in Wales is at a standstill and that, with falling school rolls, this should mean, arithmetically, that greater provision can be made for each child. However, this is a false argument. No allowance is being made for providing greater choice and catering for more variable and diverse interests, let alone contending with more widespread parental expectations. Comparative education costs should not be confined to years gone by, or even, for that matter, to years ahead. Comparisons should be made with the amounts being spent by our main industrial and technological rivals. During the last six years, our efforts have failed lamentably.
In his wind-up speech last year during the debate on Welsh affairs the Under-Secretary of State for Wales said that the National Health Service was advancing on a broad and variable front, yet it is remarkable how few people express complete satisfaction with it, particularly when there are problems over admitting the elderly to hospital and when the social reasons for such admissions outweigh the medical reasons. There appears to be general unease about the frequency with which expert opinion and subsequent treatment has to be sought outside Wales.
The National Health Service was debated recently in the Welsh Grand Committee, but I make no apology for discussing it in this debate. To quote annual increases over the rate of inflation and increases in staff and increased out-patient attendances can be a very unsatisfactory and deceitful method of assessing advancement. Patient expectations may be difficult to quantify, but whatever area of medical activity one studies, investigations and treatment appear to be in greater demand as facilities become more widely available.
I shall quote one example. The costly medical advance of five or six years ago soon becomes regarded as old-fashioned and second best when the general public realise that something better is available elsewhere. The clever, sophisticated, and technically expert removal of fluid from around the developing baby in order to detect foetal abnormalities which meant that desquamated cells could be examined for chromosomal and other biochemical abnormalities was costly from the standpoint of training surgeons and pathologists.
However, it is now possible to obtain a specimen of the placental cells. Therefore, what appeared five or six years ago to be a remarkable advance has lost its technical glamour now that this new and even more costly method of examination has taken over. The latter technique is infinitely more costly, but the community demands that this technique should be provided. Abnormalities in developing babies can now be detected not at 19 weeks but at 10 weeks. This is a great advantage in case management, but it accounts for the escalating costs of the National Health Service. That is why a 2, 3 or 4 per cent. increase means that the NHS is merely standing still.
Similar examples can be found throughout the NHS. I have quoted only one example out of 30, 40 or 50 examples. When the additional costs are considered, a purely mathematical basis of year-to-year expenditure or 104 year-to-year staff availability — as happened in the remarkably bland and anodyne Conservative party broadcast last week—completely loses its relevance.
§ Dr. Thomas
No, I have only one minute left.
We cannot afford to ignore the warnings of such bodies as the Alliance for Science of the effects of under-funding projects undertaken by such bodies as the Medical Research Council. That has led to a serious loss of expert staff and to the closure of units essential to our medical research capability.
Conservative Members may approve and even revel in privatisation, but the community as a whole suffers when Treasury frugality causes a shortfall in the public funding of medical research, with resultant over-emphasis on private funding which ignores the less important and more mundane sectors of research such as preventive medicine. The people of Wales know that the Health Service is not safe in the Government's hands.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wyn Roberts)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) and other Opposition Members in their various ways have welcomed the concept of the valleys initiative launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State today. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) was particularly constructive, and we shall carefully consider his helpful suggestions. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) was also most constructive, and I apologise for not having been in the Chamber to hear her speech.
It was entirely predictable that some hon. Members would complain about the level of resources allocated to the initiative. To them, I make two points. First, proposals are to come forward by the end of June and work on approved projects will not begin until the autumn. The additional £3 million initially being made available in 1986–87 is in respect of anticipated expenditure in six months only. The level of additional resources in future years will reflect the quality of the projects which come forward.
Secondly, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear, this is a pump-priming exercise aimed at triggering investment by the private and voluntary sectors. Community investment means just that. Moreover, these resources are additional to what is already being spent. I do not think that that point has been fully appreciated.
We are looking to local communities to come forward with ideas, energy and resources. Experience in Cardiff, Swansea and elsewhere has shown what can be achieved through public sector support for revitalisation in projects involving a partnership between the public and private sectors. The initiative is an exciting challenge to the valley communities to join central Government in an environmental programme which will transform the appearance of valley towns, making them more attractive places in which to live, work and invest. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) missed the point entirely. It is by adding to the attractiveness of the valleys that one creates work in the valleys.
Concern about unemployment has been at the heart of today's debate. That so many of our fellow countrymen 105 and women are out of work in Wales is a most regrettable fact, and we all wish that it were otherwise. Nevertheless, there are some consolations. The remaining 82.3 per cent — the majority — are in work, and those in work have been doing well. As my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist) and for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) pointed out, one of the basic problems in the past year has been that the rate of earnings is still rising faster than the rate of productivity. Those in work must understand that their high pay rises are keeping the unemployed out of work.
We are doing our utmost to increase the number of people in work, and we have had some success. The total number in civilian employment in Wales rose by 2.1 per cent. between 1983 and 1984 — from 1,028,000 to 1,050,000 — mainly as a result of an increase in the number of self-employed and those working in the service industries.
Wales is part of the United Kingdom economy, and between 1983 and 1985 the United Kingdom economy topped the growth league of major EC countries, despite the coal strike. Over the previous decade it was bottom of the league. In 1985 the United Kingdom is expected to have been the fastest growing economy in the EC and to have grown faster than the United States.
The Government's policies will continue to be directed towards a sustained and sound economic expansion, founded upon an efficient and competitive economy and a viable and strong economic base. Those policies represent the only practical way forward for improvements in the prospects for industry and employment. They are backed by realistic and comprehensive measures designed to deal with the net causes of the problems affecting the economy — measures to contain inflation, encourage enterprise, industrial diversification and growth and large-scale programmes of training and measures to promote employment.
I have heard nothing in today's debate which persuades me that those policies are wrong or that other policies hold out better prospects for Wales. The best hopes for Wales still lie with those policies, and when the time comes the electorate will show its faith in them and in us, too.
Many Opposition Members put their faith in increased capital spending, except for the hon. Member for Caenarfon (Mr. Wigley) who took us back to the referendum on devolution, and we had a resurrection of that elephant on our doorstep in this Chamber. He pleaded for new ideas, but I was not aware that he offered a single one.
Let us be clear that capital spending is not necessarily labour-intensive, so it is not the easy cure for unemployment that the Labour party thinks. But let us look at the Government's record.
§ Mr. Roberts
Under the Government, gross capital expenditure within the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has averaged over £743 million a year at 1984–85 prices. That represents an increase of almost 6 per cent. in real terms over the average annual spend over the last two years of the previous Labour Administration.
§ Mr. Roberts
That was £703 million per annum.
106 On roads we have spent an average of £185 million, an increase of 24 per cent. in real terms over similar spending in the last two years of the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Roberts
For industry, the average spend runs at about £80.5 million, an increase of 13 per cent., and for health and personal social services the annual spend is more than £54 million, an increase of 9 per cent. over the previous Labour Government's spending.
We have heard a great deal about housing. There was a large underspend by local authorities in 1981–82 and 1982–83. The facts are well known and I have rehearsed them before in the House. But over the past two years, total gross housing capital expenditure has averaged almost £250 million at 1984–85 prices, an increase of 6 per cent. in real terms over the average of the last two years of the previous Labour Government. So who are they to lecture us on housing?
All in all, our gross capital expenditure has totalled more than £4,460 million in Wales over the six years to last March. That represents a massive level of investment by any standard. There is silence on the Opposition Benches.
§ Mr. Roberts
Although I have heard much in the debate about the need for even more spending than the Government propose—my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) outlined the Government's expenditure plans extremely well — no one has said a word about how much money is to be raised and only little about where it will come from. Is it to be borrowed, raised by taxation, or possibly both? My hon. Friends realise that there is some confusion in the upper crust of the Labour party on this issue. There is talk of using accumulated local authority receipts, which amount to about £250 million to £300 million in Wales and £5 billion in the country as a whole. That cannot be enough to do anything but send local councillors on a grand slam of a spending and borrowing spree.
The source of the £24 billion, which was added to by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas), that the Labour party is dreaming of for Britain as a whole is taxation.
§ Mr. Roberts
No, I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman.
The source of the £24 billion that the Labour party has in mind was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central in a powerful speech and by my hon. Friends the Members for Delyn and for Cardiff, West (Mr. Terlezki). I do not expect Labour Members to be able to say what part of that sum is attributable to Wales. Some tax boffin — probably the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)—said that it could be creamed off those earning £30,000 a year or more. When it was pointed out that the yield would not be enough, the Leader of the Opposition lowered his sights to those earning £20,000 a year, and that would produce £3 billion.
§ Mr. Ron Davies
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to present to the House exactly the same speech that has been made by five of his Back-Bench colleagues this evening? Is this not an abuse of the procedures of the House?
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask you to rule whether the Minister's speech amounts to tedious repetition of the speeches of Conservative Back Benchers.
§ Mr. Roberts
I know that Opposition Members do not like to hear about the £24 billion that would be expended by a Labour Government. That goes for the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) as well.
§ Mr. Roberts
As I understand it, a Labour Government's purpose in spending that sum would be to boost employment. I must tell the Labour party that it would produce only a temporary boost. At the same time, it would destroy incentives to earn. In the longer term, jobs would be dissipated as inflation and interest rates rose. The truth is that a massive reflation would destroy jobs.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside is prone to present the gloomier side of life in some of my hon. Friends' constituencies, especially that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn, of which he seems to be especially fond. Let me picture for the hon. Gentleman the brighter side of life in his constituency. Since May 1979, the Welsh Development Agency has completed 77 factory units in the district. There is another 50,000 sq ft factory under construction. Currently six units are vacant and available for letting.
During 1984, 15 units were allocated to firms forecasting about 360 jobs. In 1985, seven units were allocated with a promise of 120 jobs. So it is not all gloom and doom, even on Alyn and Deeside. Obviously, it is not the same dawn as we have in Delyn, so wonderfully described by my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside referred to the recent report of the Select Committee on Employment. He suggested that the Government should spend £165 million in the next three years in Wales and that this should provide work for 37,500 people. We are considering the Select Committee's report. However, we must be careful in talking about expanding programmes that we do not take jobs away from those already in employment.
§ Mr. Roberts
Projects under the community programme must provide work that would not otherwise be undertaken. I do not think that the union friends of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) would like his laughter about the community programme taking jobs away from people. We must be extremely careful. The last thing anyone wants are schemes, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Paymaster General and Minister for 108 Employment put it, of the lamp post counting kind. These are not of benefit to the community, nor do they provide any kind of satisfying work for the unemployed.
§ Mr. Roberts
I have many points to answer.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) has referred more than once to the two-year youth training scheme. The transitional funding arrangements for the two-year YTS are to be reviewed later this year. The Manpower Services Commission is confident that there will be enough places available for this year's school leavers. Indeed, a large number of providers showed a willingness to take up additional places had Mid Glamorgan county council reduced its YTS commitment.
The hon. Members for Alyn and Deeside and for Gower (Mr. Wardell) referred to the plight of the elderly in this severely cold weather. There were two speeches on the subject. The supplementary benefits scheme provides for extra help for claimants in periods of exceptionally severe weather when heating bills are higher than they have budgeted for. The DHSS has written to each of its regions emphasising that the severe weather payments should be given priority and that all appropriate steps should be taken urgently to publicise the arrangements to provide advice to all who need it. Supplementary benefit heating additions amounted to £400 million in the last financial year—about £140 million more in real terms than was spent in the last year of the Labour Government.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower) that the Government are committed to ensuring first-class crossing facilities of the River Severn. The fact that we have commissioned a study into a possible second crossing is proof of that commitment, and it is nonsense to suggest otherwise. Work on strengthening the existing bridge is well under way. There is no reason to doubt that, when these works are completed, the crossing will be capable of operating at its full capacity.
It is clear from the debate that Wales needs firm Conservative government and strong leadership now more than ever. Britain's needs are the same. In the past few weeks, we have seen the Socialist alternatives preening themselves for office and the alliance parties grooming themselves for a supporting role. Most of us have recoiled at the prospect. Such a Government would be abysmally weak and indecisive and would quickly succumb to pressures. Inflation would flare up, wiping out the value of people's savings and making our industries uncompetitive. All the gains made during the years of Conservative rule would be lost and the chance, which we still have, of creating worth while and lasting jobs would disappear. The closer one looks at the Socialist-alliance alternative, the more determined we become that it should never become a reality. We on the Conservative Benches all share that determination and shall fight to win people's hearts and minds to our cause. This Government have a clear view—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed without Question put.