HL Deb 15 May 1975 vol 360 cc903-42

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The House has now had an opportunity to consider the Scottish Development Agency (No. 2) Bill. On this occasion, Wales has allowed Scotland to come first, but as both will benefit from the proposed Agencies it matters not. The purpose of the Agencies is to support and develop the economy and way of life of both countries. But just as the Scottish Bill has its own particular Scottish aspects, as my noble friend Lord Hughes indicated, so the present Bill is tailored to meet the special needs and circumstances of Wales. The Bill is the first wholly Welsh Bill on major economic and environmental questions in Wales. Accordingly, it gives me great pleasure as a Welshman to introduce it. It is the outcome of much discusion and consultation.

Earlier this year there was wide response to the Consultative Document setting out the proposals in the Bill from all who were consulted. A series of constructive meetings were held between Welsh Office Ministers and the local authorities' associations in Wales—the Welsh Counties Committee and the Council for the Principality—the Wales TUC, the Wales CBI, the Welsh Council, the Welsh Industrial Estates Corporation and the Development Corporation for Wales. Others—for example, organisations con- nected with mid-Wales—made, valuable comments in writing. The points made to the Government have been taken fully into account in drawing up this Bill and, if need be, can be re-emphasised in drawing up the necessary administrative guidelines for the Agency's operating arrangements on the ground.

The response in Wales was overwhelmingly in favour. It is true that the Wales CBI expressed opposition to those functions proposed for the Agency which will parallel in Wales responsibilities of the National Enterprise Board elsewhere. However, I understand that the Wales CBI welcomed the other provisions in the Bill and, not surprisingly, the additional finance to be made available. But overall there is no doubt that the Government's decision to give the highest priority to establishing a Welsh Development Agency on the lines set out in the Bill before us today has been very much welcomed.

The main objective of the Agency is to accelerate the economic and industrial development of Wales and to improve the environment in a way consistent with that objective. Part of the Bill has the aim of bringing together in one organisation a group of functions concerned with industrial and environmental development. A second and equally important part of the Bill is to bring to the Agency responsibilities and functions new to Wales. In particular the Agency will carry out in Wales the regional development functions which the proposed National Enterprise Board will have in England. I shall have more to say on this later on, but I should like to make it clear from the start that the Agency will not be simply, as some have suggested, a Welsh "arm" of the National Enterprise Board. It will be an independent body responsible to the Secretary of State for Wales.

When the Welsh Development Agency is established Wales will have a new and powerful piece of machinery to promote the industrial and environmental health of the Principality. For a long time it has been recognised that improvements to the environment and the development of a strong industrial base can and must be complementary. By making a place pleasanter to live and work in, the task of attracting new industries becomes easier. Wales has the men and women ready to work for these new industries—and to work well. Former miners, foundry workers, tinplaters, steelmen, copper workers, quarry men, slate workers have quickly learned new skills when a lot of those old industries ran down. It is not only at Cardiff Arms Park and Stradey Park, Llanelli that Welshmen have excelled, if I may say so.

I have mentioned parks. Too much of the natural beauty of Wales was despoiled in the past. Too often green valleys have been left a blight of slag heaps. Industrial changes have indeed left their scars in Wales, and at times it needed all the resilience of its people to survive them. In simple terms, we want to make Wales an attractive place to those we wish to encourage to move there and a pleasant place for those who live and work there. A good environment is a precious resource and we need to husband it well. In this, as Clauses 13 and 14 of the Bill make clear, the Agency will have its role to play.

The proposals for an Agency must be set in the context of other developments within Wales. The Secretary of State will from 1st July of this year be responsible for activities in Wales in the economic and industrial fields which have hitherto been the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Industry. These transferred responsibilities include a responsibility for regional selective assistance under Section 7 of the Industry Act 1972 and for Government factory building in Wales under the Local Employment Act 1972. This allows a consolidation of responsibility for economic and industrial strategy within Wales and it does so without breaking or weakening the link between Wales and Whitehall. Rather it means that the contribution from Wales to the effectiveness of a continuing link is becoming stronger.

The proposals for the Agency are being made at a time when the economy of Wales is under stress and there are major problems to be resolved in some of the basic industries, particularly steel. Unemployment throughout the Principality has unfortunately been rising in the past few months, and as an integral part of the economy of the United Kingdom the economy of Wales is in turn having to face up to the very serious challenge to our economic future as a result of international stresses and trade problems, like the increased cost of energy. In common with the rest of the United Kingdom, Wales is having to react and readjust to the many problems which inflation can bring. They are not problems capable of solution by Government alone. They call for effort and indeed some sacrifices by the whole community. In this task we believe that the Agency—with its powers to contribute to the whole range of the process of developing land for industry and then developing and supporting industry—will be an additional strength to the Government's arm in Wales. This is why it is being so broadly welcomed there.

The Agency's duties, which are set out in Clause 1 (2) of the Bill, are clear: to further economic development in Wales: to promote its industrial efficiency and international competitiveness; to provide, maintain, or safeguard employment in Wales, and to improve the environment. I emphasise the responsibility to improve both the job prospects and the quality of life in Wales. I stress the responsibility to maintain and provide employment. The Agency need not wait for the private sector to come along with development proposals. The Agency can support private industry, either jointly or on its own account. In short, it will be directly in the business of creating jobs. Of course, this can and will make for an increase in the public stake in industry in Wales. But the Agency's involvement will not be confined to increasing this stake; it will be able to make an additional contribution to the growth of the private sector of Welsh industry. It will by agreement be able to use its investment funds and to provide management advice and financial advice. There will, it is hoped, be a strong emphasis on the needs of small firms—which still form such a large large and important part of the Welsh industrial and economic scene.

The Bill is distinguished by the breadth and flexibility of the powers which it gives to the Agency under the direction of the Secretary of State for Wales. But these are powers which will best succeed when they are exercised, as is intended, in partnership with existing organisations and the local authorities. Save for the Welsh Industrial Estates Corporation, which will be absorbed by the Agency, it will in no way supplant any existing organisation, whether in urban or in rural Wales. Any fears that their powers will be supplanted are unfounded. The keynote of the Bill is the exercise of the Agency's powers in partnership with them.

I turn now to a brief description of the clauses in the Bill which will no doubt receive careful scrutiny during its progress through the House. My noble friend Lord Lovell-Davis, who will be winding up the debate, will no doubt deal with the points that will arise during the course of the debate. Clause 1 sets out in detail the duties, functions and powers of a Welsh Development Agency. These are powers which cover the whole of Wales and they are just as applicable to urban as to rural areas. Clause 2 provides for the appointment of a Chairman, Deputy Chairman, members and a chief executive. Clause 3 gives the Agency power to make charges for their services, accept gifts and carry out or commission inquiries, investigations and researches.

Clause 4 enables the Agency to appoint a local authority, a development corporation of a new town or other body or person to act as their agent, and it enables those bodies to place the services of any of their staff at the Agency's disposal. This clause emphasises the partnership which it is intended to develop between the Agency and existing authorities. Each body has and will have its own special responsibilities and powers. There will be an interlocking with the Agency, not an overlapping. And throughout the Agency will be working within the framework of the planning responsibilties of the local authorities, which will continue. Clause 5 gives the Agency the power to form committees so that from time to time the Agency can have access to advice and to informed opinion from a broad spectrum of people and organisations. But the aim is to keep the Agency itself small, compact and thus effective.

Clause 6 deals with the dissolution of the Welsh Industrial Estates Corporation and the transfer of its property, rights and liabilities to the Agency. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work which has been carried on in Wales over the years by the Corporation. That work will continue and expand, and the staff transferred to the Agency will find great advantage in working within a larger organisation with greater resources available to it and with a much broader range of functions and responsibilities. The Bill in Schedule II sets out safeguards in the interests of the staff involved. There will continue to be full discussion with those involved about the transfer. Clauses 7 to 9 set out the Agency's power to provide and manage industrial sites and premises and to provide additional services for the support of industrial development. It is intended that the Agency will have a special role to play in connection with any major development related to oil or gas in the Celtic Sea—and I hope that a great deal will be discovered in the not too distant future. Which country does not wish the same?

Clause 10 enables the Agency to be used as a channel for selective financial assistance to industry, if the Secretary of State so directs. This will ensure that in this important area of industrial support the Agency can have a role complementing that which from 1st July of this year will fall to the Welsh Office. A further consequence of this transfer to Wales of responsibility for regional financial assistance is that it is proposed to establish a statutory Welsh Industrial Development Advisory Board to advise the Secretary of State. That power is to be found in Clause 11 of the Bill. Clause 12 enables publicly-owned property to be transferred to the Agency.

Clauses 13 and 14 deal with the Agency's twin role of developing, redeveloping and improving the environment and grant-aiding local authorities in carrying out derelict land clearance works and carrying out such work itself. Anyone who knows Wales will know of the tremendous work carried out by local authorities, particularly in South Wales, in clearing up industrial dereliction, which has existed for so long, and making the country green again. The intention is that this work will continue and expand and that the local authorities will continue to play the most powerful role. In order to remove any doubt, I am happy to reaffirm our commitment that local authorities will in no way be affected and that Agency schemes will be undertaken after full consultation and agreement with local authorities. Beyond this the Agency will have power to inaugurate major environmental schemes, but once again only in the fullest partnership and co-operation with the local authorities. It will also be desirable that statutory bodies like the Countryside Commission and non-statutory bodies like the Civic Trust should have an opportunity to contribute their expert views.

Clauses 15 and 16 set out the financial duties of the Agency and in particular state that the Agency will have an initial financial allocation of £100 million which can be raised to £150 million. Clause 19 covers the important question of acquisition, disposal and appropriation of land. The Government think it is reasonable and right that the Agency, in carrying out its land development role—developing and improving the environment, clearing derelict land, providing industrial estates—should have powers to acquire and dispose of land. The powers given to the Agency do not in any way conflict with the local planning responsibilities. Nor will they conflict with the responsibilities of the proposed Land Authority for Wales (which forms part of a Bill at present being debated in another place). The Land Authority for Wales will be a body charged with the responsibility of acquiring and disposing of land, but it will not itself develop land. Its role will be different and distinct from that of the Agency. A number of public bodies will be able to acquire and develop land without intervention by the Land Authority, and it is the Government's wish that the Welsh Development Agency should be able to acquire and develop their own land. At the same time there will be a need for special liaison between the Agency, the Land Authority and the local authorities. Close and continuous consultation will be required, and this is yet one more instance of the way in which the Agency's role in contributing to the economic and environmental health of Wales will be a partnership role. So far as the limited occasions for compulsory acquisition are concerned, the normal procedures for public inquiries will apply.

I will not weary the House with specific mention of all the remaining clauses, but would simply draw attention to Clauses 21 and 22, which give the Agency appropriate powers of entry and powers to obtain information, and to the Schedules which set out in detail the way in which the Agency will conduct itself, appoint its staff and carry out its important and complex financial responsibilities.

I should like now to draw attention to the Agency's finances, its relationship with the Secretary of State and its responsibilities for industrial development, as these have occasioned so far the greatest measure of comment. It has been said that the financial allocation is not large enough, and, indeed, that may be said in the course of this debate. But equally it has to be said that at this time of great economic difficulty, a provision of up to £150 million is a substantial commitment to and investment in Wales. I want to emphasise that these sums are additional to expenditure in Wales on selective assistance, regional development grants and the regional development premium. It is the case that part of the £150 million provision represents a commitment which would no doubt have continued even without an Agency. But the Agency will be able, with the additional resources made available to it, to do more in existing fields; for example, derelict land clearance, to make a real impact in new activities designed to further and strengthen industrial development in Wales, and to get the priorities right. The Bill does not specify any time period for which the funds should last. This the Government think is right. It is hard to predict how rapidly the Agency will need to draw on its financial resources. This will depend to a large extent on factors which are difficult to predict, such as the demands of industry for investment finance and the speed with which it can make a start on major environmental schemes.

My Lords, it is also right that financial guidelines should be set up for the Agency's activities. It would not make sense to seek to impose an overall financial objective on all the Agency's work. Many of its varied activities—for example, derelict land clearance and environmental regeneration—just cannot be placed within a machinery with specific financial objectives. At the same time, parts of the Agency's work, particularly its industrial investment role, should be within a specified financial objective, and this will be part of the Agency's responsibilities to achieve.

The guidelines for the Agency will be determined by the Secretary of State, who will have the power of both general and specific direction. It is explicit in the Bill that the Agency will be consulted before any direction is made, and the Agency's annual reports will set out details of any such direction. The powers of general and specific direction reflect both the central position of the Secretary of State responsible to Parliament for the economic health of the Principality and the very wide range of responsibilities laid upon the Agency, together with the substantial finance at its disposal. I emphasise the very wide range of responsibilities laid upon the Agency. These are responsibilities—with the power to act—which meet a proven need. I would reject any suggestion, in the same way as would those employed in industry in Wales, that these powers are in any way excessive. Indeed, in some quarters the view is that they do not go far enough.

My Lords, it is important, too, to recognise that the Agency will have considerable flexibility. It will be able to choose and advise on priorities. As time goes on, the relationships between the Agency and the Secretary of State and others involved in the economic and environmental development of Wales will naturally evolve and mature. In the last resort, however, the Secretary of State must be in a position to assess the choice of priorities and to point in a direction consistent with the Government's general strategy, particularly that on regional development. A developing relationship between the Secretary of State and the Agency will be most apparent, perhaps, in respect of the Agency's industrial investment responsibilities. If the Agency is to succeed in this new and challenging area of responsibility, it must be free to make its own assessment and back its own judgment. That is why the Bill would allow the Agency to invest up to £2 million in any one company without the Secretary of State's consent—the only reservation being that this should not give it a holding of more than 30 per cent. in the voting rights of the company.

It has been said, though I hope not by way of criticism, that the Agency is to be simply an amalgam of existing powers. But I do not believe this to be true. The Agency will have substantial and novel powers. It will provide investment capital in the form of loans and equity. It will be able to couple management and advisory services with its financial support. It will promote industrial democracy in its subsidiaries, in accord with the Government's policy of encouraging greater participation by workers in industry generally. The Agency will be expected to play its part in ensuring that companies which it controls provide for the fullest involvement of employees in decision-making at all levels. The Agency will be able to initiate developments, to create employment and strengthen the economy, both by joint ventures with private industry and by setting up new ventures. These are additional to existing powers to help industry in the Principality and I believe them to be essential additions.

These are powers which have a parallel in a Bill which so far has not come before this House; namely, the Industry Bill, which I noted was much discussed on the previous Bill. But the powers conferred by this Bill will be exercised for Wales within Wales, and separately from any activities by the proposed National Enterprise Board.

As I have said, the Agency will be a separate body from the proposed National Enterprise Board and will be able to use its industrial powers in a distinctive way to meet the needs and circumstances in Wales. The National Enterprise Board will of course be able to operate in Wales to the extent that its involvement with companies operating on an integrated basis on both sides of the border requires this, but this in no way restricts the Agency's role within Wales. There will be a partnership between the Agency and the National Enterprise Board- a partnership worked out on a commonsense basis. The Agency will have the power within Wales to acquire holdings in industry in pursuit of its functions and I am sure it will sponsor sound development. I should like at this point to emphasise this. All such acquisitions will be by agreement. None of the acquisitions will be compulsory. The Bill provides no powers to take over private concerns or to take equity shareholdings in them without their consent.

There should be no conflict between the Welsh Development Agency and the National Enterprise Board. There are no hard and fast divisions between Welsh industry and what might be called United Kingdom industry; equally, there should be no hard and fast divisions between the National Enterprise Board and the Welsh Development Agency. Where need be the Agency will welcome the National Enterprise Board over Offa's Dyke, the Agency will not be putting up border defence stations, in spite of the alarms expressed in the earlier debate.

My Lords, I am satisfied that what is proposed in this Bill will work to the benefit of the people of Wales and that the people of Wales wish it to be so. The Agency is, and is seen to be, the most constructive proposal for many years for organising and sponsoring industrial and environmental development in Wales. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 22.— (The Lord Chancellor.)

6.44 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, who made a noble and learned speech explaining the implications of this Bill. I cannot say that I was altogether reassured, although he did his best to reassure us, and I am still particularly unconvinced that the Welsh Development Agency will be all that free to go its own way, considering the powers of the Secretary of State, considering the fact that this Bill is a close reflection of the Industry Bill, and other matters which we can go into, some of them later tonight and some at Committee stage. But I hope that we can take some account of the debate that we have had on the Scottish Development Agency Bill, because the two Bills are very similar in their proposals. I am very flattered that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, should have remained to listen to our debate. The Minister who is to reply, Lord Lovell-Davis, will not in our case be able to rely on the precedent of any Highlands and Islands Development Board, on which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, seemed to base his defence of his Bill.

There is certainly a close resemblance between the two Bills, and much of the vigorous comment made by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy on the Scottish Bill equally reflects my views on this Bill. We look on it as something of a mini-Industry Bill for wales, and in fact many a the clauses in this Bill are drawn straight from the Industry Bill. The Scottish one differs, no doubt because they have a Scottish draftsman, but the Bill we are now considering has many clauses which come straight from the Industry Bill. The result is that this Bill suffers from many of the defects of the Industry Bill. It also raises what must be a difficult relationship between the Agency and the NEB. I was grateful to the noble and learned Lord for the words he said at the end of his speech on how this relationship might operate, but it will be a difficult one. Obviously, where companies operating in Wales are wholly owned by companies with their headquarters in England there will be overlaps. We shall want to explore further at Committee stage the question of how these two bodies will work together in Wales.

I must at the same time admit that the Bill has some incidental advantages. First, we think it an advantage to set up a single central body to co-ordinate the efforts of a number of existing bodies. All of there have the same object of bringing industry to Wales and providing increased development for the Welsh economy. As the noble and learned Lord said, much excellent work has been done, some by voluntary bodies, some by local authorities, in this field, but so far there has perhaps been a lack of co-ordination. I hope the Agency will supply that coordination, and that at the same time it will make full use of the willing spirit that exists in various voluntary bodies, and of the co-operation of local authorities.

The second point about the Bill with which we have no quarrel is that it lays a duty on the Agency to improve the environment in Wales. There is still plenty to be done in this field, as I know very well in my part of the world. In fact, I think I can claim that the Aberdare Urban District Council, and now the Cynon Valley District Council, have been in the forefront of reclaiming derelict land. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he can say anything about the future of the derelict land unit, and whether he can tell us the present level of expenditure on derelict land reclamation in Wales; in other words, how much of the money that the Agency is going to get will be taken up with the present derelict land reclamation programme?

There can be no doubt at all of the need to stimulate new industrial investment in Wales, and the noble and learned Lord repeated that. The Secretary of State for Wales told the Welsh Grand Committee on 7th May that last month nearly 60,000 people in Wales were registered as unemployed, the highest April figure since the war, and that the seasonally adjusted figure is now 4.7 per cent. The fact is that Wales has suffered industrially, as British industry as a whole has suffered, from the Government's failure to control inflation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer's first Budget heavily penalised industry and, coupled with rampant inflation, has led to an extreme crisis of liquidity in many firms. Profitability, on which investment depends, has fallen drastically and bankruptcies have shown a marked rise. But while we admit the need for assistance to Welsh industries, what we dislike are many aspects of the proposals of the Government to meet them. Our 1972 Industry Act provides all that is needed to inject new financial investment into Wales. Moreover, it does so with what we consider to be highly desirable safeguards to prevent such assistance being used to nationalise more firms, and unnecessarily to increase the size of the public sector. These were sensible safeguards.


My Lords, will the noble Lord give way for a moment? It is absolutely right that tribute should be paid to that 1972 Act, and I myself and others have done so. But although the Act gave encouragement to investment, the entrepreneurs who had the necessary cash to do the investing did not do it. I do not want to make a Party political point, but our problem is: how can this be done in the future?


My Lords, that is a much wider and deeper question. All I would say is that in 1973 the investment plans of British industry generally were higher and larger than they had been for many years. The reasons why those plans are not being fulfilled, I suggest, might be laid more at the door of inflation and, as I said, the Government's failure to control inflation, rather than anything else. We can debate that on another occasion. The point I make is that the 1972 Act, as well as making it possible for the Government to provide more money for investment in Wales, also had sensible safeguards so that this money would not be used to extend the public sector, in my view unnecessarily.

The safeguards were that the Secretary of State had to be satisfied that assistance could not be given in any other way than by the acquisition of loan or share capital in the firm; he could not acquire more than 50 per cent. of the equity share capital; he was required to dispose of any stock or shares as soon as practicable, and his powers ran only to 31st December 1977. These safeguards are being swept away in the Industry Bill, and there will be no such limitations on the Agency when it wishes to acquire stock or shares in a privately owned company. Therefore, the Agency will be able to take over control of companies without any restriction, and without even the agreement of the board of directors. This is what my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy described as "a battery of powers to extend public ownership".

The Bill puts £100 million initially, or possibly £150 million by order of the Secretary of State, at the Agency's disposal. Certainly I am not quarrelling with the amount of money at the moment; our quarrel with the Government is that there is no Parliamentary control at all over the expenditure of this money by the Agency. It can buy its way into profitable private industry, or it can set up its own individual enterprises in direct competition with existing companies in the private sector. It is said that competition between the Agency's companies and privately-owned companies will be fair. I must say I rather doubt it. The Agency will be able to set up and equip a new company with modern plant and machinery, which will compete with an established company in a private sector for which the possibility of new investment is desperately difficult at this moment, and which, if it needs new investment, may well also have to go to the Agency for help.

The Agency, as envisaged in the Bill, will inevitably lead to a steady increase in the size of the public sector of industry in Wales, and so far the record of that sector has not been notably successful, to put it mildly. We also deplore the fact that the Bill gives such sweeping powers of control over the Agency to the Secretary of State, without Parliamentary control. Clause 1(7) gives him the power to give directions to the Agency of a general or specific character. Clause 2(2) gives him powers to appoint the chairman, deputy chairman, and all the members of the Board. Clause 2(4) gives him powers to appoint the chief executive of the Board. Clause 15(1) gives him powers to determine the financial duties of the Agency. Clause 10(2) gives him powers to direct the Agency to exercise his powers under the Industry Act 1972. None of these powers is subject to Parliamentary control, other than the fact that they have to be published in the annual report, which could come at least 12 months after they have been exercised. It appears from that that the Agency may well become a puppet of the Secretary of State.

Our worry is that such powers given to the Secretary of State and to the Board, coupled with this inadequate Parliamentary control, could affect the willingness of foreign firms to establish their factories in Wales. At the present moment, Wales is well served with better communications (especially road communications) and is well placed to take full advantage of future opportunities in the European Economic Communities. Moreover, it was of great interest to read in the Ryder Report on British Leyland that the British Leyland plants in South Wales have had an excellent industrial relations record. It would be a tragedy for Wales if this Bill were to deter overseas companies from establishing themselves in Wales, simply from fear of Government interference.

To sum up, the Bill has many faults derived from its parent Industry Bill, but at least it also has some good points. We are quite willing to give it a Second Reading, and indeed we would willingly co-operate with the Government in giving it a speedy passage on to the Statute Book if they would drop some of the more controversial proposals that seem to us to be based more on politics than economics. If not, we shall certainly seek to improve the Bill in Committee.

6.59 p.m.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, I suppose that one had to expect the kind of speech we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. He gave a very little and very carping meed of approbation to this Bill. He mentioned some "incidental advantages", and that was as far as he felt able to go. He then went through a number of criticisms, some of which have been deployed at somewhat greater length by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, on the previous Bill. Really the whole speech, if I may say so, was based on ideological dogmatism rather than on the facts of the Welsh economy as it is at present. At this time of night I do not want to spend too long in arguing against the ecnomic philosophy of the Party opposite. Having represented a Welsh constituency in another place for many years, having been a Minister with some responsibilities in the economic field in Wales, I must say that, although I frankly admit that there are some incidental advantages in the 1972 Act promoted by the Party opposite, they are not in themselves adequate to meet the industrial and economic needs of the Principality at the present time. Of course, we expected criticism of this Bill from the Front Bench opposite, more particularly after the refusal of their Party in another place to allow the Bill to be debated in the Welsh Grand Committee. This, I must say, astonished me. The Party opposite, after all, as I understand it, is not in favour of political devolution to the Principality. Surely the least they should wish to do is to strengthen and sustain the opportunities that we have in Westminster for the discussion of Welsh affairs. Surely the logical line they should have taken was to welcome the opportunity for the Bill to be discussed in another place in the Welsh Grand Committee. But that was not to be, and that is why we, at least, have the chance, which I personally welcome, of discussing it in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, the noble Baroness is being a little unfair. She knows very well that the attitude taken by my friends in another place was that this Bill was of great importance and should not be discussed solely in the Welsh Grand Committee, but on the Floor of the House.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, the noble Lord himself has admitted that the parts of the Bill to which ha and his friends most strongly object are included in another measure which is being discussed in that way. It would mean that these points would have been discussed three times—in the main Bill, on the Scottish Development Agency Bill and on the Welsh Development Agency Bill. Surely the sensible and intelligent thing, from the Parliamentary point of view, would have been to allow the Welsh Bill—I do not presume to speak for Scotland—to go to the Welsh Grand Committee. Apparently, because of the reaction in Wales to this obstruction on the part of Welsh Conservatives in another place, their spokesman last evening made a statement—not in the House and therefore I would be at liberty to quote it—in which he made an offer to the Secretary of State for Wales not unduly to obstruct the Bill, provided that it was emasculated, watered down, bowdlerised, whatever phrase one cares to use, in ways which he suggested. Not surprisingly, the Secretary of State for Wales did not feel able to accept this offer.

I will not weary the House by going into the various conditions which Mr. Edwards, the Member for Pembroke, tried to impose, but I will quote from the leading article which appeared this morning in the Western Mail issued from Thomson House, Cardiff, which is not particularly friendly, as a rule, to the present Administration. It said: Mr. Edwards has previously condemned the present Bill"— that is, the Bill which we are at the moment discussing— as a 'vast extension of Bennery' in Wales. But what he is proposing is exactly that. To take away powers from a Welsh agency is simply to hand hard-won autonomy straight back to Mr. Benn or his successors, and ensure that the agency is just the 'Welsh arm' of the National Enteprise Board. In fact, the agency could boost the Welsh economy without upsetting the private sector as it stands and could give advice, assistance and grant aid without nationalisation. To deny the Welsh people the opportunity to influence at first hand decisions that affect them, and maintain that this is a function which could be carried out from Whitehall, is wholly against our interests. It is in that context that we who have really close connections with the Principality, and who have the interests of the Principality closely at heart would wish to discuss this Bill.

I, for one, should like to make it plain that I very warmly welcome it, both as an earnest of the Government's substantial interest in the Principality and as a vehicle for co-ordinated investment in Welsh industry and development. As I said, I had experience when I was at the Welsh Office, and I know how time-consuming it can be to have to negotiate every development, every initiative, every nursery factory, every advance factory, with other Departments of Government, however helpful they try to be. I would willingly admit that in my experiences they were genuinely willing to be helpful, but naturally those of us who have a synoptic view of the developments in Wales were sometimes apt to have a different opinion and our lines of emphasis were also likely to be somewhat different. Therefore, to my mind, the kind of unified responsibility for which this Bill makes provision, firmly based on the Welsh Office, should prove very much more satisfactory.

I do not wish at this hour to go into the details, not least because they were so very clearly put by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack. I should, however, like to enter one or two caveats, because in the context of what I have said I am sure they will not be misunderstood. I support the Bill, but I think there are certain aspects of it which could be improved. To my mind, it is a very good Bill for the traditional industrial areas of South Wales and North-East Wales. It provides for new industries and the modernisation of older establishments. It makes further provision for the promotion of Wales as an industrial area, which is very important. It still further strengthens the power to clear derelict land. This, I am sure, is the one aspect of the Bill which must be welcomed on all sides. And it makes provision for improving the environment in these industrial areas. But in the more rural parts of Wales it seems to me to sound a much less certain note.

I am particularly concerned with Clause 13 dealing with the environment, because as drafted it really is quite astonishingly open-ended. There seems also, incidentally, to be a misprint in the first line of this clause. I cannot see anything in Clause 1(10) that is relevant to Clause 13. And while we are talking of drafting, I think someone might have had a better sense of style than to begin the Explanatory Memorandum with a sentence which reads: This Bill establishes a Welsh Development Agency which is to be a non-Crown body. There are more elegant ways of expressing that thought.

To revert to my main argument, under Clause 13 the Agency is to have an unconditional duty, after certain consultations, to submit schemes to improve, develop or redevelop the environment in Wales. Earlier, in Clause 1(2)(d), it is stated bluntly that, It shall be the Agency's duty—…. (d) to improve the environment in Wales. Clause 1(3)(j) says that it shall be a function of the Agency, to undertake the development and redevelopment of the environment. In the part of Wales where I live, between the exquisite Dovey Valley and the grandeur of Cader Idris, the last thing we want is for anyone to presume to improve, develop or, still less, redevelop the environment. There is some slate waste which could be treated, but otherwise I believe our universal cry would be, "Kindly leave us alone". This does not mean that I am indifferent to industrial development in the right place in rural areas or to the needs of tourism, the small industries fostered by COSIRA, and so on; but I am extremely dubious about leaving Clause 13 unamended. Clause 7 in the Scottish Bill, which is a parallel clause, seems to me to have been very much more carefully drafted. I hope this is something which we can look at in Committee.

When one considers the economic needs of rural Wales and particularly of mid-Wales, again I am not convinced that the line taken in this Bill is necessarily the wisest one. I have read what the Secretary of State for Wales said in the Welsh Grand Committee on 7th May, when he confirmed his personal commitment to plans to revitalise rural Wales, but we may have to wait quite a long time before these thoughts and plans of the Secretary of State come to fruition. In the present Parliamentary situation he may find it not so easy to obtain further legislation following this Bill and various other measures which will be needed in the interest of the Principality in the next year or two. I do not believe that the advance factories which the Secretary of State announced last week, welcome as they are in mid-Wales, are in themselves the answer to the problem. I am unrepentant in my view that the sensible course at present in mid-Wales is to make use of the Mid-Wales New Town Development Corporation as the most sensible instrument that we have to hand.

We have as well of course the Development Commission, and I join most warmly in the tribute the Secretary of State paid to that body and its present chairman, Mr. Donald Chapman. But it does not have the same overall responsibility for concerted economic and social development which falls to a New Town Corporation. When the Secretary of State finalises his plans we may want to do things differently, but meanwhile I wish very much that the opportunity could be taken in this Bill to extend beyond the confines of Newtown itself the responsibilities of the Mid-Wales New Town Development Corporation. This was always intended but it has never been brought about.

As I read the Bill—and again this is a matter that we wish to discuss in Committee—the new agency would be able to use the New Town Corporation as its agent, but of course an agent acting as an agent cannot perform functions which have not been bestowed on the principal, and the Welsh Development Agency, although it seems to have very considerable scope in some directions, as I read the Bill does not have power to carry out housing or social provision and therefore could not depute these functions, even if it wished to do so, to the New Town Corporation. I therefore wish to give notice that if I can find any way of proposing Amendments to the Bill in the direction I have indicated, I shall certainly attempt to do so.

One of the main aims of the Bill, as I understand it, will be to foster the smaller enterprises which are actually based in Wales, so that we do not have to depend as much as in the past on the subsidiary establishments of the large United Kingdom or multinational firms. If it is carried out successfully, this could be an extremely important outcome of the work of this new Agency. A recent report stated that of the 143 private firms at present in Wales employing more than 500 persons, no fewer than 94 have their headquarters in England. Those of us who know Welsh industry know the disadvantages that this can bring. I am therefore very strongly in favour of a Bill which could help to redress the balance. This, however, I suggest carries with it an obligation on the Government to do something positive and specific to foster industrial research in Wales. It is just mentioned in the Bill, but in very much a throw-away phrase in one of the clauses. But the large United Kingdom firms have their research centres elsewhere. We have not forgotten how ICI shifted its scientists from Pontypool to Harrogate. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Raglan will remember that. If we hope that Welsh-based industry will flourish, then we need far better opportunities in Wales for our Welsh scientists who want to work in the industrial sphere or in ancillary activity.

Finally—I do not want to delay the House because other noble Lords wish to take part in the debate—a word about relationships with other bodies. I was very glad that, in introducing the Bill, my noble and learned friend emphasised the position of the local authorities. That caused a good deal of apprehension when the Bill was first proposed and there were, as the Lord Chancellor said, discussions with the local authority associations. I am glad that he emphasised that anything which the Agency does must be done within the framework of planning. As the Welsh counties are now engaged on formulating their structure plans, one hopes that this Agency will soon be established and will recognise that one of its first co-operative actions should be to study the structure plans which are now being put forward by the Welsh counties. There are, however, several places where I am concerned about the interaction between the local authorities and the new Agency. The most enterprising of the Welsh counties have their own industrial development units for the promotion of their areas as places to which industry might come, and they also offer certain inducements. One hopes, therefore, that there will be the closest co-operation between the new Agency and the local authorities in this sphere.

In Clause 13 concerning the environment, in the Bill as it stands there is an obligation to consult with the local authorities; but, as I understood it, when the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Welsh Office met the Welsh Counties Association he gave them an undertaking that their agreement would be sought That is not the same thing, and I hope that in Committee we will be given some clarification of that. After all, it is the locally elected body which is primarily concerned with the environment in its area and I think that we could have some unfortunate situations if the Agency, with the best will in the world, came in with a scheme and went through the motions of consultation, but did not have to secure the agreement of the local authority.

I am concerned about the position of statutory bodies like the Countryside Commission, National Park Committees, Nature Conservancy Council, and so on. I am not clear whether or not the new Agency will have overriding powers where they are concerned, and I would be glad to be enlightened on that matter at a later stage. I welcome the reference to meeting potential requirements for Celtic Sea oil, or gas exploitation if we find some, but my view is that this is less urgent than we thought it would be a couple of years ago, because I think all the major exploiters are so much committed elsewhere. But the time will no doubt come when we also will have to consider this problem. I am not so happy about an apparently unconditional right of mineral prospecting, including on residential property. We warned off Rio Tinto Zinc, and, personally, I would not find the Welsh Development Agency any more welcome in Coed-y-Brenin than they would have been. But these are relatively minor matters, although they have their importance. Overall, I believe that this is a Bill which has been welcomed in Wales and which should certainly be welcomed and sustained in your Lordships' House.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, I have never failed to take part in a debate in your Lordships' House when the subject concerned my native land. I am reminded of the occasion when David Lloyd George was present at a public meeting on Home Rule. He said, "I believe in Home Rule for Wales, Home Rule for England, Home Rule for Scotland, Home Rule for Ireland." "And Home Rule for Hell", shouted some man from the audience. Very good," said Lloyd George, "I like to see a man standing up for his own country!" That is what I am doing this afternoon, my Lords. I am proud to be a Welshman. Wales is the most beautiful and the most cultured country in the whole world. Our great tourist trade testifies to the country's beauty and, as to its culture, where but in Wales could one hold a National Eisteddfod for a whole week every August to compete in poetry, literature and music? Then, in July, we have the Llangollen International Eisteddfod with representatives of over 30 countries assembled to compete in music and dancing.

However, much of the natural beauty of Wales was lost in the course of the Industrial Revolution. Innumerable coal mines were sunk and slag heaps were erected in their vicinity. This was particularly so in the two Rhondda Valleys in South Wales. The beautiful mountainsides were covered with slagheaps. The destruction of this beautiful scenery prompted the author Richard Llewellyn to write his famous book, How Green was my Valley. Then came the tragedy of Aberfan, as a result of which the National Coal Board was compelled, thanks to my noble and learned friend Lord Edmund-Davies, to remove its slagheaps from very many places and to re-cover the land with green grass. My noble and learned friend should be proud of himself because of what has been accomplished. The transformation has been such as to permit the same author to write another book, called this time, Green, Green is my Valley.

However, my Lords, there is much more to be done. I should therefore like the Bill to become an Act of Parliament if only because of one of its clauses. It establishes a Welsh Development Agency, one of whose functions will be "to improve the environment"—that is, to remove the slagheaps and such monstrosities. What a blessing that will be! At the same time, Wales is suffering from another terrible plague—that of unemployment. I read the other day that no less than 11 per cent. of the workers in Anglesey are unemployed. Anglesey is mainly an agricultural county and there is no help for those people unless some suitable industries are established there. The provisions of the Bill will do just that. The Agency's functions will be to promote Wales as a location for industrial development, to provide finance for industrial undertakings and to establish and carry on industrial undertakings.

Again, unemployment is rampant in South Wales, due to the closing of the coal mines. As I have stated before in this House, I do not mind mines being closed. Speaking as an ex-miner, I regard coal mining as the most uncivilised of occupations, and the coal miners are a brave set of workers. They deserve every penny they receive. However, I am not prepared to see a coal mine shut unless provision is made for alternative employment. The Bill provides the means to do that.

In North Wales, from whence I hail, we are frightened today by the prospect of the closing of Shotton Steelworks, so throwing 10,000 workers on the dole. It is apparent that the chairman of the Board is hell bent on closing the works, despite protest from every direction. If those works close, alternative employment will have to be provided. The danger then will be that most of the new industries allotted to Wales will be concentrated on that one area. The Bill empowers the Secretary of State for Wales to keep the steelworks operational despite the chairman.

Lastly, I should like to point out that today we have empty factory buildings in towns like Blaenau Ffestiniog where the rate of unemployment is very high. That does not make sense. Let us pass the Bill in order to bring new hope to such towns. We have heard a great deal about North Sea Oil, but not so much about Celtic Sea Oil. According to the Bill, the Secretary of State will be able to intervene to meet requirements which can he related directly to exploration in the Celtic Sea and the subsequent exploitation of any resources discovered there.

When the Bill has passed to another place—and I hope, despite what my compatriot, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, I has said, that it will go to the other place unaltered—I am sure the Welsh Members there will give it their most enthusiastic support. It gives me very great pleasure, therefore, to support my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who is probably the first Welsh-speaking Lord Chancellor to occupy the Woolsack, in his effort this afternoon to get this Bill passed in the interests of Cymru—Wales.

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, time is moving on and I shall endeavour not to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes. I also wish to apologise in advance for the fact that I shall be unable to stay until the end of the debate, and I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I leave as soon as I finish speaking. It is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, talking about Welsh subjects, because he waxes lyrical about the land from which both he and I come, and which we both love. He speaks of the countryside, the scenery and the language—he has the advantage of me there because I do not speak it myself. But as he and I know, it was the language spoken in the Garden of Eden.

My Lords, at various times in the past Labour Governments have shown a proclivity for what we might call "omnibus" legislation, and I am afraid that this Bill is no exception. It sets up the Welsh Development Authority with very sweeping powers, not only over industry in Wales, but over matters concerning the environment, to an extent which might well excite comment on the other side of the Iron Curtain. It is based on one of those articles of the Socialist faith which says that a business can be run more efficiently at a distance by an army of civil servants who know little or nothing of the local conditions. It is probably true that industrial development in Wales could be a great deal better co-ordinated than it is now. There are several bodies in existence—such as the Development Corporation for Wales and the Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association; and the new county councils have certain economic development powers.

These bodies all do very good work. But in many instances it is simply a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. However, there is no guarantee that this state of affairs will be ameliorated after the passing of the Bill, because it is hard to see where one is to draw the line between the functions of the National Enterprise Board and the Welsh Development Agency. There seems to be a considerable area—a rather nebulous area—where the functions of these two bodies will overlap. Many businesses in Wales—in fact, I believe two-thirds of industry in Wales—are either branches or subsidiaries of national companies or companies with their headquarters in England or Scotland. Other industries with their parent companies in Wales have branches or subsidiaries in England or in Scotland. It will therefore be very difficult to sort out just what is the responsibility of the National Enterprise Board and what is the responsibility of the Welsh Development Agency. I cannot help feeling that this overlapping of functions and activities will lead to bad organisation which will not achieve its objectives.

One can question the need at all for a separate Welsh Development Agency. Perhaps it is really only a sop to Welsh nationalistic feelings. No matter how much I may sympathise with some of the aspirations of the Welsh Nationalists, I can hardly believe that the efficiency of Welsh industry, and, hence, the prosperity of Wales, will best be served by the setting up of this Development Agency. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack mentioned the beautiful countryside of Wales and, of course, it is beyond compare, with due respect to those noble Lords who come from North of another Border. Like the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, I often think, as I drive down through the South Wales valleys, how beautiful they must once have been, before the hand of man bespoiled them in the name of industrial progress.

A lot of work is now being done to reclaim some of these areas which have been worked out, some of the old pit workings which are now derelict and in ruins, as well as the neglected tips. Much work has been done by local authorities to clear these derelict areas and to make them once more of use to the community. I am sure that the local authorities are now much more aware of the need for this kind of work than they once were. Therefore, I venture to hope that they could be left to carry on with this very good work they are doing without too much direction from above and without someone from Whitehall, or the Welsh Office, breathing down their necks all the time.

My Lords, there is one aspect of the Bill which fills me with concern. This relates to Clause 21, which deals with the powers of entry on to land for the purposes of conducting a survey to see whether there are minerals—or, perhaps, even oil or natural gas—beneath the surface. This clause provides very wide powers, stating that: Any person … may, at any reasonable time, enter upon land…". Subsection (3) states: A person authorised under this section to enter upon any land … shall not demand admission as of right to any land which is occupied unless at least forty-eight hours notice, or in the case of land occupied for residential purposes at least seven days notice, of the intended entry has been given to the occupier. Is 48 hours' notice really sufficient? I should like your Lordships to consider for a minute the circumstances of the average Welsh farmer. His circumstances differ considerably from his counterpart in other parts of the United Kingdom. He is far from being feather-bedded. Most of these farms are small, owner-occupied, and are handed down from father to son. Most of them are under 100 acres. They are run by the farmer almost single-handed, with his wife and, perhaps, if he is lucky, with his son. These Welsh farmers are a very independent breed and they like to carry on as they have done from generation to generation. Among other things, they are very suspicious of authority, sometimes with good reason. One of these small farmers could be suddenly served with a notice stating that a survey is to be carried out on his land the day after tomorrow. Imagine, my Lords, the confusion of mind and the effect of that notice on one of these small farmers. He may be in the middle of lambing or in the middle of harvest. He may be ill or he may be away from the farm. It is not enough warning, nor is it enough time for this unfortunate man to collect his wits and, if necessary, take professional advice.

I do not think that it is in accordance with the principles of natural justice. If the occupier of a residential property can have seven days' notice, why cannot the occupier of land? I hope that this is one of the points in the Bill which will be amended at a later stage. Those, my Lords, are all the comments I wish to make, bearing in mind the previous speeches.

7.39 p.m.


My Lords, at the time the Bill was in draft I learned something of what was going into it, like the proposal for linking the various agencies mentioned by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, which seemed to me to be very sensible. Also I understood that the status vis-à-vis the Welsh Office of Cwmbran New Town, of which I have the honour to be the chairman, was likely to be substantially unaffected, for which I was glad. I thought to leave things there; but then, on reading the Explanatory Memorandum, I discovered that the Bill is much more far-reaching than I had supposed. So I began to read the Bill, and I have to say that after reading the first clause one evening what I read in it—and you may think me a political innocent—kept me awake that night until past the small hours. Before I say why, I should like to make a comment or two on the practical difficulties, as I see them, in the operation of this Agency.

In the debate on the economy last week I remarked upon the wide powers which Ministers and Departments have to intervene in our commercial and industrial life, more or less unchecked. Such powers invite use; and because the political time scale and the industrial time scale are so different, because they come from different worlds, the frequent changes of policy in the shape of political direction which have been imposed on us over the years by all Governments have, I suggest, made a substantial contribution to the ineffectiveness of our industry. I was interested to note from Monday's newspapers that many of the chairmen of nationalised industries have come to much the same conclusion. I am not thinking about weak government, such as Lord Shawcross is reported to have spoken about today; I am talking about very detailed control, uncertain direction and continual changes of policy. This reflects the nature of politics.

I am therefore expressing some scepticism whether this proposed Agency, under Government control as it must be, would make as effective use of public money as it ought; and if ever power of control were given over to the mooted Welsh Assembly, I can see confusion becoming worse confounded, because power to intervene would only too easily conflict with the wider, long-term public accountability of the Agency. This Agency will run into the political problem of a conflict between the short-term and the long-term public accountability in the running of our public agencies, a problem to which, as yet, we as a country have not devised a suitable solution. I am sure that in time one must be found; and if it must be found, it can be found, but only if the problem is studied and, above all, is fully understood by all concerned.

The staff of the Agency will have a further problem, that of remoteness from the areas of which they will have charge. New towns work well, although not all that easily, and mainly I think they work because their efforts are concentrated at one point and their staff is intimately connected and acquainted with the locality. The staff of this Agency will have no such advantage. They may end with the worst of both worlds, being too far away for some purposes and too near for others. Of course, we shall have to see. Those are a couple of practical difficulties.

Nevertheless, it is not that which worries me so much; it is Clause 1(4). If your Lordships read this, as you should, with subsection (13), it briskly and baldly states that the proposed Agency can do anything it likes as long as it is legal. I find that unacceptable. It seems to me also that the philosophy behind subsection (4) of that clause in some way permeates the whole Bill. It jars my senses and all my political sensibilities. And that a Government can ask for and obtain these powers has converted me to something I had not anticipated I should be converted to, which is the belief that we should have a Bill of Rights which would prevent, or at any rate strongly dissuade, Governments from demanding such powers except in the most dire circumstances. If the Bill has a Second Reading I propose to move an Amendment to leave out subsection (4) of Clause 1, which will take the stinging feeling out of subsection (13). The proposed Agency is not going to be a democratic body and, as I have intimated, I do not think it would be effective in its task if it were. But at least we can help by starting it off with a democratic feel and encouraging its executives to be much more sensitive to the rights of citizens than might otherwise be the case. I find it extraordinary also that these very wide powers are being asked for, apparently without provision being made for a public inquiry into any of the Agency's proposals. I do not know what reason is forthcoming for that. I may be wrong, and perhaps my noble friend will tell me when he comes to wind up. Altogether, it seems to me to be in tone a very dictatorial Bill. Its sharpness of tone may reflect the agonising difficulties and pressures to which the Secretary of State is inevitably subjected, and very likely he is glad to off-load some of his responsibilities on to an Agency.

I may add that the unfortunate Secretary of State comes into the category once described to me as being "everything almost and nothing quite". He and his Scottish equivalent are the result of the creation of the post of Secretary for Scotland, who is really a constitutional anomaly belonging to another era, when people's ideas about nation and history, race and separate development were very different from what they are today. Putting that aside, I want strongly to question for several important reasons the wisdom of separately legislating for different areas of what, by any criteria except convention, is a very homogeneous country.

Since the creation of a Secretary for Scotland 90 years ago, Scotland has been separately legislated for to an increasing extent as the Scottish Office has built up. It now employs more people than the Brussels bureaucracy; and they have to be employed to do something. Such a body as that acquires a momentum of its own. It inspires some Bills itself; others are "English" Bills which are given what is judged to be a specifically Scottish gloss, with multiple cross-referencing against the English Bill to prove it. All Parliamentarians know that Scottish business is the signal for the Chamber—and especially the Chamber of the other place—to empty of people who do not come from Scotland. It should surprise nobody, therefore, that there has been a steady alienation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom, that there is a legitimate grievance among people in Scotland that they feel neglected by Westminster, and an increasing impression that this is the English Parliament—which is what the Nationalists call it. In other words, for many years Governments have been encouraging the very outlook and attitude which they would now like to diminish.

Since the advent of the Welsh Office in 1964, the same situation has arisen in Wales. The Welsh Office has built up numbers, interposing itself increasingly between Westminster and the people living in Wales, and it has started to issue its own legislation, of which of course this Bill is one example. I strongly urge that we should be clear that every piece of separate legislation loosens the integrity of the United Kingdom. As was put so well, but not greatly heeded then, at the conference of the Labour Party in Wales, "It feeds the pangs of nationalism". Every piece of separate legislation encourages separatist thinking. Again and again, I come across examples of this which have been a matter of great concern to me.

As an example, not only after I was appointed chairman of Cwmbran New Town, the New Towns Association stopped sending me details of their conference because I am Welsh. I wrote to the then Secretary of State, Mr. Peter Thomas, and protested that I was going to be cut off from comrades, from ideas and discussions and from the formation of policy decisions which were going to affect the staff, the town and me. The Secretary of State took the point and I am glad to say I remain a full member of the conference. The other day, when the New Towns Association chairman met the Minister of Planning and Local Government for discussions on a number of important subjects, our Scottish colleagues were not asked. They protested to us in the Association, because many of the discussions were, in the end, going to affect them and they wanted to be in on them. But the Scots had their own New Towns section, so their chairman was not allowed to attend.

The New Towns movement is a British one, not specifically Scots, Welsh or English. We need our Scottish colleagues; we need their help and they need ours. We want their ideas and we enjoy their companionship. But not a bit of it: because of the ridiculous built-in chauvinism of the system we did not get them, nor did they get us. The moral of this tale for me is that if, like the people who have now gained a great measure of control in Wales and Scotland, you wish to be inward-looking and exclusive, you end up by being yourself excluded to the detriment of everyone, especially yourself. The Scottish Conservatives have just woken up to this fact and are urging their Members to make a special effort to see that Scottish interests are continually represented at Westminster. But they have a task of immense and perhaps insuperable difficulty going, as they are against the grain of the system which, over the years, they themselves have encouraged or acquiesced in building up.

In reality exactly the same point applies to Wales and Scotland as to our membership of the EEC—stay in, and come in further if you want to or, in the end, find yourself excluded. As I sit upstairs in one of our EEC harmonisation committees, while we are trying to find common ground in legislation between historic enemies, I often reflect upon what an unhappy situation it is that the very opposite sentiments, quite opposed to what we are trying to achieve in Europe, are still being encouraged in Scotland and Wales by Governments in Westminster, as has been shown here this afternoon. The newly named Labour Party of Wales, which is traditionally more nationalistic than the Conservatives (it is the other way round in Scotland, and this is a very interesting point) has just voted to back this Bill and come out of the EEC. They have voted, in effect, for more nationalism, to be more backward-looking and more inward-looking. I hope that very soon they will change their minds.

I profoundly hope that the referendum vote on 5th June will give a clear decision that we should stay in the EEC, and I pray that somehow it may turn out to be a cathartic turning point, when people in this country will once again look outwards towards the wider world to which by long history and tradition we all belong. Being inevitably a little locally chauvinistic myself, I particularly hope for that result for the sake of the part of the world in which I was born and live. But approving of this Bill runs counter to those sentiments; approving of this Bill is approving a more separate and more exclusive Wales. A number of defects in the Bill can of course be sifted out in the legislative process; yet that it should be brought at all runs against my convictions about the best and wisest policy we as a country should pursue, and I cannot support it.

7.58 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened to the whole of this debate and every speaker has been either a son or daughter, as in the case of the noble Baroness, Lady White, of the Principality. I cannot claim that right. But, after listening to the Lord Chancellor's exposition of this Bill, I think it is only right that a poor Sassenach like me should give the Bill its support. I do so because I have a certain love for the Principality. If you ask me why, I could not explain it. I love its country, its people, its culture and its arts. There is only one thing about the Principality which makes me sad; that is, the scars which have been imposed upon it as a consequence of the coal and steel industries.

I sometimes wonder why I have a great affection for the Principality. I think I can put it down, in the main, to two reasons. Some time ago now—more years than I care to remember—I read a book about wild Wales by a man who wrote many books, such as Bible in Spain and Lavengro. This man was George Borrow and he wrote the book more than 200 years ago. There were no buses then, let alone aeroplanes. He traversed the whole of the country on foot. Something which effected me emotionally was that he had enough wind and courage to climb Plynlimon Fawr. As my Welsh friends will know, Plynlimon Fawr is noted for the source of three rivers, the Severn, the Wye and the Rheidol. What fascinated me about George Borrow was his description of the Principality on reaching the summit of Plynlimon and the source of the Severn. He described how he cupped the water in his hand and drank it. I thought, "This book is worth reading and this country is worth seeing."

As a consequence of the whetting of my appetite by this famous writer, I have travelled from Rhayader in the North to the Rhondda in the South. I remember on one occasion calling at the post office in a small place which is more commonly known as Devil's Bridge. Who should be emerging from that post office but the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor himself. I thought, "This is really a coincidence."

However, the speech of the noble and learned Lord in regard to this Bill so impressed me that I thought your Lordships would neither mind my trespassing on your time nor sparing a few moments to listen to the voice of one who is not a Welshman but who wishes to support this Bill. I thought of the scars that have been inflicted not only can you read about them in The Rape of My Fair Country but you can see them in the industrial parts of Wales. This Bill is an attempt—perhaps the biggest one yet—to do something to improve the environment of those parts of Wales.

I have many friends in the South: they were once part of a large mining community. Perhaps one of my closest friends was the first Secretary for Wales, Mr. James Griffiths. I have seen what has been done over many years so far as the pollution of the environment is concerned. I think that this Bill, and the expenditure of the money to be put at the diposal of the proposed Agency, will he an extremely good measure. It may be that in the not-too-distant future the Rhondda may look as beautiful as Rhayader—who know! I do not altogether share the criticisms levelled at the Bill by my noble friend Lord Raglan. He has certainly given more detailed study to the matter than I have and one would need to look closely at his speech to see whether his criticisms are really justified. We can look at them more closely during further stages of the Bill.

My Lords, I hope I may be pardoned for making these few remarks. I have listened to many Welsh debates, both in the other place and here, over the last 30 years or more, and this is the first time I have put my hesitation on one side and plucked up sufficient courage to participate in a debate concerning the Principality. I wish this Bill every success in its progress through your Lordships' House and the other place. And when it is eventually implemented I hope the results will be, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, said: that it will mean so much not only to the rural parts of Wales but to the industrial parts as well. For my part, I wish this Bill well and hope that it will bring greater prosperity to the Principality which, over the years, has suffered so much because of its mines, its tinplate works and its slate quarries. Indeed, perhaps the slate quarries in Blaenau Ffestiniog have left the biggest scars of all. If something can be done to remove those ugly spots and scars which are there for everybody to see, this Bill will be fully justified. I wish it well.

8.6 p.m.


My Lords, despite the respective national reputations involved when it comes to talking, I am delighted to know that we have been less loquacious than the Scots and, perhaps I might also say, somewhat more in accord.

This debate has concentrated on certain aspects of the proposals in the Bill, for example the Agency's environmental role, its relationships with the Secretary of State and with local authorities, and particularly the extent to which the Agency will have powers in Wales analagous to those of the National Enterprise Board in England. I will try to deal in detail with the questions raised by noble Lords, but before doing so I should like to make some general remarks on the major issues we have been debating. I make no apology, first, for emphasising that this is a Welsh Bill—a Bill for Wales which will lead to the establishment there of a new Agency with power and finance to give a major impetus to Welsh development. I admit to the same feelings about the Principality as the last speaker, my noble friend Lord Taylor.

There has been reference to the Agency's environmental role and, together with my noble friend Lord Maelor, I feel sure that it is right to give as much emphasis to this as to the economic and industrial development tasks which the Agency will also have. It was a particular pleasure to hear what my noble friend Lady White had to say. Both she and the Prince of Wales Environmental Committee, of which she is chairman, are held in very high regard in Wales. She therefore brings to the House a background of experience in these matters which must command attention. I agree with the views she expressed about the Opposition's attitude to debating this Bill in the Welsh Grand Committee in another place. As she said, however, this has given us an opportunity to give a lead to discussion of the Welsh Development Agency proposal: and the noble Baroness herself has contributed positive and helpful comments. She also referred to the development and improvement of the environment in rural Wales, and in particular in the area I know very well, the area of Cader Idris. There will be no question of the Agency developing or improving the environment in many parts of Wales which do not need such development or improvement. They will be left well alone, and the Agency will concentrate on those parts of urban Wales where improvement is required.

I think it would be helpful, in view of the concern which has been expressed about the impact of the Agency's work on local authorities, if I were to explain in more detail how the Agency will operate. Its main role in environmental matters will lie in improving and financing schemes for derelict land clearance. This will in no way affect existing activities of local authorities. In the past the main restraint on local authorities has been finance. Not only will the Agency have the power to make additional finance available for land reclamation schemes, but it will also be able to make grants of up to 100 per cent. of the net cost incurred by local authorities instead of the present 85 per cent.

The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, asked about the position of the Welsh Office Derelict Land Unit in relation to the Agency. The work of the Unit will be transferred to the Agency, and therefore the real contribution which the Derelict Land Unit makes will continue. The noble Lord also asked about the present level of derelict land clearance expenditure. I understand this is about £2,500,000 a year in Wales. My right honourable friend hopes that these arrangements, including the Agency's power itself to carry out land reclamation schemes, will eventually make it possible to double the present rate of derelict land clearance in Wales. This is a measure of the emphasis we are laying on the need to renew the attack on dereliction in Wales. At the same time, the Agency will have the role of preparing and implementing major environmental and redevelopment schemes.

We do not intend to lay down too many hard and fast rules as to what the Agency can do, but one initiative which we believe the Agency will certainly wish to take is that of drawing up proposals for areas into which a comprehensive approach can help to breathe new industrial or commercial life by creating space for new employment. My noble friend Lord Maelor referred specifically to areas of unemployment. I share his very real concern about areas of high unemployment, particularly in the area he knows best, North Wales: and I much welcome his support for the Bill.

Beyond this, the Agency will wish to have an eye to the preservation of the environment. It will be no use clearing land and improving amenities for new industries and the people who work in them if at the same time some new industrial dereliction is being established. There is here a major role for the planners, particularly local authority planners. We had emphasised that there will throughout he full consultation with local authorities. Indeed, the kind of schemes we have in mind will be set up, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor emphasised, in partnership. The Agency is not being placed in any special or privileged position as regards planning. In every instance where planning permission is required this will have to be sought in the normal way from the local planning authority. This will be true for the Agency's operation in rural as well as in urban Wales.

In this respect I would make it clear that the Agency will have a positive role to play in rural Wales, where the problems of depopulation and of lack of the right kind of jobs are to an extent different from those which we know in the Valleys or in the industrial lands of North-East Wales. My noble friend Lady White referred to this matter, and I agree with the views she expressed. They very much reflect the views expressed by my right honourable friend in another place; and that is why we continue to rely on existing organisations there. In rural Wales, for instance, the Agency will work very closely with the Mid-Wales Development Association, the Development Commission and the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas. Each will have its part to play, and a partnership there will be a means of bringing new resources to bear on the problems of rural Wales. At the same time, I should make it clear that this does not prevent there being further and new proposals for rural Wales. The Government remain committed to establishing arrangements appropriate to the needs of the rural areas. But there are constraints on the legislative timetable, and it was thought right to give priority in the present Session of Parliament to an Agency whose work will cover the whole of Wales—although, as I have said, the Agency will have a role to play in rural Wales. If it proves necessary at a later date to introduce further legislation to enhance the development of rural Wales, this will be done.

My noble friend Lord Raglan suggested that the Agency would be remote. This is not so. The Agency will work very closely with local authorities which know intimately the problems of their areas. Although no decision on location has yet been taken, it is clear that the Agency will require a presence in more than one area of Wales. Incidentally, my noble friend Lord Raglan also referred to lack of provision for public inquiries. But provision is made. The Agency, by virtue of Clause 1(13), is subject to any enactment or rule of law. The Agency is not being placed in a privileged position.

I should like to say a word or two about the Agency's promotional role about which I know there has been some discussion and, indeed, uncertainty. The Agency has a responsibility to promote Wales as a location for new industrial and commercial investment. It will have both an executive and a co-ordinating role. Here, again, it will be able to share in the task of promoting Wales with existing organisations, including local authorities which have in recent years quite markedly increased their role in promoting their areas as industrial development locations. The Agency in its work abroad will be able to expand on the excellent work so far done by the Development Corporation for Wales. In particular, I understand it is agreed that the Agency will pay the Exchequer grant to the Corporation to ensure the continuance of its promotional work.

My Lords, I come now to the matter of the relationship between the Agency and the National Enterprise Board, which was raised initially by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. The fact that the Bill does not spell out in any way the relationship is quite deliberate. We have taken the view that it would be wrong to tie down legislation what will essentially have to evolve by way of flexible arrangements and agreement. Working guidelines will be drawn up—albeit they may well be changed in the light of experience—and these will be published in due course so that Parliament, industry and the public can see what the arrangements are. One of the essential raisons d'etre for this Bill is to enable more decisions affecting the Welsh economy and environment to be taken by Welsh people in Wales. This will be done, but clearly one cannot pretend that the Welsh economy and Welsh industry are fully autonomous.

There will inevitably be cases involving straddling of the Border: for example, where an industry has its headquarters in Wales and subsidiaries in England or vice versa. These are situations of the kind where close consultation between the Agency and the National Enterprise Board will be required. Similarly, decisions involving, for example, reorganisation of industries with United Kingdom implications more properly fall to the National Enterprise Board, although the Agency will be consulted about any Welsh industries affected.

The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, criticised the Welsh Development Agency Bill's reflecting the Industry Bill. However, one of the strengths of the Bill is surely that it reflects the Industry Bill but places it in a Welsh context. He also referred to the Agency's power to acquire shares. The Agency will be in precisely the same situation as any privately owned company, with neither more nor less rights. It will comply fully with the spirit and the letter of the Takeover Code. He referred to the Agency's subsidiaries being in a privileged position in relation to private industry. My Lords, this is not so. The emphasis here is on fair competition, which the noble Lord surely welcomes. Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, suggested that there would be insufficient Parliamentary control of the Agency. My Lords, this is not so. My right honourable friend will be directly accountable to Parliament for all the Agency's activities by way of Parliamentary Questions, et cetera.

My noble friend Lord Raglan questioned the powers set out in Clause 1(4). Here again, these require approval of the Secretary of State who is responsible to Parliament. In any case, however, I welcome discussion of this matter at the Committee stage, although I do not share my noble friend's apprehension.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, I should like to take up this point about Clause 1(4). Surely the Secretary of State's approval is required only in the case of "other parts of the United Kingdom". As I read it: The Agency shall have power to do anything in Wales, and, with the approval of the Secretary of State, anything in other parts of the United Kingdom…".


My Lords, that is not how I understand it. As I understand it, the Agency requires the approval of the Secretary of State for its activities in Wales, but the best I can say is that I will write to the noble Lord.

The proposals before us in this Bill offer a unique opportunity to create in Wales a major new institution with real powers. We are speaking of a Development Agency working in Wales, for Wales, and responsible directly to the Secretary of State for Wales. It is a priority to get the Bill enacted and the Agency under way. The aim is to have the Agency established towards the end of the year, and this places the highest premium on ensuring that the Bill is on the Statute Book by the Summer Recess. That is the objective of my right honourable friend. I believe that we in this House should do everything that we can to help to meet that objective.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a committee of the Whole House.