HL Deb 06 May 1976 vol 370 cc650-81

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. The Bill has as its general purpose the promotion of the economic and social wellbeing of the people of rural Wales. Its particular purpose is the welfare of that part of rural Wales—Mid-Wales—which has suffered so severely from rural depopulation in past generations. It seeks to strengthen the economic and social fabric of rural communities in Wales.

We all hold the welfare of the countryside dear, and nowhere is that truer than in Wales. "Cefn gwlad Cymru", being translated "the backbone of Wales", is the description of this part of Wales—its heartland and the source of much of the heritage and inspiration of Wales.

This House has on many occasions debated the particular questions of the countryside—agricultural policy, environmental planning. But we have rarely considered a measure concerned with the development of a rural community as a whole. What are its problems? Rural Wales remains heavily dependent on the primary industries: a fifth of the population is directly engaged in farming and forestry and many others are indirectly dependent on the fortunes of farming.

The conditions for farming in this part of Wales, however, are not easy. The land always looks beautiful but it has only grudgingly yielded a livelihood, sometimes a precarious one, to the hill farmer. Even those small farmers in the vales and valleys, with their limited resources, have faced great difficulties in contending with rapid advances in farming techniques like dairying, and with the pressures of the market.

Inevitably successive generations of the young and active have moved out of the area, because the outlets for the young there are so limited, even when the economic situation is buoyant. Increasingly it is the elderly who keep the welcome for their children and their families when they come home again to Wales. And it is becoming more difficult to maintain basic services both in the towns and in the countryside. The House will be familiar with the very serious problems of providing public transport in rural areas. This itself is an indication of the way in which rural communities are under attack.

Attempts have of course been made in the past to deal with these problems, but they have been piecemeal. The local authorities have done their best to provide services for populations that are thinly scattered over a wide area, and to meet the rising expectations of the people. Particularly significant has been the will of local councils to encourage industrial development in Mid-Wales through their own association, the Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association. And while reorganisation has reduced the number of local authorities, it has not, alas! reduced the problems that they face.

The Development Commission under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Northfield—and before that of Lady Albemarle—in recent years has devoted its resources increasingly to the problems of areas like Mid-Wales, commissioning over twenty advance factories, developing small factories as an encouragement to small local industries and crafts and encouraging the building of houses in advance to meet the requirements of incoming workers and their families. The many hundreds of persons employed in such factories will remain a lasting tribute to the work of the Commissioners in Wales, and it is in some ways a matter of regret that our proposals will bring to an end the association of the Commission with Wales, which has dated back to the days when Lloyd George was Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas (CoSIRA) has, under the aegis of the Development Commission, extended its assistance for the local craftsman and manufacturer, provided technical and managerial assistance and backed its advice with money—to the extent of £1 million currently on loan to small industries, including tourist ventures in Mid-Wales. This is apart from the considerable help given by the Wales Tourist Board.

The Government themselves have given a great deal of assistance to the area. They have not just read the reports on rural Wales—and there has been no lack of these. In 1966, development area status was granted to large areas including the whole of rural Wales, enabling the financing of advance factory building in the area and the provision of grants and selective assistance, where appropriate, to qualifying industrial concerns. A year later the Mid-Wales Development Corporation was established following a consultant's report on the feasibility of a new town in Mid-Wales commissioned by the first Secretary of State for Wales, my old friend—indeed the friend of many of us—the late Jim Griffiths. No one who has been to Newtown can fail to be impressed by the contribution that the corporation has made in changing the face of what was a declining town. The corporation has built over 40 factories. Over 800 new jobs have been created. The population of the town has grown from 5,000 to 7,000. Few realised the significance to Mid-Wales of that act of faith and the wise decision taken by Jim Griffiths' successor, my right honourable friend Cledwyn Hughes, to use the machinery of the New Towns Corporation to combat the weakness of a debilitated rural area.

However successful each of these individual initiatives has been, criticism has repeatedly been made about the absence of a comprehensive approach to the problems of the area, the absence of a body that can give direction and force to all those activities aimed at improving the economic and social wellbeing of the area along the lines of the Highlands and Islands Board, which has brought such advantage to the remoter parts of Scotland.

The basic purpose of the Bill now before the House is to establish the Development Board for Rural Wales in order to promote the economic and social wellbeing of the area for which it is to be responsible. It will do this by assuming direct responsibility for functions undertaken by some of the bodies I have already mentioned. In its area the Board will take over the work of the Mid-Wales Development Corporation and the Development Commission. The work of CoSIRA in Wales will be taken over by the Welsh Development Agency and the Wales Tourist Board. Far from adding to the number of bodies in Wales—and one must bear in mind that Parkinson's law can also operate in regard to the proliferation of public bodies—the proposals which are now before the House will reduce the number of bodies operating in the Principality,

By bringing these functions together the Board will, we think, be more effective in taking action to meet the needs of the area. It will provide a focus for the activities of other bodies that will remain. I can do no better than quote from Clause 1 the general function of the Board, which is to prepare, concert, promote, support and undertake measures for the economic and social development of the area for which it is responsible and in particular for the development of any …new town situated within the area for which it is responsible. The Government's proposals were set out in a Consultative Document which was circulated earlier this year to the bodies with an interest in the area, and we have been encouraged by the response to that document. There have of course been a number of points of difference to which I will shortly refer, but none of those consulted has cast any doubt on the need for a strengthening of the measures to support and to assist rural Wales. Questions have been asked about the relationship of the Board with the Welsh Assembly, when that comes to be established. I may say that the intention of the Government is that the Board at that time will be appointed by, and accountable to, the Welsh Assembly.

My Lords, I now turn to the relations between the Board and the Welsh Development Agency. Some would have preferred the Board to be an arm of the Welsh Development Agency. It is true that the Board will be taking over from the Agency responsibility for advance factory building, but the Board will also have powers not available to the Agency to improve the infrastructure of the area. In the case of Newtown, for example, the Development Corporation found that before expansion could take place a new sewage works was required. Local authorities and statutory undertakers have of course done their best within their resources to deal with these problems. The Board will supplement their efforts in areas of particular difficulty and the powers that are to be given form an integral part of the policy for combating the decline of rural areas. Of course, the Board will co-operate closely with the Agency. To that end, the Government are proposing to add to the membership of the Agency the chairman of the Development Board for Rural Wales. The role of the Agency will be enhanced also by the proposals for it to take over CoSIRA responsibility for giving assistance to small industries in rural Wales. The Parliamentary Secretary on behalf of my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Wales has met the chairman of the Welsh Development Agency and discussed with him practical ways in which the work of the Agency and of the Board will be co-ordinated.

Some have pressed that the functions of the Board should extend to the agricultural industry, to forestry and to fishing, although none has been very explicit on what powers the Board should have in this field. Responsibility for agricultural support must, we believe, remain a responsibility of central Government. Farmers in other parts of Wales, and for that matter the country as a whole, who face similar difficult conditions, would not thank the Government if the accident of being on the Board side of the boundary gave their neighbours financial advantages which were not also available to them. Decisions on agricultural support have also to be made within the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy and the EEC Rules on national aid. This is not to say that the Board would not be deeply concerned with the fortunes of the primary industries of the area. The fortunes of the farming community will have a direct bearing on the problems the Board has to face, but we must look elsewhere than to the primary industries of the area for a solution to the problems of depopulation and for the development of the country towns of the area.

My Lords, in the course of the consultations that have taken place, there have been meetings with many other organisations, including the local authorities and the Land Authority for Wales, of which my noble friend Lady White will be aware. I am glad to say that these exchanges of views proved of great value in explaining to the authorities concerned the intentions of the Government, and in enabling the present proposals to be framed as far as possible to accord with the views that were put forward.

Some would have wished the Board to have extended its boundaries. It is never easy to draw boundaries, but the Government believe it is right to make a start with the area which corresponds with that of the Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association. The Secretary of State for Wales, however, will have the power to vary the area in the light of experience. As we say in Wales, "Deuparth gwaith yw ei ddechreu", which, translated, means, "a task begun two-thirds done".

The value of concentrating resources on selected areas is most clearly demonstrated by the success of the mid-Wales Development Corporation at Newtown, whose functions are now to be taken over by the Board. The powers of the Board are drafted in wide terms to encompass the powers of a new town development corporation, and its general function makes it clear that the Board is to have special regard for the development of any new towns designated within its area. Indeed, Schedule 3 to the Bill deals with the application to the Development Board of many of the provisions contained in the New Towns Act 1965.

The Bill opens up new ground in another direction—the power that has been given to the Board to undertake or to give financial assistance to local and other authorities in the undertaking of projects to improve the infrastructure of the area. The availability of resources may limit the use that can be made of this power, but it is thought right to make provision for the Board to be able to do it. There may be key infrastructure projects in need of financing on which further development in a particular area may indeed depend, and in circumstances like these the Board will be able to perform a pump-priming role which will lead to further developments.

The size of the membership of the Board reflects the wide functions which I have described. It will have not less than 11 and not more than 13 members, including the chairman and vice-chairman. In accordance with the provisions of Schedule 1, the members will be appointed by my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State, but 5 members will be appointed after consultation with local authority organisations in Wales.

My Lords, if I may now turn to the main provisions of the Bill, it gives the Development Board for Rural Wales the powers, including housing powers, that are already available to the Mid-Wales Development Corporation established under the New Towns Act 1965. In the light of the recommendations of the Renton Committee on the Preparation of Legislation against legislation by reference it has been thought necessary to re-enact in the Bill many of the provisions of the 1965 Act and also the housing subsidy provisions of the Housing Rents and Subsidies Act 1975. But the price that has had to be paid for carrying out that recommendation is, I fear, the unhappy length of Schedules 3 and 5. I can only hope it will prove to be a price worth paying. As to the main provisions of the Bill, I have already spoken about the general function of the Board, its composition and its area, matters which are dealt with in Clause 1 and the associated Schedule 1.

Clause 2 describes the duties of the Board and provides for consultation with local planning authorities in the formulation of proposals that it makes and submits to the Secretary of State for approval. The Board must report to the Secretary of State at the end of each accounting year, and this report will be laid before each House. Provision is made for it to discharge the function of new town development within any designated new towns in its area instead of a Development Corporation. Under those provisions, the Secretary of State in due course will be making an order for the dissolution of the Mid-Wales Development Corporation and the transfer of its property, rights, liabilities and obligations to the Board.

Clause 3 describes the general powers of the Board which I have already indicated, and which are widely drawn. They allow the Board to provide finance for the provision of services for any land, to improve the infrastructure of the area to which I have already alluded. The Board can also assist financially any social development in its area. The clause also enables the Board to act for the Welsh Development Agency with regard to the functions of CoSIRA that the Agency will be assuming. Under the devolution proposals of the Government, industrial assistance functions of the Agency will remain reserved to central Government. Policy guidelines, to which the Board and the Agency will work, will clarify the position in more detail.

Clause 4 and Schedule 3 make provisions corresponding with the New Towns Act 1965 for the development of any new town within the Board's area. Clause 5 defines the power of the Board to acquire land as a power to acquire land by agreement or by compulsory purchase. Compulsory purchase of land required for new town development will be in accordance with Part III of the new towns code contained in Schedule 3. This repeats the procedural provisions of Schedule 3 to the New Towns Act 1965. Compulsory purchase of any other land will be in accordance with the standard procedure contained in the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act 1946.

Part II of the Land Compensation Act 1961, which contains provisions determining the amount of compensation payable in respect of any compulsory acquisition, will apply to the compulsory purchase of any land by the Board, so there is nothing new or sinister in this field.

Clauses 7 to 11 provide for the financial regime of the Board. Clause 10 lays down a limit in respect of public money available to the Board of £25 million, which can be raised to £40 million by order. The paragraph on the financial effects of the Bill indicates that the Board will finance the ongoing programmes transferred from the Mid-Wales Development Corporation and from the Welsh Development Agency, who are at present undertaking work on behalf of the Development Commission. The sums provided under this Bill will not involve additions to public expenditure but will be made available by means of transfers from provision already made.

The housing functions of the Board are covered by Clauses 16 to 20. Provision is made for a housing subsidy and a rent rebate subsidy based on the provisions of the Housing Rents and Subsidies Act 1975, and the rent rebate scheme contained in the Housing Finance Act 1972 is extended to the Board. This has the effect of placing the housing finances of the Board on a similar footing to that of development corporations generally. The Government propose that the Board's powers to build houses should extend throughout its area and that small housing developments should be built by the Board in association with the advance factory programme to provide housing for incoming key workers.

Clause 21 makes consequential provisions relating to the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975. Clause 22 provides for the transfer of industrial property from the Board to the Agency. The intention is to stage the transfer so that there shall be no disruption to the work of the Agency or to the services provided to tenants of the factories. I should like to emphasise here that tenants of any factories transferred will enjoy the same rights and benefits and be subject to the same obligations as is presently the case in their relationship with the Agency.

As to the power given to the Secretary of State by Clause 24 to give financial assistance to bodies contributing to the social development of Wales, that power will be used to continue the support presently being given to certain bodies in Wales such as the Council of Social Service for Wales and the Rural Community Councils at present assisted by the Development Commission.

Before I sit down I should like to refer to the impact of the Bill on the staffs of the affected bodies. So far as it is possible to give statutory protecton to staffs directly affected, that protection is contained in the Bill—I refer to the protection given to members of the staff of dissolved development corporations contained in Schedule 2 and provisions in Schedule 6 relating to staff of the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas employed wholly or mainly on the discharge of the Council's functions in Wales. We are in close consultation with the organisations representing these staffs and also the staffs of other bodies, including the Welsh Development Agency and the Cwmbran Development Corporation, which are indirectly affected. I can give an assurance to all staffs that full consideration is being given to the protection of their interests in the transitional period during which functions on which they are engaged are affected by the provisions of the Bill.

It is also right that I should pay tribute to the work of the members of the bodies who over the years have unstintingly served the best interests of rural Wales and which will, once the Board takes over their functions, no longer be active there. I would particularly refer to the Development Commissioners and the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas. We hope that their interest in Wales will continue. We look forward to a partnership between their activities in England and that of the bodies in Wales. I would also refer to the Mid-Wales Development Corporation which is to be dissolved. Its work will form a secure foundation for the future work of the Board.

As I have said, the Board's purpose is to promote the economic and social wellbeing of the people of rural Wales and in particular those parts of rural Wales which have been badly affected by the scourge of depopulation. The Board is being given wide powers which the Government know it will use in the most practical way to further the wellbeing of the inhabitants of Cefn gwlad Cymru. Among these areas are some of the most Welsh-speaking areas of the Principality.

As Lloyd George said on one occasion, we must avoid taking a season ticket on the line of least resistance. The Board will be concentrating mainly on physical measures to improve the wellbeing of the area but this is only part of its task. Of equal if not greater importance is the opportunity that it is given to rejuvenate a large area of Wales which has made and can make a very considerable contribution to the culture of Wales, and indeed of the United Kingdom. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(The Lord Chancellor.)

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, at the outset of my comments on this Bill I must apologise in advance for a discourtesy which your Lordships' assiduous attention to the provisions of the Bail Bill, proper as they were, has forced me to commit. In order to catch the last possible aeroplane to attend a conference in Oslo, I shall be forced to leave this Chamber almost the moment I sit down. I regard this as most regrettable. I assure your Lordships that I shall read with the greatest attention the report in Hansard of the debate which follows. I hope your Lordships will accept that this is inevitable.

The object of the Bill before us is to preserve the cultural and environmental heritage of rural Wales by underpinning it with a sound economic infrastructure, and that is an object which we on this side of the House—indeed I would have thought all Members of this Chamber—find unexceptionable. The symptoms of the decline which this Bill is intended to meet—and how far it meets it is a matter for another consideration—are aptly summarised in paragraph 1(11) of the Welsh Council's Mid-Wales Report of 1973: depopulation associated with a marginal agricultural industry requiring fewer men: remoteness from the main industrial and population centres of the country, which inhibits the development of manufacturing industry: a thinly scattered population, which makes it expensive to provide community services; limited career opportunities for young people, especially the better educated, and a relatively low level of earned income. One effect of these circumstances is, of course, a gradually ageing population, and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack alluded to this. While there are signs that that process has to some extent been halted by the new town and growth town policies, it is still true to say that the employment pattern in the area of the proposed Board is bound to include a high service component because of geographic as well as demographic circumstances.

Let us look at the Bill, therefore, to see how it proposes to attack the ills which we all want to see cured and whether or not its proposals are sound. It sets up the Development Board for Rural Wales. This is not the first body entrusted with all or part of these tasks which have hitherto, in the noble and learned Lord's words, been administered piecemeal. Your Lordships recently assisted at the birth of the Welsh Development Agency, and may indeed be wondering, as am I, why a few judicious Amendments to the powers of that body were not chosen as the means of salvation rather than an Act of 32 clauses and 7 Schedules comprising a document more than double the length of the Welsh Development Agency Act. While I accept entirely the praiseworthy Government commitment to put into effect the recommendations of the Renton Committee, I feel that even these do not entirely account for the volume of this document before us.

There are areas in which the Board will duplicate the functions of the Agency and others where it will act as an agency of the Agency. One wonders at the outset whether this Bill is not a product of the predilection of the Party opposite for government as opposed to governing, or, as one might say, their gambler's instinct that if you shuffle a pack of civil servants you will somehow be able to deal yourself a better hand.

Let us look first at the area. The noble and learned Lord has given a reason for its curtailment into a chunk in the centre of the country which does not comprise the whole of rural Wales. They thought it better, he said, to have an area coinciding with that administered by the Mid-Wales Industrial Development Agency. It does not seem to me that this is necessarily a logical step. If one has faith in the organisation it could cover the whole area; if one has not it would be better not to start at all. However, I will not cavil at this, but I see that the Secretary of State has power to extend by order the area to be administered by the Board, and we shall find it imperative that prior to doing so he should be required to consult the local authorities, particularly in the area which it is intended to take under his wing.

The functions of the Board are, indeed, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said, widely drawn. Indeed, taken together they are drawn so very wide that one is left for some time rather in the dark as to what exactly the WDA is going to finish up doing. We are all aware of—and on this side of the House sympathetic with—the objection clearly expressed in 1968 of the agricultural communities in the area to direct intervention, or competition, in their field from the new statutory body; and the noble and learned Lord advanced other and cogent arguments why they should be excluded. None the less, agriculture is by far the largest industry in the area, and the philosophy of the Bill must therefore be to strengthen the economic infrastructure in order to maintain a healthy community, which is, of necessity, principally an agricultural one.

In spite of the indications in the Consultative Document we are disturbed to note that the width, or indeed the looseness, of the terms in which some of the clauses to which I have referred, and to which the noble and learned Lord has referred, are drawn leaves it open to Her Majesty's Government, at a later date, to change their tune and to undertake either the purchase or management of agricultural concerns. If the Government have no such intention they will not resist the Amendments which we shall be tabling to remove this option from them.

It is also disturbing that they might be used to institute undertakings in competition with private businesses, and we should like clear undertakings from Her Majesty's Government as to their intention in this respect. A great deal of the legislation contained in the Bill relates to its assumption of the functions of the Newtown Development Corporation. We shall want to hear convincing reasons for adopting this method of co-ordinating the different aspirations of the rural and urban areas. The effect is not to reduce the number of statutory bodies in this instance at all. Though I accept that the Bill reduces the total of the statutory bodies, it merely shuffles them in this case. Indeed, I have the clear impression that Her Majesty's Government intend that it should be largely the same personnel, sitting at the same desks, in the same offices, who will be running the new organisation, if, as I believe, it is intended to have the headquarters in Newtown, where the Corporation has its corporate existence. I am not sure that Newtown, sitting on the edge of the area well within the magnetic field of the West Midlands, is indeed the proper place for such an institution. We ought in Committee at least to consider alternatives.

The DBRW will also handle, it is suggested in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, largely the same funds as the old Corporation. This has been repeated by the noble and learned Lord, but it is nowhere apparent in the Bill, and we should like to be told, first of all, from which votes these funds will be drawn, since it will not only be from the two funds to which the noble and learned Lord alluded, and where they figured in the public expenditure White Paper. We should like to know whether they take into account funds available from FEOGA, or other EEC sources.

The noble and learned Lord said something about the way in which applications for European resources would be made and handled vis-à-vis the DBRW, the WDA, and the Welsh Office. I was not able to follow him closely. I shall read the Report with interest. I think this may need a certain expansion at a later stage. Where there is competition for funds, as I fear there must be eventually between the WDA and the DBRW, to which body will the Minister, one would like to know, give preference? Does the budget figure of £25 million to £40 million include the old Mid-Wales Development Corporation Budget, and, if so, to how great a sum? What are the other available funds referred to in the Consultative Document in paragraph 21? Finally on this head, it would be interesting to know what the staff costs of the Board would be, and how they will compare with the combined staff costs of the bodies whose functions this Board is to take over. One would expect no variation.

Under the heading of housing we note the provisions for housing subsidies and would like a little more clarification of the finance of these. The normal procedure, I understand, is a 75 per cent. Exchequer grant and 25 per cent. from the rates. There does not appear to be provision for the latter element to be provided for under the Bill. I am sure that the general public in the area affected will have any uneasiness allayed if it is made clear that there is no intention to surcharge the rates. There is provision, which we note, to house key workers. While we have already applauded the exclusion of agriculture from the Bill, we should remember that it is a predominantly agricultural community we are seeking to preserve, and we should like to consider the case for treating agricultural workers as key workers in this context.

The provision of the clauses dealing with new towns and housing will require closer study than yet given. I should like at this stage to express my thanks for the co-operation from the Welsh Office in elucidating what could otherwise be a very difficult exercise of comparison, which will reduce the length of time that this will take. But there is provision—and the noble and learned Lord referred to it—for the creation of further new towns as opposed to growth towns. Your Lordships will recall that the Welsh Council 1973 Report said in paragraph 112: A more urban form of settlement in mid-Wales would necessarily mean some change in the way of life in the area, and the distinctively Welsh culture, which has its roots in the rural countryside, would almost certainly be further eroded. This is precisely what we wish to avoid. Therefore the Government must think very carefully before they commit themselves even in principle to further new towns as opposed to an extension of the principle which has worked with some effect to date of growth towns.

We would expect Her Majesty's Government to be explicit on this point at Committee stage, particularly since the second most important industry is likely to be, and to remain, tourism. To change the distinctively Welsh culture would very likely be to ruin the trade. Tourists do not come to visit thriving manufacturing towns, however ideally they may be planned—and I am sure they would be; they come to visit the hamlets and the mountains. In this context we are encouraged to see the effects of the hotel development scheme in terms of extra accommodation, but disturbed that the uptake of places available in the August peak of 1974 was only 75 per cent. I was also disturbed to note that only 23 per cent. of hotel bedrooms have private bathrooms which, in this day and age, is beginning to make it look anachronistic to a point beyond the uncomfortable. We should aim at providing for the tourist not too well. We do not want a stampede of tourists, whether British or foreign, choking every alley and layby so that you get cries of distress, as from the Lake District. But, at the same time, those who come should be comfortably accommodated in conditions sufficiently attractive to recommend them to their friends in following seasons.

This Bill provides a thread through a plethora of bodies swarming already over this small and infinitely beautiful area of mountains and valleys. Some of them will be subsumed into the Board, and we welcome the undertakings about the servants of the subsumed bodies and also the continuation of the security of tenure of the tenants of factories, but how will the various bodies which survive relate to each other? We must return to this at the Committee stage, particularly to the interesting relationship with the Welsh Development Agency, and, secondly, with the local planning bodies from which, beyond the ability to consult with the Board, it would appear that there is a danger that the responsibility for the strategic plan will be snatched. Is this the case? We should like to know. Is it intentional, in that case, and is it sensible? And what is to constitute the close working relationship with the Land Authority for Wales referred to in paragraph 18 of the Consultative Document? This phrase is not sufficiently precise to act as a guideline to the people involved in the relationship when it has to be built.

Industry in rural Wales is the underpinning structure; it keeps the population there. I wonder whether Her Majesty's Government realise the enormous preponderance of small and indeed of privately-owned enterprises in the area; in Cardigan, 30 per cent. are self-employed, and in Montgomery, 20 per cent. Is not the real danger, the real damage, the real cause of depopulation due to the Government's savage attack on private enterprise, on the self-employed? Could not a much greater benefit come from a reversal of this policy in its very many manifestations —from taxation to insurance stamps—than from any re-elaboration of administrative procedures and bodies such as is here proposed?

The Government, in their present hands, have never liked small businesses, but Wales is populated with small businesses. Of the 170 principal private employers in the Mid-Wales area, none has over 1,000 employees, only two have over 500, two more have above 250 and 151 of them, the vast majority, have under 100 employees, and they are not all farmers. This is part of the basic character of the area which the Bill seeks to preserve and I am suggesting that there are areas outside that of the Bill itself in which this could be done with a greater and more speedy effect. Indeed, in Powys I note that 69 per cent. of all factories employ ten or fewer people—of all factories, so this is not agriculture. Talking of factories, and of advance factories to which the noble and learned Lord adverted, we would welcome some confirmatory figures on advance factories. I should like to know whether I am right in thinking that there are six of them now empty out of a total of 38; the noble and learned Lord referred to a larger total, which makes me think that my figures may be wrong. One would like to know what was the cost respectively of those that are tenanted and those that are not.

Attempting to reach a rapid conclusion, I turn briefly to the constitution of the Board, a subject on which the noble and learned Lord dilated. We feel that although the Board will not in principle be responsible for agricultural functions, none the less it will have the fundamental aim of supporting an agricultural community and it would be sensible to have one member representative of the farmers' organisation of Wales. As we live in an age when people are increasingly aware of, and indeed frustrated by, the impact of Government upon them, we feel that the principles set out by the Government in their enthusiasm for participation should be reflected in the inclusion of a member of the Trade Union Council in its Welsh manifestation and that, as a corollary to that, it would be sensible to look at a member of the employers' body as well.

Regarding the five local authority recommendations—I do not have the wording of the Bill in this respect at my fingertips—as I recall, the Secretary of State is not specifically required to consult the local authorities themselves; I think there is an allusion to bodies which he considers represent them and we wonder whether this is not too loosely drafted.

Let this be a Welsh body, not a Westminster body. Let it be truly representative of the interests which it is intended to serve. Let its composition—if the Government persist in the folly of devolution in Wales; and we were glad to hear that this is the Government's intention—be handed to the Welsh Assembly when it comes into being. Let it be Welsh but let it be representative, let it have powers and resources clearlyallocated, properly circumscribed and properly protected. Let its aim be the protection of this unspoilt and justly famous Eden of the British Isles; let it try to forget that its aims could as well have been achieved by the formation of a sub-committee of the Welsh Development Agency, and let it take practical steps to preserve and improve the opportunities already open for the hardy, thrifty, ingenious and independent inhabitants of what I have learned from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to call Wlad y Gan or, as I would say, the Land of Song, of which it is the backbone. If we do not make this possible for them—and to do so will need, I regret, a good deal of revision of parts of the Bill—they, the inhabitants, will have nothing by which to remember it but another nameplate rusting on another door.

5.15 p.m.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, unfortunately for me and your Lordships, my noble friend Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran is only just back from a visit abroad and feels himself unable to participate in this debate. I do not have anything like his knowledge of the area concerned and of its problems, although I am not unacquainted with it and I know something about it. I am glad to say that in later stages of the Bill your Lordships will be able to have the help of my noble friend's special knowledge of the area.

It is true that the sparsely populated area of Mid-Wales, which initially is to be the area to which the Bill applies, has been recognised for many years as one of the least prosperous parts of the United Kingdom. It stands, or it should stand, as a constant reminder to us all of the need for devolution so as to bring effective government nearer to the people. But meantime, as things are, it is right that central Government should make special provision to help the weaker regions and areas of the country, and the Party for which I speak today has for long advocated the establishment of a Rural Development Board for Wales to bring much-needed industry into the small towns of Mid-Wales, and in a general way we must, therefore, welcome the proposal which is now before us. We may have some criticisms to make, some of which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned.

It seems to me that one of the greatest problems of this area is the lack of adequate communications, and although no doubt the new Board will be able to make recommendations in this sense, I would suggest to the Government that this is so clearly to be recognised that it is really not necessary to wait until the Board has been set up to put in hand works which we know take a very long time—road construction, for example—to improve the road communications in Central Wales, both from the East, from England, and joining the North and South together. I hope that we may also have an assurance that the two remaining rail links in Mid-Wales will be left where they are. Unless this is done, all the efforts of the new Board to attract industry into the area will, I am afraid, prove disappointing.

Coming to the Bill, I wonder whether it is wise to have this body, which in many of its activities will require the approval or consent of the Secretary of State, to be wholly nominated by him, as is proposed in Schedule 1. We have heard many criticisms, not least I fancy from the Party opposite, for example of the unrepresentative character of the new water authorities. Are we not in danger of making the same mistake again? I recognise, as has been said, that five of the 11 or 13 members are to be appointed after consultation with organisations representative of local authorities in Wales.

Is this really good enough? I readily agree that the Secretary of State should be allowed to nominate some members who might be able to bring to the Board experience and knowledge which might otherwise be missed. I should have thought it more in accordance with the political philosophy of progressive Parties if a majority of members were directly elected by the voters in the area under some system of proportional representation, or at least nominated by the local authorities concerned. It seems to be essential that the Board should work closely and amicably with the local authorities and I feel that this would be helped by making the structure of the Board more democratic. Nor must we forget the possibility that at any time the political outlook of the local authorities might be different from that of the Secretary of State.

As regards the functions of the Board, I have not had much opportunity to study the Bill in depth or to consult people outside. This may explain why I was very puzzled by the apparently heavy emphasis of the Bill on the new town procedure. I am aware of the new town at Newtown to which the noble and learned Lord referred, but I take it that there will be no further development of new towns until the Board has been established and has recommended for or against such a project. My personal feeling is rather the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Elton; it is that the new town concept is not really in place in Mid-Wales. The new towns in England were conceived as a method of dealing with the dispersal of industry and population from overcrowded urban areas. This is certainly not the position in Mid-Wales. I should have thought it much better to bring industry to existing small towns, making those towns a little larger, rather than depopulating them still further by establishing industrial centres elsewhere.

Another point perhaps worth considering is that industrial development may—in fact, it is thought that it inevitably will—involve bringing in people from outside the area at the outset because of lack of industrial experience in the local population. A dozen or so persons in each of several small towns will create no problem at all, but if a concentration of industrial development takes place and it is necessary to bring in hundreds of "immigrants"—if I may so describe them—it is conceivable that that might lead to some tension between the natives and the immigrants.

I had intended to say a few words about compulsory purchase, but I do not know that that is really necessary and I do not want to detain your Lordships. It seems to me that compulsory purchase powers are quite necessary for use as a last resort because the Board could easily be frustrated in carrying out its functions if it had not this power in the background. To me, having very little knowledge of the subject, the safeguards seem adequate, particularly if the word "enabling" in Clause 5(1) means what I think it does. As I read it, "enabling", rather than, say, "facilitating", means that, before applying for the compulsory powers, the Board would have to show that it could not discharge its functions without acquiring the land in question. However, if I am right, it seems unnecessary to apply the same criterion to the acquisition of land by agreement. We can no doubt consider this point in Committee, but I thought that I should put it to the noble and learned Lord now so that he can consider it before the Committee stage.

I had also intended to ask a question about Clause 24, which seems to have slipped into the Bill, for it extends beyond rural and Mid-Wales. I am sure that there were good reasons for tucking it into the Bill, but I was not at all clear what was in mind or what was meant in this context by the words "social development". The noble and learned Lord has explained that now, though I am still mystified by the reference in the Financial Memorandum which seems to imply that the Secretary of State's expenditure under Clause 24 will not be an additional burden on public funds because it will be transferred from provisions already made. I believe that we are not supposed to poke our lordly noses into financial provisions, but I find this very difficult to understand. Surely no provision is already made for the future.

Coming back to the main theme of the Bill, I feel sure that, once the Bill gets under way—and the sooner the better— it will do a power of good to Mid-Wales. However, something must first be done about the question of communications; otherwise, I fear that the best endeavours to bring industry to the small towns of the area will be doomed to disappointment. I hope that, when the noble and learned Lord replies, he will be able to give us some assurance that the Government will tackle the issue straight away, without waiting for the Board to be set up, and to make a recommendation to this effect, which it is quite certain that it would do at the first opportunity. We on these Benches, while hoping that some Amendments will be accepted, warmly support the Bill, and we hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to give a guarded welcome to the Bill, rather in the same vein as that of my noble friend Lord Elton, but I have some doubts and reservations which I shall express in a moment. I must confess that, despite my name, my own links with the Principality are somewhat tenuous. My late father was born and bred there, as were his parents before him but, as for me, I visit the place of my birth only rarely. However, I have a great many relatives there and I am vice-president of the Montgomeryshire Society in London, so I believe that I can speak with a modicum of authority.

I said that I gave the Bill only a guarded welcome. While I fully acknowledge the need for new vigour to be injected into the development of the rural areas of Wales, it is only to that extent that I welcome the Bill. I must ask whether the functions and duties which are to be placed upon the new Board which is to be created under the Bill could not equally well have been discharged by one or other of the existing bodies in Wales. I would support the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Elton that the Welsh Development Agency which we are just bringing into being might well have been the most appropriate authority. In recent years, Governments of all persuasions have seen fit to create or destroy authorities at the stroke of a pen. I wonder whether this further example of that process is really justified. I believe that all, or at least most, of the Bill's worthy aims could have been achieved without new legislation. What is needed is more action, both locally and nationally, not more bureaucracy.

I have a specific criticism concerning Clause 13, which relates to the powers of entry to be vested in the Board with respect to the land over which it exercises control or which it may wish to control. I believe that, despite the safeguards, these powers have been drawn too widely and I wonder whether some Amendments ought not be moved in Committee to limit or reduce them to a more reasonable level. I have really nothing more to say except to urge that the Bill should be given a Second Reading and to hope that we shall take a long hard look at it in Committee.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for not having appeared in the Chamber before, particularly in view of the fact that it was the development of rural Wales which was being discussed. As somebody who has lived in many parts of Wales, from Cardigan right down to the South, I cannot understand the niggardly acceptance of the Bill. I accept the need for criticism of certain parts of the Bill but this curmudgeonly acceptance of it is a typical old-fashioned Tory attitude which I thought your Lordships' House had thrown over its shoulder years ago. But here is one of the youngest Members talking like Old Father Time about a Bill that is redolent of a dynamic approach to the problems of rural Wales. A time will come when we shall need a Bill for rural Mercia and rural Wessex when the English get their country divided up as some of them want. I am not particularly interested in any terrific partition of Wales. We do too well in England to divide off too quickly, and we should not know who to play against at rugby if Wales were taken out of the United Kingdom.

Let me pay a tribute to the proposers of the Bill. It is fair to say that all Governments, during and since the war, of whatever political Party, have had concern about the rural parts of the United Kingdom. There are growing problems in the rural areas, due in part to difficulties regarding physical transport. I am reminded of that famous book entitled Future Shock. The problems of physical transport in rural areas cannot be met on the old profit motive basis. It is no longer possible in Scotland, or Wales, or the Midlands, or in rural parts of the United Kingdom, to have a transport system which will pay on the old fashioned method of merely profit. It is not like 30 or 40 years ago when an uncle of mine was the first person in Wales to run a bus. Money rolled into his pockets, the lucky boy. But those days are gone. There is so much private enterprise and private transport, but on the other hand, the old people, and the young who cannot afford cars or other transport in the rural areas fail to get the benefits of development.

All these matters should be looked into in time. I look forward to the Committee stage of the Bill. I swing along with the noble Lord who has just spoken, although he spoke in such condescending terms; the Bill will need changes. I have been speaking for only three minutes and I am not boring your Lordships yet. I notice that a noble Earl meandering around picked out seven or eight of us in the House who are bores, and I am one of them. I have been speaking only three minutes, with the lovely sun shining in on me—


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt him?


Of course I will, with pleasure.


The noble Lord is most kind, my Lords. He did me the honour of referring to my speech specifically. But would he not agree that perhaps the answer for rural Wales is not more bureaucracy, which the Bill provides, but more action? How does the noble Lord think that this Bill will provide more action where others before it have failed?


Of course, my Lords, this point applies not only to Wales but to the whole world. There should be a little less bureaucracy and a little more understanding in the approach to problems, taking in the people. The time is approaching when we ought to look at new concepts of human participation in local decisions—


There are no new concepts there.


Of course there are new concepts there. If noble Lords opposite can generate some new concepts during the Committee stage I am sure that we will applaud them. We have a welsh proverb: Tra bo dwr y mor yn hallt. It means as long as the sea is salt. We are always looking for constructive, intelligent noble Lords on the other side of the House to give dynamic suggestions concerning any Bill. I look forward to constructive suggestions at the Committee stage from the able noble Lord who has just interrupted me.

The truth is that I am speaking right off the cuff, as I have just popped into the Chamber. I could not hear to see the Second Reading of this Bill pass without one of my countrymen giving it the support it deserves. I should like the House to pay a tribute to the Labour Government which for the first time in history provided a Secretary of State for Wales. I shall refer to him in friendly Celtic terms, because he was an old miner: old Jim Griffiths. The term "old"—hen—is a term of endearment; it does not mean that someone is decrepit. The right honourable James Griffiths was the first Secretary of State for Wales, and the entire concept of that was developed by the Labour Government.

I should say in fairness to the Conservative and Liberal Parties that once the concept had worked out it was accepted on all sides of the House. It is accepted in the other place, and I am sure here, that we must ensure that in these type of across-the-board Bills we do not build up arrogant, bureaucratic systems of Committees that too often produce masses of paper and too little development. This reminds me of one of the problems encountered in research and development in planning. Research goes on for ever, but the development never seems to come out of it. There can be a vested interest in research, while the interest in development of rural parts of Wales, or anywhere else, could have diminishing returns.

This point also brings to mind one of the sad problems which is experienced all over the world. Despite our economic problems we are still one of the most affluent countries in the world. While we are talking here, in Nairobi a meeting is taking place of UNCTAD. About 3,000 people from 140 or 150 countries attended the last conference. There was a massive attendance, and there were 28 sub-committees. There were masses of documents, mathematical and algebric formulae turned out by professors. In the end so much money is spent on organising the conferences that little is left to do constructive work inside them.

One thing about the Celts is that they have always been good workers and good fighters. They have always been prepared to do hard work. Whatever this House, or both Houses, may produce for rural development in Wales, none of it will be successful unless we get the people to reassess their duty to their country and a duty to the development of Wales itself. I am sick and tired of people appearing on English and Welsh television making prophecies. I am reminded here of Cassandra. Her prophecies came true, but 99 per cent. of the economists never get their prophesies true. These people come to the microphone. There is, for instance, the Billy Graham of the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn. He comes here and gets comfort and succour from the English people. He cannot speak English, but he tells the English people how to run their country. Everybody says, "Ichabod, Ichabod, the glory is departed".

The noble Lord who spoke a little while ago about rural development seemed to think that the glory had departed from Wales. No glory has departed from any part of this country. This country depends on its people, whatever their nationalities, and I still have confidence in it. But I take the warning which has come from both sides of the House, that an incubus of bureaucracy must be avoided in any constructive approach to development. Therefore I hope that we use vigilance when considering the Bill at the Committee stage.

5.37 p.m.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, only once before have I ever dared put my nose into a Welsh debate. I do so today with greater confidence because there seems to be so few Welshmen to punch me on the end of it. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, having spoken before me, cannot punch me, but in any case I am sure that the noble Lord would never think of punching "old Amory" on the nose. I use the word "old" in the affectionate sense, which the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, mentioned a little while ago. Of course I agree with the noble Lord that the Welsh are great at—I think he said—talking and working; and I should add rugby, too. They are a great people. I do not intend to comment on whether the Development Board will be the best way of meeting the excellent aims that are set before it. I own that I have considerable sympathy with what my noble friend Lord Trefgarne said just now about the proliferation of new boards and organisations. They are fatally easy to set up, and the proof of the pudding is whether they carry out in the best possible way the tasks entrusted to them.

I want to underline two points, one of which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Elton, and the other by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. When new boards are set up, local authorities are inclined to look at them very carefully to see whether they trespass on, or detract from, some of the existing responsibilities of the elected local authorities. That is being done in Wales at present. I know at least one county council there which is a little anxious about two small points. They are committee points; I shall mention them only briefly, and perhaps the noble and learned Lord will comment on them either now or later.

The first point is that when the Secretary of State—or the Assembly, when the time comes—wishes to extend the area, he should before doing so consult the county council of the area concerned in good time. I am sure we shall get a favourable answer to that, because it is so reasonable.

The second point to which the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, referred is that this follows the modern tendency of leaving it to the Secretary of State to make the appointments to the body, or many of the appointments. In some cases that may be necessary, but the point that the local authorities are concerned about, I think, is that that should be a fall-back position only when it is not, for some reason, appropriate that the nominations or the actual appointments should be made by local authorities in the area concerned.

In this case it seems that at any rate some of the appointments, instead of being made by the Secretary of State after consultation with such bodies as appear to him to be appropriate, might well be made directly by the councils concerned. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us—he told us it first in Welsh and then he interpreted it; it sounded magnificent in Welsh, but when it was interpreted I think this is what he said, though I have to paraphrase it again—that, in Wales, a project started is two-thirds finished. I am not sure; but if that is true I have no doubt that, like all the other sagacious sayings in Wales, this stems from actual experience in Wales over many years. But I should like to say that, on the whole, I think I prefer—though I may be biased because he is a Devonian like myself, and a much greater one—a saying by Sir Francis Drake: In any great undertaking it is not the beginning thereof but the continuing thereof till it be utterly finished that yieldeth the full glory". I have raised my two little points and I have had a kindly slap at the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. I want to have one more, if I may, before I finish. The noble Lord, pointing at these Benches, I think, used the words "niggardly" and, I think something much worse than that, "curmudgeonly". I only want to say to him that, as an old Treasury man, I rejoice in the adjective "niggardly"; I would not wish to have anything else applied to me ever. But I do hope that he will not regard me as curmudgeonly. There is a dishonourable distinction between the two.


My Lords, having known the noble Viscount who has just spoken, and his kindliness, over a generation or more, of course I would not apply the word "curmudgeon" to him; and, even although he was a famous Chancellor of the Exchequer—not that he helped me in those days—I do not think I would even call him "niggardly". So, if the noble Viscount thought I was hurling those epithets across the Floor at him, I would withdraw them.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek referred to the glory which has departed. The glory of his eloquence remains to delight us on all occasions. I am most grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. Not all of them have been wholly enthusiastic about the Bill and the project, but they have raised questions which we shall examine in detail, of course, in Committee; although I am glad to note that, apart from the criticism that what is proposed could perhaps well have been done by existing authorities, there seems to be common ground that something needs to be done to improve the condition in rural Wales. We think we are on the right lines in setting up a specific statutory authority for the purpose of bringing new life to this somewhat decaying area, and we see the proposals for the new Board really as part of a two-pronged attack on the development problems of Wales.

The Welsh Development Agency will deal primarily with the industrial and urbanised areas and with the larger problems, including the problems in those parts of Wales which have suffered losses of jobs on a very large scale because of the decline in the basic industries. But the Development Board for Rural Wales, which the Bill will set up, will operate on a smaller and more intimate scale altogether, and will have the job of holding together and strengthening the economy and the social fabric of what is agreed to he a declining rural area. We see it as the forefront of the advance towards a richer life for this area than that which it has had in the past. What I said in the Welsh language was that a task begun is two-thirds done. We intend to get on with this task. It will not merely be either the setting up of a new talking shop or, as someone said in earlier days in another place, a case of throwing another planner into the works. It will have a positive job to do, and we look forward to it being started.

I cannot hope, my Lords, and nor would your Lordships wish me to do so, to cover the whole ground of the points that have been raised. I was delighted to see that the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, following a distinguished inheritance and connection with Wales, gave us the benefit of his advice; and also Lord Trefgarne, with his family associations—and I congratulate the Montgomery Society in London on the good fortune of having him as one of its vice-presidents. Harold Davies may have suggested by his accent to some of your Lordships that he may also be a Welshman, and I am delighted and grateful for his contribution, too. I am sorry that Lord Elton had to leave us, but I quite understand. I also noticed during an earlier part of the debate (but I think he has gone now) that, lurking in the lofty escape hatch of the Cross-Benches, was Lord Aberdare. We have missed him today, but it may well be that, even in that neutral place, we may get the benefit of his assistance at the Committee stage. One of the matters that was raised was with regard to the selection of the membership of the Board. In the first instance, until the establishment of the Welsh Assembly the Board members will be appointed by the Secretary of State, but thereafter the Assembly itself will have the responsibility. It will appoint the Board, and will be fully accountable to it. Certainly it will be the intention to discuss the membership with the local authorities, and clearly to have a Board with wide-ranging skills and abilities upon it, covering the kind of regions to which reference has been made.

With regard to the financing of the Board—and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, asked about this—the intention of Clause 24 is to continue the grants given by the Development Commission to the Council for Social Services and rural community councils, whose work is so appreciated in rural Wales. As to housing finance, about which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked, there will be no surcharge on the rates. The Board is being placed on exactly the same footing as a New Town Development Corporation, which means that the Secretary of State will make up, by way of grant, that part of the housing subsidy equivalent to the rate fund contribution paid by local authorities for local authority housing. I was asked whether there was an intendment that the body should undertake management of agricultural holdings. That is not intended. Powers of purchase will only be used in connection with the strengthening of the towns of the area for factory and housebuilding and for any development related to new towns.

I do not think the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and other speakers need fear that what is contemplated is a sort of new wen of new towns developing in mid-Wales. If there is a designation of new towns and that may well happen; and I personally hope it will—that will be for the Secretary of State to determine after consultation with local authorities, county councils and all others who may be concerned. Of course, it will not be an arbitrary decision. There will be the usual safeguards of draft proposals, draft designation orders, extensive consultations, as I have said, a public inquiry and safeguards of that sort before a final decision is taken.

The Government would expect that the main initiative in this regard would flow from the activities of the Board and their duty to keep under review all matters related to the economic and social development of the area. Certainly, I see no risk that the rural beauty of mid-Wales will be adversely affected by the mushroom appearance of new towns. We certainly hope that there will be a resurgence of industrial activity in the areas The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, rightly emphasised the urgent need of improving the communications and transport facilities of the area. I mentioned that in my speech.

As the House will know, the Government have issued a Paper on the whole of transport policy; and rural transport is being reviewed in the light of observations that are being made on that Paper. I have little doubt that we shall return to that in the near future. It is certainly a subject about which the Government are very concerned. As to a fear of the possible use of powers to undertake businesses, those are comparable to the powers in the New Towns Act 1965 and we anticipate the use of those powers would be along the lines adopted by the development corporations.

There may have been other matters raised which I have not referred to. I was asked about the increase in staff which will result from the setting up of the Board. The explanatory memorandum indicates that the increase in staff will be small. The present staff of 40 involved in the work contemplated will be raised to 55 in the initial period. We do not see the burgeoning of a new and vast army of civil servants as a result of what is proposed. I am grateful for the general welcome which has been given to the Bill and I look forward to the participation of noble Lords in furthering its progress in the later stages of the Bill.

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