§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to strengthen the social fabric of Welsh-speaking communities in the face of the effects of the influx of population.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have tabled this Unstarred Question because the high and rising tide of inward migration, overwhelmingly from beyond Offa's Dyke, into the Welsh-speaking rural 836 communities of the North, Mid and West Wales which have been the strongholds of the Welsh language for fifteen hundred years has far reaching implications for our native tongue. I know that there are also rural parts of England and Scotland where inward migration presents severe problems. I would expect that some of the policies which could be applied to strengthen the fabric of the Welsh-speaking rural communities would be in large measure relevant to them too and would be welcomed by those who wish to preserve the character of rural life.
§ At the outset I should also acknowledge that inward migration is at work in combination with depopulation. Outward migration, which had slowed down in the 1960s and 1970s, is still a continuing feature. There is a substantial exodus of young people between the ages of 15 and 25, many being impelled to leave in search of employment and housing that they can afford to buy. I shall return to depopulation later on as it is a related issue which must also be addressed.
§ It may be argued that inward migration can be a fertilising element within a society. It can be an enrichment in small doses. Indeed it has been happening in Wales for a very long time. But it is blindingly obvious that the transfer of population into Welsh-speaking rural areas has now reached a stage where the local community cannot assimilate the newcomers into its society. It is causing problems in very many communities, threatening their character and cohesion and eroding the Welsh language, which has been their mode of expression since at least the sixth century AD.
§ The broad picture is documented in the memorandum called Language, Planning and Housing in Gwynedd, submitted to the Secretary of State in July last by the Gwynedd county council and three district councils. The population data that is available is interpreted in two recent public lectures by no less a person than Professor Harold Carter, a distinguished former president of the Institute of British Geographers. I could also refer to a recent and compelling lecture by Mr. Graham Day of the Department of Economics at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. I note too that the Welsh Committee of the Countryside Commission is alive to the issue.
§ The changes we are witnessing in the Welsh-speaking rural communities are not events of merely local significance. These changes at work in about 300 villages and hamlets, when linked together, show that the Welsh language is reaching a decisive turning point. One could give many examples to illustrate the rapid erosion of the language in its core areas. I shall cite only four. Between 1971 and 1981 the percentage of Welsh speakers in Pentraeth in Ynys Môn fell from 73.19 per cent. to 54.9 per cent. In Brithdir, at the foot of Cader Idris, it fell from 65.91 per cent. to 54.45 per cent. In Cellan near Lampeter in Dyfed it fell from 71.43 per cent. to 52.77 per cent. Thus in those three core areas there had been over a 10-year period a convincing move from about 70 per cent. Welsh to a 50-50 balance, while in the Capel Curig core area of Eryri it had fallen from 45.7 per cent. to a mere 28.6 per cent. Local surveys 837 since 1981 show that there has been a substantial further fall in the Welsh-speaking proportions in the core areas and that it is continuing apace.
§ According to the Valuation Office for Wales, one-third of all residential properties sold in Gwynedd during the six months ending last October were sold to purchasers from England. According to a recent projection made by the Gwynedd county council, if present trends continue unchecked, by the year 2001 Welsh will be spoken by 75 per cent. of the population in only 18 villages or hamlets in the whole of that country, and in only one village in the whole of Meirionnyd, compared with 173 in 1971 and 144 in 1981. That is the scale of the projected erosion.
This takes me to the point that if the Welsh language is devastated in the rural communities of Gwynedd, Dyfed and West Powys, it is virtually certain that not long thereafter it will cease to be a living language throughout the whole of the Principality. It is this change, sadly observed Professor Harold Carter in his BBC Wales annual radio lecture delivered on 18th January last,
which has induced the present crisis of the language for the reservoir which continually renewed it is in danger of drying up".
In Wales many of us are paying heed to his words.
§ Sadly, there is every reason to fear that the inward and outward migration will get worse unless there are new government policies. It is feared that it will worsen with the completion of the upgrading of the A55 along the North Wales coastal belt and the second crossing of the Severn, which will bring the Welsh rural areas even closer to the commuter, even closer to younger people in the urban centres who seek a different lifestyle for themselves and their dependent children and even closer to the retired population. It is feared that it will get worse with a further shedding of labour from agriculture which still remains crucially important for these areas as a source of employment. It could worsen unless the current EC National Programme of Community Interest for the counties of Gwynedd, Dyfed and Powys is extended and converted in 1991–92 into an integrated operations programme.
§ There is an economic case for strengthening the social fabric of rural Wales. That case was handsomely acknowledged by a Welsh Office civil servant when she gave evidence on 28th February 1988 to your Lordships' Select Committee on European Communities, Sub-Committee A. However powerful the economic argument is, the case for government investment in the Welsh-speaking rural communities is broader, stronger and overwhelmingly more important than the purely economic arguments would indicate. We are concerned with far more than economic arguments. We are concerned with the survival in Wales of our national heritage. The disappearance of the Welsh language communities would more than impoverish Welsh life. It would amount to a national loss which could never be repaired or recovered.
§ Of course we recognise that we cannot preserve like a museum piece the rural Welsh-speaking community which existed in the past. That is the kind of work which is very well done by the National 838 Folk Museum of Wales near Cardiff. We do not seek to preseve a relic of a bygone age. We want to sustain a local community which offers opportunities for its members to live a full life in a stable society which is building its future on the heritage which is there and which has gradually developed over 15 centuries.
§ I have a feeling that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, when he comes to reply will seek to assure the House that the Government have every sympathy with the efforts made by dedicated men and women who are working very hard to strengthen the Welsh language. He may well refer to the financial support given by this Government to the Welsh Eisteddfod and other relevant institutions. He may well refer to the enhanced status given to the Welsh language in the school curriculum which we discussed in your Lordships' House a year ago and to the setting up last year of the Advisory Welsh Language Board. No doubt he will refer to the planning circular issued on 20th December last. We appreciate all that and in the context: of this debate I appreciate the potential of the planning circular to halt some large-scale developments which are injurious to the Welsh-speaking communities.
§ Nevertheless, that is not enough. Additional measures are required which are designed to control within the next few years the inward and outward migration. Indeed one could comment that to seek to strengthen the Welsh language in the more Anglicised parts of Wales—and I support that effort—while allowing its erosion to proceed apace in its traditional heartland, would be extraordinary and a paradox.
§ It is difficult to do full justice to the background of this very important debate in my allotted time. I could elaborate further. However, having described the essential problem as best I can, I must now move on to the questions which I wish to put to the Government to see what solutions they consider are possible. Of course, I have given due notice to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, of the matters which I am about to raise.
§ In preparation for this short debate I came to realise that much of the information available is not up to date. I believe that there is a gap here. Given the importance of the subject, can the Welsh Office arrange for all the relevant statistics to be collected annually, to be analysed and to be made easily and promptly available? That must include the close monitoring of what is going on in schools. The inward migration makes a powerful impact on the rural schools. New pupils from English urban centres arrive unannounced any day, any week, any month with no knowledge of the Welsh language or even of Welsh history. Inadequately resourced teachers struggle to assimilate the newcomers into the life of the school and to promote bilingualism among a mix of Welsh-speaking and non Welsh-speaking pupils. I hear of immense problems facing the teachers, who are inadequately resourced.
§ The Welsh Office should also monitor what becomes of the school-leavers: how many stay in their home areas and how many are impelled to go away in search of employment or housing. Again, can we be assured that the Welsh Office will monitor 839 the implementation and effectiveness of the planning circular of 20th December?
§ Many of us would wish to know what assumptions the Welsh Office is making about the population position in the Welsh-speaking rural areas in five and 10 years' time. Can we be assured that those assumptions fully take into account the inward migration of the past few years? Again, can the Welsh Office tell us in broad terms how many jobs are needed to arrest depopulation by the end of the century and what will be the cost of providing the new jobs necessary at 1989 prices?
§ I should like to know whether the Government are prepared to consider introducing specific measures designed substantially to slow down the pace of inward migration. Is the Welsh Office prepared seriously to examine the suggestion put forward in the February catalogue of the William Ricketts Partnership—a very well known firm of chartered accountants—that the Secretary of State should be empowered to designate areas which are vulnerable to language erosion and a distorted residential property market because of the influx of outsiders and to introduce special measures which could be appropriately applied within the designated areas? I appreciate that that could involve an encroachment on individual liberty and that could be difficult. On the other hand, we are here concerned with the vital interests of the community as a whole, indeed with the survival of an organic community. Therefore, if I may echo the words of the late Lord Butler, it is a matter of striking a just balance between opposing interests. I believe that there is wide support among those who wish to see the survival of the Welsh language for the underlying principal of the William Ricketts' suggestion.
§ Perhaps I may mention another possibility. Are the Government willing to contemplate introducing a local authority interest free, top-up secured loan to enable a local person to buy a house suitable to his needs in his local community which is far above his reach in competition with the well-to-do incomers? Such a scheme would make a valuable contribution. It has been noted that the Secretary of State for the Environment announced on 3rd February last in another place that English planning authorities will be empowered to enter into agreements with developers under Section 52 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 restricting the occupancy of new houses to local people. That is a helpful and significant development. Now that the Department of the Environment has given that lead, is it too much to urge the Welsh Office to follow it?
§ Looking further afield, we know that several Western European countries are faced with problems which are not dissimilar. Are the Government prepared to look to other European countries to see what lessons might be learnt?
§ The Welsh language is the oldest spoken language of these islands and possibly of Europe. It is a living part of the European heritage. For those reasons, I am encouraged to ask whether this Conservative Government are considering how many of the 69 undertakings of the Charter for European Minority Languages, adopted by the Council of Europe in 840 October last, will be applied in Welsh speaking communities to conserve a living part of the European heritage which is in our possession?
§ I invite the Minister to assure the House that the Government have grasped the nature and the gravity of the language crisis that I have described, and that they have the political will to find solutions which will reach the heart of the problem. The Minister's speech, as recorded in Hansard, will be studied closely in Wales. I would be pleased if the next debate in your Lordships' House on this important subject were to be an early one on a Welsh Office document reviewing the issues and options available, including employment, education and housing aspects, so that the Secretary of State can formulate a coherent policy.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, of Aberpennar, is still feeling the after-effects of a fall that he sustained last weekend; but, as he requested, I supplied him with a copy of my speech. His response was:
I gladly accept as it were my own the plea you propose making on behalf of our native Cymraeg. It raises no point of law, indeed it is both beyond and more important than any mere matter of law. Above all it is an SOS for the preservation of the living language which constitutes the life blood of our native way of life".
Your Lordships will know that that is the judgment of one of the country's most eminent lawyers. The noble and learned Lord was too kind to me when he added:
May your sterling appeal move all men and women of goodwill as much as it has moved me".
I want to thank all Members of your Lordships' House who are kindly taking part in this short debate. They will add their own assessments and suggestions. I also want to thank my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones for his steadfast support, and my noble friend Lord Cledwyn, who is also sitting alongside me, for his resolute support at all times for efforts to find solutions to our problems.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Gwydir
My Lords, having taken part in the previous debate, I have been sitting on these Benches, almost without break, since 3 o'clock and so I know that your Lordships will be relieved to know that I do not intend to occupy your time for long. I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate most warmly the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, on having dealt with what could be an extremely difficult and delicate little matter with such dexterity and sensitivity.
We all know that once we introduce a debate that says what a danger to our communities inward migration from across the border is, we are entering into an extremely difficult and delicate subject. The noble Lord was right when he said that one can frequently speak about the enrichment resulting from inward migration. Many of us who have lived in Wales know how true that is. There are parts of North Wales, as he knows only too well, which have been considerably enriched by the migration of English people from Liverpool and Manchester. In Gwynedd alone places such as Llandudno, Deganwy and others along that coast have been greatly enriched by migration from across the border.
841 The noble Lord is absolutely right. The problem of what is called a community under threat is widespread throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland. One can think of places in Suffolk and Surrey which not so long ago were real little rural communities. They have been totally changed by people who commute to them or who have retired there. That has changed the whole community spirit. There is a great deal of complaint about it, but, nevertheless, having said that, this is something different, because here one is dealing not just with what is called the community feeling and spirit, but with something which is of enormous importance to the majority of people in Wales; namely, the Welsh language. It is of course in those communities, some of which were mentioned by the noble Lord, that one had a high percentage of people who spoke the Welsh language and therefore followed what is known as the Welsh culture. That is something which is held near and dear to Welsh people.
I am much obliged to the noble Lord for giving me an article which referred to what is happening in some of those communities as a threat to Welsh nationalism, pride and culture. It is interesting to note that the words "Welsh nationalism" were used. One knows that nationalism has been described as a machine which inexorably leads to tragedy, anger and hatred; but nationalism in Wales is different. It crosses party boundaries. People of practically every party in Wales talk about their nationalistic feeling. It means that they know that Wales is a nation with a real living language of its own. There are immigrants in Wales who feel the same.
I remember when I was a Member of Parliament in Wales Megan Lloyd-George was taking round a petition in favour of a parliament for Wales. In Penrhyn Bay in my constituency, which is well known to several noble Lords here. I think 90 per cent. of the population were English immigrants. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, will correct me if I am wrong. About 70 per cent. of them were on Megan Lloyd-George's petition. When at that time I inquired of these people, many of whom were my supporters, why they had signed it, they said, "Well, it's only right, isn't it, because Wales is a nation?" They had wholly accepted the suggestion that Wales was a nation and that it had to be treated differently. They lived there and they were perfectly happy to be considered nationalists.
Therefore the noble Lord was quite right to introduce this debate and to spell out, as he has so eloquently and effectively, the problems that we face. He mentioned places which I know well such as Dolwyddelan and he has given me a Welsh paper mentioning that village which I knew as a child. I used to stay there; relations of mine had a farm just outside the village. In Dolwyddelan there are now 37 children in the school, only 12 of whom come from Welsh families.
Then there is Penmachno which of course I know well, having represented it for many years. Out of 73 children there only 19 come from Wales. When we look at those two places we see exactly why. Cwm Penmachno was once dependent on quarries which 842 have gone and therefore there is no work for the people; the little houses have been sold for holiday homes. Great co-operation has been given by people so that that can happen. Dolwyddelan again was a quarrying town; these are either quarrying or farming places. Now the quarrying has gone and Dolwyddelan is in one of the most beautiful parts of North Wales, a great tourist area. Therefore we have people coming in, one sees that.
However as regards one of the problems, the impetus behind much of what the noble Lord has complained of has been good Government activity over the years. He mentioned for instance the A.55. When I was Secretary of State for Wales that road was of major importance. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked question after question about when we were going to have the main road coming through from Chester right across and over the Conwy so that Anglesey could be properly served. But that has brought problems. In the same way we find in different parts of Wales that the introduction of industry and the improvement of roads have brought the problem and given the impetus to what the noble Lord has complained about.
This is what I say to him. He asked about the solutions and he has very cleverly tried to put some forward as well as asking one or two questions of my noble friend the Minister. We can think of only two solutions. One is to give increasing stimulation to the Welsh language and that has been done by successive governments over the years. It is not just in the rural areas that the Welsh language will be fostered; at the moment its use is increasing in places like Cardiff and other parts of Wales. It should not just be left to the small rural areas, in the hope that they will look after the Welsh language for us for ever. All we shall get in the small rural parts of Wales, if we are to have Government help to keep people in Welsh-speaking areas, is a lot of little ghettos. I should be opposed to that.
Practical efforts in regard to housing are also needed. I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister three questions. First, what about housing association activities? I believe that Housing for Wales has just been introduced and over £70 million has been given to its first year development programme for the provision of social housing in Wales. Is it intended to give particular attention to rural areas?
Secondly, I understand that the Secretary of State has recently announced that during 1989-90 an extra capital allocation of £1 million will be available to help councils to buy houses which might become second homes. I believe that Aberconwy, in which I have a particular interest, has made an application. I do not know whether my noble friend is in a position to say what that allocation might be.
The third question is this. I believe that the local authorities already have wide powers to restrict the growth of second homes. I refer to Section 157 of the Housing Act 1985. Are local, authorities, in particular those in rural areas, making full use of their powers? I apologise to the House for spending much longer than I intended on my feet. I am grateful to noble Lords for their indulgence and kindness.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, on initiating this debate. The noble Lord and I were fellow students and I remember that he then hailed from the village of Llanegryn in Merionethshire and has lived most of his adult life in industrial Wales—Pontypridd. So he has knowledge of both sides of Welsh life, rural and industrial. However, throughout his life he has always been a stalwart fighter for the rights of Wales and for the Welsh language and culture.
I think we ought to examine the whole problem in a broader context at the commencement. The crisis on minority cultures is not confined to Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, referred to it as also extending to other parts of the United Kingdom, but it is a universal problem today. At this time in history it seems that every advantage lies with the large and the dominant. In fact we see that the processes of glasnost and perestroika within the Soviet Union have revealed parallel problems to those which have been described here. It probably also lies at the root of the return to Islamic fundamentalism where the scale of the reaction against the dominant Western values makes it perhaps effective at least temporarily.
It is obvious that the attempt to roll back cultural change, even if it is unacceptable and debasing change, is immensely difficult. It can happen as we saw, for example, in the adoption of the Hebrew language by migrants to the modern state of Israel. I know full well that economic well-being and economic success are as important in Welsh Wales as elsewhere. In my own area I have seen the change from depopulation to increased population and the introduction of greater prosperity. But it is generally done by enlarging communities, building more and more houses and factories. The support for economic measures was hardly ever—indeed it never was—matched by support for social and cultural measures. The language has suffered accordingly.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred to that remarkable BBC Wales annual radio lecture last year. I have a copy of the published lecture in my hand by the eminent geographer, Professor Harold Carter, entitled Culture, Language and Territory. I draw heavily on the facts that he stated and the views he expressed in that lecture. He reviewed three phases in the history of Wales from the 11th century and pointed out the significant language shift during the industrialisation of Wales in the 19th century; the era of economic and cultural imperialism. However, as late as 1961, he points out that two eminent scholars were able to write:There is a predominantly Welsh Wales, fairly sharply divided from a highly anglicised area, and yielding territorially only reluctantly to the small peripheral advances of the latter".That was in 1961. But the latest phase he refers to has occurred in our own last decade or so; that is the growth of service industries. This has led to even greater stress being laid upon the common language of commerce in which information is relayed internationally.
844 Then, in our day, there is much greater personal mobility. There is the motor car, the aeroplane, and now the helicopter. There is the development of the two home syndrome. So there is seasonal suburbanisation. There is also the emergence of rural retreat or counter-urbanisation. There are the lifestyles of the yuppies and the dinkies. In addition, there are those who reject the values of modern society in any respect. After the sale of property in the South-East at inflated prices, they settle in a more congenial environment at retirement age or indeed well below it. They find such an environment in rural Welsh-speaking Wales.
There is, undoubtedly, the challenging characteristic of electronic communication. "Dallas" and "Dynasty" are shown in Welsh cottages and farmhouses. There is the rural depopulation arising from far more efficient agriculture. These developments have given rise to a crucial contrast with the situation as it was in 1961. That is why it is so apt that the noble Lord has raised this Question today. The crisis is infinitely deeper now. The crisis of language now arises because there is no longer a Welsh language frontier which was very slowly and gradually moving westwards. But now every little village and every rural area in the Welsh core areas are threatened simultaneously. That is the extent of the crisis.
I believe there is a necessity for a very strong new policy initiative by the Government. There should be a general recognition by this Government, which has responsibility for a minority culture in Wales, of the fragility of minority cultures and lesser used languages in the present world environment. It is perhaps a sad comment on the nature of our times that it is relatively easy to persuade the Government to advance funds to enable woodlands to be preserved, to enable areas of scientific interest like bogs to be preserved, to preserve and restore hedges, to preserve communities of badgers, and to safeguard archaeological remains, yet it is relatively difficult to persuade them to advance money to preserve and strengthen the Welsh-speaking community in Wales. I am sure that it is equally difficult to persuade the Government to help the Gaelic speaking community in Scotland.
It is very important that we put this in the right perspective; yet, when one reflects on it, here we are not talking about a badger community, an area of bog or a displaced hedge but a language, a literature and a culture which have come down for at least 14 or 15 centuries. It is interesting that if one looks in the Oxford Book of English Verse, one finds that the first poems which appear there were written in the 14th century. If one looks in the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse, one finds the first poems that appear there were written in the 7th century.
I quote the conclusion of Professor Carter who said in reflecting on the problems:But in spite of these dangers and the conflicts that necessarily arise, perhaps because of them, I firmly believe that the great variety of cultures, of the diversity of the ways in which human kind responds to the environment, is one of the great glories of the world. I conclude in a more limited way by urging the adoption of structures to promote the interests of minorities against the trends to uniformity in a metropolitan world and the demands for conformity from sovereign states".845 If the Government really wish to help to create—here I choose my words carefully—the framework in which the Welsh nation can help itself, which it should do, and bearing in mind the six questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, at the conclusion of his speech, may I suggest that the Government could take the following steps immediately. One of the prime needs is to have movements of population in and out of the Welsh-speaking areas monitored properly, as the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, suggested. One of the things the Secretary of State could do immediately—and the first thing I think he should do—is to provide funds to set up a small unit under somebody like Professor Harold Carter, to have effective and efficient monitoring of the movements of in-migration and out-migration, so we know the scale of the problem. On a BBC programme not so long ago I heard the in-migration figure put at 80,000 per annum; but it was not made clear whether that applied to rural Wales or to Wales generally.
The second thing that needs to be done is to make proper education provision in the core Welsh-speaking areas. That is vital. I do not think the Government appreciate the immensity of the problem. When I first became the MP for Montgomeryshire, the school at Llanbrynmair in Montgomeryshire was entirely Welsh speaking. Partially due to economic success in the area, and partially due to in-migration, all kinds of problems have arisen in the schools there. Some parents think there is too much teaching of Welsh and others think there is insufficient teaching of Welsh. Some move into the area with children of the age of eight or nine. Those people find their children are in a Welsh-speaking school. They had not contemplated that situation beforehand. It is quite natural for parents to think that their children are not receiving the kind of education that they want. These problems can only be resolved by far greater help.
It is vital to have more teachers who can teach in Welsh. It is necessary to have much more sophisticated Welsh video language teaching and facilities. There needs to be much research and development in that area. I have always believed that the French, German, Russian and Italian language teaching programmes on the BBC are much better and more sophisticated than the equivalent Welsh language programmes. Much more financial help is needed for those local authorities who have these intense linguistic problems in some schools.
I shall now turn to adult education. I know Poles and Italians in Wales who speak Welsh fluently. Plenty of English people have learnt Welsh. Many Welsh and non-Welsh immigrants are anxious to learn the language, history and traditions of Wales. But here again more financial help is needed. We need one small, central co-ordinating body to co-ordinate such activities as are carried out now by such bodies as the extra-mural faculties of the university colleges, the education authorities and such voluntary establishments as Nantgwytheyrn in Caernarvonshire.
As regards economic help, the Welsh Development Corporation and the mid-Wales Development 846 Corporation should acknowledge a special need to introduce some small factories and to promote some small businesses within the core Welsh speaking areas. They should consider paying inducement premiums to them to follow special procedures to safeguard and promote the language. Some companies try to do that voluntarily. I happen to be associated with a company which has always tried to do that. However, I think it is very difficult with a large company because it employs a large body of people.
Tourism in the core Welsh areas should be dealt with much more sensitively. We should ensure that tourist developments within core areas are small and low key and are dispersed throughout the community so the community can absorb the tourists and the benefits that the tourist developments bring can accrue to a much wider area. We should be more discriminating in the tourist market that we aim for.
The fourth matter which I believe the Government should consider is a clear and definite use of planning provisions. I have argued, on behalf of developers for example, that until very recently the protection and fostering of the Welsh language was not a planning matter and that planning was solely a matter of the physical development and use of land. However, the Welsh Office circular to which the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, has referred, Circular 53/88 issued on 28th December, clarified the position of the Welsh language in relation to development plans. It is now put forward as a consideration in planning control. In other words, the needs and interests of the Welsh language have been made a proper planning consideration which developers and everyone else can assess and take into account.
I have considered the plans of a number of planning authorities. I particularly commend the approach of the Glyndwr District Council on this matter. In its local plan for 1986 it states that its fourth local plan objective is:to safeguard as far as possible the special, social, cultural and linguistic character and identity of the District".So far as I can see, that is the most sophisticated approach of any planning authority in Wales. I suggest that every planning authority should set up at least one area of special cultural identity where special steps are taken to apply social, economic and cultural policies in a way which directly influences the linguistic pattern of the area.
In the 1951 census it was disclosed that there were 50,000 monoglot Welsh speakers in the Principality. That was just 38 years ago. I doubt whether there are now any. The late Saunders Lewis, the great advocate of survival by struggle and strife against the dominant power, argued that a bilingual Wales would soon become a monoglot Wales but English rather than Welsh monoglot. He is the prophet of the revolutionary forces in Wales. In respect of those views Professor Carter concluded:These views on struggle [are] therefore at root essentially anarchic and an old-fashioned romanticism dressed in the garb of contemporary sociological jargon".I agree with that view.
I should like to conclude by saying that the late Goronwy Rees, the enfant terrible of Welsh education, who was for a short time 1he principal of 847 University College, Aberystwyth, in a broadcast in 1953 said:yet one cannot help contrasting the immense protectiveness of the Welsh people in the 19th century in creating their own characteristically Welsh institutions, and what seems to me today to be an inability either to create new institutions or to adapt existing institutions to the changed conditions of the present time".The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has referred to the changed conditions and the urbanisation of Wales. Where do the bright children from the countryside go? They are well educated. The greatest export of the Welsh rural areas these days are genes, bright genes. Those young people tend to go to the larger conurbations.
We need to consider the significance of the gradual shift of the power base for Wales from the South-East of England into the South-East of Wales. It is slowly happening—politically, commercially and economically. That poses great challenges and brings great opportunities for the Welsh language.
I believe that for the moment the Government can protect the seed corn. As the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said, it is from the core Welsh-speaking areas that the outward migration takes place. More and more the migration will tend to be towards South-East Wales, or perhaps to North-East Wales. There is great scope there for the Welsh language movement, which has been so beneficial. I believe that the Government need to create the framework in which the Welsh nation can save itself by its own exertions. The Government cannot do that for the Welsh people, but what the Government can do is to give every help and build the kind of framework in the difficult conditions of the modern world in which the Welsh people can safeguard their own language and culture.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, when my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies tabled his question for debate tonight even he can hardly have supposed that Welsh affairs would occupy quite so much of the newspaper headlines or be so politically topical as they have proved to be.
In his comments last week on certain economic deficiencies in government policies, the Secretary of State for Wales, Mr. Peter Walker, did not go quite so far as to suggest that the empress had no clothes. However, he pointed out that she and her political consort, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, were somewhat inadequately clad. How right he was. Only the less intelligent Conservative Back-Benchers in another place failed to realise that Mr. Walker's intervention might give their party (although I doubt it) the only chance to hold on to the Vale of Glamorgan seat in the forthcoming by-election. I do not believe that his intervention was as innocent as some people supposed it to be. However, we are not here tonight to discuss the merits or demerits of the Secretary of State for Wales, although I believe that the majority of the Welsh people would say that as long as they have to have a Conservative Secretary of State for Wales they would rather have Mr. Walker than anyone else currently available.
848 This debate is primarily about the Welsh language and more particularly the rural areas of the Principality. I think that we should look at the matter rather more widely than on the basis of language alone, although I have considerable sympathy with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that we should ensure the adequate economic and social development of Wales so that the Welsh people can look after the language for themselves.
I sympathise greatly with the concerns expressed by the three noble Lords who have already spoken, particularly with regard to housing and the provision of rural schools and Welsh teachers in the schools. There are considerable difficulties in some areas in recruiting an adequate number of sufficiently well-trained teachers in Welsh. I believe that that particular issue will be strongly supported by all Members of the House. I hope that the Minister in his reply will say something about both housing and education. Both are problems in rural Wales.
I was a little surprised that neither my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies nor the other noble Lords who have spoken made any reference to the study of rural Wales initiated by the Institute of Welsh Affairs. Many of the statistical and demographic data with which my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies was concerned are extremely well recorded and dealt with in that study. That study was particularly the concern of Mr. John Tudor, who was chairman of the institute's rural affairs group. If neither of the noble Lords who referred to demographic matters has seen the report I shall be glad to show it to them. I have to admit that I have a borrowed copy, because I cannot really afford the 10 to purchase one.
I commend the report to anyone who is concerned with inward and outward migration in Wales, with the position of the Welsh language and the opinions expressed in a very thorough sociological study carried out by the institute. I very much hope that the study on rural Wales will have as stimulating an effect on the Welsh Office as did the first study of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, published in January 1988, on the South Wales valleys. As we know, the Secretary of State for Wales has pursued his valleys initiative with great vigour and, one may fairly say, with panache.
However, that means that there are other areas of Wales which may legitimately have felt that the concentration on the valleys, important though it is, has to some degree been at their expense. If one reads the Hansard report of the Welsh affairs debate in another place on St. David's Day of this year, one finds that there is little substantial reference to the areas in Wales with which we are most concerned tonight. There is a great deal about the efforts that are being made in the industrial areas, particularly in the South Wales valleys, but also to some extent in North-East Wales and the whole coastal area of South Wales, but there is very little about Mid-Wales, including for this purpose Ceredigion, Meirionnydd and Powys, and about the Welsh-speaking areas of Gwynedd. I very much hope that, given the interest of a great many of us in the rural areas and the acute problems, which will not grow less in the next few years, in our farming areas, we 849 shall see a certain shift in emphasis in the Welsh Office to the benefit of the areas that we are discussing tonight.
The need for a dynamic regional policy and insistence on constructive government intervention applies just as much to Mid-Wales as to North or South Wales. It is encouraging to note that, in the two instruments for economic development—the Welsh Development Agency and Mid-Wales Development—we have two relatively young and very vigorous Welsh chairmen; namely, Dr. Gwyn Jones and Mr. Glyn Davies, who has just taken over the direction of Mid-Wales Development. His vigorous and encouraging speech is recorded in today's Welsh papers.
The initiative will depend a great deal on the indigenous efforts of rural Wales and particularly of the Mid-Wales area, which is apt to be neglected because it is neither north nor south. We must rely on that initiative for the vigorous society that can sustain the language as well as economic development. I believe that we have made considerable progress in the Mid-Wales area. In his speech, Mr. Glyn Davies gave an encouraging report of progress, confirmed by other sources, saying that there has been a quite remarkable industrial surge in parts of Mid-Wales. Newtown is enjoying a much better employment percentage than most areas of Wales and there have been some striking industrial initiatives there. I speak not only of that great and important firm of Laura Ashley, although I am sorry to see that it intends to move its administration headquarters from Mid-Wales. There have been other exciting developments on the Mid-Wales industrial scene; for example, Control Techniques at Newtown and the Welshpool printing firm which is not very much publicised in North or South Wales, but is known throughout the rest of Britain as one of the best graphics enterprises in the entire country. Examples of that kind should encourage us to tackle our own domestic problems and to maintain our language rather than discourage us.
I was very much in sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said about the need to encourage tourist development into appropriate parts of Wales through sympathic development. That is one of the matters which worries many of us very much. Unless we have some constructive government intervention, with some of the necessary infrastructure, it will be difficult to avoid the influx of the kinds of commercial tourism which I believe most of us would find unacceptable. We have shown that rejection of a planning application for an obtrusive, tasteless development on a site which would have been quite suitable for a sympathic, more modest enterprise.
I do not believe that we wish to have in any part of Wales the candyfloss or casinos that are proposed by some of those merchants or the overcrowded tourist rabbit hutches they want to erect in large numbers. That is not the kind of development we need. However, in some areas it is difficult to find any kind of entrepreneur who is willing to come in and invest. They say that there is not the necessary initial infrastructure.
850 We have had difficulties with certain developments, including the Clogan gold mine. I do not expect the Minister to comment because the matter is sub judice at the moment. There is the possibility of resuscitating what was an industrial area on the Mawddach estuary. If it was sympathetically developed, it would be very appropriate as a tourist attraction, but it is not suitable because the promoters of the enterprise say it cannot proceed unless they can be certain that at least a quarter of a million people will visit it during each summer season. The congestion on that road near Dolgellau would be intolerable. I am sure that everyone here knows that road well. That is the kind of development that we cannot easily sustain.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, will be interested to know, although he may not be entirely in sympathy, that fortuitously this very afternoon a petition was presented at the Welsh Office by Mr. Alex Carlile, the Member of Parliament for Montgomery, with more than 12,000 signatures. It requested the Secretary of State to think again about some constructive intervention on what I believe is one of the most interesting possibilities for tourist investment in Mid-Wales; namely, the Montgomery Canal. The noble Lord might not be interested in that matter unless it reached as far as Llanidloes, which is improbable in the near future. I do not suggest that the former scheme, which did not find favour with the Welsh Office, should be resuscitated in detail, but one constructive public intervention in Montgomeryshire by the Welsh Office and one in Shropshire could open the way to a development which is fully appropriate and which could then be safely left to private enterprise. Without that intervention, private enterprise will not carry out the initiatives that we would welcome.
So there are many problems that need to be solved if we are to maintain both progress and a balance in our rural areas. The debate has been extremely valuable, and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, rightly stressed in particular the cultural and language aspects of the position in Wales. However, I hope that we can marry our concern for our cultural needs and aspirations with the right kind of economic development, including something more imaginative than what has been seen so far for farming policy in Wales. We can then sustain the kind of society which I think all of us wish to see.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked the Government a very pertinent and indeed sensitive question. In the first instance I hope that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne will agree that it is vitally important not to destroy rural communities. If he does not, then I think the sooner I jump off the South. Stack into the Irish Sea the better.
Last Saturday I had the pleasure of speaking to the Anglesey Antiquarian Society on the evils perpetrated by my family in Anglesey over the past 250 years. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, is laughing and I have a certain guilty conscience today which perhaps comes from my Welsh blood. The problem is how we can achieve our aim of not 851 destroying our rural communities. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will agree with me that one does not do that by trying to prevent young people from moving out. My Welsh Owen ancestress did just that 250 years ago and many other Welsh people have done so since. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, does not mind my mentioning that he has moved from Merionethshire to the city of Cardiff.
Secondly, we do not preserve this community by preventing new blood from coming in, and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, certainly said that, although I did find myself a little muddled afterwards with regard to some of his remarks. If new blood is prevented from coming in, as he said, the village will be ossified. I am hesitant about speaking about Anglesey when the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, is present, but Newborough has suffered serious in-breeding through being forced by their English conquerers (if I may say that) to follow an isolationist policy.
In that context I should like to correct an impression that is held, sadly and quite wrongly, by the media; namely, that the Welsh do not welcome strangers. That is absolute nonsense. They certainly welcome people; it is in their nature to do so. The Welsh want to be nice and they like to help people. They welcomed my family 250 years ago when a Stanley seduced and married a very beautiful and, I may say, rich and talented Miss Owen. I still experience that welcome as a mongrel Welshmancum-mongrel everything else. I hope that my family falls into the category of beneficial immigrants about which my noble friend Lord Thomas spoke.
However, those villages and areas which are Welsh-speaking, particularly those in Gwynedd, must not experience a massive influx of newcomers which would swamp the rural culture. One has seen that happen in England. I shall not name the village for that would be naughty, but one has seen it near Manchester and I have seen it near Oxfordshire. That applies to villages throughout the United Kingdom, as we were reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson.
It can only be prevented by granting permission for a limited number of new houses under existing planning law. It is perfectly simple. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will confirm that this view is held by the Secretary of State. Moreover, although I am not against the purchase of council houses, there must be enough rented accommodation available for young local people to live in when they cannot afford a first mortgage. Housing associations—and I do not understand a great deal about them—have a very big part to play in this. I hope that Plaid Cymru will give them the funds.
With something of a chip on my shoulder I must here agree with the noble Baroness, Lady White, in that sometimes I feel that the Secretary of State forgets that there is an area called North Wales and Gwynedd. I shall not pursue that line in case my noble friend thinks that I shall come to the health authority and a certain hospital in Holyhead.
However, so far as concerns our richer cousins from the South who come up and buy property in 852 Welsh villages, perhaps I am naive (and indeed I always was) but I do not see that as a great problem in Anglesey. It is certainly not the problem that it is made out to be. Many of the properties that I have seen bought up were derelict and sited away from any village. They were not really wanted by anybody local. I must say that I prefer to see a derelict house being renovated and not falling to pieces.
There is also the benefit that money comes into the area. I believe that I am the only Member of the House speaking tonight who works in Gwynedd. I know how desperate is the need to obtain more money. It certainly helps my neighbouring farmers repair such houses.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord if by any chance he happened to listen to "Farming Week" last weekend and to the Gwynedd Welsh-speaking farmer who was talking about Friday night commuters who loaded up their cars before coming down for the weekend. As he said, they do not even help the village shop, let alone village life.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, I did not watch the programme. So far as concerns people with caravans I accept that that certainly happens, and it is sad. For those who probably own houses in the area, it is less of a problem. The point I was making is that the neighbours I know, who are part-time farmers, are not providing the food but are providing slates, bricks and mortar, which brings in a very welcome extra income.
I hesitate to talk about the Welsh language as my family fought over it one way or another for over 200 years. However, I certainly know that if the Government continue to crucify the farming industry, particularly in Wales, they will also destroy the Welsh language. It is the farming community almost if not entirely alone that speaks Welsh in its day-to-day conversation, in business and most important of all in the home. Added to that it is the farmer who is the most likely person with entrepreneurial skills who will want to remain in the area if he can possibly do so.
Despite everything, farming is still a way of life. I would not do it otherwise, because I am not now making any money. There are many smaller farmers, who are usually owner-occupiers, certainly in Anglesey, who are taking up part-time work, as I say often as builders doing up those derelict houses which have been bought by newcomers to the area. I hope that my noble friend will take that fact on board and remind the Secretary of State and the Government that there is still a need for a profitable farming industry, particularly in Gwynedd. However, unless measures are taken, in particular sensible planning, which I believe every noble Lord has mentioned tonight, and farmers being allowed to farm, there soon will be no rural communities. Those who come into the country to get away from suburbia—I am sorry to use that word—will in fact destroy it. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, knows, that has happened in the conservation scene, where Snowdon and parts of the long distance paths are in danger of being walked away.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Lord Kilbracken
My Lords, I hope that it is not too much of an intrusion for one who is not a Welshman to intervene on this occasion. However, my noble friend has so often risen from that Bench a couple of rows in front of me to plead eloquently in the interests of my own country, Ireland, that I wish to rise briefly to support him when for once he is raising a matter of such importance to his own country, Wales, which is also part of the Celtic fringe. This is perhaps the more appropriate because the question of a national language is much involved and the languages of our two countries, though quite distinct, and not at all as similar as those of Ireland and Scotland, are related. Both spring from the same fount, although I had better not go into that now.
A significant difference is that in Wales it is only in relatively recent times that the language, and hence the culture, have become seriously under threat. In Ireland the process of erosion has been continuing over at least the past three centuries, some would say much longer, through the incursion of wave upon succeeding wave—as now in Wales—of invaders from England, among whom I must admit my own family must be counted, although at least they went there as merchants, not as conquerors. In the case of Ireland, many also came from Scotland. The English-speaking colonists brought with them to Ireland an alien language, religion and culture which inevitably permeated, to an ever-increasing extent, the minds and souls of the Irish-speaking majority, as it then was.
At the same time, both Wales and Ireland have suffered in just the same way from the easy proximity of the same wealthy country—England. It is so easy and tempting for the young, the eager, the ambitious in both countries, to slip away from their backward home towns to seek employment and affluence here; and the far lower house prices, and the peace and beauty of both nearby countries provide strong magnets for outsiders from the rich neighbour seeking sites for holiday homes.
Today's colonisers of Wales are not military adventurers, as for the most part they were in Ireland, who impose their presence by military force, seek to subjugate the people, and steal their lands and property. But the long-term effects of their pacific invasion of Wales could be the same. The present position is ironic. Wales has practically no political independence, being lumped together with England for just about all practical purposes. Yet its language remains alive as the language of the fireside; the language of normal preferred use over much of the Principality.
Ireland has been an independent state for over 60 years and is now of course a republic. Yet such had been the damage done by the time independence came, despite the enormous efforts of succeeding governments to restore it to prevalence, that the Irish language has continued its seemingly ineluctable way towards total extinction except in the ever dwindling Gaeltacht areas. I have never once heard it used by ordinary people as their usual means of communication.
854 Independence came a century too late for Ireland. But perhaps it is not too late for Wales. I have often heard Welsh spoken as a first language, not only in my infrequent visits to Wales but even here in your Lordships' House; often one has only to take a stroll around the Library. However, it is late enough. Welsh is still a living language but it needs a blood transfusion, I suggest, in the form of strong government support.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, has already mentioned the corrupting effect of television. I know that that has been of great significance in the decline of the Irish language in Ireland. I feel that it can well be so in Wales and that an all-Welsh language channel must be established offering programmes that can at least begin to challenge their English-speaking rivals.
In all other matters I support my noble friends and other noble Lords who have spoken. I believe that the destiny of a national identity cannot be left at the mercy of market forces.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, earlier today I had the privilege of addressing your Lordships on the Western alliance. It occurs to me—not without some help from other quarters of your Lordships' House —that this evening we are considering a very much earlier western alliance which, as several noble Lords have said, goes back some 15 centuries.
Your Lordships will be grateful for the opportunity that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, has provided for us to discuss a topic that I know is giving rise to concern in some parts of rural Wales. I am grateful for this opportunity to set out ways in which the Government intend to help the language and provide for the needs of the local communities in Welsh-speaking areas of Wales.
However, let me say at the outset that the answer does not lie in creating no-go areas or insular communities within the United Kingdom. I welcome the denunciation on all sides of criminal activities in this direction which are deplorable. However, we are quite clear that positive action by the communities themselves is required, as well as by government. I hope that I can persuade your Lordships that the Government are indeed doing a great deal.
First, and foremost to sustain our local communities is the need for a sound economic base. The availability of jobs is clearly an important factor in maintaining the integrity of communities in Wales and retaining their population.
It is the aim therefore of the Government, through agencies such as the WDA and Mid-Wales Development to help create a thriving and self-sustaining economy in Wales. In particular Mid-Wales Development, in those areas for which it is responsible, is working hard to halt the outward flow of people which has for so long been regarded as inevitable. While it is too early to say that the tide has been fully turned, recent population trends have been encouraging.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, was particularly concerned about this matter. I have a number of statistics here which are drawn from the 855 Digest of Welsh Statistics, which is available in the Library, and the National Health Service Central Register relating to country areas in Wales. The figures, although more recent than those quoted by the noble Lord, do not give much indication of the ability of the people counted to speak Welsh. Perhaps if I am able to add to what I have said I may write to the noble Lord with some detailed figures. The thrust of the figures is that the net migration out of the rural areas in Wales seems to have been reversed. There is a positive increase in the number of people in these areas. However, I am not clear that that positive increase represents new numbers of Welsh speakers.
There are many examples of companies establishing in Mid-Wales and over a short period of time becoming major employers and, in some instances, household names. Here I have in mind Laura Ashley. I too noticed the announcement that was made recently, to which the noble Baroness, Lady White, referred, about the departure of some of the management functions of Laura Ashley to Cardiff. However, I understand that all the other functions of the company and jobs that go with them will be staying in Mid-Wales, mainly in and around the town of Carno.
In furtherance of its aims Mid-Wales Development continues to improve the conditions for private enterprise to flourish with consequent benefits in terms of job creation, reduction in unemployment, growth in population and higher incomes. Since its inception in 1977 it has provided 1.8 million sq. ft. of factory floorspace, creating 7,500 jobs. Assistance of £3.6 million under the Mid-Wales Development grant scheme has levered £34 million of investment from the private sector, creating or safeguarding 4,000 jobs. Net government assistance of just over £12.4 million in 1989–90 will enable the board to spend almost £19.4 million in total to the benefit of those in Mid-Wales. That their policies are proving successful is shown by the record demand for their factories and heavy demand for financial assistance from private businesses wishing to invest in Mid-Wales. This activity is a positive factor in maintaining the quality of life and traditions of rural Wales.
Within this broad umbrella the board does much that is specifically designed to encourage local enterprise as well as the social fabric of society. The Menter a Busnes initiative, jointly funded by the WDA and Mid-Wales Development, is designed to increase the economic activity of Welsh speakers and develop enterprise and business as a positive factor in Welsh language life. Each agency is contributing £25,000 a year for three years towards core administrative costs. In addition to those Welsh speakers taking business courses in Welsh, almost 2,000 people sought advice on starting their own businesses in 1987–88, of whom 611 attended "Getting into Business" training courses, which is a record number. It is estimated that over 600 jobs were provided during that year from new businesses originating in Mid-Wales.
Rural areas of Wales also benefit from the full range of WDA services to businesses. Through 856 schemes such as DRIVE, rural conversion grants and rural loans, the WDA aims to strengthen the economic base of rural communities by providing new employment opportunities. Not only that, but the WDA is also committed to working closely with others—local authorities, the private sector and other local bodies—to ensure that a full range of services (housing, social, community and recreational) are available to rural communities. Welsh speakers in these areas are bound to benefit from these agencies' efforts. The activities therefore play a key role in perpetuating the economic viability and hence social cohesion of Welsh—and hence Welsh speaking communities.
I am aware that Mid-Wales Development is sometimes criticised for encouraging industry to move into rural Wales, with it being suggested that this threatens the indigenous population.
I suggest that that is a fallacy; a misunderstanding both of the long-term problems which led to the establishment of the board and its efforts to resolve those problems. The creation of jobs is crucial to providing career opportunities which will allow young people to remain in rural Wales, using their talents to the full and to the wider benefit of their community. Let us consider how much better this is than the long-standing phenomenon of the young and talented leaving Mid-Wales to seek fame and fortune elsewhere, and so depriving rural Wales of their ability and their contribution.
I emphatically reject any suggestion that the board acts as an immigration agency for English people. The provision of key worker housing, for example, is specifically to assist in the establishment of firms in rural Wales and, therefore, the secure provision of jobs for local people. These initiatives show a body that is concerned about the Welsh language and the people of its area.
The Wales Tourist Board, the government agency charged with promoting tourism in the Principality, also fully recognises the need to sustain and promote Welsh culture, language and heritage. Tourism can also help to sustain local economies and create jobs for the indigenous population, who might otherwise be tempted to move away. To help ensure that its policies are compatible with, rather than threaten, Welsh culture, the board last year commissioned independent research into tourism's socio-cultural impact and will draw on the analysis and recommendations as appropriate in discharging its functions in the future.
With regard to the language itself, the Government can point to a record of positive achievements with regard to a number of the provisions of the European Charter on Minority Languages (Welsh Language Board; Support for the Welsh Nursery School Movement; Support for the National Eisteddfod, etc.) However, while the Government have every sympathy with the principles of the charter, they cannot agree with it in total. The Government have therefore reserved their position on whether they will accede to the charter, when it becomes a convention, in respect of Welsh and the other minority languages spoken in the United Kingdom.
857 Nevertheless, the Government are of course prepared to learn from the experience of other European countries and the measures they have adopted to promote minority languages. I judge however that in a number of respects the measures being taken in Wales to protect and promote the Welsh language compare very favourably with policies elsewhere.
The Welsh Fourth Channel S4C is rightly regarded with envy in other parts of Europe. The Government made it clear in the recent White Paper on broadcasting that we believe that the channel has been a considerable success and that we want it to continue to pursue its distinctive remit.
The Welsh Language Board was established last year to consider the position of Welsh in all aspects of public life in Wales. The board is conducting a thorough investigation of the current position and will in due course come forward with the guidelines relating to the use of the language in both the public and the private sector.
The Government's proposals for Welsh in the national curriculum represent perhaps an even more significant boost to the position of the language in the longer term. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and I discussed these matters at length during the passage of the education Bill last year. The teaching of Welsh in schools must surely be the key to a healthy future for the language so that the requirement of the Education Reform Act that it be taught in all schools in Wales will I am sure be welcomed as perhaps the largest single boost that the Welsh language has ever received from government.
Fourthly, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales has this year made available £4.6 million of grant support to promote the language and to encourage developments in bilingual education. This money includes a contribution towards the cost of local education authority reception classes that provide intensive language coaching for non-Welsh speaking children moving into traditionally Welsh medium schools. Overall these Welsh language grants provide an effective means of promoting the use of Welsh in an ever-widening range of situations in Wales. The fact that this year's figure represents a £1.2 million increase on the sums available last year is an indication of the Government's commitment in this area.
Housing for local people is a further key element in sustaining the local communities and therefore in helping the language. Local authorities have considerable powers to provide homes for local people and have discretion over how they use their resources to do this. For example, they can themselves acquire properties for rent or for resale without needing the special consent of the Secretary of State. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, referred to the importance of houses being made available to rent for those unable to take out a mortgage. That applies in particular to young people.
Where consent is required, for example, to acquire properties which might otherwise become second homes to add to their stock to rent to local people, my right honourable friend is prepared to consider 858 such requests sympathetically. Indeed over the last three years special additional allocations have been given to borough councils for this purpose. The Secretary of State is also willing to consider sympathetically requests by local authorities for further designations under Section 157 of the Housing Act 1985.
In the current financial year the Secretary of State has set aside a reserve of £1 million to provide additional help to local authorities to house local people. Officials are discussing with local authorities how this will be allocated, but the Government propose that it will be used to address the needs of people who wish to own their own homes in rural communities as well as to rent their homes.
My noble friend Lord Thomas asked about the application from Aberconway. It is one of the authorities which sought an application under that provision and officials are currently discussing that matter with it. I hope that an agreement will be reached shortly.
The establishment of Housing for Wales (Tai Cymru) in the Housing Act 1988 will also help local communities. Its predecessor, the Housing Corporation in Wales, traditionally invested year on year some 25 per cent. of its growing development programme in housing association schemes in rural areas; last year the gross programme reached a record level of nearly £66 million.
Housing for Wales will ensure that housing association activity is even more responsive to local needs. Under the new body a North Wales regional office is being established for the first time to enhance its response to needs in this area. The Secretary of State has asked Housing for Wales to continue to undertake the same levels of investment in rural areas as in the past—in the current year from a new record gross programme of over £70 million. In planning the programme Housing for Wales and associations will take account of the impact of last year's house price rises. I am pleased to say that the market now appears to have stabilised. We have asked Housing for Wales to give careful consideration to increasing the volume of low cost homes to buy available in rural areas and my right honourable friend is looking positively at how the planning system can be developed to ensure that these homes may be kept available for people in the local communities.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, mentioned the possibility of Section 52 agreements. That is the issue which my right honourable friend is currently considering most carefully. This too will provide a mechanism to direct housing subsidy to those who need it to enter into owner-occupation without the complicated arrangements which would be needed, for example, to operate a system of interest free top-up loans by local authorities, and without stoking inflationary pressures on house prices, particularly so at a time when building societies are willing to lend on such purposes.
That matter was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. We are not in favour of top-up loans for the reasons that I have described—principally their inflationary effect on house prices 859 —but we believe that the alternative arrangements which we are putting in place will be at least as good.
Nor are we neglecting the needs of other owner-occupiers. The latest Welsh House Condition Survey confirms that the massive investment the Government have provided towards the problems of Wales's older housing stock has found its mark and that there has been considerable progress.
There remain problems to be addressed and some of these are as much in evidence in some parts of rural Wales as they are in the urban areas of the Principality, and indeed in England.
The answer, however, is not simply a matter of resources. It is especially important for local authorities in rural areas to adopt strategies relevant to their particular problems. Just as enveloping and block schemes, for example, have been successful in some urban areas, they are also relevant in rural areas, as demonstrated by the very real progress in area such as Ynys Mon and Carmarthen. I apologise for my poor pronunciation which I see reflected in the anguish in the faces opposite.
The Government are determined to tackle these issues and the current proposals of the Local Government and Housing Bill will do much to assist in this respect. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that this adds up to a formidable array of measures to help the local communities in Welsh-speaking areas. My right honourable friend has also expressed his willingness to meet a deputation from local authorities to discuss further proposals set out in the latest Gwynedd memorandum; but I am sure that your Lordships will agree that we cannot have the inappropriate and unworkable measures, such as migration controls within the United Kingdom, which some have put forward.
Perhaps I may turn now to some of the other points raised by noble Lords during the course of this debate. I think I have already covered most of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, during his opening remarks. He referred to the William Ricketts' paper. It is not government policy to create areas of discrimination within the United Kingdom, but the Government will address the issue through the other housing policies to which I have already referred. I cannot, 860 I fear, forecast the jobs needed to arrest depopulation by the year 2000, one of the thoughts in the mind of the noble Lord; but I hope again that what I have been saying about the job creation activities generally will be of some reassurance to the noble Lord.
My noble friend Lord Thomas asked particularly about the activities of housing associations. I have already made some reference to that; but it certainly is intended to help rural areas as well as urban areas, and I hope that my noble friend will be reassured to that extent. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, referred to planning matters, as did one or two other speakers. I can confirm the Welsh Office circular of 20th December to which he referred, and of which I have a copy here.
I do not know whether there is a copy in the Library or your Lordships' House, but it is rather an important document and if there is not a copy there I shall see to it that one is put there. That was an important circular and provides for language to be a consideration in these matters in appropriate cases. As for areas of special cultural identity, which the noble Lord suggested, that is rather an interesting suggestion, but I think it is a matter for local authorities to consider in the first instance.
The noble Baroness, Lady White, referred to the valleys initiative. That is not an initiative meant to be at the expense of other parts of the Principality. Certainly not, my Lords. Substantial investment certainly continues in the rural areas, not least, for example, 25 per cent. of the Housing Corporation and Housing for Wales allocations, as I said during my earlier remarks. I reassured the noble Baroness about the management functions of Laura Ashley which are being moved to Cardiff, as was announced the other day.
I am coming to the end of my remarks, but I think I can claim that the Government are doing their part to maintain the culture and heritage of Wales and assist in the provision of those facilities such as language education, jobs and homes, which will help the Welsh-speaking communities not only to sustain themselves but to develop and grow. These are devoutly to be desired and I hope will be achieved.
§ House adjourned at seventeen minutes past nine o'clock.