HC Deb 16 June 1964 vol 696 cc164-7W
16. Mr. Tudor Watkins

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs whether he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy on the Report of the Committee on Depopulation in Mid-Wales.

20. Mr. Hooson

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs whether he accepts the findings of the Committee on Depopulation in Mid-Wales; and to what extent the policy of Her Majesty's Government will follow their recommendations.

Sir K. Joseph,

pursuant to his answers to supplementary questions by Mr. WATKINS, Mr. HOOSON and Mr. CLEDWYN HUGHES [OFFICIAI. REPORT, 9th June, 1964; Vol. 696, c. 225–6], supplied the following text of his letter to the Chairman of the Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association: In my letter of 29th May about the report on Depopulation in Mid-Wales I promised to write to you further about the conclusions in the report, with which, as your predecessor, Professor Beacham, told me before he left the country, the Council of the Association are in general agreement. I have already expressed to you my warm appreciation of the work done by Professor Beacham both as chairman of the Association and as chairman of the committee which undertook this valuable wide-ranging survey on the suggestion made by the Association to my predecessor. Mr. Henry Brooke. I think the right way for me to begin is to relate the Report to the Study covering the whole of Wales on which my Welsh Office is now engaged in concert with other Departments. The decision to make this Study, along with other Studies in England and Scotland, was of course taken after the Mid-Wales Study was begun. Now that it has been undertaken we must reserve, to be considered in this wider context, certain of the conclusions in the Mid-Wales Report, particularly those concerning concentration of population into larger and fewer settlements (and accordingly a concentration of social investment) and the idea of establishing a new town or of developing more modestly some of the existing towns. This I think is inescapable. One cannot, in such matters, look at Mid-Wales in isolation. In case this may seem to the Association merely to be evading or putting off the issue after a very long period of intensive study of Mid-Wales, I should like to stress a number of points. First, as I have said on several occasions, I hope that the Welsh Study will be completed early next year. Then, since the purpose of this Study is to produce for all Wales a long-term plan covering the next twenty years or so, such a plan must obviously include a positive view of what the future of Mid-Wales over this period will be. Thirdly, the survey material and conclusions in the Mid-Wales Report will clearly be of great value in the wider Study and will be used fully in it. And although I know that collaboration between the Association and the Welsh Office on all matters has always been very close, I am making a special point of asking the Welsh Secretary as Chairman of the group preparing the Study, to invite you to meet the people working on the Study. In the meantime what has already been done to strengthen the economy of Mid-Wales will continue, and in some respects, I hope, can be further built upon. I should like now to comment on three of the other conclusions of the report before coming to what, I think, may be the most fruitful field of activity, the further encouragement of the development of industry in the towns of the area. The report is not encouraging about the possibilities of developing the tourist industry in Mid-Wales. I am myself much more enthusiastic about these possibilities, and I believe you are too. You will know that the Government is making a grant of £40,000 towards the cost of carrying out a thoroughgoing research programme in Wales, and that improvements in the structure of the Welsh Tourist and Holidays Board have been recommended. I hope that Mid-Wales will benefit greatly from these efforts, and also from an increasing recognition of the area's attractions to the holiday-maker. I expect that you have already got in touch with the Tourist Board and I would urge that your Association, as suggested in the report of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, should seek to play a vigorous part in collaboration with the Board in developing the tourist potentialities of the area. The report speaks of possibilities of expansion of the forestry programme. As it shows, the areas under plantation have substantially increased since 1950, bringing new employment, extensive new roads and other benefits to Mid-Wales, and I was very pleased that the Minister of Agriculture was able to announce last year that the Forestry Commission would aim at planting a further 450,000 acres in the next ten years and would "continue to concentrate on acquiring land in the upland areas, particularly in Scotland and Wales, where population is declining and where the expansion of forestry can bring considerable social and employment benefits". The benefits of the very considerable afforestation of Mid-Wales will of course increase as the forests reach maturity—and what has been done in this field is only part of an impressive story of assistance to the basic industries of Mid-Wales, including the Small Farmer and Farm Improvement Schemes, the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Improvement Scheme, the Agriculture (Improvement of Roads) Act, 1955, and the special subsidies for hill cows and sheep and for the use of lime and fertilisers, much of which was specially aimed at dealing with the problems of rural Wales. Thirdly, the report suggests that government offices and research establishments controlled by Government, nationalised industry or private industry could with advantage be located in Mid-Wales; and since the publication of the Robbins Report there have been suggestions about universities also. All I can say about this, I think, is that I am sure that reasonable possibilities which would be of benefit to Mid-Wales will not be overlooked; but it is only fair for me to say too some words of qualification. In general, research establishments need to be near centres of industry, and, as regards Government offices, one must realistically make a distinction between the large and small units. Those Departments in which the work and staff can be widely dispersed—what are usually described as the local office Departments—already have the due provision of local offices in the area. For the rest, the units are usually so large that one can only think of dispersal to other large centres of population. The proposed move of the Post Office Savings Bank is an example of this. It remains now for me to comment on the possibilities of encouraging the development of small industries in the towns in Mid-Wales. There are two sides to this: one what the Association can do, and the other what the Government can do. I am very glad to pay tribute to the remarkable achievements of the Association and its untiring Secretary in publicising among industrialists the advantages of the towns of Mid-Wales as a location for small factories and in bringing to the area more than a score of new industrial enterprises. I shall continue to give the Association my warm encouragement and support in these efforts. I know, of course, of the Association's request for an increase in the contribution which the Exchequer, through the Development Commission, makes to its administrative expenses, and I hope that you may soon have some news about that. On the other side, I cannot at this stage hold out hope to you of financial inducements to industrialists of the kind provided in areas of high and persistent unemployment, which must have priority. The Government have however continued to help by the financing, through the Development Fund, of factory building: in less than four years seven enterprises have been successfully helped to establish themselves in this way, and the rapid success in finding a tenant for a first "advance factory" in Aberystwyth has happily belied some of the fears which were felt, and which are reflected in the report, after the extension of the inducements available in development districts. I am glad to be able to tell you that it has been decided, subject to the land being purchased within the District Valuer's valuation, to finance in a similar way now the building of the factory of 5,000 square feet at Cardigan for occupation by Messrs. J.E. Cardwell and Company, and of the advance factory of 10,000 square feet at Welshpool for which the Association applied some time ago, and that the Government would hope, subject to any unforeseeable difficulties, and after a tenant has been found for the Welshpool factory, to continue this policy by authorising one or two more advance factories within the next financial year, as suitable sites can be found. I cannot go beyond that at this stage, partly because it is not possible to anticipate precisely the rate at which progress can be made, and partly because the Government will no doubt wish to look at the whole subject afresh in the light of the outcome of the Welsh Study. Finally, I should like to add to my tribute to your predecessor, and to the Association and its Secretary for what they have done in bringing industry into the area, a tribute to the constituent local authorities for their initiative in setting up and contributing financially to the Association—an initiative which has attracted much interested attention far outside Mid-Wales—and to the members of the Council of the Association for the time and enthusiasm which they have given to its work. The Association is naturally impatient to achieve a great deal more. But it is entitled to congratulate itself warmly on achieving so much already.