Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes

Mr Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

Today is Welsh day—the first occasion for Welsh affairs to be debated on the Floor of the House in the life of the present Parliament. The choice of date has coincided with the 18th birthday of Prince Charles and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will wish me to express our warm congratulations and best wishes to him. We all look forward to his taking an increasingly close interest as Prince of Wales in the affairs of the Principality.

The debate is taking place in the shadow and under the cloud of the terrible disaster at Aberfan—a shadow that will never quite disappear. At 9.15 on the morning of Friday, 21st October, our world stopped and when it moved on again its course was somehow not the same as it had been. Indeed, after Aberfan, Wales will never be the same again. The disaster has brought into very sharp focus for all of us our general concern about Wales—the land of our fathers, and, more pointedly, perhaps, the land of our children. When our thoughts return to Aberfan, as they frequently do, we realise that there are so many lessons to be learned from the disaster.

I am not referring, of course, to lessons about the causes and circumstances of the disaster—these are matters for the Tribunal of Inquiry. I am referring rather to the wider lessons, those that it is our duty to learn as we take stock after such a shattering event.

We think, first, of coal and of the massive part that the industry has played in the economy of Wales. We think, in particular, of the state of the industry today and of its future. I know that many hon. Members are deeply concerned about the industry. But let me say at once that the Government are convinced that coal will continue to play a major rôle in the economy of Wales for as far ahead as we can see.

I do not minimise, of course, the seriousness of the problems created by the National Coal Board's programme of closures. But closures are not new. For the last six years, the Board has worked to a programme of concentration and closure. The rate of closures under this programme, taken year by year, was somewhat slower than the current rate, but the indications are that, save for this year, the long-term rate of closures will be little different from previous years.

The number of men on colliery books has, of course, steadily declined, but during the last 12 months—which include the first 10 months of the accelerated closure programme—the decline has been slower than in the previous 12 months, 5,700 as against 7,500. The change has been most marked in the last six months when, in comparison with the corresponding period last year, recruitment has been better and wastage appreciably less. Indeed, in the last week for which figures are available, the number of men on colliery books in South Wales has actually increased. This must be the first time for many years that there has been an increase.

The major problem facing the industry in South Wales is the continued shortage of manpower at the efficient pits. There are about 3,000 vacancies, mostly at these efficient pits. It must be in the interests of the coal industry as a whole for these vacancies to be filled. There is no reason why any able-bodied man affected by colliery closures in South Wales who is prepared to transfer to another colliery should be unemployed. Wherever possible, the Board will seek to offer jobs to the men affected at collieries within travelling distance of their homes; but it will in any case provide generous transfer allowances, and wherever possible, alternative accommodation to men prepared to move from one area to another.

All the Government Departments concerned—Welsh Office, Board of Trade, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Power, Department of Economic Affairs—are in-formed about closure proposals so that Ministers can be told if a proposed closure is likely substantially to increase unemployment in areas where men are already being discharged from other industries, and the coal industry is unable to offer alternative employment. But there are redundancies, and we are doing all we can to provide other work for the men who are affected.

It is not always practicable to provide alternative employment within the valleys themselves, because of a shortage of suitable sites. In these circumstances, we are doing everything possible to establish the new industries within easy reach of the valleys, so as to render it unnecessary for the redundant miner to move house. In this way, we hope to be able to deal with one of the most serious social problems arising from closures.

I now want to turn to the unemployment position in Wales generally and to industrial prospects. The unemployment figures at the present time are high. The last thing I want to do is to gloss over these figures, but we should get them in the right perspective. A rate of 3½ per cent. is, admittedly, higher than any of us would want, but even this would have been regarded as Utopian within the memories of most of us. Furthermore, although the percentage is higher, there is no sign that Wales is proportionately worse off than the country generally.

For instance, between September and October, the rise in the total unemployed register for Wales was 25 per cent.; for England, it was 35 per cent. The increase in persons wholly unemployed was 15 per cent. in Wales; in England, it was 17 per cent. These figures encourage us to avoid pessimism in looking at the longer term.

During the last 20 years, diversification of employment in Wales has gone on at a tremendous rate, with the result that more of our people are at work than ever before and in a wider variety of jobs. But the fact is that we still rely greatly on extractive and basic industries and that nationalisation in these give rise to problems which need fundamental treatment.

The treatment must, in the main, consist of a broadening and deepening of Government support of new manufacturing employment. Under the Industrial Development Act, 1966, almost the whole of Wales has been included in the Welsh development area and all firms expanding or opening there will be able to seek a wide range of financial inducements.

Investment grants at the rate of 40 per cent. will be available in manufacturing, extractive and construction industries—compared with 20 per cent. elsewhere. But medium to long-term measures already taken in the past are having cumulative effects which can be recognised even now. During the last three years, for example, the number of industrial development certificates approved in Wales has risen in a dramatic fashion. I should like to give the House these figures, which are of the utmost significance in the context of this debate.

In 1963, certificates were issued covering 1·6 million square feet of factory space. In 1964, the figure was 3·2 million square feet. In 1965, certificates were issued for 4·5 million square feet. But in the first 10 months of this year, certificates have been issued for 8·2 million square feet. With two months still to go before the year ends, this is already by far the highest figure reached in any post-war year.

What is even more significant is the increase in the Welsh share of the area covered by all industrial development certificates issued in Great Britain: in 1963, the Welsh share was 4·2 per cent. of the total; in 1964, it was 5·5 per cent.;and in 1965, the Welsh share was 7·3 per cent., but in the first three-quarters of this year it was 14·1 per cent. These are significant figures, showing the advance which has been made. They are very important statistics and they are the clearest possible testimony to the effectiveness of Government policy. They provide a firm foundation for confidence in looking beyond our immediate difficulties.

What is also significant is that these approvals have been spread over Wales in a most encouraging way. In the six North Wales counties, for instance, where just over 20 per cent. of the people of Wales live, certificates have been issued this year to date for nearly 1·8 million square feet—which is also just over 20 per cent. of the total.

But we recognise that there are small pockets of difficulty, and within our broad strategic approach, we recognise the need to pay special attention to these pockets of difficulty. In some localities, unemployment figures are higher than the average and have remained so for many years. It is in these areas that the Government concentrate on building advance factories to make it easier for industrialists to move in. Since October, 1964, when the last Labour Administration took office, 24 advance factories have been allocated to Wales. Nine of these are under construction or completed, of which four have been taken up. The Government are pressing ahead as quickly as possible to obtain sites—where these are not already available—or to let contracts for the others. Three of these have already been allocated and extensions are required for two. All this shows how keen is the interest of industrialists in settling in the Principality.

When my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade announced the fourth advance factory programme two weeks ago, six factories were allocated to Wales—at Swansea, Kenfig, Bridgend, Merthyr, Maesteg and Caernarvon. In all these places the land is already owned by the Board—or is about to be acquired by the Board. The availability of land for factory building was, in fact, a material consideration in the selection of these locations for advance factories.

I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the long time it takes between the announcement of a particular factory and the commencement of building work. It is, of course, absolutely vital to avoid delay, but the major cause of delay, where it exists, is the time taken to acquire land. This is the basic problem, and it is a complex matter since it often involves the rights of private individuals. But my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is urgently examining whether it is possible to make procedural changes which will result in a speeding up of the processes of acquisition.

In the meantime, it will obviously help the Government in their programme of expanding industrial floor space if those local authorities which seek industrial development in their areas would help in making land available quickly, either for advance factories to be built by the Government or for factories which are to be built privately following the grant of an industrial development certificate. Local authorities in those areas have a very important part to play in this.

In addition to the 24 advance factories, there are three factories in Mid-Wales to be financed by the Development Commission. In all, therefore, there is a programme of 27 factories announced since October, 1964, with an aggregate planned area of 405,000 square feet. This is the "planned" area;but we know from experience that, not infrequently—Merioneth and Rhondda are examples—considerable extensions are required to the planned area before building is started.

The Government will continue to pay special attention to the areas where there are these special difficulties—areas such as the valleys in South Wales, rural areas and, if I may be permitted to refer to my own constituency, Anglesey, where the unemployment rate is already above the national average. The point I want to make is that we are doing all we can to anticipate the trouble spots and to take action in advance of redundancies. This is the duty of Government.

I am very conscious of the fact that a number of hon. Members wish to take part in today's debate, and I am keen that as many as possible should be enabled to do so. Within the self-imposed time limits which I have set myself, it is clearly not possible for me to deal with the problems of particular industries and particular areas of Wales in great detail. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will deal with as many of the points raised in the debate as time will permit him to do when he winds up for the Government, if, as I hope he will, he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker.

The omission of detailed reference by me to such important industries as steel, agriculture, and forestry, oil, tourism, etc. should not, however, be taken as indicating any lack of recognition on my part, or on the Government's part, of the great importance of these industries and of the vital part they play in the Welsh economy. Nor do I ignore the significance of the other industries—many comparatively small ones—which form a part of the patchwork pattern of the economy of Wales, especially in rural areas.

I would, in passing, like to pay a warm tribute to the work of the Development Commission in helping to solve the problems of rural Wales. I also want to express my appreciation of the work of the Rural Industries Bureau, both nationally and in the counties of Wales. Its achievements in sustaining, encouraging and advising small industries in invaluable. The work of the Commission and the Bureau has been of great help in Mid-Wales.

The initiative shown by the local authorities of the area some years ago when they decided to set up the Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association is also to be commended. This, with financial aid from the Government, has done a great deal to draw small factories into the rural towns. The Government's recognition that more help was needed has been shown in the inclusion of all this area in the new Welsh development area, so that now, for the first time, the full range of financial inducements under the Industrial Development Act will be available to industrialists interested in Mid-Wales. Here again, the availability of suitable sites for industry is of crucial importance, as I am sure the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) agrees.

Local initiative takes other practical forms. Earlier in the year, I launched a project put forward by the Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association to study the possibility of doubling the size of Rhayader. The Government are meeting the cost of this work, which will be carried out by consultants in association with the local authority and the Welsh Office, in the expectation that it will delineate the practical steps which could be taken to expand this and similar towns. I am delighted to learn that since it was launched other local authorities in Mid-Wales are exploring, on their own initiative, the possibility of doing the same thing for towns in their area. I warmly commend this spirit of self-help on the part of county councils and other local authorities in this area.

So far as the Report on the proposed new town in Mid-Wales is concerned, I am at present receiving the observations and reactions of the authorities in the area. When I have received and studied all these, I hope it will be possible for us to have a debate, possibly in the Welsh Grand Committee, on the problems of Mid-Wales in particular, when I hope to be in a position to make a statement of Government policy on the area.

It would not be proper, in a debate on industry and employment in Wales-urban Wales and rural Wales—to ignore the paramount importance of communications. Effective communications are one of the principal keys to establishing the Welsh economy on an increasingly sound and more diversified basis. And good communications are needed throughout Wales. The past year has been one of notable progress for road communications to and within Wales. Let me remind the House of some of these improvements. It has seen the opening of the Severn Bridge, of the Port Talbot by-pass and of the final stage of the Heads of the Valleys road.

Some important road contracts have been let, the most recent being for the construction of dual carriageways from Mitchel Troy to Raglan, on the A40 road, as part of our programme of dualling this road as far as Newport. In North Wales, we have continued our programme of improvements on the A55 with a contract to by-pass Abergele and provide a diversion at Llandulas. Work has also begun on the Llandudno Junction fly-over.

In West Wales, I am pleased to be able to announce that I have decided to trunk the A477 road from St. Clears as far as Nash, which is a convenient distribution point for places on the south side of Milford Haven. This is a 22-mile stretch of road in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire and has been a controversial issue for many years. It is one on which we have recently received further representations. The Government's decision to enhance the status of this road is an indication of the importance which we attach to realising the full potential of the excellent facilities which nature has given us in this part of Wales. West Wales will also gain from the improvements in communications in South-East Wales, and even from improvements outside Wales.

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