Welsh Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th January 1948.

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Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Ormskirk 12:00 am, 26th January 1948

That point will be dealt with a little later on. I am now referring to the point made by the hon. Member for Abertillery about the difficulty of getting buildings started at all and the difficulties of getting settlements in South Wales. I want to say, with regard to the difficulties he mentioned, that the difficulties some firms would have to experience in order to get established outside South Wales would be very much greater, because we do deliberately make it more difficult, if not impossible, to set up in areas other than Development Areas, except for firms which are absolutely vital in these more prosperous areas. Factories and factory extensions, unless needed for export or other essential purposes, have to be located in the areas where these factories are now being built. I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that thousands of firms have tried to build in other areas, but have not been allowed to do so because we do not want to see the over-development of those areas, and, therefore, they had to go to the Development Areas or they would not have been allowed to build at all.

The post-war problem which we have got in Wales was well stated by my predecessor in this House in the last Debate. Perhaps the House will bear with me while I make a quotation: This problem of dealing with long-term unemployment which existed before the war is not, of course, peculiar to Wales. It is the problem of all the Development Areas and its solution must come from the rehabilitation and expansion of the existing native industries, coupled with the introduction into these areas of new industries, or services initiated in most cases from outside the areas themselves. It is not by administrative isolation of these Development Areas that we can best help them, but rather by bringing them right into the main current of the industrial life of the country. In the past they have been too isolated and specialised."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1946; Vol. 428, c. 298.] That is the policy we have been following—rehabilitation of the basic industries and providing a diversification of industry by the introduction of other industrial projects.

Like the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden, I do not propose to say very much about the basic industries. Coal has been fully Debated in this House, but I ought to mention that the South Wales and Monmouthshire coalfields have fully played the part which might be expected of them in regard to the coal target in the last few months, and, in achieving that output, have not only helped the national recovery and the revival of the coal export trade on which the old-time prosperity of South Wales was so largely built before 1914, but, to a remarkable degree in the rebuilding of South Wales itself.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the big fall in output in South Wales. I would remind him of the fact that a considerable part of the fall in output has been in the anthracite areas of South Wales, and also that a considerable part of that fall in output is due to the fact that there are fewer men in the mines. That is largely caused by the fact that, in the last year or two of the Coalition Government and in the first two years of the present Government, there has been a far more systematic medical examination of the men who have been continuing to work in the mines. Too many of them have gone on working in the mines, and many have now been withdrawn, many of them being sent to new employment in the factories which will, I hope, bear for all time the name of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell).

From coal, I pass on to the ports. That problem is a very special one. The ports of South Wales were very largely built for the purpose of carrying exports, but my right hon. Friend said when the subject was last debated that export trade had substantially disappeared. That statement was made in October, 1946. A year ago, when the fuel crisis swept the nation, that fuel crisis caused special problems for Wales and set back the Welsh factory building programme. The port facilities which had been provided for the carrying of coal exports as my right hon. and learned Friend told the House when he addressed himself to this subject, had been diverted from their true purpose and used for the import of coal.

This week we can see in South Wales ports the loading of the first post-war cargoes for South America, and Welsh coal is already moving to Sweden, Eire, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland. South Wales can now expect to look forward to making a real and substantial contribution to an expanding programme of coal exports. I can certainly testify to the great value of Welsh coal in trade negotiations. In fact, there are many negotiations in which the availability of a supply of Welsh coal has already tipped the balance in our favour, and I hope that, in the trade negotiations still going on, we shall find that the fact that we have some Welsh coal available will make a big difference to what we can import to this country for the maintenance of our basic rations.

I would like to give one or two figures for the principal South Wales ports for 1947. To take the total of in and out trade, there was a reduction in the total volume: 10,240,000 tons as against 11,090,000 tons in 1946, a fall of 850,000 tons. The import side was 610,000 tons up on 1946, chiefly due to the increase in timber, both softwood building timber and also pitwood and mining timber. It will be recalled that my right hon. and learned Friend said that the timber control of the Board of Trade were aiming to do as much as possible to bring shipments through South Wales ports. The export side in 1947 was down by nearly 1,500,000 tons, chiefly due to the big drop in the exports of coal, coke and manufactured fuel early in 1947. But the prospects of increased coal movements from South Wales ports makes the 1948 position very much better.

With regard to iron, steel and tinplate, hon. Members are, of course, fully familiar with the position. It was dealt with briefly in the White Paper, and has been the subject of statements in this House by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply. As the House knows, the Government have decided to accept the advice of the Iron and Steel Board about the construction of a new cold reduction mill for the production of steel sheet. It is to be situated alongside the strip mill at Llangyfelach, and will replace the old mill at Newport.