Welsh Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th February 1952.

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Photo of Mr David Williams Mr David Williams , Neath 12:00 am, 4th February 1952

My hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Rev. Ll. Williams) has dealt with some of the social and economic problems which face us in Wales. I want to devote the little time that I have to one special aspect of the economic problems in Wales, but before I do that I want to make one or two general observations.

This debate is different in two respects from all previous debates on Welsh affairs. First, we now have a Tory Government in power. Wales, of course, bears no responsibility for that. If the rest of the country on 25th October last year had shown the same high level of political intelligence as Wales, Labour would still be in power with a larger majority than ever. The second difference is that we now have a Minister in charge of Welsh affairs, with an Under-Secretary to assist him.

I do not know what these appointments mean in terms of practical policy and practical administration. So far, we have had no precise and specific information about that. We have had to be content with vague generalisations which may mean anything or may mean nothing. It has not been overlooked in Wales that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his assistant occupy an office which, of all Government Departments concerned with internal affairs, has the least impact on Welsh life and Welsh problems. Wales has no particularly urgent problems and certainly no special problems connected with crime and criminals, the police, and prisons. Indeed, I believe Wales has less to do with those things than any other part of the country.

Our special problems in Wales are different in character and in kind from those normally dealt with by the Home Office. Indeed, I do not recall in any previous Welsh debate a single specifically Home Office issue being raised. All the really important Welsh problems lie outside the sphere of activities of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Department, and his writ does not run—indeed, he has admitted this, but not until after October—into that vast complex of Welsh problems—industry, agriculture, education, administration. In none of those things does the right hon. and learned Gentleman exercise any authority.

All previous Welsh debates have been dominated by one major issue. It is the problem of providing security of employment for the Welsh people. In all the previous Welsh debates this has been the central theme of almost every speech in every part of the House. This, of course, was inevitable, for the problem of employment has always been uppermost in the minds of the people whom we represent. Wales has other problems, but they are all subordinate to this basic, fundamental problem of employment. It is no use being eloquent about the culture and idealism of Wales if we fail to provide security of employment for the Welsh people.

A great deal has been said today about the notable achievements of the Labour Government. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who came to Wales, detailed those great achievements, but, unfortunately, he did not give the credit for them to the Labour Government that accomplished them.

One thing that has not been said here today is that the unemployment problem in Wales has never been completely solved. In the last six and a half years Britain has enjoyed full employment, but during the whole of that time we have been confronted in Wales with a serious and almost intractable unemployment problem. I agree that a tremendous amount of work has been done to reduce it, but the average unemployment figure for Wales has never come down to the national average; it has always been well above it. It is well above it today, and not only that but is increasing.

The point I want to make is that, before we were able to solve the old unemployment problem in Wales, we are now faced with a new unemployment problem of a different kind arising from different circumstances. During the last six and a half years many new industries have come to Wales. Most of them are light engineering industries producing, in the main, consumer goods for the home market. They are producing precisely those goods which are now regarded as the frills of the civilian economy, and which under re-armament have to be drastically cut.

Many industries of this type have been established in South Wales. Indeed, many communities have become totally dependent on them for employment, and in many parts they provide the only opportunities for employment for very large numbers of people. Now, I am not decrying these new industries in any way; I have no complaint to make against them; they are excellent industries; indeed, they are essential industries in any prosperous and flourishing economy. But an armament economy is not a prosperous and flourishing economy, and already the impact of this new re-armament policy is having devastating effects in certain parts of South Wales.

This problem has risen in a most acute form in my own constituency, though the majority of the people affected come from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. D. Thomas). On the Hirwaun Trading Estate many excellent industries have been established since 1945, most of them producing consumer goods, and many producing luxury and semi-luxury products. Many of them specialise in the production of radio and electronic equipment.

Until quite recently these firms were doing very well indeed, providing employment for large numbers of people, and bringing prosperity to an area which had been derelict for years. But since re-armament has come in as a policy, the whole situation has been completely transformed. In the first place, these firms cannot sell their goods. Even if they could sell them, they cannot get the raw materials to produce them, with the result they have been compelled to reduce their production drastically, and in the last six weeks or so over 1,000 people have lost their employment on the Hirwaun Trading Estate.

This has happened in an area which was most seriously affected by the great depression of the inter-war years. It is also an area in which we have never been able to solve the old unemployment problem. It is an area which since 1945 has been one of the black spots of South Wales, with unemployment percentage figures running four and five times above the national average. This new wave of unemployment has created consternation throughout the district. Indeed, it has caused widespread fear throughout South Wales. Everyone throughout the South Wales area is asking whether what is happening in Hirwaun today is going to happen in other parts of South Wales tomorrow; and I believe that the answer is "yes".

It is clear that industries of this kind cannot survive in an armament economy. There is no need for them; there is no room for them; they have to be squeezed out. There is no doubt at all that the industries at Hirwaun are simply the first casualties of the impact of rearmament on the new economy that has been built up in South Wales. There is no mystery about it; indeed, the remarkable feature about this development was that the Ministries concerned seemed to have been taken completely by surprise. Yet this was no trade slump about which the economists argue in abstruse theoretical treatises; it was not a classic recession caused by the mysteries of a market economy; it was a situation deliberately created by Government policy; and now we are entitled to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman what proposals he has for dealing with this very critical situation.

We have reached the stage when Ministers come here day after day and tell us that the arms deliveries are well behind schedule. The Minister of Labour, whom I am glad to see in his place, told us the other day that this was because of the shortage of labour for re-armament, yet in South Wales at this moment we have thousands of people unemployed, and well-equipped and highly mechanised productive capacity is lying idle. Last week the House debated the economic crisis. If this is the way in which we are deploying our resources, we shall not get arms and we shall not get exports, and we shall never solve the economic crisis that confronts us.