Orders of the Day — Development Areas

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd August 1966.

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Photo of Mr Elystan Morgan Mr Elystan Morgan , Cardiganshire 12:00 am, 2nd August 1966

I respectfully submit that the ideal concept of regional development draws its sustenance from three quite distinct but related considerations. First, it involves the decentralisation of authority; secondly, it means that decisions and policies are made and propounded by those who have the greatest knowledge of them and the most deep and intimate interest in them, and thirdly, it entails redressing the tremendous imbalance in fortunes that grew in the last 20 to 30 years between one region and another in the whole of Britain.

It is pertinent for us to remember that, during the long tenure of the party opposite, three out of every four new jobs created went either to the West Midlands or to the South-West Regions. Regional development, however well planned, cannot have any real success without the people of the area concerned feeling that they are intimately and actively concerned in the whole process of resuscitation of that area. The greater the regional consciousness, the higher the level of inspired participation by the people of that region in their own development.

Because Wales is a country and the homeland of a nation, it is advantageously situated to show this cohesion and consciousness of purpose. The establishment of the Welsh Office in October, 1964, has been denigrated by some as being inadequate recognition of the national status of Wales. In the constitutional sphere we should never forget the tremendous significance to Wales of the creation of this new Office. In the Act of Union of 1536, the "Dominion country and Principality of Wales" was "incorporated, annexed, united, subject to and under" the greater realm of England.

Whatever one can say about Tudor draftsmanship, it was certainly thorough and complete. For those long years, for four centuries, Wales was completely obliterated from the Constitution of the United Kingdom. This was until October, 1964, when it emerged once again with distinctiveness and entity of its own. I feel sure that the Welsh people now have an institution that can be the focal point for their inspirations, their hopes, and their loyalties.

I, like many others, feel that this is not the ultimate goal for a nation. Parnell said that "no boundaries should be set to the march of a nation". I do not think that the Welsh Office in its present form should be regarded as the ultimate boundary. It can, and must, grow and develop into a fuller and more complete institution, including a Parliament, coincident with the existence of Wales as a nation. There are many others better qualified than myself to speak on industrial Wales, on heavy industry in particular. I am well aware of the grave and weighty problems still existing in the coal, steel and tinplate industries. I am conscious of the great need that there is for further processing in Welsh industry. In the main, it has been the tradition in Wales that the rough, primary product should be produced there and sent beyond the boundaries of Wales for processing, yet it is the act of processing which produces the higher dividends and the richer profits.

The point has already been made that many of the industries established in development areas are subsidiary branches of firms which have their headquarters elsewhere. In the same way as when blight attacks a tree and first shows in its outer branches and leaves, so it is that the very regions which are in need of help are the first to feel any economic blight through these subsidiary factories.

It is appropriate to point out that there is a general tendency, and an understandable one, for many of these firms which have settled in peripheral areas to produce luxury goods. Again, these are the industries which suffer when an economic draught blows. The level of unemployment in Wales is 2·2 per cent.—remarkably low. It is well to remember however, that for 30 or 40 years the level of unemployment in Wales has stubbornly remained at two or three times the level of that in England. It is true that there is probably no case for complacency, but when Wales looks back to her industrial past and remembers all the bitterness and waste that existed in the 'twenties and 'thirties, then we can, with pride, note a few of the facts pertaining to the present situation.

There is a better balance than ever before in the industrial pattern of Wales. Before the Second World War, two out of every five insured workers in Wales were engaged in the traditional heavy industries of coal, steel or tinplate. By now that figure has been reduced to one-quarter. There is also greater diversification. At the end of 1965, of the 109 different industries in the Standard Industrial Classification in Britain, 106 were represented in Wales. Those which did not appear in Wales were sugar, jute and lace.

In terms of factory space, the growth of this in Wales can be seen clearly by comparing the totality of square footage of factory space allowed by industrial development certificates each year. In 1963 it was 1½ million sq. ft.; in 1964 it was 3 million sq. ft.; in 1965, 4·3 million sq. ft.; and in the first six months of 1966, it was fewer than 5 million sq. ft. There are some who castigate and denigrate the Welsh Office for failing to have achieved in the short span of 21 months all the goals that the Welsh people could properly set themselves; for failing to have redressed all the anomalies existing in the Welsh industrial pattern. I feel sure that every fair-thinking man, and certainly every Welshman, will acknowledge that the Welsh Office has manfully and purposefully set about tackling the great task which is ahead of it.

I should like to say a few words about rural Wales, which represents the great land mass of most of the country. It is here that we find the gravest and most frustrating problems in the Welsh economy. Here is the clearest and most damning evidence of the difficulties of that economy. Let us consider the population of some of our rural counties. Between 1957 and 1962, nine out of 13 Welsh counties lost population. The loss of Radnorshire was 3·7 per cent.; of Brecon 3·3 per cent.; and of Montgomery 2·8 per cent.

It is proper and fair to compare this with certain English counties. England has 48 administrative counties. During that period, only two of them lost population. The Isle of Wight, for some inexplicable reason, lost ·08 per cent. of its population. Middlesex, due to people moving out of the centre of London, had a drop in population of ·04 per cent. The gains of some English counties were as follows: Bedfordshire, 18 per cent; Buckinghamshire, 17·2 per cent.; Berkshire, 17·1 per cent.; Hertfordshire, 15·9 per cent.

The basic ills of the Welsh rural economy are a small ageing, declining population living in scattered hamlets; a lack of capital for investment; a low income level; a high incidence of outward migration, usually of the young and more talented people; and an unhealthily high dependence on Exchequer subsidies. The basic services in rural Wales are still, in the main, well below the recognised standards. Communications are poor. A report produced two years ago shows that in my constituency of Cardigan no fewer than 15,000 people live more than 1½ miles from a recognised bus route. In other words, more than 15,000 people, with the exception of a very few who are served by a rail service, have no public transport service.

In the five counties of Mid-Wales 30 per cent. of properties have no piped water supply compared with 13 per cent. for the whole of England and Wales. In Montgomeryshire, 47 per cent. of properties were without a bath and 42 per cent. without water toilet facilities. Montgomery receives 88 per cent. of its local government finance from the central Exchequer.

These factors constitute a massive problem. I would argue that only the most deliberate, drastic and adventurous action can bring about a desirable solution. In the end it is largely a question of how much industry can be introduced in the next few years to reinvigorate the countryside. Advance factories have a large part to play, and I am glad that the Labour Government have designated one advance factory for Aberystwyth, in my constituency. The Welsh Office has done splendid work in this connection. The policy of industrial development certificates has been implemented to channel as much industry as could reasonably be expected to move into these areas.

The Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association has done yeoman work. This body was set up in 1957. Since then, it has been responsible for the establishment of no fewer than 30 factories in 22 localities and which were responsible for over 3,000 new jobs. The scheduling of almost the whole of rural Wales as a development area is the latest stage in this process.

When I say that all these things are inadequate, it is not a condemnation of the policies which have been pursued. It is rather an endorsement of the terrible magnitude of the problem of depopulation with which we are faced in Mid-Wales and indeed the whole of rural Wales. A great opportunity has been missed in connection with the Selective Employment Tax about which we hear so much from right hon. and hon. Members opposite. I appreciate that this tax has great possibilities. I appreciate that some day it can be used to channel resources back into the these areas. But in its crude primitive state it may well cause damage to certain of those localities. The chance could have been taken this year, rather than perhaps next year, to have laid down a different rate of payment for different regions. I was one of a number of hon. Members on this side of the Committee who tabled an Amendment to that effect.

In considering this very great problem of depopulation, we should bear in mind three matters. First, the House of Commons should consider at an early date the possibility of introducing more sweeping and radical measures to attract industry to such areas. It is the experience of many countries that certain tax incentives—central taxation and local rates—have to be given to drag in industry.

Secondly, we heard today from my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) of his brainchild—the establishment of a new town in Central Wales. I have not yet read that massive report, and therefore, I will abide by his strictures and pass no final judgment on it. However, when I first heard of that project, I had an initial and understandable prejudice against it. I am a Welsh-speaking Welshman. I was brought up in a rural village. The idea of a massive town of tens of thousands of people being established on the plains of Montgomeryshire was not a wholesome proposition.

But what we have to consider is not only the dangers which such a new town could bring, but the dangers which might arise if it does not come. The possibility of three, four or five new towns of comparable size being established just over the English border, acting as suction pumps drawing the little remaining sustenance there is in the villages and hamlets of Mid-Wales, is a factor which we must always bear in mind.

In discussing depopulation, hon. Members have tended to stress outward migration. There is another type of depopulation—the depopulation which is found in my constituency and in the adjoining constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards)—where there is a death rate higher than the birthrate—where there is a natural decrease of the population, where we have an ageing community which has not the capacity and the power to reproduce itself. If we say to such communities, "You shall not have an injection of new blood from outside", we are saying that they shall never be resuscitated.

In conclusion, I would make this plea. I ask hon. Members to consider whether in regions such as the country and nation of Wales and perhaps comparable peripheral areas in other parts of Britain there is not a case for planning the area comprehensively as one entity. Is it not proper for us to consider the precedents of the Highland and Islands Development Act in Scotland and of the Tennessee Valley Authority in America?

These are useful precedents and I am sure that I am accurate in saying that in Wales there is a wide acceptance of such an idea. It was put forward to the House in 1953 by the Welsh Advisory Council, with the prospect of creating a development corporation which could develop the whole of rural Wales comprehensively, be responsible for the purchase of land and undertakings to be developed for the greatest possible benefit of the area, for the provision of much needed services, for the development of roads, the network upon which all development hangs, for the development of water enterprises and, again, for tourism.

I submit that the time has now come for us to consider the establishment of such a corporation for Wales with its own independent finances. It would amply repay the capital involved in such a project. Even by the terms of the most narrow accountancy. It would grant a handsome profit. Judged by any consideration of the highest public interest, I am certain that it would be responsible for reviving the Welsh nation.