Wales (Trade and Industry)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th November 1966.

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Photo of Mr Ednyfed Davies Mr Ednyfed Davies , Conway 12:00 am, 14th November 1966

I very much hope that the fact that I have some reservations about the improved state of economic development and the prospects for economic development in Wales will not be interpreted as any lack of appreciation of what has been done and is being done. The Welsh Office and the Board of Trade are to be congratulated on the very considerable activity of the last two years, particularly in comparison with the activity or rather lack of activity under the previous Administration. What has been done is doubly laudable in view of the nature of the economic crisis which has prevailed during the greater part of the past two years.

It is not with the present intentions of the Government or with the way that they are putting those intentions into effect that I am concerned as much as with whether we are attributing the right order of magnitude to the employment problem which is about to face us in Wales. I am not now referring particularly to the extra difficulties which result from the period of special restriction under which we now suffer.

I very much hope that in answering this debate, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Welsh Office, can show that my fears are ill-founded, but I rather suspect that the problem of surplus labour which we will have to face in Wales at the end of this decade will be of considerably greater magnitude than we are catering for and calculating for.

It is now somewhat academic to speculate what the position would be if the rate of growth envisaged in the National Plan were likely to be achieved at the end of the present five-year period. It is now more realistic, perhaps, to think in terms of what the situation will be in terms of a continuation of the kind of rate of growth which we have encountered during the last five years.

If we assess what we are likely to have at the end of this decade given a normal rate of growth, what we are likely to have in the way of labour supply and what the demand for labour is likely to be at the beginning of the 1970s, I fear that we shall be meeting a demand for employment which is considerably greater than that for which we are calculating. It would be extremely valuable if a detailed study, more definitive than anything which has been published, were to be carried to show what the position is likely to be at the beginning of the 1970s and the size of the problem that we will then have to face.

I refer particularly to the advance factory programme, which, during the last two years, has been concentrated largely on meeting the special needs of the areas in which there have been pit closures. I am very much afraid that this advance factory programme is inadequate to the kind of problem that we will have to face. I grant that it is impossible to forecast with precision, but there is reason to believe that, given the widest margin of error, the kind of problem of surplus labour that we will have to face at the end of this decade may be three or four times the magnitude of the problem that we sometimes feel we have to face.

The coal industry alone is catering for a rundown by 1970 of more than 39,000 men. There will be a continued rundown in agriculture and there will certainly be considerable shedding of labour in the steel industry. Moreover, we have set ourselves certain goals. We have set ourselves the target of an unemployment figure as low as the unemployment figure for Britain as a whole. That is a considerable task to set ourselves. We are also speaking in terms of a considerable reduction of outward migration and of the possibility of reducing it to zero. We talk, also, of a much improved activity rate. The activity rate in Wales stands at about 48 per cent., which is astonishingly low when we consider that the activity rate for Britain as a whole is nearly 10 per cent. higher. If, however, we are setting ourselves these ideals of policy, the employment problem that we will have to face will be of very great magnitude if we are to achieve those aims and to cater for not only the natural rundown in certain industries, but the special additional rundown resulting from the policy of the National Coal Board.

I would be inclined to say that, taking everything into account, we would be facing a surplus labour problem in the neighbourhood of 100,000 at the end of this decade; and if we were to achieve the rate of activity which we say that we would like to achieve, the figure might be considerably more than that. If that is the kind of problem that can be tackled and faced, that is all very well.