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 Gwynfor Evans Mr Gwynfor Evans , Carmarthen 12:00 am, 14th November 1966

The Seoretary of State made a very important announcement, which other hon. Members have followed up, about the methods of dealing with the spoil heaps or the coal tips which are making our land hideous. This is something on which public conscience was awaked by the terrible Aberfan disaster. These coal tips are all over Southern Wales; there are some in my constituency and probably in those of other hon. Gentlemen. I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about steps which the Government intend to take to try to remove at least some of the tips and to deal with some of the more urgent aspects of the problem.

I would urge the Government that, in tackling this problem they should try to develop a comprehensive policy for tip clearance all over Wales and one which will mean not just the removal of some of these tips—I recognise that there are many hundreds—but the whole lot. Some, of course, take their place in the landscape without making the countryside too hideous, but so many of them are scars on our countryside and prevent the attraction of industry and industrial development.

If this were done on a large scale, it would be costly and the removal of the spoil itself would be a difficult and big problem, but perhaps the tips could be turned to good account economically. This material could perhaps create car parks or sites for buildings, light industry and so on and could even be taken some distance to fill up waterlogged land and to make up uneven land. It would therefore add to our national assets in the same way in which the Netherlands has added to its assets by recovering land which had been under water.

Perhaps the challenge posed by this disaster gives us the impetus and opportunity to think of it in this way. For those which need not be moved, perhaps the Forestry Commission could decide which tips could be planted with trees. This has been done in the north-east of England, for instance, and in other countries as well. Much of this might be done where it would not affect land drainage or give rise to flooding problems. But this gives us the opportunity of creating pieces of flat land in Wales, which are not often to be found.

It would be a good thing to use this approach and to consider how to use the spoil to help in our road-building programme. Part of this material might be useful in that connection. The Government would do well to look at the latest techniques of road mechanics and soil engineering to tackle this problem in an ambitious way, following the start which has now been made. Perhaps this could be considered against a background of clearing other industrial sites altogether. There is a very good scheme in the lower Swansea Valley and it would be a good thing if that were applied to the whole country.

I now turn to the more general industrial situation. As the employment figures show, despite the very optimistic speech of the Secretary of State, the position in Wales is still worse than that in any English region and nearly twice as bad as in England as a whole. That is the position, whatever we may say about steps which are being taken or are to be taken. This is not new for us. It is the position which has existed as long as most of us can remember. It is certainly the only position which I can remember.

This position is shown by the population figures. A Question of mine the other day revealed that the excess of births over deaths in Wales over the years since 1921 was 575,000. There was no year in that period in which the excess of births over deaths was less than 30,000. Yet the total growth of our population in Wales over that period of 45 years is only the equivalent of the total of one of those years' excess of births over deaths. This shows that during that period at any rate we have not had the development we needed.

Is there any other part of Britain where fewer men are at work now than 12 years ago? That is the situation in Wales. This again reflects the great need for development in that country. A decline is likely. If action is not taken more radically than now suggested, it is likely to gain momentum. The hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Ednyfed Hudson Davies) suggested that we may, by the end of the decade, need about 100,000 or even more new jobs.

I gave that figure as well when I first spoke in the House four months ago and it was based on the same kind of calculation which the hon. Gentleman used. When one faces a problem of that magnitude, one is bound to consider methods which are out of the ordinary. I feel that the methods which the Government are now relying on are insufficient to deal with a problem of this size.

In this kind of situation, redeployment as the Government envisage it is a non-starter. It is only a euphemism for unemployment. What is being done? What has been done? We have heard of some new factories and we have heard of millions of sq. ft. of factory building in the future, but what is being done to plan the country? When I have asked about this, the Government's response has been that regional machinery has been set up, but when one asks what that machinery has done, one cannot get a satisfactory reply. Where are the results? What has been produced by this regional machinery in Wales? Is it unproductive machinery? The Government are appealing to everybody to increase production. Cannot there be more productivity in this respect? We need it very badly.

The other reply which they give when ore asks what is being done is a reference to advance factories. These are very good things to have, but we must realise that they will not do more than touch the fringe of the problem. I have no doubt that the Government realise that. They are a positive contribution, but they do not go far enough to meet a problem of the size of that in Wales. This is a tremendous problem which poses a crisis for us in Wales and measures adequate for a crisis situation are needed.

There is to be one of these advance factories in my constituency, in Llandybie, but it will have an area of only 10,000 sq. ft., and may give work to about 40 people. That does not touch the problem locally, and when this is applied elsewhere in the country one sees that something more is needed. This is too much like putting a sticking plaster on a gangrenous wound.

Why has this situation developed in Wales? Why does it exist? Hon. Members opposite will not agree, but I feel that the Government—and this applies not only to this Government but to the whole series of Governments—are not serious about Wales. They do not take Wales seriously. They have no policy for Wales to counter the effect of their own general policy. We have heard of the effects of their own general policy on Wales and elsewhere in other debates. In Wales the effect of the deflationary measures is to make far worse a situation which is already bad.

These deflationary measures were taken because of an English situation, not because of a Welsh situation. They were taken to meet the position in this part of this State. So was a measure such as the Anglo-Irish trade agreement. This was taken to suit English needs and not to suit Welsh needs. If we had complete responsibility for Welsh policy under a Welsh Government, nobody responsible for Welsh policy would have thought of making an agreement such as the Anglo-lrish trade agreement. The Welsh farmers are very hard hit by it, and by the credit squeeze, so hard hit that they are not now getting for their livestock even the capital which they put into it. That is the situation over the last four months, and it is a very serious situation.

Much of the trouble arises from the balance-of-payments crisis, which is one of the root causes of this crisis. It certainly has nothing to do with us in Wales. It is relevant to the policy followed by the Government in foreign affairs and particularly in defence and overseas spending on military matters. We have the Chancellor's word for this. According to Der Spiegel a year ago, he said to that magazine, There would not have been a sterling crisis if we had not had to bear so much of the burden of defence abroad We would have restored our balance of payments if we had not had to bear this heavy load. It is because of this expenditure on defence abroad that we have to bear this burden in Wales. Possibly the heaviest burden caused by the big power ambitions and imperial nostalgia of this Government is borne by the Welsh people.