Welsh Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th November 1967.

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Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent) 12:00 am, 30th November 1967

Earlier today I listened with interest to the debate between the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) speaking on behalf of their respective parties, and, as I listened to them, I felt that there was something in the old saying that by dividing one's enemies one could conquer.

We are debating a comprehensive and useful document which contains much of interest on the future development of Wales. It discusses some problems which are peculiar to Wales, but I have always argued, and the White Paper does not show otherwise, that the problems of Wales are the same as those of the United Kingdom, only more so.

The Government are to be commended for the measures they have taken to mitigate some of the worst effects of the deflationary policies for Wales, but what has been done has not been sufficient fully to counteract the effects of the deflationary measures, and the Welsh economy has been hard pressed as a result. There is still need to build a strong Welsh economy, and the White Paper rightly attempts to point the way ahead.

A number of matters must be tackled. South Wales, in particular, needs a lot of tidying up. For generations, we have had desecration in the mining valleys. It is vital that adequate roads and communications be provided. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with this matter in detail when opening the debate, and I appreciate that much has been done and much is in progress, but it is still fair to say that much remains to be accomplished. Ministers at the Welsh Office will know that I have pressed them for some time regarding the completion dates for road links to the Midlands. These are vital for the future development of Wales.

Chapter IV of the White Paper, page 23, deals with the Welsh ports. There have been significant developments recently at the Newport docks. On 8th September last, we were privileged to have the major new timber terminal opened by the Prime Minister. The hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) was somewhat critical of the Government's policy with regard to the ports, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) pointed out, if his party had been in power the Port-bury scheme would have been proceeded with, and it would have been most unlikely that developments of the kind I have just mentioned would have been possible.

I have mentioned the new timber terminal at Newport, but I cannot help adding that it is a pity that an important development such as this cannot be accompanied by the provision of a new dock access road. This is vital if loads are to be speedily distributed from Newport as far afield as Manchester and Plymouth.

I was told a few weeks ago that deadlock had been reached because of lack of agreement on financing the project. A scheme had been suggested under which contributions would be made by the British Transport Docks Board, the Welsh Office and Newport Corporation. Unfortunately, I now understand that on a point of principle the Docks Board at the highest level has declined to make a contribution. Can my hon. Friend the Minister of State tell us when she winds up what plans are still afoot to progress the project? It would be a pity if it were left in abeyance indefinitely.

I appreciate that in debating a document like the White Paper one must not be too parochial. Nevertheless, a significant item needs mentioning—the proposed Uskmouth terminal, which was to be built at an estimated cost of £14 million. The docks Board obtained the necessary Parliamentary powers for the project in the last Session. The next step would be for it to apply to the Ministry of Transport for consent to go ahead, but before doing so it took a fresh look at its customers' requirements. As the steel industry has now been taken into public ownership a new situation has arisen, and a new terminal at Port Talbot is already under way. The managing director of the South Wales group of the British Steel Corporation has set up a working party, on which the Docks Board and British Railways Board are represented, to examine the situation in depth. We are at present awaiting its findings with interest.

If it is decided to go ahead with the Uskmouth project, I understand that the intention will be that it would be operated and financed entirely separately from the existing Newport docks. The bulk of the tonnage at Newport docks at present consists of the importation of iron ore. Therefore, if the Uskmouth project went ahead Newport docks would have to branch out and secure new forms of cargo. That would undoubtedly be a formidable undertaking.

If the decision is taken not to go ahead with the project, would the idea then be that iron ore should be transported by rail from Port Talbot to Newport? Such an arrangement would be of no benefit to Newport and would be most unwelcome. The Docks Board accepts that the present facilities for handling iron ore at Newport need modernising. However, it has been reluctant to invest in new plant and machinery for fear that it would become obsolete if the Uskmouth project were proceeded with. But provided it is decided not to go ahead with the project, the Docks Board will take early steps to modernise and renew the existing facilities.

Under the heading, "Supply of Labour in 1971", paragraph 92 of the White Paper states: The general picture painted of Wales as compared with Great Britain as a whole is therefore of a smaller proportion of employees in the population, a higher proportion of unemployed, and an employee population which has been growing more slowly. The number of male employees has been relatively static and indeed tending to decline in Wales. To my way of thinking, that does not make very happy reading.

The position after the Second World War was that every sort of industry was encouraged to come to Wales and the opportunity to set up complexes of related industries was missed. There were reasons for this, as I appreciate. Nevertheless, I believe that publicly-owned industries could now fill the gap. On 14th February last, I asked the President of the Board of Trade …if he will take steps to introduce public enterprise factories into those areas of the country which have failed to induce sufficient private enterprise concerns and as a result are abnormally affected by unemployment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) replied: The vigorous application of my powers under the Industrial Development and Local Employment Acts, including the provision of publicly-owned factories, provides the best means of helping the development areas."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1967; Vol. 741, c. 87.] I wish I could be as optimistic. Yesterday I put down a further Question to the President of the Board of Trade, asking my right hon. Friend …what steps he is taking to introduce publicly-owned industries in Wales, bearing in mind the need to make use of sheet steel produced locally for manufacturing purposes, and thereby creating a more balanced and stable economic structure. This time, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State replied, saying: We have no such plans at present."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1967; Vol. 755, c. 225.] I feel that this is most regrettable. I believe, having listened to him, that my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Tudor Watkins) supports me in this. We have to be realistic and appreciate that, despite inducements which have been offered, only limited results have been achieved. For this reason, too, I welcome the decision of the South Wales miners to come out in support of publicly-owned industries. They realise that this could be the answer, at least in the long term, to the rundown in the mining industry, and it must be appreciated also that there are a number of factories vacant in Wales at present.

What is more, before the Government came to power, prominent Labour Party spokesmen advocated publicly-owned factories if privately-owned factories could not be induced in sufficient quantities. I appreciate, nevertheless, that this would be a very difficult task, but we hope in the months and years ahead to have a major upturn in trade, and I suggest that projects of this kind could be started in a small way. I am not asking for a Llanwenn-sized project, but there are areas where there are pockets of unemployment in which this could be justified, and if a loss were made that could be justified on social grounds alone. After all, private enterprise has failed to fill this need. I trust that the Welsh Office is using its considerable influence to bring this sort of project into being.

We are witnessing in our country at present the growth of nationalism. I have always been proud of my Welsh background, but I must confess that at the present moment the independence I am more concerned with is the independence of the United Kingdom. We have witnessed in the last twenty years or so the steady erosion of that independence, and I have a theory that the growth of nationalism can at least partly be attributed to this unsatisfactory state of affairs.

In his broadcast a fortnight ago, the Prime Minister spoke of our being a proud people, and this epithet particularly applies to the people of Wales, but the spark of idealism needs to be rekindled. Britain has just met a serious financial crisis and the Government's decision to devalue was wise and courageous. It will enable the economy to expand and we shall be able to get rid of the wasteful unemployment which should not have been created in the first place. I believe that the Welsh economy can flourish only when the economy of the United Kingdom as a whole is flourishing. It is only then that the vitally necessary industry can be diverted to the Principality.