Heads of the Valleys Authorities

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th December 1972.

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12.50 a.m.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil

We are raising the subject of the problems facing the Heads of the Valleys communities at this time because of the serious threat to the livelihood of so many of their people as a result of the announcement by the British Steel Corporation regarding the Ebbw Vale works. However, the major problems to which I shall refer pre-date that announcement, although the threat to Ebbw Vale now underlines the seriousness of the situation.

We are even more fearful now in the light of the lack of urgency and the Micawber-like attitude of the Secretary of State to the position of the Heads of the Valleys communities. In this connection I must say that, while we are grateful for the presence of the Minister of State, we consider that these issues go beyond his immediate responsibilities at the Welsh Office, and one can only greatly regret and condemn the continued parliamentary absenteeism of the Secretary of State on this as on so many other matters.

Photo of Mr Michael Roberts Mr Michael Roberts , Cardiff North

Where is the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas)?

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil

If my right hon. Friend were Secretary of State, he would assuredly be here. I remind the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Michael Roberts) that the degree of attention and scrutiny which members of the Labour Government paid to debates on Welsh affairs was infinitely superior to anything shown by the present Administration.

In the Heads of the Valleys we feel that not only have we suffered from a failure to provide effective industrial and economic answers to the problems facing us, but that there has been a failure to identify the very problems themselves. The main charge we lay at the Government's door is that both the diagnosis and the prescription in the last two years have been wrong.

It has been a major contention of the Heads of the Valleys authorities, particularly at the recent Llantrisant new town public inquiry, that the Buchanan Report, upon which the new town proposals were based, neither analysed the problems of the Heads of the Valleys communities nor properly sought solutions. Perhaps I should say in passing that I have consistently regarded Professor Buchanan's work in Wales as a disaster. This has been true of everything he has touched.

Photo of Mr Alfred Evans Mr Alfred Evans , Caerphilly

Not just in Wales, either.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil

In many aspects of planning Professor Buchanan has been a disaster, but in Wales he has been a particular disaster.

The Buchanan view is based upon two fallacies. The first is what one may call the curious doctrine of Buchanan economic determinism which suggests that the population drift from the valleys and the location of industry away from the valleys are an inevitable feature. The second fallacy is that the existing communities in the Heads of the Valleys areas are unable to accommodate and promote the growth that is required.

We reject entirely the writing-off of the potential of the areas which we represent. It is not inevitable. Loss of population need not be a fact of life for the Heads of the Valleys. It becomes a fact of life only if the Government allow it and do not plan to prevent it.

In propounding his blinkered view of the problems facing the Heads of the Valleys, Professor Buchanan chose to overlook a great deal of information which countered his conclusions and exposed them as a piece of predeterminist economic nonsense. The evidence presented to the Llantrisant inquiry by those representing the Heads of the Valleys Standing Conference demonstrated both the true nature of the problem and the scale of potential.

I do not know whether the Minister of State wishes me to carry on in his absence. I see that he is leaving the Chamber.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

The hon. Gentleman can carry on with his speech. I am still here.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock , Bedwellty

The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. John Stradling Thomas) is there.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil

The evidence presented was magnificent and I believe that none of us, even in the days before 1970, was fully aware of it. The evidence shows that after a rough time during the late 1950s through to the mid-I960s the net migration of population from the Glamorgan valleys was slowing down. Hopefully the population of the Glamorgan area was being stabilised. This is not true of the north Monmouthshire valleys, because the major contributory factor to the development of the Cwmbran new town prompted a further migration of the population from the north Monmouthshire valleys when it need not have happened.

I dwell on the point concerning the migration of population because the analysis provided by Mr. J. L. Edwards and Professor Howard Carter in evidence to the Cwmbran new town inquiry gives the lie to all those proponents and arguments, particularly those put forward by people like the Buchanans and the Nevins that we need to accept the rundown of the valleys and the migration of population as facts of economic life.

At that time in the mid-1960s, looking back on the experience of the late 1950s and early 1960s upon which most of the information, evidence and statistics were based, it might have seemed that it would be an uphill task to re-establish and restore the valley communities both economically and socially. The evidence, which was succinctly and effectively presented at the inquiry, reveals—as the experience of the late 1960s has shown, with more energetic regional industrial policies beginning to bite and to attract new industries into the area—that there was a considerable future prospect for the Heads of the Valleys areas.

The answer is that industries will come to the Heads of the Valleys areas, contrary to what was said by Professor Buchanan and the ideas expressed in Wales in 1967. I have never withdrawn my view that the report was a document that could be interpreted as meaning all things to all men.

When one looks at the pattern of industrial development in the Heads of the Valleys areas in the late 1960s one sees, contrary to all previous impressions, that the Heads of the Valleys areas could attract new industries. They did relatively better, as a result of Government regional policy, in getting industry into the valleys areas than into the coastal areas of South Wales. It is now held out that the lusher parts of the coastal areas could be the saviour of the valleys' economies.

If one has effective regional economic policies with discrimination such as was in operation in the late 1960s, it can be demonstrated that one can attract new industries into an area which, if Professor Buchanan had had his way, would have been written off in the medium or long term.

Photo of Mr Alfred Evans Mr Alfred Evans , Caerphilly

As a simple man and one who was born in a Welsh village, why should I have to move to find a job, instead of the job being brought to me? I wish to channel that question through my hon. Friend to the Minister.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil

I understand the sentiment and appreciate the question my hon. Friend would pose to the Minister. He is expressing something which is now a basic political fact of life in our communities: that what people are saying, and what the steel workers of Ebbw Vale will say, will not move the Government in what they say or do.

I rest my argument not only on the simple social fact that people will not move but also on the fact that, if a Government are committed to promoting development in these areas, there is nothing disadvantageous in those areas for future economic and industrial development. This was very much part of the evidence of many of our technical witnesses at the inquiry.

The evidence of the late 1950s and the early 1960s might have led one to ask what chance there was of getting new industries to meet the people's needs. When an effective regional policy had begun to bite we found that it could work, and industry was attracted to the coastal areas, which are now seen to be the saviour of our economy.

Photo of Mr Michael Roberts Mr Michael Roberts , Cardiff North

I share the hon. Member's concern that the valley areas should enjoy economic prosperity. But would he not recognise that the coastal areas—we are thinking of a man's right to have a job near to where he lives—suffered from the discriminatory policy of his own Government when those areas were excluded from development area status, so that industry was extracted from those areas, which were already under-industrialised by other United Kingdom standards?

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil

Suffering is a relative term. If the Cardiff area suffered in employment from 1966–70, its suffering from 1970–72 has been much worse.

The lesson we draw from the survey of industrial developments in the South Wales economy through the 1960s to the present day is that the failure has been to plan in advance of foreseeable problems—the decline of traditional industries like coal, steel and the railways. The railways made a major contribution to redundancy during this period.

The failure of the Labour Government's regional policy was that it could not match the loss of jobs from pit closures. We could not make up for the precious time lost when the coal industry began to show signs of decline. My point is particularly relevant to how the Government now react to the problems in the steel industry, particularly in Ebbw Vale.

Between 1950 and 1959 only four new firms came into my borough of Merthyr, with a marvellous total of 381 new jobs. During half that period the increase in the problems of the coal industry, particularly in South Wales, was there for all to see. The writing was on the wall. Even between 1960 and 1964, when no one now can deny that the industry was in decline, only 10 firms came into the borough to employ an extra 391 people. From 1965 to 1970 27 firms came in, to employ over 1,600 people. The scale of industrial development was remarkable testimony to a regional policy which many of us were eager to see made even more effective and thought could be strengthened in so many ways. Even that expansion could not match the loss of jobs.

The same pattern of very lean years can be found in Aberdare and other valley communities. In an interesting and perceptive case study of Merthyr—evidence which I cannot find in the Buchanan Report on Llantrisant, and which he clearly ignored or did not look for—Mr. J. Edwards from the Department of Geography at Aberystwyth showed that what places like Merthyr needed was guaranteed long-term support from the Government. Given that support, and the corollary of effective controls of industrial development in the congested areas of the South-East and the Midlands, areas like Merthyr and the Heads of the Valleys can play a major role in the regional economy.

Mr. Edwards concluded his case study with a question: "Will the Government accept this challenge?" We ask the same question tonight. Can the Government accept the challenge of the potential of industrial development in this area? We should not have to ask: the answer should be automatically "Yes". But the response of the Government to the new crisis is far short of what is needed, politically and personally. Will the Secretary of State have the will and the guts to take up the new challenge?

The real indictment of the Government in respect of the major industrial, economic and employment problems of the area, particularly over the last two years, is that they have not learned the lessons of their own experience of the late 1950s and early 1960s. They have again lost two years of precious time when they could have been tackling the foreseeable problems. We have had two years of a regional policy of amnesia. The Secretary of State has trundled behind his lame duck colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry. He accepted the smashing of the Labour Government's regional organisation in a fit of ill-tempered, doctrinaire spite. He has now suddenly come out of his amnesia and has remembered that he is responsible.

Photo of Mr Alfred Evans Mr Alfred Evans , Caerphilly

My hon. Friend is flattering him.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil

I am giving him the minimum benefit of the doubt. He now comes out of his amnesia, and in the Industry Act of May and June this year we have an original policy which we may be able to try to work.

The Secretary of State cannot be surprised—that is why it is regrettable that he is not here tonight—that we did not welcome his conversion. He cannot expect the generosity he seemed to expect at Question Time a week or so ago.

He felt then that we should go down on our knees and be thankful for the largesse of 1,000 new jobs to be created in Merthyr, when in 18 months—

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil

Merthyr may be lucky, but we have 1,000 jobs in the pipeline, having lost 1,200 in the last 12 months. Is that what prosperity means to Merthyr and the Heads of the Valleys?

The Secretary of State was expressing remarkable complacency from the Dispatch Box, but then we heard of the threat to 4,500 jobs is Ebbw Vale that would affect whole communities. The news went through the Heads of the Valley areas like a cold chill. The Minister told us that there were only 16,000 jobs in the pipeline for the whole of Wales—half the number in the pipeline in 1970.

It is not only his complacency which we reject and about which we feel strongly and bitterly. That is why we reacted so strongly to his remarks a fortnight ago.

I wish that the Secretary of State was here, because I would like to say these things to him directly.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

The hon. Member can say it to me in my right hon. and learned Friend's absence.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil

I shall say it in his absence, because his absence is his fault.

The Secretary of State has not risen to the seriousness of the situation. I do not know if I am speaking only for myself—perhaps my hon. Friends will tell me whether they share my impression—but when we went on a deputation to see the right hon. Member about the steel industry I came away more concerned and worried than when I went in.

I share the view expressed in two Western Mail leaders in the last fortnight which said that politically the response of the Secretary of State has fallen far short of matching the crisis facing the Heads of the Valleys areas.

We feel, contrary to the view which might understandably have been held in the mid-sixties, that the only way to solve the problems of the Heads of the Valleys area was by growth in the coast area; that it has now been shown how successful these areas can be, given assistance and contributions to their economy on a scale that this Government, I think, are not prepared to adopt.

We have formulated a series of specific demands to meet the needs of our areas. There is a policy vacuum at present, and to fill it it is imperative that we have an immediate response to our demands. This should come from the Minister, preferably this evening but certainly within weeks rather than years.

I therefore put a series of specific requests—action points for a programme of action which we feel would be the answer to our problems in the area.

I ask the Under-Secretary to confirm that no decision has been made about Ebbw Vale, and that the Government have informed the British Steel Corporation that the Cabinet must make the final decision on any contraction there.

I also draw attention to the notice of resolution passed by the Heads of the Valleys Standing Conference, of which the Minister has received a copy: At last Friday's meeting of the Heads of the Valleys Standing Conference it was resolved to write to Mr. Peter Walker, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, in view of his final responsibility for the level of unemployment and the conduct of the steel industry, that he should give an absolute undertaking that no steps will be taken to carry out any of the proposals for the future of the Ebbw Vale steelworks made by Lord Melchett on 16th November until the full social implications of these proposed measures for the whole area have been examined by his Department and the Welsh Office and reported to all the local authorities concerned. That resolution is the joint concern of the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

The second point I want to put to the Minister is that in the light of the evi- dence first put to him at the Llantrisant new town inquiry—evidence not known to the present or previous Government—about the pattern of economic development in the Heads of the Valleys and the new threat of the loss of 4,500 jobs in the area as a result of the BSC announcement, he should announce as soon as possible the abandonment or shelving of the new town proposal. Whatever our views—and there has been opinion on both sides for and against the proposal—nothing must now detract from the total effort required to be put into providing jobs and resources in the Heads of the Valleys area, into rebuilding the infrastructure and providing the job opportunities that will be needed.

Thirdly, I shall be grateful if the Minister will now undertake to make an urgent study of the request made by hon. Members representing all the Heads of the Valleys authorities that a Heads of the Valleys development corporation be established. Such a corporation, which has been outlined in the recent works of Professor Carter, of Aberystwyth, would be able to plan and finance the development of the area as a whole. In the meantime, urgent attention must be given to studies paving the way for industrial development in the area. One of the myths that are perpetuated is that the area cannot accommodate new industrial development. There are just over 1,100 acres of potential industrial land in the area, on about 40 sites. If fully developed, they would provide about 45,000 jobs, which would more than meet the growth potential of the Heads of the Valleys economy and offset whatever redundancies may occur in any of the basic industries in the area.

However, we accept, and have never denied, that only a handful of the 40 sites are ready for building and industrial development. Only about 140 of the 1,100 acres can be said to be fully prepared. Only 16 of the 40 sites are larger than 10 acres.

I am much struck by a concept being discussed now that there should be layers of investment in the South Wales economy—that rather than our going for a great splurge in one place like Llantrisant there should be much more subtle planning of industrial investment in each area, to suit the locality's requirements and exploit to the full the potential of each of the existing communities.

Photo of Mr Alfred Evans Mr Alfred Evans , Caerphilly

We are not interested in layering, or this and that, the plain fact is that our locality is not going to put up with the intolerable burden of declining communities. We are not going to put up with job losses. The Minister had better think again, and he had better tell the Secretary of State to think again. He should forget the nonsense about Llantrisant and ensure that there is massive investment in the Heads of the Valleys area. If he does not, then his Government will be in trouble and he will cause—

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. I have already made it plain that long interventions are not helpful, and I must draw the attention of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands) to the fact that long speeches do not help either, and that very long speeches are not helpful when there are 11 debates to follow this one. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member will speedily draw his remarks to a close.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil

We are talking about the economic future of a very large area—

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. I hope that the hon. Member is not going to argue with the Chair. I have made the position quite plain.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil

I take my hon. Friend's point, and I hope that I shall be able to bring my remarks to a speedy conclusion.

I referred to layers of investment. Clearly, in the middle valleys there is only limited scope for industrial development along the line of the A472 trans-valley route. There is scope for medium-sized industrial development. I know of a site that adjoins three constituencies. It is just outside Merthyr Tydvil, and there is great potential for industrial development there. The area has not been exploited or looked at or considered—

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil

I cannot give way, because of what the Chair has said. I do not wish to be discourteous to the hon. Gentleman, but I have a duty to the Chair as well.

A study of industrial sites in the area reveals that their development will clearly involve more effort and a high degree of co-operation between local and regional authorities, and the rôle of a future development corporation would be vital in this context. It could be the catalyst that is needed.

But at the Heads of the Valleys lies the chief opportunity to provide a couple of major sites which could solve the major industrial economic problems and provide job opportunities for the area, and these should be earmarked for large-scale development. Instead of each local authority, instead of each of us trying to develop within our own patches, I believe that we should pool our effort, resources and expertise to develop about two major growth points. The Government will find no narrow-minded parochialism about whose patch the developments should be in.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

I have made it plain that the hon. Member has spoken for a long time. I hope that he will now bring his remarks to a close.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil

What I am saying is that the Government, in conjunction with the local authorities, should get down to developing two major sites.

Finally, we think it is essential to have a heavy investment in the infrastructure. We have poor road communications. We need to invest heavily in more communications. We have a legacy of old schools, poor housing and derelict land. The clearing of an extra 3,000 acres could be added to the work of the Monmouthshire derelict land unit. We believe that we could spend an annual budget of £3 million, and I hope that the Minister will be able to underwrite such expansion and will not curb the momentum.

With the commitment, with the financial resources and with positive intervensionist regional policies the future of the Heads of the Valleys can be assured. We believe that with the programme outlined tonight our existing communities—Merthyr, Aberdare, Ebbw Vale and others—could be the new towns of the future.

1.25 a.m.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock , Bedwellty

It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. So comprehensive has been the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands) that my remarks can be curtailed.

We are talking about areas of South Wales whose very names—Ebbw Vale, Merthyr Tydfil—mean a good deal to people well beyond the areas, and this debate about the future will be of significance well beyond the borders of South Wales. We are talking about an area that has not been left entirely high and dry without the benefit of any postwar prosperity but has had the frustrating experience of constantly rising but equally constantly unfulfilled expectations. So we have had superficial prosperity, hidden poverty, and underemployment, hidden unemployment. These are two manifestations of a community which is in gradual and undramatic decline.

With the rundown of the coal mining industry and the recent tragic proposals for Ebbw Vale, this gradual decline is likely to become more dramatic, and it will call for a more dramatic response from the public and the representatives of the people in the area. In the last few years, as a consequence of this continual sapping decline, we have seen two developments. We have seen the decision-makers who think that as long as they can hold the position to a respectable level of stagnation they will have conducted a successful operation. That is a counsel of despair. We have also seen the people who have come to think that they must get used to living in a second-class society and have what Ernest Bevin once called "a poverty of expectation". This presents a depressing picture.

The Heads of the Valleys local authorities in recent years have shown that they intend to stand and fight. They are an exception to the general rule that the decision-makers and the people of the area have come to agree with each other that fate, Government, private enterprise, history, or whatever, has dictated their destiny, and conspired to make them a generation that is bearing the burden of the introduction of technology and the gradual decline of the community in which they live.

The Heads of the Valleys Standing Conference is a manifestation at local level of the solidarity of workers against the argument of force that has been pre- sented by the Government with diminishing effect in the last two-and-a-half years since the victory flush of 1970 when they thought that everyone should stand on his own feet and that they could carry the country on atavistic principles long gone by the time the 1930s drew to a close. We have had all that. It is no good the Government's now pretending that they have seen the light, or have come to a deliberate resolution about new policies. The reason why the Government have changed their attitude is that they have been resoundingly defeated. In the battles with the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and the miners, and in several other large and small battles, they have been defeated.

The population and the public representatives in the Heads of the Valleys are Democratic Socialists. By definition, as Aneurin Bevan said, that is a temperate creed, and the consequence is that they are temperate men. But they now realise that the decline can go on no longer, so they have taken a decision along the lines of decisions made by other working-class representatives in the last three years in other parts of the country that now they will combine and show their solidarity and indicate their determination not to accept any further decline. It is just as well that they have done this, because the Government understand the language of force. People are now teaching the Government that two can play at that game, however reluctantly. Instead of asking for Government assistance, people are talking about the inalienable right to work. Instead of these local authorities being supplicant they are becoming adamant.

This denotes a major change in political attitudes and attitudes towards expectations in life. If there are any theoreticians left in Conservative Party headquarters I hope that they have taken note of this change in mood, attitude and aspiration of people in general. It would be easy to be thought of as either a political science-fiction writer or a wild academic to draw these feelings from those who we on the Opposition side of the House represent. But that is the nature of the change which has taken place, and it might dictate the relationship between Government and people in areas like the Heads of the Valleys throughout the country in the future.

After years of running faster and faster in order to stand still, in terms of development, employment and population, the people and the representatives of the Heads of the Valleys are starting to assert that they expect certain things from life. They expect to obtain co-operation from the Government for social reasons. They will certainly exchange economic arguments. We are not talking of people who think that the world owes them a living. These people will exchange ideas and present the evidence that we have so often presented in the House and elsewhere. They are saying that the Heads of the Valleys is a good and suitable place for modern industry to develop. All that will go on.

On the economic criteria, the Heads of the Valleys people are saying that we cannot have a quick or efficacious answer to the problems of this area if we rely simply on economic criteria. Unemployment has now become a social problem and it is social answers that must be provided.

In order to abbreviate my remarks I shall quote Mr. James Kegie, the planning officer of Monmouthshire. No one would call him a raving Bolshevik. I describe him as a dedicated and humane technocrat. That is the nature of Mr. Kegie. He is very good at his job. In his latest quarterly report he says: Many leading economists are agreed that further financial investment incentives to expand industrial production will in practice create very few additional jobs"— I would not altogether agree with that, but there is substance in what he says, and that unemployment is increasingly becoming a social problem. At the moment the Government is endeavouring to tackle this major problem from the aspect of expanding production and achieving economic growth"— again, he is an optimist— It would appear, with little doubt, that the problem will not be capable of solution only within the economic sphere, but that important decisions will have to be taken of the type mentioned previously in this Report which have wide social implications. The kind of decisions that he mentions are raising the school leaving age, lower retirement age, and reduced working hours. He then promulgates the idea of some kind of population control policy, which might be a suitable basis for a debate on a future Consolidated Fund Bill. But that encapsulates the nature of the change in attitudes and values.

The problems are obvious and many. The solutions to some are more easily attempted than others. This area will suffer grievously from entry to the European Economic Community. That is one of the main reasons why, on behalf of all the people for whom I speak, I have become more and more determined in my opposition to Britain's entry.

There is also the unresolved problem of the prospect of the development of a new town at Llantrisant. There is incontrovertible evidence that that will act as a magnet pulling on the areas that we are trying to serve. That contention is not seriously questioned.

There is the threat of the loss of 4,500 jobs at Ebbw Vale—the one guaranteed bastion and last resort of employment opportunity for over 30 years in the area of which I am speaking. No wonder my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil spoke of a cold chill running through the Heads of the Valleys. That cold chill might turn into very hot anger if the Government are not forthcoming with guarantees and undertakings that they will tackle the problems in prospect if and when the 4,500 jabs are lost at the British Steel Corporation's works in Ebbw Vale. If that were to happen it would almost be more humane of the Government either to bomb these areas out of existence or to dam them and flood the valleys they serve, because that is the kind of dereliction which would come to the Heads of the Valleys area if 4,500 jobs and all that went with them were lost without their being replaced, or more than replaced, by jobs expansion.

The scale of the problem is illustrated by Mr. Kegie's quarterly report. Let me take a few of the employment exchanges in the Heads of the Valleys area. At Brynmawr, Ebbw Vale, Pontlottyn and Tredegar there are 112 vacancies and several thousand people unemployed.

Photo of Mr Alfred Evans Mr Alfred Evans , Caerphilly

What about Bargoed?

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock , Bedwellty

I could also give Bargoed, but I am very conservative, in order to be absolutely fair. In fact, I am being more than fair by counting only those employment exchanges which border on the A465. I could go down the valleys to Bargoed, Blackwood and other parts of my constituency and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans). But, taking four of the employment exchanges adjacent to the A465, there are 14 workers for every vacancy. The West Monmouthshire total as a sub-region of Monmouthshire is 22 workers to every registered vacancy. The United Kingdom ratio is four to one.

When the unemployment and vacancy figures are published each month, Ministers and editors try to explain and rationalise the way in which the unemployment situation is improving. If we take one rule of thumb and compare the number of people looking for jobs with the number of jobs which exist against the background of long-term decline, we are talking about a disaster area on which further disasters may be visited. Among the people who must command our attention and not just silly, meaningless compassion but direct action, are the youngsters. The youth employment officer for my area, Mr. Denzil Cole, says in his quarterly report: It is very disheartening to have to write that many young people with very low academic attainments could remain unemployed for a very long time, perhaps even years. A survey is being undertaken by the National Youth Employment Council to investigate the employment opportunity for less able school leavers. It is hoped that as a result suitable measures will be taken to cater for these young people". He was talking about the less able.

At the other end of the A465, at Pontypool, 400 science-based jobs are being lost, and the prospect of employment for well-qualified sixth formers is at its lowest. Welsh graduates will not be able to return to the technological and science-based industries. We are being driven from both ends of the scale—whether we are trying to provide jobs for labourers or for the highly intelligent products of our schools. Those are the facts and the implications which we must draw to the attention of the House, the Minister and the people we represent. Those are the facts as they present themselves to the people of these areas in 1972.

As I have said, we have been going through a decline, and the Government must take their share of the blame. The situation is best expressed by Mr. Kegie's figures, which he takes from the Department of Employment. Mr. Kegie says: It is apparent that the trend towards increasing unemployment in Monmouthshire is continuing, but at a lessening rate. The total number of unemployed in the county in September, 1972 was 11,997 compared with 11,320 in September, 1971 and 8,801 in September, 1970, the 1972 figure representing a 6 per cent. increase on the 1971 figure, which itself was 28·6 per cent. higher than the 1970 figure. That is the situation which we are talking about in the whole of Monmouthshire. It is more than reflected in the areas, which seemed to have basic difficulties even before we entered into a decline that has been almost sponsored by the Government through the years of neglect since 1970.

The Government are guilty of killing the best chance that we had of real development of resilient industry, permanent prosperity and guaranteed opportunity in the Heads of the Valleys area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil has said—and as we have all said during various Question Times and debate—there was a build-up. It was possible to talk about the prospect of employment and an opportunity break-through for the Heads of the Valleys in 1970.

The Government will never be forgiven for letting that chance slip away by the reversal of policies and by their general misconduct of economic affairs in this country. The fact remains that the people will remember all that. What we need now, if the Government are to recant—as they have shown it is their intention to do, for whatever reason—is compensation and compensatory action for their neglect. We want these areas to be protected by action to assist existing industry. We want increasing discrimination for these areas. There must be a reversal of policy.

If we compare the map of assisted areas in 1966 with the present map, it is shown that the whole idea of discriminatory regional policy has been completely shot to pieces by the extension of assisted areas. We are falling between two stools. We must have a programme, as my hon. Friend said, for re-equipping these areas, whether it is in the form of preparing small and medium-sized sites serviced for industrial occupation or improving the social furniture of schools, hospitals and roads.

I am not a back bencher who is simply asking the Government to spend more money; I am saying that the social furniture, among other things, is now inadequate in the valleys. In 1972 these people should reasonably be able to expect to have the security of these services, as well as the opportunities. But they are not there. They require more money. If the Government wanted to appoint a priority area they could begin with the Heads of the Valleys area.

It is more important for the Government to try to guarantee the inflow of jobs. Certainly they can continue to offer carrots, but the carrots should be supported far more by incentives. Some of them, like the IDCs, they have practically abandoned. There is no reason why we cannot have more office development, which provided 1,250 jobs in Wales last year. That is hopelessly inadequate. There is no reason why there cannot be that sort of development adjacent to the Brecon Beacons, which is a national park. It is a good place to live. We need large-scale opportunities for jobs—for example, the building of a new prison or a large approved school—in these areas. They might not bring immediate popularity but they would provide social jobs and dovetail with any Government intention to provide a long-needed expansion and improvement of the prison service.

These are some ideas. My hon. Friend gave a comprehensive development survey. I added my voice to his because I am from Tredegar and am a Heads of the Valleys man, and because the communities of the Heads of the Valleys have a common destiny. If the Government do not follow policies such as we have suggested they will have completely neglected and betrayed any aspirations which the people of that area have, and they will have to live with the consequences.

1.45 a.m.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

I am glad that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands) raised this subject for debate. If his speech fell below his usual level it was perhaps because he spent so much time in attacking individuals and the Government of which he was a member. I had hoped to hear from him some reference to his own local authority and what it has done, not only under this Government but the previous one as well.

The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), on the other hand, made what I think the House will consider to be a positive speech. He was at least thinking in original terms, although I was disappointed that he did not pursue what I thought would be the dissertation on democratic Socialism which he has promised us in the past but never given. But his speech was worth listening to.

I well remember, as does the House, the late Stephen Davies, who used to represent Merthyr Tydvil. He was never backward in bringing Merthyr's problems to the attention of the Government. He never flinched from criticising the Government, irrespective of party. We remember the melody and imagery of his speeches, and I, for one, miss him very much—as I am sure do others.

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil gave too little credit for what has been done. If we are to attract new industry and create an environment fit for our people there to enjoy, let us at least take pride in what is being done. Three facts are crucial. The first and probably the most striking feature of the area is its geography—a series of steep valleys running north and south, bringing many problems of communications and finding sites for new industry. Secondly, and equally striking, is the historic dependence of the area on the two basic industries of coal and steel. This has inevitably caused difficulties of industrial redeployment when such industries have declined or have been under stress. These two factors have contributed for some time to a steady decline in the total population, which is the third factor.

In 1961, for example, the population was 355,000. It had fallen to 347,000 by 1970. The population is, of course, an ageing one. The proportion of people aged 45 and over is growing more rapidly than in Wales as a whole, although this may not be so true in the lower parts of the Valleys.

None of these facts is new. The difficulties of geography are the same for any Administration. The decline of the coal industry, and the reasons for it, are well known to hon. Members opposite. Population drift is something which all concerned with the Valleys in the past decade have found difficult to check. After all, people are free to come and go as they wish.

Photo of Mr Alfred Evans Mr Alfred Evans , Caerphilly

Is the Minister telling us that people willingly desert their roots, or do they do it of necessity? Would he tell my people in Wales that they would rather cross the border and go into Europe than remain in their own homes, provided with jobs and job opportunities at all levels?

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

I was saying that Governments of both sides have had to deal with the problem of dwindling and moving populations.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

The hon. Member should allow me to make my speech and contain himself, even if he contains too much. The problems have been with us for some time.

It was for this reason that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State welcomed the idea proposed at a meeting last October of a Heads of the Valleys study. The need for such a study was recognised by all present—hon. Members and representatives of local authorities.

The final version is not yet complete. We are waiting the considered comments of the local authorities. But the time which has been needed to bring the report even to its present stage is an indication of the measure and size of the problem.

Meanwhile, the Government have been taking action. It is essential to get new jobs into the area, and to do this we must sustain and expand economic confidence so that industry is willing to go for more investment.

This is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been so bold and expansionist in his Budgets. Confidence is reviving. Economic growth is at the 5 per cent. per annum level which we forecast.

The Valleys, and not just the Heads of the Valleys, are expanding. There is new industry and expansion of existing industry.

Examples of this are the move of the Moss Engineering Group into factories at Merthyr and Tredegar and the development at Merthyr by Abboflex Ltd. Hoover is expanding in Merthyr. In New Tredegar LCR Components has announced a project; at Abercynon AB Electronics is taking over a vacant advance factory. At Aberdare Welstrude Ltd. have taken an advance factory.

All this activity is reflected in the heartening change in unemployment figures since the start of the year. Looking at the travel-to-work areas we can see that the rate in Aberdare has fallen from 5·9 per cent. to 5·3 per cent.; in Bargoed from 10 per cent. to 7·7 per cent.; Abertillery 6·8 per cent. to 5·2 per per cent.: and I am sure the hon. Member for Merthyr will have noted the drop there from 7·7 per cent. to 4·7 per cent., which is very welcome.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock , Bedwellty

Before the Minister makes too much of the figures, would he comment on the figures for Brynmawr and Pontlottyn?

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

I shall deal with that on another occasion. Although within the area, they are not included within the Heads of the Valleys area.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

All right, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join with me in being glad that the figures are considerably better.

Certain areas need more special treatment. That is why we introduced the Industry Act, which provides a powerful range of incentives to investment in areas, such as the Heads of the Valleys, which need extra job opportunities.

We have set up in Wales an Industrial Development Board to ensure that decisions on aid to industry are made locally and promptly. But hon. Members opposite are asking: Is this enough? Will it be enough when there is the threat of a major rundown, such as that envisaged for Ebbw Vale?

My right hon. and learned Friend and I are in no doubt about the implications of these intended closures for the Heads of the Valleys, particularly for Ebbw Vale. We are therefore directing our efforts at the aim of replacing as many of the job opportunities as possible.

This is a major task and by no means easy, even with the full powers of the Industry Act to help, and the Secretary of State has therefore called for the fullest report which will cover, amongst other things, training and possible action which could be taken over the whole infrastructure of the area. I repeat what the Secretary of State has already said—everything that can be done to help the area will be done.

This leads me to the arguments advanced about the proposed Llantrisant new town. Hon. Members have suggested, in the context of the proposed rundown of the Ebbw Vale steelworks, that the Llantrisant new town proposal should be scrapped and that, instead, resources should be diverted to assist Ebbw Vale and other Valley communities. At this stage hon. Members have an advantage. Unlike the Secretary of State, they are in a position to comment, although they will be aware of what was said by their Government on this matter.

The Secretary of State must plainly wait until he has studied the report on the public local inquiry into objections to the draft designation order. The inspector's report is expected early in the new year. But the argument that investment in the Llantrisant new town would he at the expense of any necessary investment in the Valley communities is surely mistaken.

That was made clear in the statement made on behalf of the Secretary of State at the Llantrisant inquiry, when it was said that there was no question of existing communities having to compete with a new town for public funds … in order to undertake projects which they felt were essential for the needs of their own communities … say a derelict land clearance scheme in Merthyr or of housing improvements in the Rhondda, or an advance factory in Ebbw Vale or Tredegar This is an assurance that I am glad to repeat.

There has been reference to roads. There is no argument but that one of the key factors in the future economy of this area is the availability of good communications. The Government recognise this and are planning accordingly. The value of the Heads of the Valleys road in this connection cannot be overstated. But its usefulness has been limited, perhaps, by its poor links to the east and west. These are now in process of substantial improvement.

To the east a new dual carriageway road linking Abergavenny to the New Midlands road at Raglan is in an advanced stage of preparation. When these works are completed the area will be easily accessible by road from both West Glamorgan and the Midlands and the north of England.

To the west, lengths of dual carriageway totalling nearly 10 miles are under construction; that is the Glynneath bypass and a new road between Aberdulais and Llandarcy; in addition, a dual carriageway road to close the eight-mile gap between Aberdulais and Glynneath is in the preparation pool.

The other major improvement to communications will be the completion of the new A470 which will eventually link the area with the M4. The first stage of this road—Tongwynlais to Nantgarw—was opened in December 1971. The second and third stages—Nantgarw to Abercynon—are being built and both will, it is hoped, be completed by the end of 1973. I wish that I could give the House a promise of early completion of the remaining two stages of this road. But it is absolutely essential for detailed soil surveys to be carried out if we are to find the best route for this road. We should not try to prescribe a line for this road and to go ahead without our being quite sure of the geological constraints. Those who may be affected by the proposals must be allowed time, too, to make known their views; their rights and interests must be respected.

Hon. Members have pressed for specific assurances about steel. The Government will be making a statement about this as soon as reasonably possible. I do not intend to say anything tonight which could be said to prejudge that announcement. What I can say—and say helpfully, I think—is that the concern which has been expressed is as much the concern of this side of the House as it is of the other. It is the Government's first concern, as it is of us all, that the Heads of the Valleys should play their part in the economy of Wales and its industrial future. We are all concerned with the future of the area.

There is a call for action to help the area. This action will be taken. But we must not think that the area is one whose problems can be cured only by old remedies. The area's strength is its resilience and its capacity to welcome change. New remedies are needed, and new industry of all kinds, including service industries. I am glad that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil has given me an opportunity tonight to stress some of the things which the Government think important in this area.