The New Towns Code

Orders of the Day — Schedule 4 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st November 1976.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendments made: No. 29, in page 57, line 23, after 'authority', insert 'or, where the provision confers or imposes a function on or provides for a thing to be done by or to a local authority, as if the Board were a local authority)'.

No. 30, in page 61, leave out lines 7 to 12 and insert:

appoint the members as soon as the Bill has Royal Assent and before the end of the year. The Board will then act in a shadow capacity until 1st April next year, preparing for its task.

I intend to appoint Mr. Emrys Roberts as the Chairman. He has been a Member of this House, and Chairman of the Mid-Wales Development Corporation since its inception in 1968. No one is more familiar with the problems of rural Wales and the problems facing the Board. As a leader, Mr. Roberts will give guidance based on wisdom and experience.

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the announcement he has just made of the appointment of Mr. Emrys Roberts will be widely welcomed in Wales in view of the outstanding contribution he has made over the years as Chairman of the Mid-Wales Development Corporation? Will my right hon. and learned Friend indicate how long a term Mr. Emrys Roberts will have?

Mr. Morris:

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's remarks. He was responsible for originally appointing Mr. Roberts Chairman of the Mid-Wales Development Corporation, which has been such a success. Mr. Roberts's term of office will run from his date of appointment to two years from the end of next March. Therefore it will be an initial period of about two and a half years.

We shall also be advertising very shortly the appointment of chief executive of the Board to be filled early in the new year. When the Board takes over its responsibilities in April 1977, it will also take over the staff of the Mid-Wales Development Corporation. At the same time the staff of COSIRA who work wholly or mainly in Wales will be taken over by the Welsh Development Agency.

I am anxious that the assimilation of these staffs into their new organisations should take place smoothly with the minimum of disruption. Discussions and some preliminary meetings have already taken place with staff representatives and every effort will continue to be made to ensure that staff interests will be fully taken into account at the changeover. It is important that the staff should know that we are concerned about their interests. I should like to repeat the assurance given at Second Reading that the power conferred by Clause 26 will be used to continue the support at present being given by the Development Commission towards rural councils—successor bodies to the rural community councils—and the voluntary services committees.

As to the Council for Social Services for Wales, hon. Members will know that the Council's rôle is changing. Bodies concerned with the elderly and the dis- abled have already resolved to end their direct relationship with the Council. But we are prepared to continue to make grants to the Council in relation to activities where support from the Welsh Office is appropriate in the changing circumstances. We are presently awaiting proposals from the Council.

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conway

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Council is concerned about the disappearance of the Development Commission because it has been contributing as much as £18,000 to £20,000 a year to the Council? Is it intended that that sum should be replaced under Clause 26?

Mr. Morris:

The rôle of this body is changing and we are now awaiting proposals from the Council which we will look at sympathetically.

I ask the House to give the Bill a Third Reading.

1.28 a.m.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Edwards Mr Nicholas Edwards , Pembroke

I should like to start by wishing all good fortune to Mr. Emrys Roberts and his colleagues, and by wishing the Board success in its activities. We must all hope that the Board will help in some way to alleviate the very serious problems that confront the people of Mid-Wales.

In order to assist the House, I cut short some of my remarks earlier in our proceedings and I hope the House will therefore forgive me if I return to just a few points now. Faced with the present situation, the Board will need good fortune. That is amply borne out by the current unemployment figures for the area.

We must be thankful that in Powys the rate of unemployment in October was only 5·9 per cent., but it is 11·1 per cent. in Gwynedd, 8·6 per cent. in Dyfed and 9·8 per cent. in Clwyd. Some of the individual figures are much higher—18·4 per cent. in Cardigan, 16·3 per cent. in Lampeter and 15·4 per cent. in Tywyn PTO—and one could go on. It is against that background that the Board will have to operate.

Once again it has been emphasised that the Government's overall management of the economy and not the activities of the Board or the Agency will decide the fate of rural Wales. The unfortunate Development Agency, which went into operation about nine months ago, has had to struggle against the consequences of the Labour Government's folly. The huge burden of Government expenditure, with inflation, the record interest rates and the administrative burden that result from it, has been killing off the small businesses which are the backbone of rural Wales. What can the Board do, however able it may be, if it is subject to the detailed control of an incompetent Government? How will it fare if it has to contend with the payroll tax, the crippling interest rates and the other latest manifestations of the Chancellor's folly?

The one good possibility is that in some way the Board may be able to mitigate the full consequences of Government mismanagement. It may be able to use its own judgment to deal with the practical problems it will face. It is for that reason that the powers of direction that we discussed earlier are so alarming. They alarm me particularly in the light of a remarkable policy statement issued recently by the Pembrokeshire Labour Party. If taken at its face value, that would indicate that the Government intend to use their powers of direction in a way never envisaged by many of us who have been engaged in the various stages of the Bill.

You might feel, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that for the Pembrokeshire Labour Party to put forward proposals for alleviating unemployment and to suggest how the Board should operate is a pretty incredible piece of effrontery when the policies of a Labour Government have put 4,213 of my constituents out of work—that is one in every five of the insured population. That is more than double the figure in any previous October since the war. What the Pembrokeshire Labour Party says, however, is directly relevant to what we have been discussing. It has proposed, among other things, that 3 per cent. of what it claims to be the Development Agency's funds of £250 million is to be devoted to Pembrokeshire and that this is more than could be obtained on a purely per capita basis. It says also that offices of the WDA and the Board should be set up in Pembrokeshire.

It may be an apt comment on Socialist financial irresponsibility that the Pembrokeshire Labour Party should overstate the WDA budget by £100 million, and is apparently so ignorant of the population of Wales and Pembrokeshire that on the per capita basis it actually attempts to cheat the constituency of its entitlement. I am concerned about the implication that the Board will be directed by the Government to establish an office in a part of the country where it does not even have a responsibility and to spend a disproportionate share of its budget to deal with the problems there.

If all this was to happen it would have to be by direction. But what if the Board felt that this was not the right way to allocate its resources? What would be the reaction in other parts of rural Wales where unemployment was equally high? The distribution of resources should be made equitably on the judgment of the Board or the Agency. To switch resources around for immediate political considerations seems to have dangerous implications. Perhaps the Government will say that they have no intention of doing what is advocated by the Pembrokeshire Labour Party, and that its statement is no more than so much hogwash. They should tell us. Is this what the Government have in mind, or is it a form of fantasising by the Pembroke Labour Party?

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. I should point out that what the Pembroke Labour Party has to say is not involved in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Edwards Mr Nicholas Edwards , Pembroke

Having made my point, I am happy to move on.

One matter which has been causing anxiety was raised with me by Mr. Davies, Chairman of the Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association, who has written about the statement by the Secretary of State for the Environment about the switch in emphasis in Government policy to inner city areas. Mr. Davies says that the Council of the Association had been concerned to note the statement and adds that it would help if Welsh Members sought an assurance that the new policy would not be detrimental to the Association's efforts to carry forward developments in Mid-Wales. I hope that we can have that assurance from the Government.

Another matter which has been debated at length is the relationship between the Agency and the Board. This side of the House—not just the Conservative Party—feels that the geographical and organisational boundaries are wholly unsatisfactory. The geographical boundaries will always be unsatisfactory because the Government have sought to divide something which cannot be divided and to define something which cannot be precisely defined. Equally, we are convinced that the division of responsibilities is unclear and unworkable.

It is a matter of opinion and dispute whether it is an advantage or a disadvantage to be under the Board or the Agency. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) made this clear earlier. Some feel that they would like the powers of the Board to extend to their area while others prefer to benefit from the all-Wales powers of the Agency.

No one can be satisfied with the present confusion and uncertainty. That confusion is shown by the fact that there are proposals for the Board to establish offices outside its own area. The division of responsibilities is not clear to all hon. Members, and I do not blame them for that. The Secretary of State has told us that the Agency is an all-Wales body with a remit from Gwynedd to Gwent, yet we are also told that it will be too busy to give much thought to rural Wales.

The Board will deal with advance factories, and I dare say that the Agency will be thankful to be relieved of that responsibility at a time when most advance factories in Wales are standing empty. The Agency will be able to delegate powers to the Board, though not the power to provide assistance under the Industry Act. The ordinary businessman can hardly be expected to know where to turn in these circumstances.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts said that the Agency would retain its functions as a pump primer in rural Wales and the Under-Secretary has explained that this means that the Agency will retain its industrial investment assistance functions. The Under-Secretary said in Committee that the Board would do its bit as a pump primer by the provision of advance factories, its power to impose infrastructure and its new town functions. However, even that is not the whole answer and does not eliminate the confusion.

Whenever we pressed the Undersecretary in Committee, he mouthed his incantation about COSIRA. The Agency will be responsible for direct assistance to industry, but it will delegate the COSIRA functions to the Board. The difficulty about that is that the COSIRA functions involve direct assistance to industry. We have the confusing situation that while COSIRA funds are to be delegated to the Board, the COSIRA powers and staff will go very largely to the Agency. There will be about 20 COSIRA staff of the Agency concerned with that part of rural Wales left out of the Board's responsibilities.

To summarise, we think that the Government have produced a total muddle. If one has to have a separate Board, the logical boundaries should be based on the Welsh Council's definition in the 1971 report. This is something to be looked at again, fairly soon, under the powers provided in the Bill. It seems a pity that in producing a Bill which could have tidied up and helped to improve the situation in rural Wales, the Government have produced quite unnecessary chaos. It will be urgently necessary, at a very early stage, to re-examine the boundaries. Although we shall have to judge the matter in the light of experience, we may also in due course have to revert to the proposal that we put forward at the Report stage of the Welsh Development Agency Bill and absorb the powers now given to this Board with those of the Agency.

I do not believe that the Bill will provide the long-term solutions that we are seeking. I agreed with the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) when he suggested that an opportunity had been wasted. It has. We shall have lo come back to this matter again to clear up the mess that the Government have left us.

1.42 a.m.

Photo of Mr Caerwyn Roderick Mr Caerwyn Roderick , Brecon and Radnor

I welcome this stage of the Bill. It is difficult to detect the support of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) for the Bill. He has poured so much cold water over it from beginning to end that it would have been more honest if he had opposed it wholeheartedly. I am glad that I was not tempted by the hon. Gentleman during one stage of the passage of the Welsh Development Agency Act to support his amendment to create a kind of sub-committee to perform the functions, as he said that this Bill will perform. I hope that the Bill will go from strength to strength. My faith in my right hon. and learned Friend has been vindicated in that I was not tempted to support the hon. Gentleman's amendments.

My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned Clause 26. I welcomed his remarks regarding the continuing support for the Council for Social Services and for various voluntary agencies. He says that he is awaiting suggestions from the Council for Social Services on its changing role. May we take it that he will ensure that the Council continues in its present form until it seeks a change in its structure?

With those few remarks, I wholeheartedly welcome the Third Reading of the Bill.

1.44 a.m.

Photo of Mr Emlyn Hooson Mr Emlyn Hooson , Montgomery

I congratulate the Government on achieving the Third Reading of the Bill. I have experience of the Mid-Wales Development Corporation at Newtown. I know that it can and does make a substantial contribution to the economic well-being of the area. It is a matter of great reassurance for us to see that Mr. Emrys Roberts, who has performed his tasks so very well in Newtown, will be the Chairman of the Development Board for Rural Wales. The Secretary of State is to be congratulated on making that appointment. I am sure that everyone who knows Mr. Emrys Roberts and the contribution that he has made will have full confidence that he is well aware of the social and cultural implications of the policy as well as the economic implications.

I particularly welcome the achievement of the Development Board for Rural Wales because of its potential. Under the present economic constraints, we must be realistic. The Board can make but a very modest contribution. Most of its money will undoubtedly have been earmarked for Newtown, I imagine, for the next couple of years. However, it can be gradually built up and its area extended. In that way it can make a real contribution towards the economic well- being of Mid-Wales. Clearly without Mid-Wales having economic well-being, its social and cultural well-being will be in jeopardy.

1.45 a.m.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Merioneth

I, too, welcome the Bill's Third Reading and congratulate the Secretary of State. I have been critical of some of his appointments to public bodies in Wales in the past, but in this case I congratulate him. Mr. Emrys Roberts is one of my predecessors as he was the Member for Merioneth. He has worked in industry in the Midlands and has enjoyed distinctive achievement at Newtown. That experience will stand the Board in good stead as well as the Welsh Development Agency, bearing in mind that he will be a member of both bodies. I hope that the liaison between both bodies, which we have discussed, will be substantially improved by the appointment of Mr. Roberts.

Many of us have dreamed of an interventionist authority in rural Wales of the sort outlined in the Bill. Perhaps some Opposition Members, including the official Opposition spokesman for Welsh Affairs, have not shown the sensitivity towards the problems of rural Wales when discussing the Bill that one would have expected. Perhaps I am expecting too much to except that sort of sensitivity from the Conservative Party.

The lack of a framework of economic development in rural Wales has meant that the social fabric of the community has declined. We look to the Bill to introduce a pattern of economic development that will sustain the population in Mid-Wales so that it does not have to suffer from the social collapse that has affected it for so long.

The Bill is at last one concrete attempt to tackle the problems. We have spoken about the problems of Mid-Wales for so long and here is a positive attempt by the Government to tackle them. I pay tribute to them for having advanced the Bill.

Finally, I welcome what the Secretary of State said on Clause 26, although I should like more clarification. Many of us were concerned to see the report in the Western Mail on Thursday 28th October by the Welsh Affairs Correspondent. It refers to the axe poised over the social councils. It is not clear precisely what the Secretary of State meant in his remarks about expecting a report from the Council. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will clarify the matter.

1.48 a.m.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

It is in the nature of things that the Welsh Development Agency and the Board co-operate closely. That is why the Bill made provision for the enlargement of the membership of the Agency and the appointment of the Board's chairman as a member of the Agency. The idea is to secure a harmonious relationship between the Board and the Agency. I am glad that the appointment of Mr. Emrys Roberts has been welcomed so positively by the House.

The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) spoke about unemployment. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has the correct economic strategy, and that and the Development Board for Rural Wales will help rural Wales considerably in the fullness of time. The Opposition do not have the monopoly of concern for small businesses. The Government care for small businesses.

Powers of direction are in part a democratic factor. If we did not have the powers of direction for the Secretary of State, the nominated bodies would be not responsible to the House in that sense.

As for the inner city regions and the Development Board for Rural Wales, there is no indication that the funding of the DBRW will be in any way affected.

Finally, I take up the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick), who has struggled so heroically for rural Wales, and a query raised by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas). I repeat the assurance given on Second Reading—that the power conferred by Clause 26 will be used to continue the support at present being given by the development corporations to the rural councils—which are the successor bodies to the rural community councils and the voluntary services committees.

The rôle of the Council for Social Services for Wales, as hon. Members know, is changing. Bodies concerned with the elderly and disabled have already resolved to end their direct relationship with the Council, but we are prepared to continue making grants to it for activities for which support from the Welsh Office is appropriate in the changing circumstances. We are awaiting proposals from the Council.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.