Welsh Affairs

Part of Petition – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th November 1976.

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Photo of Mr Ian Grist Mr Ian Grist , Cardiff North 12:00 am, 5th November 1976

After such a splendid contribution, should this miserable Government survive an early election, I look forward to hearing the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) often and at considerable length. I hope that we shall see each other across the Chamber many times if an election does not intervene.

There has never been a Welsh day in the House when the economy has been in so shattered a state or when the outlook has been so unutterably gloomy. Wherever one looks there is reason for disquiet or worse. The Secretary of State reminds me of Shelley's Ozymandias, on the base of whose sneering face was written, 'Look on my works ye mighty and despair!' Nothing beside remains. That is the position over which the Secretary of State and his right hon. and hon. Friends have presided for nearly three years in Wales. What is more nauseating about their performance is their total lack of contrition for the wrongs that they have done. It might be forgivable, at least it would be more honest, if they were publicly to admit that the policies which they offered to the electorate in 1964 were at best wholly misleading and at worst grossly deceitful. At least such an admission would win points for repentance. It would do little to help the thousands of school leavers or to help the 3,000 redundant shop workers in Wales—a total which is more than all the jobs which the Government claim will be created. It will do little to help redundant steel workers, construction workers and the rest who litter South Wales.

An admission would at least be something. But no, today we have had the usual—I was going to say "smug", but it is better to say "uneasy"—performance from the Secretary of State. He said that he would give us "a flavour" of what was going on in the industrial scene. I did not like the way in which he made the claim that unemployment was falling. We all know that the wholly unemployed figure—the real figure—was rising at the last count. That was the flavour of the Secretary of State's speech.

The Secretary of State claimed that some firms expected to increase recruitment but even in the worst days some firms increase recruits. The Secretary of State knows that because of various Acts, such as the Employment Protection Act, most firms prefer to increase production by means of increasing overtime rather than recruitment because it is so expensive to take on workers and they cannot be sure whether they can get rid of them later. There has been a cutback in training which will cause difficulties in the future when the economy picks up, because we shall be faced with a lack of skills. Even today, some firms cannot find sufficient skilled labour.

I do not intend to take up too much time. Most of the arguments have been made brilliantly and tellingly by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards). But I would say that Wales is paying heavily for the way in which the English electorate swallowed the promises and knuckled under to the threats of the Labour Party and their trade union allies in 1974. The Labour Party slogan was "Back to Work with Labour", in February; in October the claim was 8·4 per cent. What a deceitful way to gain power. The hon. and learned Member for Abertillery (Mr. Thomas) said that Britain had to face the oil crisis. But so did the rest of the world. But few places tried to borrow foreign money in order to buy domestic political popularity. That is what this Government did.

In a Parliamentary Answer on 29th October, at column 391 of Hansard, it was revealed that the rise in unit labour costs in the United Kingdom in 1973 was 8·3 per cent. In 1974 it was 20·9 per cent. and in 1975, 33·1 per cent. That was the cost of Labour's electoral and party profligacy. Even they know that the game has now to stop.

But even now the game cannot quite end unless the Government cut their own expenditure more severely than they have so far dared to tell the people. I think that the Government are nerving themselves to do that. If expenditure is not cut, there will be no profits, no savings and no drop in interest rates. There will, therefore, be no confidence for businesses and individuals to invest in new plant and machinery, as the recent CBI survey indicates. The Government continue to call for higher investment while making that investment less and less profitable.

Why in heaven's name did the Government lump a further burden of £60 million on Welsh industry in July? The answer is simple. That seemed the easiest political step to take. The Government felt that no one—that is, very few of the ordinary electorate—would notice it and then, when industry failed to invest, they could talk about the failure of capitalism. That leads to the excuse of extending State power by channeling more taxpayers' funds and foreign borrowings to the National Enterprise Board and the Welsh Development Agency.

I am not saying that this betrays a deeply laid Socialist plot—although it may. I suspect that in many respects it just happened through sheer bumbling. Next year we can look to unemployment in Wales reaching about 100,000 and inflation of between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent.

The construction industry—where orders fell by 15 per cent. between June and August this year—is in complete disarray and in many cases it has been almost destroyed. In my constituency there is a crowning example. Crown offices in Cathays Park are being built to house more unproductive civil servants.

Next year rentpayers and ratepayers will notice a sharp rise in their payments. At the same time, they will find that the services of the local authorities deteriorate. Those thousands of my constituents whose homes are on oil-fired district heating will notice a sharp rise in their costs because of the rise in the price of oil and the fall in the value of the pound.

Industrialists in Wales who heeded the Government's call for new investment in the early part of the year—some of them have put in hand that investment—will find themselves severely squeezed by the new interest rates. Because the home market will be falling next year, as real incomes fall and the foreign markets fail to expand as people thought they would a year ago, some of those firms will go to the wall. Those buying their houses will find a sharp contraction in their spendable money. City and county halls will experience greater and greater difficulty in meeting the standards expected of them.

Some cutback after the oil crisis was inevitable, but not this. There is far, far worse to come until the right action is taken. How much easier it would have been if the Government had been honest with people from the start, or even now, when at last they are two-thirds the way to saying the right things.

Let the Government now denounce, and get their trade union allies to denounce, the restrictive practices in industry which contribute so heavily to the low return that our investment so often earns compared with that of our competitors. Let us have a statement from the Secretary of State on what he thinks about absenteeism in the steel and coal industries and elsewhere.

Let the Government now say that they will restore differentials in pay and taxation, so that thrift, hard work and skills become worth exercising. Let them drop their divisive, time-wasting and money-consuming proposals for an unwanted Welsh Assembly. Let them allow those firms which can make real after-tax and after-inflation profits in fact do so, and applaud them for it. Let them urge those firms on and not sneer at them and tax them heavily, which is the way in which they usually treat industrial successes.

Let the Government do all those things. If they cannot, let them get out and make way for those who can.