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 Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Merioneth 12:00 am, 5th November 1976

My hon. Friend is involved in a major constituency meeting. If two thirds of every other parliamentary party were present the Benches would be somewhat fuller.

The anxieties of our people must be reflected in our debates. Not only is the factory at Blaenau Ffestiniog untenanted; the two Government factories at Dolgellau are untenanted. The nursery units at Bala are untenanted and, last but not least, we have had the closure of two creameries, one at Rhydymain, because of low milk production in the area and the Government's policy in securing returns for milk producers. More recently, we have had 70 redundancies at Corwen Creamery.

I know that the Secretary of State is scheduled to pay a visit to Corwen on 30th November, when he is due to open the de-luxe cowshed that has been built by Lord Newborough. Before the Secretary of State puts on his Wellingtons to open the de-luxe cowshed, I hope that he will take the trouble and time to go across the road to visit the creamery and to talk to those who have been made redundant. Those people are as worthy of his time as Lord Newborough.

The creamery has been closed by the CWS. As the milk products director put it to me the other week, it has been put in mothballs because of the position of the United Kingdom cheese market, because we are taking imports from European Community countries and because the percentage of the domestic market being taken by British producers is down to 60 per cent. In my view, part of the reason for the difficulties is that Wales does not have a milk marketing board. A marketing board could decide priorities in terms of manufacture as opposed to bottle production. These are anxieties that we must reflect in response to the complacency of the Secretary of State when he talks about an alleged upturn and makes various hopeful comments based on factors that his officials have been scratching everywhere for all over Wales.

An issue related to the economic crisis is housing. There are deepening anxieties about the housing crisis, an issue that was so aptly stressed by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards). Will the Undersecretary of State confirm that 60 per cent. of the block allocations that are to be given to Welsh counties next year has already been committed? Will he confirm that the new building, the improvements, the acquisitions from the private sector and the building land acquisitions are already committed to the tune of 60 per cent.?

The Secretary of State was not prepared earlier—he has not been prepared throughout his term of office—to give us any figures about job shortfall and to compare the Government's performance with that shortfall. Similarly, I am told by the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones), who I know is deeply interested in housing issues and intelligent about these matters, that he and his officials cannot calculate the housing shortage in Wales. He told me in a parliamentary answer last week that this is such a general term that it cannot be defined.

The Plaid Cymru Research Group, in a memorandum to the Secretary of State earlier this year, proposed that the real shortfall in Wales amounted to the need for 25,000 new units per year for the next seven years. The Secretary of State wrote me a nice long letter rebutting that figure which he said he did not accept, but refusing to give any alternative figure.

So on the jobs front we face a failure to give us the figures of the jobs shortfall, despite the county structure plans. In Clwyd, for example, the Economic Review published last month came up with a figure of 50,000 by 1981. A similar study has been undertaken in Gwynedd. Athough local authorities have figures relating not only to job shortfall but also to housing waiting lists and housing conditions, although we have the House Condition Survey and another is being prepared, it appears that the Government cannot come up with a single figure of the real homes needs in Wales.

Therefore, when the Secretary of State says that jobs and homes are his priorities, what he means is that those priorities are open-ended, that he has no target to them and that he cannot be judged on his failure to meet a target. But he will be judged by his failure to meet the target which we who stare the real facts of Wales in the face know is necessary.

It would be wrong if I were not to refer in passing to devolution. I say in passing because I am concerned about the real issues facing the people of Wales. I do not intend spending my time writing long, tedious articles in the Western Mail alleging that bribery and corruption will be increased, that there will be more opportunities for all forms of gravy trains, whether high-speed or not, driving around Wales after devolution.

I am concerned about the real issues, about jobs, homes and the powers of the Assembly. That is what the Welsh people are concerned about. Opinion polls have shown that they are concerned especially about the powers of the Assembly. One produced earlier this year showed that 70 per cent. of the respondents wanted the same level of power for the Welsh Assembly as the Scottish Assembly is to have.

We must be concerned about the relationship between devolution, the powers of Assembly, and the issues that we have been debating today. Those issues include the role of the Assembly in making housing allocations among different districts and its role in arguing with the Treasury in London about how much Welsh housing will get—whether it is to be £20 million or £30 million or, what I would judge to be nearer the real need, £80 million extra. That is the role of the Assembly—as the spearhead in demanding economic justice for the people of Wales.

We have had today what will be one of the last Welsh affairs debates at Westminster. By this time next year, the Welsh Devolution Bill will be on the statute book and the Assembly will be established de facto.