Welsh Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:57 pm on 4th February 1980.

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Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson , Swansea East 8:57 pm, 4th February 1980

What can one reasonably say in such a short time about the alarming industrial picture in Wales? A little while ago we were boasting about the diversification of our economy, but over the past few months we have had our vulnerability exposed to us.

Had the Secretary of State and his colleagues been in Cardiff last Monday, they would have seen the frustration of so many workers in Wales because they feel that they are at the receiving end of policies initiated by people who do not understand, or do not want to understand, the effect of such policies.

It was sad to hear the Secretary of State's speech 10 days ago in which he attacked public expenditure when he must know how dependent Wales is on public expenditure. While he takes that attitude, he cannot really fight the cause of Wales in the Cabinet. No reasonable person would suggest that our problems began last June, but it is not unreasonable to accept that the totality of Government policies as they affect Wales has substantially exacerbated our problems.

In our last Welsh Grand Committee discussion on 21 November, I wondered whether the Government were really aware of the crisis or of the chain effect of the decisions that they have made. They must have known, because of cash limits imposed on the nationalised industries, and particularly on the BSC, that the BSC was reaching a financial crisis. They must have known that their decisions would not bail the BSC out of the crisis but would, in fact, lead to substantial job losses. They must have known of the chain effect of that from steel to coal and rail and other services that are interdependent in the Welsh economy.

In the Welsh Grand Committee on 21 November the Secretary of State affected a mood of optimism about the Welsh economy. Yet only a day later we had 1,000 job losses at Port Talbot and a few weeks later we received the shattering news of 50,000 job losses over the country as a whole. Were not the Government aware of the effect of their policies? If not, they really need to undertake a substantial reappraisal.

Many estimates have been made, some more alarmist than others, about the extent of likely unemployment in Wales. The Government should give some indication, in order to promote public debate in Wales, of the figures on which they are working—the counties' figure, the TUC figure or any other.

To what extent are the Government prepared to allow de-industrialisation to proceed apace in Wales before even they are forced to intervene? I accept that Governments cannot wave magic wands and that there are limits to what Governments can achieve in an economy interdependent in the world. The Government can take initiatives within the EEC. We understand, however, that the Government are refusing to do so because of the public expenditure implications.

The Government can examine their own interest rates and their effect on private investment. How can the Government reasonably expect industry, despite all the talk of incentives, to invest at the current prohibitive 20 per cent. interest rates?

On public investment, Inmos is the litmus test of the seriousness with which the Government view the task of bringing jobs to areas like South Wales that desperately need them. It is said that this decision has not yet been made. The Secretary of State should use his influence in the Cabinet in favour of South Wales. It is known that no Civil Service jobs are going to South Wales. The Government are depriving themselves, by their ideology, of the only weapons that can help solve a problem largely of their own making. They are incapable of providing solutions in the Welsh Development Agency. Will they really allow these new sums which are available to the WDA to be spent on investment in new industry? Will they allow the WDA to use that money to overcome the standstill in investment in derelict land? What about a new package for any Ford-type development that may be on the horizon? Can the Government, with their current ideology, put together a package, as the previous Government did, to attract Ford to Bridgend? Will there be any attempt to promote new public works in view of the considerable number of construction workers who are unemployed?

When we approached the Department of Industry about new investment in our coking industry, the reply by the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall), was: I am sure you are aware that the Government's policy in such matters is one of non-intervention. To this end, and particularly in view of the strict financial limits within which BSC has to operate, I consider that the corporation must be allowed the commercial freedom to purchase raw materials where they judge the maximum advantage can be achieved both in terms of cost and quality. That is the financial yardstick. It will be carried out, no matter what the cost socially, industrially and politically in South Wales. May that be the epitaph of the Government. Sadly, it may be the epitaph of Wales.