Wales

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 3rd March 1986.

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Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Shadow Secretary of State 4:15 pm, 3rd March 1986

All Opposition Members have found that their mail bags feature this issue strongly and emphatically. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to take the views of the House to Cabinet and at least exclude Wales from the Sunday trading legislation, even if he cannot have the Bill killed in its tracks.

The right hon. Gentleman wriggled somewhat over the issue of rates in his speech. I want to put it on record that since 1980–81 it has been estimated that almost £451 million in cash has been lost by local authorities in Wales in terms of rate support grant and penalties. I advise the right hon. Gentleman—and he knows virtually all the authorities and is on first name terms with them after seven years—to work with the local authorities. He should not take them on or attack them. By not taking that approach, the right hon. Gentleman was forced to make one of the most incredible U-turns in the history of Welsh Office Ministers. I quote from the Swansea Evening Post:Tory joy at £13 million U-turn. The article continues: The Labour Leader of West Glamorgan County Council has been congratulated by his Tory counterpart for spearheading the successful campaign to secure an extra £13 million of Government money for Welsh county councils. The Daily Post ran a large headline on 21 February. It read "Edwards gives in." There is no doubt that the Daily Post correspondent, Mr. David Rose, was correct when he reported: In an astonishing climbdown, the Government is to hand over an extra £13 million … But Mr. Edwards' announcement amounts to an embarrassing about-turn for the Government. Only four days ago he told the Welsh counties that they could only have the extra cash on condition that they reduce their overspending first. What has happened is that, late in the day, the right hon. Gentleman has realised that the Government's policies, which have pushed up unemployment in a huge fashion since 1979, have left the local authorities desperately short of the financial resources to cope with the demands made on their services by the unemployed. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has become a kind of St. Paul on the way to Damascus.

The right hon. Gentleman raised an important matter regarding community investment in the valleys. Nothing is more important to us in the House than the future of the valley communities through to the end of the century. The concept of assisting the valleys is a good one and I welcome it. Any help for these beleaguered communities is most welcome. If the right hon. Gentleman can enhance the scheme with greater cash backing I would welcome it even more. However, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many jobs will be provided by the six schemes? Despite references to the high level of unemployment in the valley areas, there is no suggestion that the schemes will provide any new jobs. Indeed, the first four pages of the document are a eulogy to the policies that have helped to bring about industrial dereliction, mass unemployment and critical housing conditions in the valleys. Has investment in the coal industry really been substantial? Why does the south Wales coalfield have only one high-tech coalface compared with almost 50 in the rest of Great Britain?

When explaining the method of cash allocation, the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that initially there will be only six places and that the valley communities will be in competition with each other. What is the sense in that? Is it not true that the communities least able to mount an effective challenge for cash will be those with the least resources and most desperately in need of assistance? Is the Secretary of State initiating a programme which will merely lead to the survival of the fittest? What will happen to the communities which fail at the first hurdle? Will they receive no help?

The cash allocation for housing must be described as derisory. The £2 million cannot provide hope to undo the damage caused by the 25 per cent. cuts in housing budget made by the Government the year after the general election. The Chief Housing Officers Association suggested that billions of pounds in cash over 15 years is required in south Wales to avert a major housing crisis.

If the right hon. Gentleman would allow Welsh local authorities to use the many millions of pounds from housing sales, if he would free the receipts from these sales, the communities would have a better chance of correcting the amazing dereliction with which they have to cope.

To put the right hon. Gentleman's statement into context, I remind him that when steelmaking at Ebbw Vale was ended, the Labour Government pumped £25 million into the area and when steelmaking at Shotton was finished, the Department of Industry in 1980–81 put £12 million into that area. On that basis the right hon. Gentleman's initial offer in relation to the coalfield communities and valley communities is not enough.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the housing associations will be able to take advantage of the scheme?