Wales

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:56 pm on 3rd March 1986.

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Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd , Cynon Valley 7:56 pm, 3rd March 1986

No amount of huffing, puffing and posturing by Conservative Members can mask the fact that for Wales this period of Conservative government has been a painful and unmitigated disaster.

I wish to associate my remarks with those of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) who referred to the report that was published this afternoon by the Welsh Office, "Community Investment: An Initiative for the Valleys." He made a passionate case for the valleys, a case that the Opposition have made constantly since 1979 when this Government came to office, and he spoke for all Opposition Members who represent the valleys of south Wales. We feel passionately about the problems that face our communities —the dreadful unemployment rate, the waste of young and middle aged people who want to work but who cannot find work. Day after day they write out applications for jobs. When one has completed 50 or more applications but still has not been offered an interview, one can imagine —perhaps some cannot—the despondency felt by those people. They see no hope.

A man of 35 came to my surgery and told me about his attempts to get a job in Cynon Valley, which has the highest male unemployment rate in Wales and one of the highest male unemployment rates of any industrial area in the United Kingdom. As he went out of the door, he said, "I feel like throwing myself in the river." What does a Member of Parliament say to somebody who feels like doing that? Can one talk about hope? During the almost two years that I have been the Member of Parliament for Cynon Valley, I have seen the unemployment rate climb relentlessly month by month. That is why Labour Members constantly ask the Secretary of State what is to happen about jobs.

I welcome the report as a recognition of the improvements needed in the valley communities, but I must ask, as my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) asked: how many jobs will the proposals in the report produce? I appreciate that that question may be difficult to answer at this stage, but it is one of the most pressing questions in the constituencies that most of us represent. I hope that in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney the Minister will give more information about the £2 million capital allocation for housing and the £1 million urban programme resources mentioned in the report.

I agree that it is important to do something about the environmental problems in the valley areas, especially as we know that industrialists coming to an area look specifically for a good environment. We need to be more scientific about this in Wales, and in Britain as a whole, to discover precisely why industrialists go to some areas and not to others. The Irish Government have carried out a proper scientific analysis. One of the researchers on that project told me how surprised he was that Britain did not carry out similar analyses. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) will recall that when the steel industry in his constituency was decimated the local council carried out its own investigation into why industrialists would or would not come to the area. That type of analysis should be carried out systematically and scientifically throughout the country. I hope that the Welsh Office will give special consideration to that aspect.

One of the worst aspects of the environment in the areas that we represent is poor housing. In the valleys of south Wales there is massive and appalling urban deprivation, which is increasingly unlikely to be tackled in view of the pitiful financial resources at the disposal of local authorities. In a recent study, the Cynon Valley, Merthyr and Rhondda were identified as the three most deprived districts of England and Wales. In the Cynon valley, 92 per cent. of private housing stock—about 40,000 houses —is in an unsatisfactory condition, and 48 per cent. of private houses have been deemed unfit for human habitation. The cost of rehabilitating the housing stock in that one valley is estimated at nearly £105 million. As the Secretary of State knows, the county council has been pressing for extra funds under the urban development programme, but I am sceptical about the likely result. The £2 million capital allocation for local authority housing will not even scratch the surface of the problems of one valley.

I do not wish to be churlish about the report, but I am sure that I speak for all my hon. Friends when I say that we hoped for a lion, but have been given a mouse. To deal with the problems of the south Wales valleys we needed a roar of indignation followed by resources on the scale that those problems require. Instead, we have been given a squeak, although even a squeak is welcome.

The Cynon valley has one of the biggest environmental pollution problems in Britain—the Phurnacite plant at Abercwmboi. The loss of any jobs in the valley is to be deplored, and that plant provides 600 jobs. Since the coal dispute ended, the pollution from that plant has increased, but it is difficult for people in the area to protest because the jobs are so badly needed. Last week 14 members of the Abercwmboi anti-pollution lobby came to my surgery and dumped bags of soot on the table in front of me— the result of just one night's emissions from the Phurnacite plant. When I asked how many of those people worked at the plant or had relatives who worked there, not one hand went up. Yet again, the pollution of the environment had to be balanced against the number of jobs provided.

If the Secretary of State is serious about dealing with the environmental problems of the valleys, and especially of the Cynon valley, he must ensure that the National Coal Board behaves responsibly towards residents in the area. People need the jobs but they do not need the current levels of pollution. Any responsible industry would ensure that people do not have to suffer such pollution just because they need the jobs. It is essential that pollution in the Cynon valley should be properly controlled.

The pollution from the Phurnacite plant is the first thing that people see when they come down the new road. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, I welcome new roads. I only wish that the road to Merthyr came through the Cynon valley, but I am glad that my hon. Friend has such a splendid road in his constituency and that we have the important link road into the Cynon valley. I hope that there will be many more such developments. I certainly do not wish to vie for resources with my hon. Friend in the neighbouring valley, but in the present situation that is almost inevitable.

The Secretary of State and I constantly argue about Japanese firms. I should make it clear that we welcome any investment, Japanese or otherwise, in an area of such high unemployment. My only objection to the firm in question was to some of its employment practices. I am sure that the Government and Members on both sides deplore the pressure put on workers to take so-called voluntary redundancy because they had reached the age of 35 and were regarded as over the hill. I hope such practices are not common to Japanese firms generally and that there will be no repetition of a practice which I think the firm now admits to have been a serious error of judgment as well as a serious error in public relations.

The Secretary of State talks about community self-help in his report. We are not short of ideas, and he is well aware of that. My council has applied for money for industrial and commercial development in Aberdare, which is mentioned in the report. It wanted money to develop the commercial sector of Aberdare and various other corridors of land in the older industrial areas. It asked for £210,000. So far it has received £125,000. That is obviously not enough, and it needs the balance. An idea has been put forward which the council would put into action if only it had the money.

The council also wants to reclaim derelict land. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney talked about some of the worst eyesores in his area. One of the worst in my area is opposite the Phurnacite plant. It is a large hill, with black stumps of trees, which is burning underneath. Clouds of smoke can sometimes be seen above the trees. That is an obvious eyesore. It is on the main road and it needs to be removed if it is not to deter industrialists from coming to the area.

My council has put forward a list of schemes to the Welsh Development Agency for the forthcoming financial year. The total sum is in millions rather than thousands of pounds. The basic objective is to clear as many derelict sites as possible for the benefit of industry and the environment. The main schemes are Cmw Cynon and Deep Dyffryn, for which it needs £1·2 million; Aberaman and Cwm Neol colliery sites, Aberaman, for which it needs £1·1 million; and Penrhiwceiber colliery for which it needs £518,000. The council has ideas about clearing those sites, but again it needs the cash to do the job. If the Secretary of State is serious about wanting to clear up the environment in the Cynon valley, he will know that the council has put forward schemes for which it would be pleased to receive the necessary sums of money.

Where people live has important bearings on their health and well-being. Poor housing stock and low levels of household amenities are recognised signs of social deprivation. They increase the difficulties faced by people in coping with illness at home. They also militate against the early discharge of patients from hospital, particularly for families with young children and elderly people.

The south Wales housing officer group produced a report in 1984 which drew attention to the special housing problems in Wales which are compounded by the high percentage of pre-1919 homes compared with the rest of the United Kingdom; the high percentage of houses lacking basic amenities compared with England; the low level of spending per head on housing in Wales; and the particular problems of the elderly and other unwaged groups who tend to be concentrated in unfit housing.

We have heard a lot about severe weather payments, and we know that many elderly, particularly in our valley communities, are suffering because of bad housing. Many of those people have low incomes and are unable to improve their houses, even if they live in private accommodation, because they do not have the income to do so. Many elderly people come to our surgeries and show us how they spend their money, how much they get by way of pension and how little they can afford to spend on heating. Therefore, the improvement of the housing stock is necessary to improve their conditions as well. In 1984 that report concluded that a housing crisis lay ahead unless urgent action was taken to allocate resources for house building and renovation.

The Mid Glamorgan report on deprivation and health drew attention to the particular needs of the Health Service for people in Mid Glamorgan. It talked about the Black report, which drew attention to the association between social class and health, to the increased levels of illness among unskilled workers and to the links between poverty and ill health. The authority's strategic plan highlighted those statements and concluded:

It will be necessary to exercise positive discrimination to the benefit of those communities in Mid Glamorgan whose social structure implies a greater need for services. The Royal Commission on the National Health Service, of which I was a member, suggested that community health services are often inadequate in areas of social deprivation and that improvements are ugently needed. The Royal College of General Practitioners' survey of primary care and the Acheson report described geographical variations both in the problems encountered by primary health care teams and in the characteristics of primary care services delivered.

In the past, following the 1971 census, considerable efforts were made to analyse the collected data. Areas of multiple deprivation, broadly defined by the excessive presence of those factors which together show a low level of welfare, have been the target for social planning, particularly in the context of the physical environment in the past. Policies for positive discrimination are already, to a limited extent, present, in the nation's health care strategies and RAWP, SHARE and SCRAW embrace a belief that areas of greater need should receive more resources.

Health care services alone cannot resolve all the problems identified in areas of social deprivation, but adverse social economic and environmental factors affect a disproportionate number of households in Mid Glamorgan. I have previously gone in some detail into the links between unemployment and health, and I shall not do so again this evening. There has been a lot of research into the effects of unemployment on death and sickness among people out of work, their spouses and families.

The work of people such as Harvey Brenner has shown a consistent relationship between depressions in national economies and changes in the death rate. A recent British study compared mortality rates among the unemployed and the employed in the week before the 1971 census. It clearly demonstrated excessive numbers of deaths among the unemployed, even after allowing for socio-economic differences between the groups.

There is, and there has been for 50 years, enough evidence to show that the duration of unemployment is associated with poor health and even death. In 1984 Mid Glamorgan had a higher unemployment rate for men and women who had been out of employment for one year or more than for Wales or for England and Wales together. Long-term male unemployment is particularly high in the Cynon, Rhymney and Rhondda valleys, and the effect of long-term unemployment on the health of men and women out of work and their families has not been taken into account by the Welsh Office in its calculations.

All the evidence shows that Mid Glamorgan, with its large population, suffers disproportionate levels of illness and disability and at the same time suffers high levels of adverse social conditions, greater than other areas in Wales and England, and that is not simply a matter of the environment.

Much as I want to welcome the report—and I hope that I have been positive in my appreciation of some of the problems that it proposes to tackle—the other areas that I have mentioned this evening must also be taken into account and acted upon because they also affect people in the valleys of south Wales who are looking to the Government for an answer to the intolerable situation in which they find themselves.