Welsh Affairs

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 5:24 pm on 1st March 1989.

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Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Shadow Secretary of State 5:24 pm, 1st March 1989

It was interesting to hear the Secretary of State refer to inward investment and to a record building programme. Some of us on the Opposition Benches thought that the really big record was his output of press releases during the past year: they have rained down on Wales thick and fast.

I had hoped to hear in the right hon. Gentleman's assessment of the economy how he saw the impact upon small and medium-sized businesses in Wales of a possible further rise in interest rates. As regards inward investment, I had hoped to hear some sort of statement on the Toyota project. But he did not mention them. I would use the word "sanguine" to describe his speech, even "over-sanguine", and as a corrective I will offer a reference to the report by the Low Pay Unit in today's Western Mail, which says that: the divide between Wales and the south-east of England is now greater than it was a year ago. According to the Western Mail,The report argues that the situation has worsened since the loss of relatively well-paid, male-dominated jobs in the Welsh coal and steel industries in the early 1980s. Low pay is also common in rural Wales. It makes the serious statement: Average earnings for men are lower in Wales than in any other region of Britain". More facts as an antidote to an over-sanguine speech. In Clwyd male unemployment is 12·8 per cent., in Dyfed 14·8 per cent., in Gwent 14·2 per cent., in Gwynedd 17·1 per cent., in Mid-Glamorgan as high as 17·3 per cent.; South Glamorgan has 12,459 unemployed men and some 4,200 unemployed women, and West Glamorgan has 14·5 per cent. male unemployed. These are very serious figures. The right hon. Gentleman's approach today took no account of the very large-scale unemployment that still exists throughout Wales today. One of the disadvantages that he labours under is that his Prime Minister, early in the 1980s at a Conservative conference in Swansea, actually said that the unemployed of Wales should travel to England to find work.

The right hon.Gentleman referred to two late colleagues of ours. Sir Raymond Gower was regarded by all of us as a very personable man and a very gentlemanly person—a very nice man. Nobody would deny that he was a House of Commons man. None of us ever heard from those Benches any harsh or personal statements that were offensive. In the Tea Room he was a pleasure to talk to. He had a great deal of humour; he used to understate matters. In the Welsh Grand Committee, Raymond Gower was always very loyal to his Ministers, and he displayed a great deal of insight into the politics of Wales. I rather think that, over the years and behind the scenes, he gave Ministers a lot of good advice. Nobody can take from him his superb constituency work. He was probably one of the finest ever constituency Members. Nobody could say that Raymond Gower had other than tremendous personal and loyal support from Lady Gower. Our proceedings will be the poorer for his death.

In passing, I draw attention to the pressure in modern politics throughout Wales. I remember Mike Roberts, Alec Jones, Brynmor John and Euan Evans. We can all draw some conclusions from the passing of these colleagues.

Having spoken about late colleagues, I should now like to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) who had an exceptionally warm welcome today. He fought a fine campaign and is no stranger to us. He is a considerable broadcaster and his by-election victory is a watershed in this Parliament. I enjoyed listening to all his speeches in the campaign, and I especially like his identification with and loyalty to his own industry of mining. I was impressed by his love of the Welsh landscape and know that he will do his best in the House to guard it. He spoke up strongly for the under-privileged in his constituency—those on low wages and people who are badly housed. When my hon. Friend speaks in the House, some of these issues may come forward.

I was disappointed in the Secretary of State's response to the loss of jobs in the steel industry. In Trostre, Velindre, Brynawel, Ebbw Vale and Shotton, there have been heavy job reductions, over 1,000. Those were hi-tech, full-time, first-rate male jobs in manufacturing, and the economy cannot afford such job losses. I emphasise our great regret at the lack of consultation. It seems that, once the steel industry was privatised, the board was able to act at will. I do not think that the Secretary of State lifted a finger to help. I regret that, because we have lost some of the best jobs in Wales.

Perhaps the Secretary of State will say something about the tinplate industry in Wales as we go towards 1992. Our steel workers who suffered job losses are getting a poor repayment for first-class productivity. They generated profits but have suffered a reduction in manning because there have been many redundancies over the years. The Secretary of State should take into account the strength of the industry. I do not want that strength to be dissipated now that the industry is privatised. I warn the Secretary of State that many steel workers in Wales fear that their jobs will go to contractors. I am informed by trusted and experienced trade union leaders that there is always a decline in the status of jobs provided by contractors. That decline is in health and safety, pensions, wages, holidays and other conditions that were hard won and jealously guarded over many years.

I should now like to turn to the south Wales coalfield. There is now a revue of the Cynheidre and Marine collieries in which about 1,500 jobs are being looked at and about 500 jobs are under review elsewhere in the coalfield. The loss of 2,000 colliery jobs would be serious because coal and steel jobs are important. I have a hot question for the Secretary of State. Why is the Carway Fawr mine at a halt after the investment of £35 million? The miners believe that production has been halted so that when people are taken on again they will be non-NUM members.

We think that the supposedly moderate face of British Coal in south Wales is a blind. The south Wales NUM is noted for its good day-to-day industrial relations. We have every reason to believe that British Coal is acting provocatively and, arguably, wanting disputes. I should like the Minister to refute that. He should meet the chairman of British Coal and the area director for south Wales and raise these matters because they are of great importance to the coalfield.

I spoke about great pressure on miners. They are somewhat bitter because it seems that the productivity goalposts are being moved. They are also worried about the import of anthracite from China and there is apprehension about the effect on the south Wales coalfield of electricity privatisation. Because of the importation of anthracite our production centres are being closed. The Minister should intervene, not step aside and ignore the worries in the coal industry.

When we consider the potential loss of 2,000 coal jobs and 1,000 steel jobs, we see that even if the Toyota project were to come to Wales, the jobs that it would provide would be negatived. We could put it another way and say that, to replace the steel jobs soon to be lost in Wales, we would need several more of the magnificent Ford Bridgend investment projects. That shows that the matter is serious.

Interest rate levels have prompted warnings from the business community in Wales. A recent survey by Cardiff chamber of commerce showed that high interest rates are an increasing headache for businesses in south Wales. We have had a warning from the director of the CBI in Wales, Mr. Ian Kelsall, that sustained high interest rates will lead to a decline in investment. I was disappointed that the Minister did not address himself to the problem of high interest rates in relation to industry in Wales. He did not address himself to the continuing impact of the balance of payments crisis or to the effect on businesses of likely increases in the cost of water, electricity and gas. He did not speak about inflation, which may well hit 8 per cent. before long.

The Secretary of State and I both know that the Budget surplus is estimated at about £10 billion. Will he use the authority and influence of his Department to ensure that the Severn bridge tolls are not increased? We should like to hear about the date on which it is intended to start the second crossing. We are worried by recent statements by the Minister for Public Transport, because it seems from reading reports of what he has said that he is not prepared in any way to say that the second crossing is a certainty. We expect the Secretary of State and his Ministers to fight hard for the earliest possible starting date. Given the size of the Budget surplus, there is no reason why the Department of Transport should not seriously consider electrifying the Crewe-Holyhead railway line.

We should have a guarantee of major increases in funds to tackle the housing crisis. The Secretary of State forgot to tell us that more than 4,500 people are homeless in the Principality, according to a recent answer to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman). We should like the Minister to press for an increase in child benefit and for more funds for the National Health Service, with the aim of mounting a meaningful attack on waiting lists and financing a genuine programme of preventive medicine in Wales.

The right hon. Gentleman should devise schemes to assist exporting industries in Wales. Something should be done about bringing in lower interest rates. On these Benches we say no to a free market; we know, and the right hon. Gentleman knows, that Wales needs public investment, intervention and more and more funds.

While I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have criticised various legislative proposals that have come before the House in recent months, we need legislation which the Government have not brought forward. There was no mention in the Queen's Speech of a measure to make an attack on environmental pollution. Yet in Wales last year the infamous poison ship, the Karin B, wanted to dock at Neath. In my constituency poisoned soil has been dumped near houses, having been brought to Mostyn dock from Rotterdam. The Dutch did not want it; we in Wales had to receive it.

In the borough of Torfaen, Rechem has an infamous smoke stack. Its outpourings frighten the local population. My hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) is fighting hard for a public inquiry. We should have a public inquiry too about continuing pollution of the river Dee, from which water is extracted for domestic use. There have been far too many pollution incidents on the river. The right hon. Gentleman surely saw the Daily Post this week where it is reported that the North West water authority still intends to dump raw sewage in Liverpool bay. Much of that deposit ends up in the north Wales area to the detriment of our beaches and our tourist industry. Public opinion demands ministerial intervention in the near future.