Previous Section Home Page

Column 346

The Secretary of State keeps on telling us that unemployment is coming down, but we are entitled to ask who put it up in the first place. To use that old adage, charity begins at home, and I want to look briefly at unemployment in Newport in order to draw back the curtains a little. It has always been my belief that, with a fair crack of the whip, Newport will achieve prosperity. Situated on the eastern seaboard, it has perhaps the most favourable geographical location in Wales. It is linked by the motorway network to the south-east and the midlands. There are excellent rail facilities and modern docks. There is a fair amount of prosperity, but there is a good deal of hidden poverty as well.

From the Department of Employment's press notice of 16 February on unemployment as at 12 January, it can be gleaned that, despite all those economic advantages, male unemployment in Newport stands at 12.5 per cent. That is a pretty scandalous figure. What is more, if the 1979 method of compiling statistics is used, the figure goes up to over 16.5 per cent. In May 1979, when Labour left office, male unemployment in Newport was 7 per cent.--3,959--and the statistics then were based on people registering, whereas as now they are based on people claiming benefit. Male unemployment in Newport is nearly double the 1979 figure. That dismal situation is reflected all over Wales.

Under the Government, the blows have simply rained on Wales. Homelessness has rocketed. Houses are just not being built in the public sector. Average wages in Wales are probably the worst of any region in the country. Our National Health Service is being undermined. There has been a loss of no less than £750 million in rate support grant and £1 billion has been cut from regional aid. Despite all those cuts and economic difficulties, the Government have the cheek and audacity to propose a doubling of tolls on the Severn bridge, which is our main access point. On St. David's day, we would all do well to remember that people have to pay to come into Wales and they have to pay to go out of Wales. That is a disgrace and an imposition. That is the situation despite all the money raised in motor taxation--close on £17 billion in the current year-- less than one quarter of which is being spent on roads and maintenance. In one way or another the Government have wiped out the massive debts of other concerns in order to pursue their privatisation ventures. The original cost of the bridge has been paid for many times over. There is no bank loan involved ; it is on the Consolidated Fund. The debt is purely a paper figure. It should be wiped out, as the Select Committee on Transport advocated two or three years ago.

The St. David's day message to the Government is that they have sold Wales short, and the people of Wales know it, as they showed in Pontypridd last week. They will not be conned by a publicity-mad Secretary of State. That is why they will continue to reject the Conservative party and the Government whenever the opportunity arises.

8.24 pm

Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower) : First, I associate myself with the comments made by hon. Members on both sides of the House in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) on his excellent speech. We look forward to many more contributions of such calibre. I also associate myself with the comments made about the late Sir Raymond Gower, whose contributions to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs


Column 347

were always particularly helpful. He was the senior Conservative Member on that, Committee and I could always rely on him for astute advice.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) was right to say that, when a great tinplate plant such as Velindre closes, as it will in September, it is no use replacing the jobs lost by such a closure with low- paid or part-time jobs, often employing female labour. I am sure that the Welsh Office will work with the Welsh Development Agency and other agencies to replace those jobs with manufacturing jobs which will use the skills of the men and women previously employed at Velindre.

St. David's day in Wales probably means most to the young, dressed up and performing in schools throughout Wales, and to the old who this evening will be carrying on the tradition of community entertainment followed by cawl and caws suppers in village halls throughout the Principality. It is appropriate to take this opportunity to highlight the problems faced by more than one in six of the population of Wales--the over-65s. Although a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that we are not doing so well as some of our EEC neighbours in raising life expectancy, especially in Wales where the inroads into alleviating poverty and associated deprivation and lifestyles have been too long neglected, the proportion of the Welsh population aged 75 years and over has continued to increase and almost doubled between 1971 and 1986.

Looking forward, as Governments are supposed to do in formulating policy, the population of Wales is expected to increase by less than 2 per cent. between now and the year 2000, while the proportion of people over the age of 75 is expected to increase by more than 8 per cent. An unprecedented and increasing number of older persons, having made their contribution to the security, economy and well-being of Wales, therefore look to us as their Members of Parliament to represent their interests. It is clear that the Government are failing them. The Local Government and Housing Bill, affecting those 35 per cent. of pensioners in rented housing, has caused great anxiety. Many elderly people will be reluctant to move into more suitable rented accommodation when they do not know whether rents under an assured tenancy will remain low enough to be passported on to housing benefit.

In the social security changes of April 1988, pensioners were among those worst hit by losses. The Social Security Advisory Committee estimated that 74 per cent. of pensioners dependent on social security would be worse off after the changes. The Welsh house condition survey shows that 11 per cent. of Wales's housing stock is in a state of serious disrepair. A disproportionate number of elderly people in Wales live in houses which are damp, draughty and in need of repair.

Such housing is notoriously difficult to heat, yet in last April's benefit changes the heating allowance for difficult-to-heat housing was scrapped. Under the new system, general heating, diet and laundry additions have been rolled into one premium payment for pensioners. The system makes calculating benefit entitlement easier, but for the elderly encountering special problems there is no extra help when they need it. Out of the new rolled-together benefit they have to find 20 per cent. of rates and all their water bills. In the past, only 15 per cent. of single payments went to elderly people, and even fewer pensioners are likely to put themselves in debt to the social fund. Many could not afford the repayments on loans in any case.


Column 348

Six million people lost entitlement to housing benefit last April. In Wales, more than half the losers were pensioners. Thousands of pensioners, mainly those with small occupational pensions, were worse off by up to about £3.25 per week after paying at least 20 per cent. of rates as well as increased rents and water charges. For those people there was no help--it was called "targeting" and they were deemed able to bear the loss.

In response to the public outcry, when it became known that some people were losing up to £20 per week, the transitional payments scheme was introduced for those who lost more than £2.50 per week after meeting rent and rates rises and paying 20 per cent. of their rates, but what a tragedy that has turned out to be. Next month, when benefits are increased, those on transitional payments will not have an increase in income because their transitional allowance will be reduced by the amount of the benefit or pension increase, but their rents, their rates, their water rates and their electricity bills will go up. With inflation at 7 per cent., all their costs will rise, but their income will not. Moreover in April 1990 and in April 1991 those who lost most last April will still be paying off the transitional allowance against benefit increases, so their incomes will still not have increased. Truly, they will still be paying for the changes of last April.

There is nothing in the policy pipeline which recognises the special needs of pensioners and the elderly. They are not benefiting from the chaos in local community care services caused by the Government's reluctance to respond to the Griffiths report. The latest estimates show that there are 9 million disabled people in Britain today, most of them in need of some special provision. The OPCS clearly identified and quantified the link between increasing age and disability. Of the 575,000 people in the most serious disablement category, 64 per cent. are aged over 70. Of those, nearly two in three--a quarter of a million people--are living at home, on their own or with their families. The OPCS study showed also that the highest prevalence of disability was found in Wales. To the credit of dedicated carers, Wales was second only to the north of England in terms of caring for the disabled at home.

The West Glamorgan health authority is currently deciding its long-term strategy for care of the elderly, but how can it make long-term plans when it does not know who is to be responsible for community care, what the health authority's role in community care will be, whether the Government will commit the necessary resources to fund beds in private-sector residential and nursing homes or whether the authority will have to provide beds because those elderly people without savings or capital receive too little help from the Department of Social Security in the form of income support payments to cover the cost of care in such a home?

I conclude by associating myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) on the Government's health proposals. It is entirely unacceptable that pensioners should be expected to shop around for hip replacement or cataract operations. Providing a market for patients or GPs does not increase choice when the pool of expertise is constant. One can shop around only if one knows what one wants and when one wants it. Unfortunately, illness and need do not yet appear or go away solely at the whim of the Prime Minister. Like my hon. Friends, I hope that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) will go away at the whim of the grey vote in this country, and


Column 349

I hope that Conservative Members will reflect that, unless far more is done to protect this group of people unless--they urge Ministers to come down into the real world and ease the pressure and stress that have been created the fate of the Government will be sealed by the effect that they are having on the most vulnerable groups in our society.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. The Chair is very grateful to the House for co-operating so well with regard to the 10-minute limit on speeches. A number have lasted less than 10 minutes, and, as a consequence, it is now possible for me to relax the limit. That does not mean, of course, that I am inviting long speeches.

8.36 pm

Mr. Ron Davies (Carphilly) : I suppose, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is my misfortune to be told, just as I stand up with a 10-minute speech in front of me, that I may speak for 20 minutes.

Mr. Morgan : Or half an hour.

Mr. Davies : Or half an hour. I shall not do that, however, because my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) now has 10 minutes' notice to extend his speech.

Most hon. Members who have spoken have paid tribute to two Members that we lost during the last 12 months. I want to say a word particularly about our most recent loss. I refer to the hon. Member who represented the Vale of Glamorgan and, before that, the constituency of Barry, Sir Raymond Gower. I lived in part of what was his old constituency of Barry. He represented what was then the Cardiff rural district council area, which included the parishes of Llanfed, Rhydygwern, Rudry and Van. It is in the parish of Llanfedu that I currently live. Many of the villages in my constituency were in his constituency then.

It is no exaggeration to say that his reputation was legendary. All who knew him had the greatest respect for him. The work that he did on behalf of his constituents was deeply appreciated. He had the support of many people through the ballot box, who in no other circumstances would have considered themselves Conservatives or would have given a moment's consideration to lending any support to the Conservative cause. That really was recognition of the care, attention and diligence with which he approached his constituency responsibilities. I am sure that many people who live in what is now my constituency held him in great affection and mourn his passing. We on this side of the House have sustained a tragic loss with the death of Brynmor John, who was a dear friend to us all.

I want to talk for a moment about the Secretary of State for Wales, who has been the subject of much vilification during our debates on Wales. I have to confess that I rather like the man.

Mr. Morgan : We all like him.

Mr. Davies : We all like him, but that does not necessarily mean that we have to agree with all that he does. However, it is rather easier to like him when we compare him with his predecessor. Certainly the approach of the current Secretary of State, when he comes to the


Column 350

Dispatch Box, and in his dealings with Welsh Members, is very different from the distant and arrogant approach of his predecessor. I have to say, in passing, that the previous Secretary of State committed what I believe was an act of the utmost folly when he accepted the paid post of chairman of the National Rivers Authority, having been a member of the Cabinet that had created that very post. If he had been a member of a local authority he would have been imprisoned for corruption--for doing the very thing that he did as a member of the Government. It was most reprehensible.

I have said, I have some affection for the current Secretary of State. His style is different and we must give him credit for the fact that he has achieved something during his tenure as Secretary of State. We have to recognise that he has brought about some real achievements. There is a mood of confidence in south Wales which did not exist before the election. Wales has a much higher profile and, in terms of investment, business confidence and business activity, the Secretary of State has achieved a turnround. There is no point in denying that he has had some remarkable success in achieving inward investment for Wales. Those are real and positive achievements and it would be foolish of us to deny them.

Despite those achievements, and although there is an element of affection, the Secretary of State has not achieved the respect of the people of Wales. That is due entirely to his obsession with raising his personal profile and claiming that everything good that happens in Wales is a direct result of his initiative or intervention. He does his cause no good at all.

I can give one example which occurred in my constituency and which affected me directly. When he announced his much vaunted review of the valleys initiative in Merthyr on 21 February, he said--I quote from the press release

"This week there will be announced a new £30 million development at Caerphilly that will create 2,000 new jobs."

That came under the heading, "The Urban Programme".

Understandably, my office was besieged by telephone calls from journalists asking about the new £30 million investment in Caerphilly and where the 2,000 jobs would be. I had to find some answers. I thought that if, two days before the Pontypridd by-election, the Secretary of State could suddenly conjure up £30 million he must have a little pot of gold that he has raided or have made provision for it in the estimates for his Department. I made inquiries. I asked the House of Commons Library to check the estimates of the Welsh Office and the provisions made by the Land Authority for Wales. The Library let me have the results of its investigations. We should bear in mind the fact that that announcement was made under the heading "The Urban Programme" and if anybody disputes that, I have the Welsh Office press release with me.

That £30 million was like a rabbit out of a hat. I will not divulge the name of the researcher in the Library but she told me : "I have spoken to an official at the Welsh Office and it appears that the £30 million development is a purely private development The Public Relations company acting for the developers (Peter Gill Marketing of Cardiff) tell me that they have not yet applied for any Government grants The developers might apply for infrastructure grants in the future but have not yet done so."


Column 351

Yet two days before the Pontypridd by- election the Secretary of State was trying deliberately to claim in a press release credit for that project.

I happen to know something about that project. It is the Pontypandy development in Caerphilly, a constituency in which I have lived for a long time, and I was aware of the plans that the local authority laid a long time ago for that development. Therefore, it came as no surprise to me to read at the end of that week in the local newspaper the comments of the leader of Rhymney valley district council. They were illuminating. The newspaper said :

"Welsh Secretary Peter Walker has been accused of claiming credit under his Valleys Initiative scheme for projects that have been in the pipeline for years.

Councillor Graham Court, leader of Rhymney Valley council, said the announcement by Mr. Walker of the £30 million business and retail park at Pontypandy, Caerphilly, was a con. He's claiming credit for something that was being planned long before the Valleys Initiative and it would have gone on without Peter Walker or the Valleys Initiative' The application for the out-of-town retail park was actually submitted to the district council on June 3 1987 and called in by Mr. Walker which, said Councillor Court had actually delayed the scheme. I am really annoyed by this' "--

that is an understatement--

" Members and officers have put in a lot of work and along he comes and claims credit."

If the application had not been called in the project would probably have been in existence before the Valleys Initiative." The present Secretary of State for Wales might be regarded with some affection because of his new approach, but that is why he will never gain the respect of the people of the valleys. What he is doing is fundamentally dishonest.

That is nothing new in the career of the Secretary of State. We saw the same characteristics when he was the Secretary of State for Energy. Despite all the delegations we took to him when he was Secretary of State for Energy explaining that Wales was different and needed different treatment during the miners' strike, and despite the soothing words and pleasant conversations, the end result was pit closures. We were not spared the consequences of the retraction in the coal industry.

We can look at the time that he spent as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I remember that time well because some of my constituents came to me after having to face the consequences of his policies. In 1984, months before the introduction of milk quotas, the Secretary of State for Wales--then the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food--was going round the country telling farmers that they should produce, produce, produce. He was encouraging them to involve themselves in development schemes using Government money. He was encouraging them to invest.

Many farmers in my constituency came to me saying, "We did exactly what the Minister wanted us to do. We took out bank loans and have invested £50,000, £60,000 or £70,000 a year thinking that we would be able to increase our milk production, meet the bank overdraft and the needs of the Minister while bringing about an improvement in our standard of living." What happened? Within months of him urging them to invest, milk quotas were introduced. In Wales there was a massive cut in the level of milk production and massive job losses. About 2, 000 people were penalised. That is the record of the Secretary of State for Wales, and it is why he will not obtain the respect of the people in Wales.

What is happening, as has been made clear during the debate, is that the Welsh economy is changing. The nature of Welsh society is changing, as is the nature of our Welsh


Column 352

communities. We are losing--it is something whose passing we will not mourn--our dependence on the coal and steel industries. However, in place of those secure, highly paid, full-time jobs, we are being offered a panoply of part-time, low-paid or temporary jobs. They are no substitute. They do not give our communities the stability they had before. They do not provide the wealth that is necessary for our communities to flourish. As a result, we are living in a much poorer society. The Secretary of State hypes it up by saying we are on course to some brave new world. The truth is, as was shown dramatically by the Low Pay Unit's report in the Western Mail, we are slipping further and further behind the standard of living of the majority of people in Britain.

I want to deal with a sector of the community that has not yet been mentioned--the people who live and work in our rural communities and are most closely associated with what has been happening to our environment. I want to look briefly at the environmental record of the present Secretary of State and his predecessor.

The Secretary of State for the Environment, who is responsible for environmental protection in England, to his credit, after the Budget changes to forestry last year announced that there would be no further afforestation in the English uplands. We have urged the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland to extend to Scotland and Wales the same protection as the Secretary of State for the Environment has given to England. We have been denied it in Wales. As a result, we see the destruction of some of our finest lowland, for example, at Llanbrynmair in mid-Wales. The Secretary of State for Wales could have done the same as the Secretary of State for the Environment has done in England and protected our fragile moorland ecosystems. He has not done it. He could have done something about the acid rain problem. The whole catchment area in mid Wales has been damaged--not irrevocably--as a result of acid rain. Some of our great water catchment systems, such as the Llyn Brianne, are virtually lifeless, because the problem has not been tackled with any urgency either by the Secretary of State or his predecessor.

Last Monday's report by Greenpeace on an analysis of water pollution in Welsh rivers shows a dramatic decline in the quality of class 1 rivers over the past 10 years. The best waters have declined. There has been a 50 per cent. increase in the number of grossly polluted rivers. The greater part of that increase took place between 1979 and 1987--during the tenure in the Welsh Office of the man who is now head of the National Rivers Authority, charged with the responsibility of looking after river quality in Britain. His record on defending Welsh interests does not bode well for those of us who hoped that he would defend the true interests of British water.

The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. Wyn Roberts) : The hon. Gentleman was the main signatory of early-day motion 188, which referred to the deterioration of Welsh water over the past eight years. My information is that it is not 175 miles of water that are dead or dying, as he put it in his early-day motion, but no more than 26 km.

There is another error in the early-day motion. It puts class 3 and class 4 rivers together. There has not been an increase in class 4 waters in Wales over the years 1980-87.


Column 353

Mr. Davies : The hon. Gentleman and I dispute the facts. When I saw the report, which was widely publicised on Monday, I took the trouble to ring Morlais Owen, who is the chief scientific officer of Welsh Water. As a direct result of the information that he gave me, I tabled the motion to which the hon. Gentleman referred. If he considers that anything in the motion is incorrect, and he gives me his version of the level of pollution, I will happily re-word my motion. I assure him that that information was made public and was verified by the chief scientific officer of Welsh Water. Based on my own experience and on my conversation with Morlais Owen, I am prepared to claim that my motion represents the facts.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Welsh Water's research on acid rain and its effects has been of a high quality? Does he agree also that it is important that Welsh Water should continue its research on the destruction of our environment? A proper code of practice, with statutory powers in respect of forestry in the watershed, should be presented in the Water Bill with great force.

Mr. Davies : The hon. Gentleman and I are in full accord on that matter. A powerful case has been made against water privatisation. The hon. Gentleman shares my concern about the 100,000 acres of the highest quality landscape that will be threatened by the proposed privatisation. I agree that safeguards should be built into the Bill if privatisation is to go ahead. All hon. Members know how rigorously the Government have enforced the guillotine and are preventing proper debate on such matters.

Some developments dufing the past 12 months have demonstrated that, in his role as guardian of Welsh farming interests, the Secretary of State for Wales has been neglectful. Earlier this week the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food admitted that the variable premium on land is to be phased out. That matter is important to the people of Wales, but we will not get any safeguards or protection. We will not get special treatment in respect of stabilisers. Vital Welsh interests will be sacrificed.

The same applies to the beef premium. Welsh interests are particularly important in the livestock sector. The Secretary of State was happy to go along with the deal that was done by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in selling out the variable beef premium. The livestock sector in Wales is taking a severe blow.

The farm and conservation grant scheme that is currently being introduced is shifting resources from less-favoured areas to the low counties of eastern and southern England. There has been a deliberate diversion of resources from Welsh farmers to prosperous English farmers. The Secretary of State has refused to use his powers, which were conferred by Brussels, to introduce direct income aids to assist farmers in mid and north Wales who are struggling as a result of the succession of blows that British agriculture has been struck through the reorganisation of European policy. All those matters are of concern to Opposition Members.

As can be judged from the debate, there is little to divide Opposition Members' views on what will happen in future. Three or four political parties are represented here, but, by and large, we speak with a common voice. If there is a gulf in Welsh politics, it is not between the Labour party and the SLD. There is no gulf between the SLD and Plaid


Column 354

Cymru. I am not an advocate of pacts--far from it. There is a gulf in the recognition of what is happening to our communities, and that gulf is represented on the Floor of the House. If there is a difference, it is between Opposition Members, who argue that there is a Community perspective to Welsh problems and that they can be addressed only by a co-operative approach as we move towards the next century, and Conservative Members, who argue that everything can be left to deregulation, market forces, and the glitz and gloss of admen.

That system is not working. It is alien to the people of Wales, and that is why the Secretary of State for Wales, although he may be regarded with some transient affection by politicians or communities in Wales, will never be regarded with respect by the people of Wales and will never command their allegiance through the ballot box. 8.58 pm

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : I begin by adding my words of welcome and congratulation to my hon. Friend the new Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Howells). He seemed to get the hang of things quickly in his speech and we all feel that we have acquired an hon. Member who will make a distinguished contribution to the House.

I would also like to add my words of condolence to the family of the late Sir Raymond Gower to those already uttered by all hon. Members who have spoken. I have spoken of my condolences already in the House, but I want to repeat them, especially in the light of the remarks by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones). He mentioned that in 1964, he was a resident in the constituency of Barry, which was then the constituency represented by Sir Raymond Gower. He said that he had first gone out canvassing in 1964 and that that was his first political experience. I can beat him. As a small boy, aged 12, my first political experience was to attend an election meeting addressed by Sir Raymond Gower in the local baptist vestry in the constituency of Barry. I asked him a question about peace in Europe and our relations with Germany. I had the odd experience tonight of realising that I had asked a similar question of the Prime Minister yesterday. I had the chilling thought that we politicians give the same speech over 38 years and that although we might try to polish it up a bit, we are always saying the same thing.

To be sure that I do not make the same speech after 40 years in politics, I want to speak tonight about gallium arsenides and indium phosphides. I am on safe ground in saying that I did not refer to those in 1951 because they had not been discovered then. If anyone is wondering what those substances have to do with the future of Wales, I shall explain. If Wales is ever to move away from begging-bowl politics, regional development politics and grant-aided politics, it must have the chance to have a stake in the technologies of the future.

We had such a stake before the first world war because we led the world in industries such as tinplate, strip mills and some aspects of coal mining, especially marine coal, which we then lost with the loss of stable industries and the McKinley tariff in the United States. We have never managed to get back again. We have always been catching the last bus with the aid of a Government grant and hand-me-downs from the south-east of England. It is time that we started to give some thought not only to devising a generous regional policy, but a self-extinguishing


Column 355

regional policy, whereby grants are paid out and public money is put down as seed capital, but with the specific aim of trying to get rid of the need for a regional policy in 10, 20 or 30 years, or however long the job takes.

I raised the topic of gallium arsenides and indium phosphides because those substances are the raw materials of the semi-conductor industry after the silicon chip has gone. The silicon chip, I am assured by technologists, will be replaced by epitaxial products made of those two sophisticated crystalline compounds. We are at the beginning of the stage whereby south Wales, especially the Cardiff area, has a significant stake in the intellectual infrastructure in its university departments and in the application of those products for industrial purposes.

In the new university of Wales college of Cardiff, a merger of the university of Wales institute of science and technology and University college, Cardiff, there is a substantial proportion of the world's expertise in epitaxial products, the post-silicon chip age materials for semi-conductors. The reason that I want to draw the matter to the attention of the Secretary of State is that although strictly speaking, the matter is not within his province, but in the province of higher education, it is a matter on which he can use his broader power of oversight and interest in the future of Wales. By the efforts of the local authority in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), a new factory is being set up, one of the first in the world, which will be manufacturing on a significant commercial scale, with the advantage of venture capital from Shell, a substantial multi-million pound investment in indium phosphides and gallium

arsenides--semi-conductor space age materials. That must be welcomed because it is giving Wales the chance of a share of 21st century technology, not hand-me-downs from south-east England and Germany, industries that are too dirty to comply with Scandinavian environmental controls or industries in which the wages that would have to be paid in the home counties do not enable them to compete with Taiwan and Singapore and which have provided so many of the new jobs over the past 40 years under Governments of both colours. To get away from that, it is important that the Secretary of State keeps an eye on what his fellow Cabinet Ministers are doing and says, "This may not be strictly my responsibility, but I want to see what I can do to get Wales the same kind of stake in the post- silicon chip materials that Scotland got when silicon got off the ground 30 years ago". That was when transistors and computers had their first impact on the European scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s. We in Wales missed out on that and there is not much point now in trying to grab a big share because we would still be making the mistake of catching the last bus.

I should like to make another plea to the Secretary of State although, again, this is not in his province. He should keep an eye on the development on the exciting new engineering faculty at the combined University college at Cardiff because it may be the last big public sector, public-funded development in higher education in this country. The University Grants Committee has given a budget of £30 million to develop a new engineering faculty as a kind of dowry to encourage UWIST and University college to merge. We all know how difficult it is to get


Column 356

students on to engineering courses at the moment in this country and how dependent we frequently are on overseas students to make up the numbers.

The Secretary of State should keep a close eye on that development to ensure that it is a genuine centre of excellence with links with industry and job creation in Wales. It should be an intellectual powerhouse and a centre for training for the future decision-makers and technology leaders of Wales and provide us with a stake in the 21st century so that we can create more of our own jobs instead of having to give grants to import other countries' hand-me-down jobs when they cease to have use for them.

Although it is not his province, I hope that the Secretary of State will keep a close eye on that matter and work closely with his colleagues in the Cabinet who have more direct responsibility for education and science. I hope that that new engineering faculty will be stuffed full of fellows of the Royal Society and fellows of the British Academy of the highest quality to ensure that we in Wales do not just have the ability to churn out the poets, preachers, doctors, professionals and even the politicians for which Wales is known, but the technicians, scientists, engineers, and technologists--the people who can help Wales to churn out a fair proportion of its own jobs. That would give us a chance that we have not had since the first world war to be a self-sufficient region in terms of job creation. There will be a place in that for both the private and public sectors and for organisations that are neither one thing nor the other, but a halfway house. I remind the Secretary of State of the importance of the public sector in providing new jobs in Wales. Indeed, what we think of as private sector companies often turn out not to be so when one looks at them more closely. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North and just across the boundary from my constituency is Amersham International, which is an absolute pillar of the industrial society in Wales. It was a public sector company when it came to Wales but it is now a public limited company. Another example is the royal mint--a public sector development that was brought to Wales 20 years ago. The new financial services initiative companies that have moved into Wales are not plcs, at least not by background. The Trustee Savings Bank Group plc, for example, was a mutuality as the TSB, and likewise National Provident which is moving to Cardiff and bringing 500 jobs is not a plc, but a mutuality. The public sector is extremely important in terms of providing technology and training.

People may mention in pubs that they have been working for the royal mint and are being promoted to the royal ordnance factory in Llanishen, saying, "I was making good money down at the royal mint but now I am making a bomb at the ROF in Llanishen."

Such companies are important because they provide apprenticeships. I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the extremely important report issued yesterday by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and Professor Prai"s--not Pryce in the Welsh sense--who is one of Europe's greatest experts on comparative levels of engineering apprenticeships and graduate engineering apprenticeships and on industrial training in general, which compares Britain, France and Germany.

Although it is not directly his function to do so, the Secretary of State should look at that very closely. Wales is basically without an engineering tradition because of the kinds of industry that it contains. We need to fill the gap,


Column 357

providing craftsmen, technicians and engineering graduates so that we are no longer dependent on bringing people in from outside. Although there will be interplay across the regions, we should not depend on importing technology or technologists.

It is particularly sad for that reason to see how many white-collar, decision-making and research-based jobs have moved out of Wales in the past couple of years. The only Medical Research Council establishment in Wales has been closed down--the pneumoconiosis research unit attached to Llandough hospital. The only reasonable science establishment funded by the Government, the research vessel services base at Barry, has moved, and we learned this week that--again in Barry--BP is running down its research and development base for the second time.

I did, however, approve strongly of one feature of the Secretary of State's opening address : he did not use a strangely colonial phrase that he has been using throughout Wales. He has said that it is a good thing for Wales that the economy of the south-east has been overheating, because Wales has benefited from the spin-off--the outward push from the south-east, which can no longer attract workers. The right hon. Gentleman must stop using such language, for what he is saying is that we in Wales will always have the crumbs from the rich man's table. It is not his job to sweep the crumbs from the rich man's table in the south-east into Wales. We want more than crumbs : we want a loaf of bread.

9.11 pm

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : First, I must say how much I welcome the arrival of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) in the House, although the circumstances are particularly tragic. I know that he will make a good contribution, and if his maiden speech is anything to go by we can expect to hear many entertaining and informative speeches from him over the years. I thank the Secretary of State for Wales--although I may look slightly amazed to be doing so--for his action over the phurnacite plant. People in Cynon Valley appreciate his having forced British Coal Products to go through the planning process. As he knows, we have put up with the pollution problems caused by the plant for long enough, and we are very concerned at any suggestion that a new process--virtually untried in England--is to be tried out on us. We have been given similar promises in the past. The Ancit plant, for example, was supposed to improve the environment, and after a good many teething problems it made some contribution to improving it in that area, but there is still considerable concern about extensive pollution from the phurnacite plant, because people do not know what British Coal Products intends to do next. Those who recently visited the works in Hamilton, Scotland, were not very pleased at what they saw there, particularly the use of mild heat treatment.

Over the past few weeks I have been urging Ministers to deal with the situation in Mountain Ash, the second major town in my constituency, which is currently experiencing considerable decline, particularly in its commercial centre.


Column 358

Most of the main chain stores in the area are closing down or have already done so. A letter that I received from one of my constituents this week reads :

"Please help us here in Mountain Ash if you can. Our main shopping centre is a disgrace--other valley towns are being improved, but ours seems to be the Cinderella of the Valleys. Boots, Woolworths and our Post Office and the gas showrooms are all being closed and the litter is absolutely revolting--not to mention the decrepit condition of the main street buildings. Please, please continue to help us in our fight to improve our town."

She enclosed a bay leaf from her garden--the Secretary of State is aware that Mountain Ash is also plagued by pollution from the phurnacite--and commented :

"As you can see, I would have to scrub it before using it for cooking."

I wrote to the companies that are or have already closed down their branches in Mountain Ash. I received a letter from a representative of Boots saying :

"For many years the Company has been represented in the Town and as one who was born and bred in Mountain Ash, I can understand the concern of many in the community who will lose the advantages of shopping in a local Boots store.

For the past three years the Store has experienced a decline in the level of busines and unfortunately, it has now reached such when it cannot sustain a viable operation and therefore I can conform that a decision has been made to cease our representation in the town I am sure you are aware that the company is continuing to invest in other Valley towns"

It is the same story with Dewhurst, the butchers, from whom I received a letter which stated :

"Many of the problems of small towns and neighbourhood centres over crime and vandalism have arisen because there is no longer a heart to the neighbourhood. When there was a butcher, a baker and greengrocer, a dairyman and newsagent, people would shop and meet conveniently and safely. Now, all the day-to-day food traders have gone and there is just an off- licence, a betting shop and a multi-commodity general purpose store. This is not an attractive environment for young children and old people."

No doubt the Secretary of State saw the Western Mail this week which showed dereliction in Mountain Ash on one of its pages. That dereliction is indicative of the problems of high unemployment and low wages in the area. The Secretary of State is well aware that the Cynon valley has been identified by all the indices as the poorest district in Wales. Sixty per cent. of households live on less than £4,000 per year--that is a shocking figure--while a quarter live on incomes between £4,000 and £8,000, more than half the people have no savings and only one in five has savings worth more than £1,000. Many exist on small benefits because of the area's high unemployment. However the Secretary of State or the Government present the figures, unemployment in the Cynon valley has gone up this month, and the figure is already much too high as we have the highest male unemployment in Wales. One in six of the people live in unfit houses and half of houses need repairs costing £1,000 or more. Moreover, the kind of jobs available in the Cynon valley--there are not many compared with other parts of Wales--tend to be low paid and part time, so people are exchanging poverty line benefits for poverty line wages.

Low pay is rife throughout the Welsh economy in both the public and private sector. There is a double pressure on the wages of the low paid because public sector cash limits keep low wages down. Many people in the Cynon Valley are employed by the public sector. Discarding wage regulation drives public sector wages down even further. There is a smug, arrogant assumption that we should ask only enough for the low paid to get by on, as though they, unlike everyone else, do not want to live a full and


Column 359

rewarding life. Under the present Government, the rich have received tax breaks while those who are already poor have been punished and goaded into effort by the imposition of a harsh, inflexible benefit system.

In Wales, one in four men earn less than the Council of Europe's decency threshold, and average male earnings are the lowest of any region in the country. I am sure that the Secretary of State cannot applaud that. The situation is even worse for women, whose average earnings are a mere 66 per cent. of the national male average. Six out of 10 women in south Wales earn less than the Council of Europe's decency threshold and with the abolition of the wages councils such small protections as exist will disappear.

Wales has suffered particularly badly from the staff reductions in the wages inspectorate. Nine years ago there were seven inspectors and an office in Cardiff. That office has now closed and its responsibility has been transferred to Bristol and Manchester. As a consequence, illegal wage rates are widespread. Last year, inspectors visited only 9 per cent. of establishments, so Welsh employers can expect a visit only once in 11 years and it is estimated that one in three pay illegal rates.

The position for women in Wales is particularly bad. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales has said :

"Who would have believed, 20 or 30 years ago, that we would have lady bus drivers? Of course, with power-assisted steering and all the electronic aids, one does not have to be a muscle-bound man to swing vehicles around. Whether driving buses or operating computers in the office, and so on, a woman is on an equal plane with a man for any job. In some circumstances, she is better placed. Just ask Hitachi and other electronic firms that want to have components put together. The small fingers then come into their own."--[ Official Report, 2 March 1987 ; Vol. 111, c. 628.]

That is indicative of the Government's attitude towards women at work in Wales. They have low paid part-time jobs and their wages are disgraceful.

9.22 pm


Next Section

  Home Page