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Madam Deputy Speaker : That is a matter for the hon. Member involved. I have simply made general observations about the type of remarks that should be made and the responsibility with which serious accusations should be made.
Mr. Richards : I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not want the Labour party in south Wales to become paranoid. Their brothers in the north are just as sinister and generally incompetent.
Column 1116attacks and acting in such a disreputable way that perhaps the Secretary of State should take him aside and tutor him in the courtesies of the House ?
Mr. Richards : Back to north Wales, close to my constituency. In Clwyd, for example, the department of commercial services lost £1.5 million in 1993-94. It is expected to lose a further £1 million this year. It is a department which is expected to show a profit. The losses were discovered only by audit. The situation has come about simply because Clwyd county council operates a no-redundancy policy. So the House will be concerned to learn that the chairman of the personnel committee of Clwyd county council, Councillor Tom Middlehurst, was, before being elected as a member of the county council, the negotiator and full-time officer employed by the National and Local Government Officers Association, acting on behalf of the staff. He is not a poacher turned gamekeeper, but a poacher in gamekeeper's clothing.
The last but by no means least authority to which I wish to refer is Ynys Mo n. I gave notice to the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones) that I intended to raise the matter. He is not in his place, so it is a matter for him. There is a saying in Welsh, "Mo n mam Cymru," which translates as "Mo n, the mother of Wales." I am afraid that the borough council is a case of "Mo n, the mother of all scandals in Wales." There are sufficient examples to keep the debate going for a month.
Discretionary grants have been misused. Information has been denied to councillors by the director of housing, who has for many years utilised delegated powers that were not formally granted to him. The chief executive and monitoring officer has refused to sanction independent action, in spite of representations by councillors. There are allegations that councillors, and possibly even the director of housing, have been involved directly in a company called Tai Mo n. A company of that name applied to purchase the borough's housing stock late in the 1980s. Furthermore, the development plan and grant application in respect of Mona airfield for civil and industrial use is also a subject of considerable local controversy and speculation.
The council's track record of granting planning consents to council members and their relatives is a disgrace. To sum up, in the words of one dismayed council tax payer in Ynys Mo n, everything in Ynys Mo n hinges on grant money. It matters not whether it succeeds, because the same people benefit. We are in danger of creating grant millionaires.
I should like to contrast the magnificent work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues are doing for Wales with the indolence of the Opposition parties and the damage they are causing. It seems that the Opposition parties have heard sufficient of the sleaze and scandal that has been going on in south Wales for many years--so much so that they cannot even sit there, take it and listen.
Column 1117Let us start at the bottom of the Opposition parties, with the Liberal Democrats. He was sitting there on his own, the lone stranger--that part-time, honourable, but mostly learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). He is known in this place and beyond as the moonlighting Member for Montgomery. Last year, he told the Welsh Grand Committee that he would not be attending its first ever meeting in Cardiff, because he wanted to protest at the lack of a Welsh assembly
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I wish to make a point myself. I must make it clear to the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) that, while it is possible to make comments of a nature such as the hon. Gentleman has engaged in, I strongly deprecate personal comments of that nature about any Member of the House. I do not intend to preside over a Chamber where that is commonplace. I ask the hon. Gentleman to take considerably more care before he says any more about a Member of this House.
Mr. Richards : I abide by your wisdom, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said that he would not attend his first ever meeting in Cardiff, because he wanted to protest at the lack of an assembly.
Mr. Carlile : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As you have said, this speech is an outrage to the usual standards of this House. Is it not the normal practice, when an hon. Member wishes to make a personal attack on another hon. Member, that he should give that other Member notice not only that he will make an attack but of the nature of that attack if it is personal ?
It does not surprise me that the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) has given me no such notice. Will you invite the Government Welsh Whip, who is a man of some substance, to sit on the hon. Gentleman so that he goes the way of those melted chains to which he aspires ?
Mr. Richards : In the event, when the Welsh Grand Committee met in Cardiff, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery was plying his trade in the legal profession at the Old Bailey, and served an injunction
Mr. Carlile : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has just told an untruth. Although I practise as a barrister, like many Tory Members, and am proud to do so, on that day I was not at the Old Bailey. That is a fact. Please will you demand that the hon. Gentleman withdraws that accusation, as it is untrue ?
Madam Deputy Speaker : Obviously, it is not possible for me to judge the accuracy of these matters. I have warned the hon. Gentleman more than once that he should not engage in what one might call personalities, but should stick to policies. I hope that I shall not have to make the point again.
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I have asked the hon. Gentleman not to continue with the discussion of personalities but to stick to policies. Does he understand what I have said, or does he not ? I shall not warn him again.
As the hon. Member for Caerphilly devoted so much of his speech to attacking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, with your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to make one or two points about the hon. Gentleman. He pompously proclaims that he speaks for the people of Wales, whereas he does not even speak for his own colleagues. In the shadow Cabinet elections, he secured 121 votes out of 270 cast, so he does not even speak for his own Back Benchers.
Nor does the hon. Member for Caerphilly speak for the people of north Wales. I have made inquiries of many people in north Wales, trying to ascertain how frequently the hon. Gentleman has visited north Wales other than to go to party conferences. I can find no one who knows of an event to which the hon. Gentleman has been, nor a location such as a school or factory that he has visited. That may be wrong, because I have not trawled everybody who lives in north Wales, but, were the hon. Gentleman in his seat, I would invite him to tell us where he has been in north Wales and whom he has visited. Has he visited any schools, for example, as he seems to be particularly interested in education ?
I do not wish to detain the House for much longer, except to say that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, Wales is winning with the Tories. It will continue to do so, despite Opposition attempts to undermine it.
Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower) : It does not make me happy to follow the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) and I shall not comment on what he said other than to say that I was sad that he descended into the realms of personal attacks.
I shall devote my speech to housing and the homeless in Wales. I am sorry that I cannot be here at the end of this debate because I must go to Llandrindod where I am chairing a conference tomorrow. I must be there a little earlier than the Minister of State to deal with the architectural heritage fund.
Less than five years after the Department of the Environment reviewed the working of the 1985 homelessness legislation and found that it was "adequate" and "appropriate", the Secretary of State for the Environment is presenting a "Review of Homelessness and Access to Local Authority and Housing Association Tenancies". He says that it is now virtually impossible for anyone other than statutorily homeless households to obtain a council or housing association tenancy.
The Secretary of State for Wales will not be surprised at that. If massive numbers of council houses are sold off and
Column 1119housing associations cannot meet projected housing needs, it is only commonsense that those who need housing will not be housed. But according to the Secretary of State for Wales, that has nothing to do with it. "Ordinary" people who are waiting for a home cannot get one because of all the young single parents who are having babies just to jump the housing queue.
The Secretary of State says that it has nothing to do with the fall in the number of homes available for rent by 48,000 in the 10 years from 1982 to 1992. It has nothing to do with the rise in the number of households accepted as homeless to more than 10,000 in the same period. It has nothing to do with the estimated 60,000 people who experienced homelessness in some form in Wales last year. According to the Secretary of State, longer waiting lists for council houses have nothing to do with the fact that high rents, shorthold tenancies, widespread disrepair, the requirement of bonds or deposits and rent in advance, the requirement for tenant employment, the prohibition of children, and the commonplace harassment all make the private sector a non-starter for many vulnerable home seekers.
It has nothing to do, according to the Secretary of State, with the fact that more than one in three marriages now fails. Families split up and often need cheaper and rented accommodation. Nor is it to do with the fact that, nationally, 1,000 homes are still being repossessed each week. In Wales in 1992, more than 19 families a day either lost or were threatened with the loss of their homes. They have to be housed. On average, 30 dependent children became officially homeless every day in Wales in 1992. Such children have to be housed, if not by district councils then by the social services under the Children Act 1989.
There are also the mentally ill, discharged from hospital into community care ; there are youngsters coming out of care seeking and needing a secure and stable home ; there are young offenders who need a new start ; battered wives and children and the chronically sick. All those groups make priority demands on public and social housing. If the Government will not allow councils to spend the money from council house sales on building special needs housing and if they underfund housing associations so that they can provide only one third of the social housing identified as needed, we can expect council waiting lists to get longer.
Mr. Wardell : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that the balance between houses for rent and houses for sale is significant, but as long as shared equity housing is available and the lower percentage applies, I am sure that will provide some assistance.
To return to the main points, we can expect that more families will have to cope with overcrowded conditions. We can expect more couples who are living with their in-laws to resent intensely the dichotomy between postponing parenthood and raising a family with grandparents, while aunts and uncles sleep on the couch in the living room, and to begrudge the lack of privacy.
According to the Secretary of State, housing needs cannot be met because young single girls are getting pregnant and using what the Government call a fast-track
Column 1120system into housing, pushing ordinary couples back down the list. To close that supposed fast track, the whole fragile framework of homelessness legislation has to be uprooted.
The Government say that they want a constructive public debate on their proposals. I am all for constructive debate, especially when we are debating the need to deny homeless people--the vast majority of whom are homeless through no fault of their own--access to a permanent home, and especially when it is proposed to reduce local authorities' powers and duties so that, at the discretion of the Secretary of State, they will have to ensure only that an as yet undetermined agency can provide for the homeless a roof for the short to medium term.
What determines access to housing is the number of houses that are available and, particularly in relation to housing the homeless, the number of affordable homes available. The Government have progressively cut the housing allocations in England and Wales. The Welsh Federation of Housing Associations reckons that Government plans to cut the housing association grant rate will result in a £1 a week increase in rent for tenants for every 1 per cent. decrease in grant. That alone will erode the supply of affordable housing in Wales, increasing waiting lists.
As for teenage single parents, they play a minor role in the overall picture. If all young girls under 18 were excluded from applying under the homeless persons legislation, that would affect allocations by a maximum of only 2 per cent., according to a survey of local authorities by the Institute of Housing.
The 1991 labour force survey found that only 0.3 per cent. of the heads of council homes were single mothers under the age of 20. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys "Population Trends" No. 71 shows that more than 50 per cent. of the estimated 1.3 million lone parents in Britain became lone parents as a result of divorce, separation or death. Single women account for only 29 per cent. of lone parents, and a further 10 per cent. are single men. Men comprise one in three of all single parents.
DSS research report No. 6 on lone-parent families in the United Kingdom--I am sure that the Secretary of State uses it for his bedtime reading--states :
"Despite the anxieties that are often expressed, that many young women are getting pregnant deliberately for one reason or another, . . . we found little evidence that this was the case."
In 1991, lone parents between 16 and 24 comprised only 6 per cent. of all families with dependent children. In the last three months of last year, only 2 per cent. of households housed as homeless under the 1985 Act were headed by a young person. That 2 per cent. includes all young people housed for whatever reason, not only those with children. There is no information whatsoever on housing applications by pregnant women. Those are the very small numbers of tenancies involved.
I cannot believe that a Minister--indeed, no less than a Secretary of State --should not familiarise himself with the factual background information on the area in which he proposes to legislate. I find it incredible that the whole structure of housing policy should be changed because of the blind prejudice of the Secretary of State and a few of his Cabinet colleagues. It is blind prejudice and, as ever, a desire to cut spending.
It is important to look at just what the Government propose. They propose that local authorities will have a duty to "assist" housing applicants in priority need who have no home. They propose to make the new duty
Column 1121applicable only when the home is lost--when there is no roof--instead of when homelessness is imminent within 28 days. That duty starts only after the council has made an assessment of the claim and satisfied itself that the applicant really is entitled to help. In practice, the pending homeless facing eviction within days will end up, in great distress, in the worst private accommodation ; thus, they will never appear as homelessness statistics. At a stroke, the number of homeless will fall, in the same way as unemployment fell when who was or who was not a claimant was redefined.
The councils' new duty to those brave enough to hang on and go to the council offices after the bailiffs have put them on the street will be to find them temporary accommodation. Applicants will be expected to use their time in shelter to find their own accommodation. What is likely to happen to many is what the Institute of Housing and the Institute of Housing in Wales calls a revolving door syndrome, when a homeless application is followed by a temporary letting in the private sector, followed by a reapplication as homeless. As the Institute of Housing points out, that will increase administrative costs for councils and also create insecurity, which could severely affect family life, employment and education prospects. That surely cannot be what the Government regard as improving the well-being of our citizens. Where is the Prime Minister's vision ? He is not in the House to hear this piece, and I apologise for not giving him advance notice that I was going to mention him. I hope that he will forgive me.
Under the new proposals, before people living with their parents, relatives or friends can be accepted for assistance, they must be served with a court order to evict them--so much for the Government's family values. The review paper also seeks views on whether hostels should be available for young single mothers. It does not say that the Government plan to provide money to build them. Ninety per cent. of respondents to the Institute of Housing's questionnaire on the review of homelessness legislation were firmly against any move to make the council's housing duty discretionary, temporary, or both. The Institute of Housing, the Welsh Federation of Housing Associations and Shelter Cymru share the concern of housing officers about the proposed change.
In Wales, there has been marked progress in dealing more effectively with homelessness, and co-operative and innovative schemes are in their infancy. All that work is now jeopardised, not because any factual evidence shows that it has failed or because a better scheme has been devised, but on the whim and the convenient prejudice of the Secretary of State and fellow travellers at the Treasury.
The review is devious. It seeks to justify further cuts in expenditure on housing and at the same time cuts the number of homeless by changing the definition of what it is to be homeless. It seeks to divert attention from the real cause of long waiting lists. The root cause of homelessness and the shortage of rented homes in Wales and the rest of Britain is the lack of money and support for affordable and permanent rented housing. It is by building houses and creating homes that waiting lists will be cut. Bigotry towards teenage single parents is a red herring that gets us nowhere. The review is irrelevant. It is constructive only in
Column 1122exposing just how fragile are homeless people's rights. It concentrates the mind on how wide is the gap between housing provision and housing need.
The review should be withdrawn. If the Secretary of State's contribution to the most vulnerable, the most distressed and least secure of our Welsh citizens is to sever their right to a home, the sooner he severs his tenuous connection with Wales, the better. 6.23 pm
Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan) : I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for not having been present during the first part of his excellent speech. I had a long-standing engagement to meet, in the other place, my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Ferrers, who is Minister of State at the Home Office, to discuss policing in south Wales --an issue which I raised in the recent debate in the House on the funding of local government. I make no apology for returning to that issue today.
We have a great problem. In 1992, the number of recorded crimes per police officer was 51 in south Wales compared with 44 in England and Wales and 42 in the whole of Wales. The number of recorded crimes per 100,000 of the population was 12,355--almost double the figure 10 years ago for the area covered by the South Wales police and considerably more than the figures for the rest of Wales, which was 9,602, and for England and Wales, which was 9,353. The South Wales police performed well, all things considered, in that each officer managed to make 18 arrests in 1992, which is slightly better than the figure for the rest of Wales, 17 ; and for England and Wales, 15. The number of arrests per 100,000 of the population in 1992 was 4,344 in south Wales ; 3,955 for the whole of Wales ; and 3,275 for England and Wales. The clear picture therefore is that more crimes are being recorded in south Wales than in the rest of Wales and the whole of England and Wales and that the success of the police in arresting people is slightly better.
The recent catastrophe regarding the budget of the South Wales police has had dire effects in my constituency. I have had discussions with senior officers and can report the following consequences. Operation Bumblebee, an important initiative designed to reduce the number of burglaries, has had to be put back, perhaps for several years. Just before Christmas, I was told that there was a shortage of petrol to put in police cars and, on one occasion, it was impossible to send a constable to Llantwit Major to arrest a burglar because the force could not afford to pay the constable £7.50 for the petrol.
In November last year, my local police force was optimistic that it would achieve a zero increase in crime for last year--the first time that would have happened in many years. Sadly, that aspiration is in tatters. Local police stations are still under threat of closure, although that seems to have been withdrawn for the time being. There has been a substantial loss of police overtime. I was told that it has been impossible on occasion to send officers to court simply because there is no money to pay them overtime and that the only basis on which officers could attend court was by submitting overtime payment claims in the subsequent year.
That is not the way to run a police budget. The local police believe that they have been forced to renege on promises that they made to the public. On bank holidays,
Column 1123for example, there is only enough money to provide 37 officers in the Vale division, instead of 51, which would constitute what they regard as a skeleton staff. That means that, taking into account the shift system, only 10 police officers would be out in the whole of the Vale of Glamorgan and Penarth, and only one traffic car and one dog, where there should be four traffic cars. People who are arrested in the evening have been bailed at police stations rather than being kept in overnight. They are granted bail not because the police are satisfied that that would be appropriate, but because there are not the staff to supervise the prisoners overnight. That shows the scale of the problem. I shall now deal with how the problem arose. In the past few weeks and months, we have seen an unholy battle over who is responsible for the underfunding. I wish to put the blame where it appears to me squarely to lie--with the South Wales police authority.
Mr. Sweeney : I should have thought that that was self-evident. Responsibility for home affairs rests with the Home Secretary and his Ministers, rather than with the Secretary of State for Wales. When I wished to raise my concern about the issue, it was naturally to the Home Office that I went.
What I learnt during that meeting reinforced information that I had already received in correspondence with the Home Office. The South Wales police authority comprises, among others, elected councillors from South Glamorgan, Mid Glamorgan and West Glamorgan county councils. Under the indicative distribution arrangements for Wales, 5.6 per cent. of the budget should be going to the South Wales police this year. Last year, they received only 1.6 per cent. When I have taxed local councillors--Labour councillors, incidentally--with those figures, I have been told, "It is all your wicked Government's fault : rate capping prevents us from giving the police authority the money that we would like it to receive."
With respect, that is nonsense. The total 1994-95 budget for the three local authorities is in the region of £900 million and the amount that the police desperately need to deal with the shortfall and deliver the services that they have promised is a mere £5 million. My arithmetic tells me that that represents a percentage of 0.5 recurring. It is not even as if the three authorities had to find the whole amount ; they need find only 49 per cent. of it, because 51 per cent. of the budget for all police forces in England and Wales comes from the Home Office. By giving the police 1.6 per cent. rather than 5.6 per cent., the police authority has deprived them of not only the part that it should have paid them, but the part that would have come from the Home Office if it had paid the full whack. I appreciate the problems of capping and I realise that all local authorities face difficulties in trying to keep within their budgets. Every organisation, however, must deal with the same constraints and I do not see why local authorities should be exempted. If the Government are to control overall spending levels, local government must play its part. I believe that central Government have been generous to local authorities in Wales, in all the circumstances. In view of the smallness of the total amount involved--£5 million out of £900 million, with less than £2.5 million actually having to come out of the £900 million
Column 1124--it should be relatively easy for local authorities to trim their budgets elsewhere. Of course, they are right to say that they have statutory responsibilities in a number of areas and that some of their expenditure is unavoidable ; but I see the waste that takes place in my local authority, South Glamorgan.
I have written to the authority about issues such as its decision to reduce spending by turning off the lights on the main roads in my constituency. I suggested that that was a very short-sighted policy, given that the accident rate tends to be higher on roads whose lights have been switched off, as does the incidence of bulb failure. What is the point of spending a large amount of capital in installing street lights and then switching them off in a form of short-termism ? That is a truly penny-pinching approach.
Although my overtures in favour of switching the lights on were ignored, it may be significant that they were switched on immediately after one person was killed in an accident in South Glamorgan. No apology was made for the fact that they had been off in the first place, but somehow the money was found.
Given the importance that the public attach to policing, it behoves all county councillors who happen to serve on police authorities--and all other members of police authorities--to realise the vital importance of maintaining an effective police force. The public will accept nothing less. It is not simply a question of how much money is made available to the police ; it is also a question of how that money is spent. What appears to be emerging now is that the way in which the police budget has been spent has not been properly controlled.
It seems that overtime payments have been allowed to accrue and claims for those payments have not been put in. That means that the treasurer of the police authority has not at any given time had a full grasp of how high or low spending is running. That was certainly brought home to the South Wales police authority in a very painful way. I understand that at one stage it was told that it was spending well over £1 million under budget. Naturally, the senior officers did the obvious thing and started to increase spending--only to be told, as late as July 1993, that they were overspending at that stage to the tune of more than £500,000 pounds and would have to put their budget in order.
Another factor has distorted the police authority's budget. Not only had it overspent on overtime ; it had relied on an assumption that substantial savings in salary levels would result from the retirement of police officers. In fact, those savings were not achieved, because the number of officers retiring did not match expectations. In the meantime, a number of civilian workers had been employed. In theory, that should have improved police efficiency, because civilians can perform certain tasks at lower cost than police officers. The net result, however, was a considerable unanticipated overspend.
Those are serious issues, which need to be tackled by the police authority. They need the full support of the county councils, which contribute to the budget of the police authority.
I have an assurance from Lord Ferrers that the Government fully realise the importance of policing in Wales. All that I said to him was that, even if the police authority discharged its duty and the police received the full £5 million that they should have received, better
Column 1125resources would still be needed for the police in south Wales. That should mean not only more money and more police officers, but better use of existing resources.
It is especially necessary for the police to make much better use of information technology so that there can be a more efficient exchange of information and so that experienced police officers no longer waste a considerable amount of their time typing out charge sheets by hand. Before entering the House I was a solicitor, engaged in the court duty solicitor scheme and in the police station duty solicitor scheme. I frequently visited local police stations in the area and, frankly, I was appalled at the obvious waste of police time resulting from inefficient methods.
The Government are often criticised for taking too much control of the affairs of local government. I believe, however, that in this case the Home Office should be taking more control, not less, of the running of local police forces, especially if police forces are mismanaged and underfunded as a result of poor local control. I would especially like the Home Office to give a firm steer to all police authorities, in England as well as in Wales, to encourage them to spend parts of their budgets on suitable equipment that would enable them to function efficiently.
Time and time again I hear from my constituents that, notwithstanding the increase in the number of police officers which we know--on paper--has taken place, coupled with the increase in white collar staff to back them up, the public see fewer, not more, police officers on the street. That is partly because many of those police officers are in panda cars or high- speed police vehicles. I am not suggesting that they should not be properly equipped in that way ; it is no good a bobby on the beat trying to give chase to someone in a fast stolen car.
The police want more police officers to be on the beat. The success of community watch schemes and so on depends on it. It is vital--I know that we are beginning to do it--to achieve a better relationship between the police and schoolchildren and between the police and the public, but we can do so only if we release more of our officers from the burden of unnecessary paperwork, to which inefficient equipment at police stations often contributes.
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : Nothing is sacred, apparently, not even the chains of the mayors of boroughs such as Llanidloes--at least, not to the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards), although I reassure myself that on the same side of the House sits the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), who has a proper sense of Welsh history and would wish those mayoral chains to be preserved. I suppose that after Piltdown man we have Meltdown man, although I comfort myself with the recollection that Piltdown man turned out to be a fraud.
This has been a rather sad debate. The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West came to the House with a great deal of promise and was said to have a promising ministerial career in front of him. In this afternoon's debate we have probably seen that promising ministerial career--which would have been based on intelligence--destroyed by bad judgment and melting down into a phial of poison.
At the beginning of the debate, the Secretary of State made an announcement about transport policy. We all listened with much interest and we had a short tour of
Column 1126Wales by intervention. The Secretary of State kindly let us all intervene to make our specific arguments. I am disappointed that we have not yet heard an announcement about the Newtown bypass, but I am grateful for the assurance that it will be considered.
I ask the Secretary of State to consider one small thing, which would cost very little, and about which I have written to the Minister of State-- provision for the disabled in towns and villages which are crossed by trunk roads for which the Welsh Office has responsibility. I wrote to the Minister of State specifically about Welshpool. It is a serious problem for disabled people. The right hon. Gentleman gave me a positive response and I hope that that issue can be expedited.
I had hoped today that the Secretary of State would give us a little more hope for the carriage of freight on the railways. Not a bean is carried, in terms of freight, on the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth line. It would be nice if we could hear a commitment Mr. Redwood indicated assent .
Mr. Carlile : I am glad to see the Secretary of State nodding in agreement with the principle, at least. It would be nice to hear a commitment to transport more freight by railway, rather than to have it trundling through the towns and villages of mid-Wales. Tonight I shall speak principally about agriculture. I do so because it is very important to rural mid-Wales and also because the Minister of State, who is responsible directly for agriculture in Wales, will, I understand, wind up the debate.
Wales depended on agriculture before Welsh coal and steel were mass- produced to stoke and build the industrial revolution. All hon. Members present are only too well aware of the significant effect that the industrial revolution had on the communities of south Wales. The industrial revolution is now part of history. Today we are in the midst of the post- industrial revolution, of which the main characteristic is probably the deconstruction of the past. Wales has suffered disproportionately, with the spring tide of destruction in the coal and steel industries and with the resulting enormous economic and social upheaval.
We welcome the fact that the Welsh economy has attracted many foreign and multinational companies and few people could doubt sensibly that the investment of such companies has been necessary and welcome. However, I regret that the international investment has not been matched by growth in Welsh indigenous industry, despite remarkable exceptions such as Laura Ashley and, more recently, Control Techniques in Montgomeryshire.
It is a matter of regret that so little risk capital has been invested in Wales in proportion to the risk and venture capital invested in England and indeed in Scotland.
I suggest to Ministers that it is unsound economics and unwise politics to accept that the Welsh work force should be the lowest paid in the United Kingdom and that our school leavers and unemployed people should have to make do so often with inadequate training provision.
Mr. Jonathan Evans : The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the lack of indigenous investment in industry in Wales. He may be aware that the report produced by the Institute of Welsh Affairs 2010 specifically drew attention to the need to develop a spirit of enterprise in Wales,
Column 1127which, it has to be recognised on both sides of the House, has perhaps looked too much to the past. Will he discuss that ?
Mr. Carlile : I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. Wales has not been awash with entrepreneurialism, which, as I was trying to say, needs to be encouraged. The old business expansion schemes barely featured in Wales whereas in the south of England one could hardly move for leaflets about them. We need to bring the spirit of enterprise to Wales.
I said that I would concentrate on agriculture. At the moment, 18, 000 people work in agriculture in Wales. That is still a significant proportion of the Welsh work force, although the number is falling. In 1920, the figure was 70,000 ; in 1950, it was 50,000 ; and, as I said, today it is 18,000. The decline is exceptionally relevant to rural and hilly Wales. Many parts of Wales still depend on the direct and indirect jobs and income from farming. In my constituency, as much as 16 per cent. of the work force is still employed in and around agriculture, but the decline in agriculture is apparent to all who visit.
The decline has caused the demise or amalgamation of farms, the loss of chapels and churches, and the closure of schools, pubs and shops and of many agriculturally based businesses. We have, of course, welcomed the work of the Development Board for Rural Wales, but it has often been work of a very different character which has not served to save villages.
As time passes, we once again face the risk of rural depopulation resulting from the decline in agriculture. Agriculture will continue to decline unless we are prepared to be truly radical and imaginative in our approach and brave enough to take the long-term view, which has never been taken in this country, save at the time of the formation of the common agricultural policy in which we chose not to participate. Although there has been an improvement recently--I shall not quarrel with the statistics given by the Secretary of State--the problem is compounded by the historically low income base. The Employment Gazette of February this year gave the average hourly income for all industries and services as £8.44. For farmers the average was £4.97, barely 60 per cent. of the average for all industries and services. Government policies have compounded the disparity. The hill livestock compensatory allowance is, for many farmers, the lifeline that allows them to farm land which would otherwise be unviable. The Government used to recognise the importance of the HLCA. The section on Wales in the most recent Conservative manifesto stated :
"We will give further resources to our Rural Initiative. And we will continue to support hill farmers through the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances".
That commitment undoubtedly impressed many farmers in rural Wales--not surprisingly--but, unfortunately, the reality has not matched it. Farmers have been helped by accidents rather than policy, notably by black Wednesday and the devaluation of the green pound. They are temporary conditions which, if the economy--as the Government promise--becomes stronger, lead to a further reduction in farm incomes. We suffer from short -termism in our agriculture policy. As a result, many farmers whom I have met earn £4,000 to £4,500 a year for hard work on a family farm, with little prospect of making a decent living in the future.
Many farmers must also now bear the financial costs of the necessary drive towards increased environmental