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Unemployment Areas

Volume 526: debated on Wednesday 14 April 1954

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Motion made, and question proposed, "Tat this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]

11.48 p.m.

I wish to deal with the question of unemployment areas in general and with the problem of unemployment as it affects my constituency of Anglesey in particular. The creation of Development Areas and the operation of the Distribution of Industries Act, 1945, brought very great benefits to large areas of this country which were neglected before the war. In the six areas designated as Development Areas by the 1945 Act, through the introduction of new industries and the special treatment prescribed by the Act there has been a high level of employment since the end of the war. It warms the heart to think of the change that has taken place, for example, in South Wales when we remember the really desperate plight of that region before the war. I think the House will agree that great credit must go to the Labour Government for the vision and the energy with which they tackled that great problem.

But there were other areas which were equally hard hit before the war, and had a high incidence of unemployment, but which were not designated as Development Areas under the 1945 Act. They are generally known as unemployment areas or pockets of unemployment. These unfortunate districts were deprived of the benefits conferred by the 1945 Act. They are not the children of the Act; they are the orphans of the storm, and it has never been made clear exactly what assistance they are entitled to expect if the danger of growing unemployment faces them.

The problem in North Wales, where many of these pockets of unemployment exist and where the whole area of Anglesey was regarded as an unemployment area, was carefully considered in 1948 in the Government's White Paper on the Distribution of Industry, which said:
"Careful consideration has been given to the claims of a number of these districts to be scheduled as Development Areas. The Government decided that, as the numbers of unemployed are not much in the aggregate, and as the area is not compact and homogeneous, scheduling under the Distribution of Industry Act, 1945, would not be appropriate as a means of dealing with the problems of these parts of North Wales.
I do not think it was the right verdict, and as far as Anglesey is concerned, I think that events have proved that it was mistaken.

The evidence shows quite clearly that the plight of an area such as Anglesey was acute and as serious as the plight of areas which were actually scheduled as Development Areas. Here are some of the figures. In July, 1932, the percentage of the working population unemployed in the six Development Areas was 38 per cent.; in July, 1939, 18 per cent. But from 1932 to 1939 in Anglesey the average figure of unemployment was 40 per cent, of the insured population; in other words, the average unemployment in the County of Anglesey between 1932 and 1939 was far higher than the average for the areas which were, in fact, scheduled as Development Areas, and which received the special benefits from 1945 onwards.

It seems to me that all the arguments were in favour of including Anglesey in the 1945 Act. There were obviously chronic causes for the unemployment situation which existed then, and the stimulus of rearmament towards the end of the decade did nothing to cure the situation. It was, in fact, the outbreak of war in September, 1939, which ultimately took the men off the unemployment register, and that is something that we cannot easily forget.

I have been forced to the conclusion that to be regarded by the Government as an unemployment area does not mean very much in practice. It is no guarantee whatever that anything positive will be done to improve the position. On 1st April, I asked the President of the Board of Trade a Question about the Government's policy towards unemployment areas as distinct from Development Areas, and he gave me a pleasant but somewhat vague reply. He said:
"The policy towards these areas of relatively high unemployment remains unchanged. The Board of Trade do what they can to encourage industrial development, and these areas receive equal consideration with Development Areas when Government orders are placed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April, 1954; Vol. 525, c. 2215.]
In practice this does not mean very much. Anglesey is not an industrial area in the real sense—although there are a few important industries there—and Government contracts are notoriously elusive. There can be no guarantee about such contracts, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows only too well. The most important factory in the county has worked hard to get a certain contract. I do not want to go into details, lest I should prejudice the issue. The firm has gone to immense trouble to secure the contract. It has drafted blueprints and designs, but it now seems that there is no certainty that it will get the contract. Failure to do so will mean a further rise in unemployment: 300 men will become redundant in the course of time.

My complaint is that there is a lack of a really constructive policy to help these unemployment areas out of the trough. In Anglesey about 10 per cent, of the insured population is out of work. This is serious, because, translated into human terms, it means poverty and fear throughout the county of a return to the prewar situation. If 10 per cent, of the insured population of England, Scotland and Wales were out of work, there would be more than 2,300,000 unemployed. That gives an idea of the problem. There would be a national crisis of the first magnitude.

Our immediate task in Anglesey is to find work for those who are unemployed, and our long-term problem is to provide full employment. We could not be satisfied with providing this for our present population. We must be able to provide work for the young people leaving school, who number from 500 to 525 yearly. The figure of 10 per cent, which I have mentioned is not a complete figure, since in Anglesey no one works beyond the age of 65. Elsewhere, men over that age are encouraged to work. Even British Railways employ men up to the age of 70 or 75.

I do not think the figure of 10 per cent. is right. The actual figure is, I believe, 8.7 per cent.

I think the hon. and learned Gentleman will find that the figure given on 15th March was 9.7 per cent.

The figure given in a Parliamentary reply by the Minister of Labour to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) was 9.7 per cent. It is a rising figure. It is not a complete figure, because it does not include men over the age of 65 who are prepared to work, and it does not include women who, having failed to obtain employment, have gone off the register and are now at home depending on their parents.

I hope to show the House that there is ample room for expansion in Anglesey. We could sustain a population of 75,000 if the work were there. It is interesting to note that our population has increased in recent years. In 1939 the insured population was just short of 8,000; in 1951 it was 10,716; in 1952 it was 12,238, and in 1953 it was 12,867. In 1953, therefore, it was necessary to find jobs for 4,867 more people than in 1939.

Let me refer to three localities in the county. At Amlwch and Llangefni there are hard cores of unemployment and there is a difficult problem at Holy head. Five years ago the position at Amlwch was very serious. Then the Associated Ethyl Company built its factory there, and there was also work on water and sewerage schemes, on housing, and on the new comprehensive school. Those works have now been completed, with the result that Amlwch has reverted to its old condition, and the increase in the insured population has offset the employment of the 140 men employed at the Ethyl works.

Llangefini is the progressive, administrative centre of the island, but it has no industry. Men have been employed there on the head works of the county water scheme, the new comprehensive school, and on housing. Llangefini Urban District Council has one of the best records for house building in the whole of Great Britain, but there has always been a difficult unemployment problem, and it is now very grave, because the water scheme and the new comprehensive school have been completed.

Thirdly, Holyhead has its difficult problem. This really ought not to be, because it has one of the finest harbours in the country, but it is not being used to anything like its full capacity.

What is the solution to these difficult problems? I advance the following suggestions. First, the remaining portion of the county water scheme should be completed as soon as possible. In 1943 the Anglesey County Council—and this is one of the most progressive local authorities in the country—promoted a Private Bill for carrying out a comprehensive county water supply scheme. It was a formidable undertaking for a fairly flat island county. It is unique in that the Anglesey County Council is the only county authority in England and Wales which is a water supply authority. This Measure was the precursor of the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act of 1944.

The water scheme, which was commenced early in 1947, is divided into two instalments. The first has been virtually completed, and the second is partly completed. In order to supply a network of water supplies to farms and villages the council would like to complete the second instalment and to undertake a large programme of mains extensions. Unhappily, rising costs have compelled it to decide that work on the second instalment and mains extensions must be deferred unless the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is prepared to increase its grant towards the cost of the scheme. I hope that this increase will be forth-coining very soon, so that the council may continue with this vital work, which is of particular importance to Anglesey, where, for a variety of obvious reasons, it has not been possible to have a water scheme on a large scale.

Many roads in Anglesey are in a deplorable condition, and the Minister of Transport has been urged to allow the county council to proceed on road improvements on the A.5 trunk road and the Class I roads. I hope that he will give sympathetic consideration to these projects and that the Parliamentary Secretary will talk to him about it and persuade him of its necessity. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government has also been asked to expedite the approval of sewerage schemes submitted by the rural district councils in the county, and to make the maximum grants in order to let them proceed expeditiously with these schemes.

These are three suggestions for public works which would help to give employment for an interim period while a more permanent solution of the problem is sought. The hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate that these public works do not constitute a solution in themselves.

What now is to be the long-term policy which would provide us with a real and permanent remedy? First, we need a prosperous agriculture. That is, of course, our basic industry, but it is outside the hon. and learned Gentleman's province, and I do no more than mention it in passing, because the general picture would not be complete without some mention of it. I feel also that much more could be done through forestry. This would provide employment and also make available shelter belts. The county agricultural committee has scheduled over 3,000 acres as being more suitable for afforestation than agricultural work.

Then we need more and better facilities to attract residents and visitors. Anglesey is a very beautiful county with one of the most charming coastlines in Britain, if not in Europe, and if the provision of electricity, water, roads and housing which I have mentioned could be accelerated, it might well become a great tourist attraction.

The provision of new industries is of primary importance. They are needed particularly in the Llangefni and Amlwch area. What is there in Anglesey to attract industry? I will cite these advantages. The necessary services are at hand. Willing and sufficient labour force is available. All the industrialists who have established works in Anglesey cannot speak too highly of the intelligence and adaptability of the workers. The local authorities are only too willing to help with the provision of houses for key workers. The climate is excellent. During the beginning of this year, when the whole of Britain was ice-and snow-bound, the only county free was the island county of Anglesey. The Irish market is close to hand. Dublin is only a three-hour sea voyage from Holyhead. We are really not too remote from the main centres of population. We are reasonably close to the big conurbations of Lancashire.

Clearly what we need is the ability to offer that extra inducement to industrialists. We should be in a position to provide factory building on favourable terms and industrialists should be given priority for contracts and I ask the Minister to look with great care at this suggestion, because the injection of new industry is essential to the county.

We have valuable copper deposits at Amlwch which should be worked. I think they are worthy of careful survey. Large-scale modernisation of the port of Holyhead is required, and I have been in touch with the Chairman of the British Transport Commission, Sir Brian Robertson, about this. I have heard from him that a comprehensive scheme has been authorised, including the provision of four new electric transporters which will mean making alterations to the import and export sheds and providing additional sidings. A new 20-ton electric crane has already been installed, and is now in use. Unfortunately, one of the chief factors is the delivery date for the transporters and it will be 18 months before the makers can supply them. I cannot understand why so little use is made of this magnificent port and harbour. If worked to anything like its proper capacity, it would absorb many who are now out of work. Here is a great potential source of employment, and I would ask the Government to inquire most carefully into its manifold possibilities.

I hope I am not giving the impression that we are a disappointed, discouraged, plaintive community coming to the Government cap in hand. Nothing is further from the truth. The island county is a progressive, forward-looking, courageous community, full of vigour. Public projects in the county show that. The county water scheme, and our comprehensive schools—which are attracting attention from all quarters of the country and from the Commonwealth, including New Zealand—the admirable housing estates, these and other things, are proof of a fine spirit that is deserving of better things than the highest unemployment figure in the whole of Great Britain.

There will not be a stable economy in this country unless the rural areas on the periphery are as prosperous as the industrial centres. And if our unemployment figures go down because our young people are going elsewhere to find work, that will be no solution. There lies decay and defeat. The young people deserve the possibility of work in the areas in which they were born and brought up.

I have tried to cover as much of the ground as possible in the time available to me. The local authorities and the people of Anglesey have shown initiative. The President of the Board of Trade, in response to my representations, has been good enough to initiate a survey of the area. Let die Government translate sympathy into action so that we may at last have some hope of permanent prosperity in Anglesey.

12.11 a.m.

I thank the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) for two things, first for his courtesy in letting me know some of the ground that he would cover—and he has covered a great deal—and also for the vigour and hope of his attitude. I like the practical approach. He is quite right in saying that the position of an area such as Anglesey differs in law and in practice from a Development Area. The reasons why some such areas were not made Development Areas were stated by the late Administration, in words with which we generally agree, in paragraph 90 and the following paragraphs of the White Paper of 1948.

I think the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to say much in answer to him tonight on account of the matter that he mentioned at the end of his speech. He knows from the answer of my right hon. Friend that a special survey is being made in Anglesey at present, and my right hon. Friend has promised to communicate with him when that survey is completed. Though Anglesey is receiving the first attention of this survey, he and his hon. Friends may like to know that the survey will in due course cover also Merionethshire, and Caernarvonshire, that is the whole of the province of Gwynedd. I will see that everything which the hon. Gentleman has said tonight comes to the attention of those making the survey.

In the short time remaining, perhaps I may answer a few of the points which the hon. Gentleman made. What the hon. Gentleman said about Government contracts is right, but it is worth mentioning that one of the things for which he asked was something that Anglesey is receiving. Such preferences in the matter of Government contracts as are enjoyed by firms in the Development Areas are also enjoyed by companies and firms in his constituency. We also steer, where we can, suitable new industries to such areas as Anglesey, in the same way as to the Development Areas.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like these figures as regards sewerage? The Ministry of Housing and Local Government have schemes on hand amounting to £150,000 for sewerage and sewage disposal in Anglesey. None of these schemes is being avoidably held up; any delay is due to such factors as public local inquiries and so forth. It is for the local authorities to put forward their schemes, and they will be given early and sympathetic consideration.

In regard to forestry, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Forestry Commission is doing all that is possible to extend its activities in Anglesey and elsewhere. It has a large programme of afforestation to achieve and is prepared to consider any land which is offered. It is in close touch with the Agricultural Department for Wales and joint surveys of land are being carried out.

I know the hon. Gentleman is aware, from what he has said and written to me—though I cannot recall whether he mentioned it tonight—of such help as is available to such areas as Anglesey under the Development and Road Improvement Funds Act, 1909. That help is being given where, on the advice of the Development Commissioners, the Treasury can make grants for approved purposes. He may like one piece of information that may be new to him, namely, that the Treasury, on the recommendation of the Development Commission, has approved in principle the erection of a small factory in Llangefni—

—for a firm with whom negotiations are now proceeding. Though I cannot endeavour to cover the whole subject matter of his speech, I welcome his practical and hopeful approach, and I shall see that everything he has said is brought to the notice of those who are conducting the survey.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Seventeen Minutes past Twelve o'clock.