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Wales (Statistics)

Volume 530: debated on Monday 19 July 1954

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Wills.]

11.20 p.m.

In raising again the matter of Welsh statistics, with as little noise as possible, I am aware that I am knocking at two doors, one of which is open and the other of which is shut. The open door leads to the publication of a separate annual digest of Welsh statistics which will coincide with the annual report on Government action in Wales and Monmouthshire, and this was promised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Welsh Affairs on 3rd December. Presumably it will be based on the statistical appendices to the Report and will no doubt contain their break-up figures, and I am sure that some of these figures will be useful. I am sure that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) will agree that it will be valuable if the results of the South Wales ports are given port by port and commodity by commodity, which will offset the overriding temptation to drown Cardiff's sorrows in Swansea's oil.

In addition, no doubt there will be other statistics which have hitherto not seen the light of day—or, at any rate, not seen the light of Welsh day, possibly because of their relative insignificance. If it is thought worth while to meet the wishes of a few people at no great cost, I suppose that an annual extravagance on a modest scale will offend only old-fashioned purists like myself.

As for the closed door, this door was closed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 1st December. I ask the House to be patient while I read the Question and answer which concerned that expression of his decision in the House. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies)
"asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will now cause to be published for Wales, as is being done for Scotland, the net receipts for various taxes, an analysis of Schedule D assessments by industry, a classification of the number of estates liable to Estate Duty, Surtax assessments, Profits Tax and Excess Profits Tax assessments and post-war credits repaid."
The Chancellor replied:
"No, Sir. Separate figures for Wales are not available and could not be prepared without an inordinate amount of labour and expense."
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil then asked:
"Does not the right hon. Gentleman consider that for once a sympathetic gesture towards the people of Wales might be appreciated instead of this constant creation of resentment and anger at the completely unsympathetic attitude of the Government towards the people of that nation?"
I am sorry that I cannot read that as expressively as the hon. Member said it. The Chancellor replied:
"I should have thought that the people of Wales never had better consideration than under the care and attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Welsh Affairs. In regard to the details of accounts, this is purely a physical difficulty. Many Parliamentary Questions have been answered illustrating the difficulty. If the difficulty could be overcome, I would be only too sympathetic."
At this point my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) intervened and asked the Chancellor to take into consideration
"the fact that in recent years many Departments have started to produce separate statistics for Wales and that, by a small extension of this process, we could rapidly reach a state of affairs in which Wales would be placed in a similar position to that of Scotland."
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor then replied that he had had furnished for him all the answers he had given to his hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower). The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil then came back with a request—on these matters affecting nationalism very strange bedfellows are sometimes to be found—that, in effect, Wales should be treated on the same footing as Scotland. He asked:
"What is the difficulty which is peculiar to Wales and not to Scotland? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1953; Vol. 521, c. 946–7.]
My right hon. Friend then outlined what they were, and I put a concluding question, with which I need not weary the House. I do not intend to pursue this evening the question of Scottish affairs, as I consider that we have had a sufficiency of them during the past few days.

The gist of this question was expanded into an article, which appeared in the very admirable "Western Mail" Commercial and Industrial Review on 18th January, by Professor Brinley Thomas, who is associated with the department of economics at the University College of Cardiff. I have read this article many times, and it seems to me to contain one sentence of extreme significance in this connection:
"It is not enough to know about investment, consumption, income and the level of activity in the United Kingdom as a whole. We want to be in a position to plot the course of these aggregates for Wales as a separate unit."
That is at the heart of this demand these aggregates are asked for Wales as a separate unit.

With respect to those who differ from me in this, once we start talking about the economy of Wales as being a separate unit from England, we seem inevitably to be entering into the economics of fairyland. If there is one thing upon which nearly all Conservatives—and, I think, most Socialists—are in agreement, it is that Wales is not a separate economic unit. This is not a purely personal expression of view. It was stated in the Conservative "Policy for Wales and Monmouthshire," upon which my hon. Friend the Member for Barry and myself—amongst others—were returned to this House.
"There is no economic separation in Wales"—
I remind the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), in case he has forgotten it, that this is the Conservative policy—
"to correspond with its national separateness. To treat Wales in isolation from England economically would mean the impoverishment of both countries and not least of Wales itself."
The Socialist policy for Wales has been couched on many occasions in similar terms, and was well stated by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) a few weeks ago. I think that his view was reinforced, so I am told, by a recent conference at Porthcawl, which relegated the economics of Welsh nationalism into the intellectual toy cupboard.

If the hon. Member is obsessed with the idea of Welsh nationalism, does he not appreciate that there is nothing sinister in asking for separate economic statistics for Wales? It is a quite different thing from the idea of a separate Welsh nation, apart from England and Scotland. Does he not agree that the fact that Scotland has its separate statistics does not make Scotland a separate national entity from England?

I must tell the hon. Member that I have not got the time to resume this rather barren debate about Wales and Scotland. I would remind him that he appears to be in greater danger from his obsession about Welsh nationalism than I am.

I should like now to turn to some of the detailed information which is asked for. Firstly, there is the demand that Wales should be told the number of estates liable to Estate Duty by range of estates, age and the sex of the deceased. It seems to me to be of no value to know how many bachelors with £100,000 a year or more who died in 1953 in Porth worth more than £1 million were under the age of 45. I am sorry, but the value of that type of information passes my comprehension, and I have yet to meet a Scotsman who is the better for it.

Again, if one knew all these statistics and all the figures for the whole of Wales, those figures would not tell one thing about the actual wealth of Wales. North Wales, in particular, is now becoming a favourite place for Lancastrians to die in.

The second point which is sometimes asked again by those who state the case for separate fiscal statistics with great force is, how much of the income generated in Wales is spent elsewhere? This is one of the things asked for in the article by Professor Thomas. To get this grim calculation would have to be reckoned, I suppose, every football coupon sent to Liverpool and every pint drunk over the border.

I bow to my hon. Friend's superior knowledge in that respect.

As the vehicles pass to and fro over Offa's Dyke in both directions, I suppose there would have to be an elaborate system of Customs officers requesting passengers to empty their pockets.

I must remind the hon. Gentleman that I am not dealing with Scotland, but perhaps on a future occasion I might be able to enlighten him about this. I am dealing with Wales, and I should have thought he would be delighted that I am so doing.

The hon. Member is putting up his own Aunt Sallies and knocking them down.

The Welsh drapers of Oxford Street—and these are not Aunt Sallies—the Welsh pressmen of Fleet Street, the preachers, the teachers, and the politicians, not to mention the milkmen, who retain their Welsh domicile, present acute difficulties to the serious statistician seeking to discover where, in fact, their wealth was generated. Take one case for the purpose of argument. A Welsh journalist finds that his gifted romanticism has blossomed and borne fruit in London. He invests the proceeds in English soil although he retains his Welsh domicile. I ask my right hon. Friend on which side of the ledger. English or Welsh, should he account his Chiltern Hundreds? I will tell my right hon. Friend that if he attempts to reply, he may destroy his well-earned reputation for modesty.

The truth is that the English and the Welsh, by blood, by trade, by commerce and by sharing of one of their cultures, are so joined together that they cannot, in fact, be torn asunder. Notwithstanding the difficulties of the calculations to which I have referred, notwithstanding this alleged lack of statistics, there have been certain statisticians who have reached definite conclusions. There is Mr. Gwynfor Evans who wrote an interesting book, which I commend to the House, entitled "Labour Party and Welsh Home Rule." In that he says:
"The income of Wales, though it cannot be exactly stated, is certainly adequate. We give a rought estimate of £200 millions for the Welsh contribution in taxation to England's budget. The Catto report on the financial position of Scotland has been published. It is a useless report. It has important information on the Scottish contribution to the Treasury. It is £410 millions, substantially more than the Swedish 'budget. The Welsh budget is at least half of that."
I would point out that nothing is said about the contribution of the Treasury to Scotland.

Whatever the Welsh figure may be: whether it is £200 million, and whether the English are the beneficiaries or the Welsh, it seems to me that two facts remain. First, however much money may be spent in seeking to calculate the incalculable, the spirit of nationalism cannot be exorcised by chartered accountancy. Here again there is a peculiar difficulty. There is the distinctive national approach of the English and the Welsh to figures. It is well put by Dr. Thomas Jones, a most distinguished Welshman, when he said that the English deduce their faith from the facts, whereas the Welsh bring their faith to the facts and, if they clash, so much the worse for the facts. Secondly, the people of Wales as a whole, and I will exempt certain groups, have never had things so good as they find them today, and they want them even better. That is why I am all for money being spent on statistics necessary for the formation of intelligent policy, but I am absolutely opposed to that waste of public money on statistics of no value whatever.

11.39 p.m.

As one who hopes to spend some days of the Recess in one of the loveliest parts of Wales, I do not propose to spoil my enjoyment of that by getting embroiled this evening in any of the nuances of nationalism which have been touched on. My duty is to deal with that part of my hon. Friend's observations which relate to the possibility of supplying certain statistics. As I have already made clear to him, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has no general responsibility for the provision of general statistics relating to Wales or any other part of the United Kingdom. So far as there is a responsibility, I should have thought it lay with my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Welsh Affairs. Taxation is clearly my right hon. Friend's responsibility, and so, in some degree, are statistics relating to it and to economic matters. My right hon. Friend is anxious to supply as many statistics as are required, either by informed opinion in Wales or by opinion amongst the representatives of Wales in this House, and he is anxious to supply as many of those statistics as can be supplied without heavy expenditure either of manpower or of money.

It is one of the difficulties in the sphere of statistics that, on the one hand, there is the understandable and natural desire for detailed statistical analyses of all aspects of the subject, and, on the other hand, the fact that, when statistical inquiry goes beyond a certain point, quite a large staff has necessarily to be employed for the purpose. It is necessary, therefore, to preserve a reasonable balance in this matter.

As my hon. Friend has made clear, we have endeavoured to give to hon. Members, so far as we have been able to do so, statistics relating to the amount of one or two of the main taxes which are collected in Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) asked me on 17th of last month to give him an estimate of the amount of Income Tax payments attributable to residents of Wales and Monmouthshire. I had necessarily to give him a rather broad answer of a figure between £30 million and £45 million, and the same hon. Member asked my right hon. Friend for a calculation as to the amount of Purchase Tax collected in the same part of the world. My right hon. Friend gave him a figure of about £15 million.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Llewellyn) touched upon the question of why it is not possible, without undue effort and expense, to supply in respect of Wales statistics of the same degree of precision and amplitude as it is possible to give in the case of Scotland. I want to mention some of the problems which arise in the collection and collation of those tax statistics in the two countries which will make it clear to the House that the problem of their collection is somewhat different.

Dealing first with the revenue side, as the House knows one of the substantial revenue taxes is the Estate Duty which, in another context, we were discussing at some length in this Chamber not long ago. Estate Duty statistics for Wales are extremely difficult to collect as there is no separate Estate Duty Office for Wales. Consequently, to collect statistics about the yield of Estate Duty there it would be necessary to resort to the infinitely lengthy process of going case by case through cases in the Estate Duty Office and picking out those where the property was situated or the death occurred in Wales. In the case of Scotland there is a separate Estate Duty Office which makes the process considerably less difficult.

Then take Stamp Duty. The Inland Revenue have a Stamps Office in Wales, but that is quite a small one, and most of the Stamps Revenue attributable to Wales is collected in England. Consequently, once again if we want to allocate a proper Welsh share of the yield of the Stamp Duty, there is nothing for it but to go into cases case by case, picking out those which arise in Wales. I do not need to tell the House what a lengthy and difficult process that would be.

There are also considerable complications in respect of Customs Duties. The boundaries of neither the Customs and Excise collections—which are the units for Duty payments—nor for the Customs and Excise stations—which are the units for survey and assessment to duty—coincide with the boundary between England and Wales. Consequently, once again one is placed in the position that in order to break down the receipts of revenue as between the two countries a very detailed analysis would be required. To reorganise collections and stations in order to make them coincide with the frontier would be uneconomic inasmuch as they are at present so arranged as to secure the maximum economy of manpower; to re-arrange them would mean a great extravagance. Therefore, such statistics as one can derive are no more than a guess, or else obtainable only as a result of long and expensive analysis.

Let us then take the expenditure side, and here I must say that it is much easier to allocate expenditure as between England and Scotland than between Wales and England because there are separate Scottish Departments. Where expenditure is voted to those Departments, it is easy to assume that that expenditure has been allocated to Scotland. But similar services for Wales are provided through Departments in London, and it would be extraordinarily difficult to say which part is allocated for England and which part for Wales. For these reasons, it is important to remember that to give separate statistics for Wales with anything like the same degree of precision as for Scotland would only be possible after a great deal of labour.

I agree with hon. Members that we have necessarily been, perhaps, less forthcoming, although I hope the House does not think less helpful, in the demand for statistics for Wales than for Scotland. But my right hon. Friend the Chancellor does not under-estimate the value of such statistics as it is possible to obtain. It is appreciated that they are wanted by intelligent and thinking people for practical purposes, but we are equally certain that no section of the House wants to involve the Government in substantial expenditure, or prevent them from pursuing their policy of reducing Civil Service staffs, which would not be possible if a large number of additional statistics have to be obtained.

I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South East (Mr. Callaghan) in the debate on Welsh affairs on 2nd February last, when he commented
"I think that a number of us are in danger of becoming so mad on searching for new statistics that we never trouble to apply them to the circumstances to which they are related."
The hon. Gentleman said that in his usual vigorous manner, but he was rewarded, somewhat roughly, I thought, by an observation from his hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) that
"That is the point of view of the alien who occasionally visits us in South Wales."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1954; Vol. 523, c. 309.]
Well, I do not want to get involved in Welsh disputes, but I am bound to say that all my sympathies tend to be with the hon. Gentleman who was so roughly described by one of his hon. Friends as an alien.

We are as anxious as is possible to be helpful, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Barry has pointed out, we have in recent months provided statistics of a kind previously not available. We shall continue to provide all that we can with reason provide, remembering that the ultimate aim in the disclosure of statistics ns the shaping of an intelligent policy for the running of Wales, as for England. Therefore, one assumes that a feature of that policy would not be a burden of heavy taxation resulting from the necessity to collect statistics for the purpose of showing how good and intelligent that policy is.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Ten Minutes to Twelve o'Clock.