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Volume 887: debated on Monday 3 March 1975

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Sixth-Form Colleges


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what proportion of fifth-form scholars entered the sixth form colleges during this academic year in those areas in Wales which such colleges exist; how this compares with the proportion of sixth-formers to fifth-formers in neighbouring conventional secondary schools; and whether he will make a statement.

The only sixth-form college in Wales was established in 1972. It has received about 17 per cent. of fifth-year pupils from its catchment area compared with 30 per cent. entering sixth forms in neighbouring secondary schools. By 1977, however, the proportion should approach that of neighbouring schools.

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that that is a disappointing answer? Does he agree that the sixth-form college is a major educational innovation which may bring forth unexpected and unlooked for results? Therefore, before agreeing to any additional schemes, will he make and publish an assessment for the whole community, using comprehensiveness as a criterion?

It is a major innovation. I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I am opposed to selection at any stage of secondary education.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that community colleges with open access for 16-to-18 year-olds are far preferable, both socially and educationally, to sixth-form colleges, and will he ensure that plans for the establishment of such institutions in Wales are expanded?

We in the Welsh Office are in no way bigoted or committed to one line in education. We always take on board experienced remarks such as those uttered by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas).

Does my hon. Friend agree that the criteria both of comprehensiveness and of open access to the community are satisfied in junior colleges which are situated in what hitherto were colleges of further education?

Welsh Development Agency


asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether the proposed Welsh Development Agency will be responsible to him or to the projected Welsh Assembly.

When established the agency will be responsible to me. The precise nature of the relationship in the future between agency and Assembly remains for consideration.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the Welsh Development Agency is a most welcome innovation if it means new jobs and the safeguarding of existing jobs? Is he also aware that it will be most unwelcome if it is to be used to enable a State grab of perfectly successful firms, and that it will be totally ineffective if it is to be at the mercy of political pressures and sectional local interests, which will happen if it is made responsible to an elected Welsh Assembly?

I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the Welsh Development Agency. This body will be a highly effective one, with a whole range of powers, and it will be able to act in such a way that the interests of the whole Principality are fully safeguarded.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is a welcome in Wales for the establishment of the Welsh Development Agency? Now that the Industry Bill is upstairs in Committee and we shall have the National Enterprise Board put into operation very soon, will he press ahead with the legislation for the Welsh Development Agency so that it can have the powers of the NEB and do the enormous amount of work which is needed to develop industry in Wales?

I am encouraged by those remarks. We shall push ahead speedily with our legislative plans, which will be the chief point of what I am seeking to do in order to ensure that jobs are protected and provided in Wales. I regard it as an essential part of the powers of the Welsh Development Agency that it should be able to act in such a way in parallel with the National Enterprise Board.

Does the Secretary of State agree that if this agency grows to be a really effective force in the Welsh economy, as we hope it will, it will need the same powers of democratic control as are possessed by those bodies already existing in Wales which are answerable to the Secretary of State but not to the Assembly?

I cannot anticipate the publication of the Government's proposals for the powers of the Assembly, but I am responsible democratically to the people of Wales, and I shall ensure that the body operates, in the first instance, as an agency of mine.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there will be widespread support for a properly constituted development agency, but that its success will depend upon the confidence and co-operation of industry, and that will be lacking if the agency is given the job of implementing NEB proposals and "Bennery" in Wales? Has the Secretary of State received representations from Welsh industry urging him not to prejudice the success of the agency, by freeing it from these operations, which would be anathema to many Welsh industries?

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. There has been a substantial welcome for the setting up of the development agency. I concede that there are views about the powers of the NEB being exercised by the agency, and I have taken note of them. I regard this as of fundamental importance. We are about to set up the most important body that Wales has seen for a long time—if not ever—and it is vitally important that it should be able to exercise a whole range of powers comprehensively in order to tackle the real problems of Wales.


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the progress of consideration of the establishment of a Welsh Development Agency.

Discussions on the consultation paper are almost complete. I plan to bring a Bill before the House as early as possible.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that in considering this Bill he will give specific consideration to the abilities of the Welsh Development Agency to set up industry in its own right, without having to work through the National Enterprise Board?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has misconceived the consultation paper which I issued about the powers of the Welsh Development Agency. Perhaps he will now await our legislative proposals, which will be published in due course.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure us that the Welsh Development Agency, when established, will have a suitable office and appropriate senior officials in North Wales, as we regard it as extremely important that there should be a reasonable spread of industry throughout the whole of Wales?

For all the operations of the agency, for the powers that it will operate in parallel with similar powers of the National Enterprise Board, and for all the powers that I regard as fundamentally important, it is of the utmost importance that the agency should have a presence in both mid-Wales and North Wales to ensure that it can operate effectively to meet the needs of the whole of Wales. That is what I plan and that is why I propose to set up a comprehensive body to deal with all our problems in this respect.

Water Charges (Daniel Report)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales when he expects to receive the report of the Daniel Committee on Water Charges.

Within the next few days.

When they receive this report will my hon. Friend and his right hon. and learned Friend take into account that water charges, based as they are upon the general rate, tend to operate unfairly, especially towards small businesses in Wales? Is my hon. Friend aware that one business man in my constituency has calculated that he is paying £1 per gallon of water? This is expensive, even for Welsh water. Will my hon. Friend therefore press forward with the scheme for the equalisation of water charges throughout the United Kingdom as a way of treating Welsh water consumers more fairly than they have been treated over the past two or three years?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend's remarks will be noted. I cannot anticipate what the Daniel Committee will report.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that few matters have caused such deep concern in Wales in recent months as water and sewerage? When he is considering the report and the remarks of his right hon. Friend, will the hon. Gentleman consider whether the grant from the Government can extend to these big additions made to the rates by the precepts of these bodies now in charge of water and sewerage? This is an important matter, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will consider it seriously.

I agree that this is an important matter, and it is regrettable that it was not dealt with under the Water Act 1973.

Will the hon. Gentleman keep in mind that it is the failure to ensure a material return for the Welsh water which flows from Welsh reservoirs to English conurbations which explains in great part the steep rise in the water rate in particular and rates in general?

That is one of the matters upon which the Daniel Committee was asked to report. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not wish me to anticipate the report.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the recent dissatisfaction in many rural areas about the setting up of the water authority has spread to every area in Wales, because of the charges, which are so patently unfair? Will my hon. Friend consider urgently any solutions which the committee puts forward, and certainly any solutions for changing the method of calculating charges?

I am sure that that is one matter which the Daniel Committee will consider and report upon. I am sorry to repeat it, but if one sets up an independent committee it is best to wait for it to report.

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm a recent statement by the water authority that the amount of money it expects from water charges in 1975–76 is one-third up on 1974–75, and that the amount of money it expects from the sewerage rate is nearly 100 per cent. up on what it received in 1974–75? This extra money is needed largely because of inflation, but also because of increased loan charges. Can the hon. Gentleman explain to the House why the water authority is paying an interest rate of no less than 17¼ per cent.

Many of these detailed questions are the responsibility of the water authority. The House of Commons gave it that responsibility by the Water Act 1973, which the hon. Gentleman supported wholeheartedly during its passage through the House.

On the question of sewerage charges, the authority inherited a huge backlog of schemes and the hon. Gentleman and others are quick to come to the Dispatch Box and demand that the schemes be included in this and next year's financial programmes.

Coal And Steel Workers (Housing)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what advice he has given to local authorities regarding benefits available from EEC sources for the housing of coal and steel workers.

This is a matter which the Government will be considering in conjunction with the coal and steel industries and with the local authority associations.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that Welsh local authorities are getting their full share of these benefits? Is he further aware that many local authorities are completely unaware of the eighth programme, announced by the European Coal and Steel last year, which provides housing loans for coal and steel workers at as low a rate of interest as 1 per cent?

I appreciate the point being made by my hon. Friend. It is one of the matters which I discussed in Brussels and Luxembourg last week. We made it clear to the Commission that in our view local authorities have an important rôle to play in the housing scene in Wales and the Commission accepted this. On the question of the awareness of local authorities of the scheme, I shall be taking this further, now that I have returned from my initial discussions with the Commission.

Why is the Welsh Office only now considering making this advice available? Why has it not done so already?

The scheme that has been set up in Europe involves national and regional authorities—but not local authorities—the unions and the coal and steel industries in Europe. There is a different philosophy between the European way of doing things and the British way of doing things in this respect. The rôle of local authorities does not figure prominently in the European scheme. It was with the idea of making an adjustment for the British situation that I had discussions with the Commission last week.

Is not this a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul? Is not the whole operation merely a recycling of our own money? Does not my hon. Friend feel that his time would be better spent if it were devoted to more fundamental questions, such as the Welsh steel industry, which is suffering badly from Common Market strategy, and the coal industry, which could be halved as a result of action taken by bureaucrats in Brussels and Luxembourg during the next 10 years?

I think that I spend my time very usefully in trying to achieve practical results for Wales. We are a member of the Community, and if money is available it is my duty, together with my right hon. and learned Friend, to try to get it for Wales.

On the question of halving the coal industry, I think that no greater lie was given to this scare than the announcement last week of a £1 million exploration programme into the reserves of the South Wales coalfield. That is a good answer to my hon. Friend's question.

Rates (Small Businesses)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will take steps to provide assistance to small business people in meeting increased rate demands in 1975.

The House has already approved proposals under which ratepayers, both domestic and non-domestic, in all areas, will benefit from the unprecedentedly generous rate of grant to be given for 1975–76.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that many employees will be made redundant and many small businesses will close during the year, due to this year's high rate demand? Will he reconsider his decision and try to help small business people? I was told today that rates in Aberystwyth have risen by 80 per cent. in 12 months, and unless something is done in the foreseeable future many small businesses will be in dire trouble.

I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would be the first to pay tribute to the exceedingly generous rate of Government grant for this year. That grant was introduced unopposed from either side of the House. Although obviously one would have wanted to do more, the proposal that we put forward was not opposed in the Division Lobby. We have provided local authorities with a rate relief on a more generous scale than ever before.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge that whereas the grant may be larger than ever before, the need is greater than ever? Experienced people in local authorities are saying that they are placed in a fearful position because of continuing and expanding inflation. Will he address himself to the question again?

The hon. Gentleman will remember that the rate support grant, on average, is working at 66 per cent.—the highest ever. The Government have given this aid because of the real need of local authorities. At the same time, the Government have also appealed to local authorities—and I have done so myself—for restraint in their expenditure. We are deeply aware of the problems of local government, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the problems of central Government. I would be very surprised if the hon. Gentleman were advocating a wholesale increase of expenditure on this front. I doubt that he would do so, as it would probably be inconsistent with other parts of his philosophy. We have done a great deal, on a far greater scale than ever before.

Heads Of The Valley Road


asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he proposes any improvement in the Heads of the Valley Road, in view of concern expressed about the safety of the road.

There is a continuing programme of improvements. Current proposals include additional signs; double white lines at various bends and gradients; improved road markings, junction improvements and the provision of street lighting.

I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging reply. Is he aware that for some time there has been deep anxiety about the safety of this road? Will he look with favour upon any future applications that may come from the local authorities in the Heads of the Valley area? At the same time, I appreciate the action that has already been taken.

We are always ready to receive representations from local authorities in South Wales about this major road. This is part of the industrial regeneration of North Glamorgan and Gwent. This is my Department's positive response to the real fears that many of my hon. Friends have had about this road over the past few years.



asked the Secretary of State for Wales if, in view of the special problems faced by the Powys Area Health Authority, he will introduce special measures to help Powys.

My right hon. and learned Friend is conscious of the area's special needs and will take them into account in allocating revenue and capital resources to the authority for the coming financial year. We are also carrying out an operational research study into the area's ambulance service needs and are considering what other help may be given.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the difficulties experienced by this area. Further, he will know that it is as sparse an area as any in Wales and as large an authority as any other. Will he consider urgently the upgrading of some of the smaller hospitals into community hospitals, in view of the fact that the area has no general district hospital? Will he press upon his colleagues in other Departments the need to consider the question of travelling to visit hospitals, in view of increased costs?

I am aware that Powys is 80 miles long. The Department knows well its special problems. I should like my hon. Friend to know the increased revenue resources for the area health authority. It will be significantly above the average for Wales as a whole. As a major new hospital for the area is not possible, capital for other projects will be weighted materially in its favour. That was one of the matters that my right hon. and learned Friend hinted at when he recently addressed Powys County Council. On the vexed question of travel expenses, all I can say is that we are conscious that the cost of travelling to hospital can be heavy, but in these times of economic stringency I cannot hold out any promise at this stage.

In the allocation of area health authority financial resources for next April, will the Minister reconsider the position of the area health authority of Gwynedd? As he told the authority earlier last week, it has been seriously under-funded. Will he consider Gwynedd's position? It has 8 per cent. of the population and a high percentage of elderly people, yet it received only just over 6 per cent. of the total financial allocation for the last financial year?

The Government know of Gwynedd's problem. Already we can say that we have given an additional £1·5 million for the current financial year. We shall ensure in the years ahead that Gwynedd has a larger slice of the cake.

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that the proposed new general hospital at Bangor, which is so urgently needed, will be started this year? Does he realise that this is a matter that affects the confidence of the area health authority and all the community health councils in the area?

My right hon. Friend has waged a 10-year campaign to ensure that Bangor has a district general hospital. I am glad to say that our plans are to begin the hospital later this year.

South Glamorgan


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what steps he is taking to increase employment prospects in the county of South Glamorgan.

The Government have granted development area status to the county. This will provide great additional financial attractions for manufacturing industry through the increased incentives under the Industry Act 1972 and the regional employment premium, which we have doubled.

I have on a number of occasions warmly welcomed the inclusion of South Glamorgan in the development area. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman now consider reconstituting the task force to deal with the provision of employment for redundant workers well in advance of any closure of East Moors?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his first remark. I assure him that all necessary steps will be taken and that information will be substantially available in good time to meet whatever demands are made for new employment in his county.

I would not want to press the claims of one county rather than another, but will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that there are also to be considered the needs of the Mid-Glamorgan area? There is a need for diversity in the valleys. Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that when thinking of moving Government Departments from London to Wales there is a tendency to think only in terms of those Departments going to Cardiff? Perhaps we should be a bit more far-reaching in our outlook and think in terms of Government Departments going to other areas. If we developed the Heads of the Valley area, it could develop the whole community.

I think that my hon. Friend has pinpointed the difficulty in which one is always placed. If he examines the programme of advance factories that we have announced in his county and—for those who travel to work there—in the immediate vicinity of his county, he will realise that the area received a substantial share in the past year.

Comprehensive Education


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if, on the basis of submissions made to him, he is satisfied with provision made for the implementation of comprehensive secondary education in that part of the constituency of the hon. Member for Bedwellty not already operating such a system; and if he will make a statement.

We have allocated sufficient resources for the introduction of comprehensive education in the Sirhowy and Western Valley. It is for the local authority to decide when to implement the reorganisation.

Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the local authority is very anxious to implement comprehensive education for sixth-form levels as soon as possible? Has an allocation been made in respect of the Cross Keys College of Further Education, which has become a junior college? Further, approximately how much is involved?

I have met members and representatives of the Gwent LEA. I know of their utmost commitment to the principle and ideal of comprehensive education. The LEA has been told that extensions to the Cross Keys College of Further Education are included in the further education building programme for 1975–76. That may well be worth about £270,000. It will certainly help to facilitate a comprehensive school system in the area.

Will the hon. Gentleman say to what extent the parents of the children involved will be consulted before reorganisation takes place?

Now that my hon. Friend has had the opportunity of visiting the constituency of Pontypool and seeing the appalling physical conditions that exist in that area—conditions that present the implementation of comprehensive education, despite the declared desire of all the parents and of the local authority to implement it—will he give the House some idea what priorities may be given to ensure that resources are available to implement comprehensive education throughout my constituency?

We shall announce shortly the Gwent LEA's allocation for school building in 1975–76. The visit that I made with my hon. Friend to Gwent and to his constituency to see the conditions of the schools about which he has shown a deep concern for a long time is still a very clear memory. He will recall, however, that I said that these were times of financial stringency. Nor did I at that time make any promises except to say that the Government would make available the money to enable the Pontypool area to go fully comprehensive and to have schools really fit for all the children in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Noise Contour Map (Cardiff)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales when the noise contour map of Eastern Avenue, Cardiff, will be ready so that claims for compensation may be lodged under the Land Compensation Act 1973.

Provisional noise maps for this scheme are expected to be published this month. This should enable the determination of claims for compensation for injurious affection to proceed.

I welcome that answer. How soon can these claims be met? Will the Minister ensure that individuals who have moved house from the affected areas but still have valid claims are kept informed of their rights?

We are well aware of the interest of householders and those affected by this matter. Outstanding claims are a matter for the district valuer and the owners of the properties concerned. There have been difficulties in obtaining noise insulation agents, because of the refusal of local authorities to accept this work as agents of the Welsh Office, but we have overcome those difficulties by the appointment of the National Building Agency.

Eec Commission (Minister's Visit)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the visit of the Under-Secretary of State to the EEC Commission.

I had valuable discussions in both Brussels and Luxembourg dealing in particular with ECSC housing assistance and the rôle of the Welsh Development Agency in relation to institutions of the European Community.

Does the Minister accept, from his studies and from ours last week, in Brussels, that the social and regional policy of the Community lags far behind its industrial and competition policy, and that therefore the effects of industrial centralisation on Wales could be disastrous? Is it not therefore right that the Welsh people should be allowed to express their view separately in the coming referendum on membership?

One of the most fundamental features of the renegotiation undertaken by this Government is the question of regional aid and the right of the British people to decide for themselves whether they wish to stay in the EEC. The referendum will decide this latter point. Our renegotiations will make considerable progress towards satisfying our needs in regional terms.

In view of the disquiet in Wales some months ago, which arose from a suspicion that some Government Departments, for perverse reasons, were not fully utilising the opportunities and moneys which existed in the EEC, will the Minister ensure that his right hon. Friends know that the people of Wales expect the Government to seize such opportunities on behalf of Wales with vigour?

One readily acknowledges that during the renegotiation period all Government Departments are getting what they can for Wales from the Common Market pot, but does the Minister consider that it will be possible to renegotiate the geographical location of Wales so that we can take advantage of a centralised market, if, unfortunately, we have to stay in the EEC?

I doubt whether even our powerful renegotiation team can achieve that. The aim of renegotiation is to ensure that the successful regional policies followed by Labour Governments will be able to continue within the EEC if the British people decide that we should stay in.

Does the Minister agree that the Departments of Trade and Industry have not applied for the various grants which could be available for Wales from the EEC? Does he accept that the regional policy agreed at the summit meeting and at recent meetings of the Council of Ministers will be administered to the advantage of Wales in the coming months and years?

I am sure that the Secretary of State for Industry would deny some of those remarks. Considerable progress has been made on the regional fund. It is true that, unlike the previous Conservative Government, we have treated renegotiation as a serious defence of the interests of both Britain and Wales.

Dangerous Manufacturing Processes


asked the Secretary for State for Wales what steps he has taken, following the Flixborough disaster, designed to avoid housing development in the vicinity of factories and other establishments engaged with processes which could prove dangerous; and if he will make a statement.

Welsh Office Circular 162/74, which was issued shortly after the Flixborough disaster, gave advice to local planning authorities on these problems.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the great concern about this in parts of my constituency, in Barry and at Sully, where I live? Without questioning him in detail about a recent case affecting Sully, may I ask for a general assurance that, in all decisions by the Secretary of State, this kind of consideration is borne in mind before any decision is made?

The hon. Gentleman refers to a case in his constituency. That decision was made after a public inquiry, at which the objectors made no reference to the presence of factories which might give rise to risks. However, we naturally take into account information received on this point.

Surely the Minister is aware that the presence of a number of possibly dangerous factories is a matter of general knowledge in the area. Is he now saying that no note was taken of this consideration when the decision was made?

When dealing with these planning inquiries, the Secretary of State can deal only with the matters before him and which were brought before the inquiry. At the inquiry, no objection was raised on the grounds to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.



asked the Secretary of State for Wales what steps he is taking to reduce unemployment in Wales.

The Government's policies are designed to protect and create jobs in Wales.

With unemployment in Wales currently at 4·2 per cent.—higher than at any time last year or the year before—the Secretary of State will, I am sure, appreciate our concern, but is he aware that the biggest discouragement to employment in Wales are the provisions of the Industry Bill, the capital transfer tax and the so-called Employment Protection Bill?

I suspect that the hon. Member is living in an entirely different world. What is wanted in Wales—and what has been lacking, year after year—is new investment. I believe that by our proposals under the Industry Bill and for the National Enterprise Board and the Welsh Development Agency, we shall be able to provide the jobs that are so badly needed in Wales.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend foresee the agency having a significant effect on unemployment in Wales? If so, what advice will he give Opposition Members when that legislation comes before the House?

I shall be extremely surprised if Members of the Conservative Party go into the Lobby against the Welsh Development Agency. Whatever they may think about particular components of the Bill, because of their own dogmatic approach, they will know in their hearts that this is the only way of solving comprehensively the problems of Wales, and that the great problem today is the unemployment situation that we have inherited—high double figures over a number of years and so little done by the Conservative Party. An illustration is the programme of advance factories that we have brought into Wales, when there were so few in the time of the Conservative Party.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there are vacant nursery factories in Cardinganshire and that it is very difficult to entice industrialists to Ceredigion? We have no railways links with England, and our road communications are bad. Will he assure us that he will spend more in the next five years on road communications into Mid-Wales?

Road communications are important, and I have a personal interest so far as Mid-Wales goes, since I live there. However, although some advance and nursery factories will not be occupied from time to time, it is the whole object of the exercise to ensure that factories are constructed to meet the needs of industrialists, so that we can instantly provide opportunities for industry to expand. The hon. Gentleman will know that our programme of 330,000 square feet of advance factory space last year, compared with a total of 400,000 in three and a half years of the previous Government, is a proud record, and I will continue in that vein.

Local Government


asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he considers that it is a probable or desirable consequence of the creation of the Welsh Assembly that there should be a restructuring of Welsh local government on the basis of a unitary system.

The Government's proposals for devolution do not involve the reorganisation of local government.

Is not the startling increase in rates foreseen for this year due in part at least to the duplication arising from the present structure? If we are to avoid over-government in Wales, does not my hon. Friend agree that there is a need for a re-examination now—before loyalties get too fixed—of the structure of Welsh local government?

The creation of a Welsh elected assembly is not in any sense meant to be an additional local government tier. Its aim is to bring central Government nearer to the people. At present local government has enough difficulties, without any more thoughts of reorganisation.