Skip to main content


Volume 929: debated on Monday 4 April 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.



asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has any plans to visit Ceredigion during the next month.

Is the Secretary of State aware that many people in Ceredigion and other parts of Wales are wondering what has happened to the Scotland and Wales Bill? Is he able to comment on that today?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that discussions with other parties and with my hon. Friends are taking place with the object of establishing whether a broad measure of agreement can be reached. The Government remain fully committed to devolution in Scotland and Wales.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make a joint visit to Ceredigion with his new Liberal partner so that together they can explain why, on top of all the existing burdens of unemployment, the abolition of regional employment premium and increased social security tax, the Government are now imposing a vicious petrol tax?

I noticed the other day that the hon. Gentleman paid a visit to, of all places, Hereford to warn the populace there of the dangers of the Liberal agreement. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that I feel he may be afraid of losing his seat in the next General Election.

Derelict Land Clearance


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received from local authorities in North Wales regarding the latest allocation of funds for derelict land clearance.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is at least one protest on his Department's decision, according to the Flintshire Leader, which records the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) as having protested against this decision on the part of the Welsh Office? Is the Secretary of State further aware that his allocation of funds is widely regarded in North Wales as being greatly discriminatory against the interests of North Wales? Is he not aware that if the unwanted, directly-elected Assembly which he and his frightened Liberal mercenaries are proposing to impose upon the protesting people of Wales comes into being, this kind of thing will get worse?

The hon. Gentleman is completely mistaken in his utterances. My hon. Friend constantly makes representations to me on behalf of Clwyd on a whole range of issues, and, if I may say so, with a broad measure of success.

I am aware that there has been concern in a certain part of Clwyd in respect of some schemes which so far have not found favour. But I have told the Welsh Development Agency that I agree to the overwhelming bulk of the proposals—a little under 90 per cent. Because the other proposals had a lower priority and were substantially environmental, they had to be looked at again together with any other schemes which might have a higher priority. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is so concerned about limiting public expenditure, would wish to ensure that public money is spent on proposals with the highest priority. I assure him that there is no bias against any part of Wales.

Would my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the greatest amount of derelict land is in the mining valleys of South Wales and that the Mid-Glamorgan county area has a larger proportion of derelict land than any other county in Wales? As well as ensuring that the momentum is maintained in clearing the dereliction, will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that he will take measures to attract industry into the cleared derelict areas instead of placing it on agricultural land?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is broadly right in that there are large areas in need of assistance to wipe out the ravages of the past, for which this generation has to pay the price. A large proportion of such land is in South Wales, but some can be found in North Wales. I assure the House that there is not a regional or geographical bias in the determination of this matter, either by the Agency or by myself. What we seek to do is to ensure that the money goes to the areas with the highest priority, and that priority still is for industry and for housing. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree with me on that score.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that people in Wales as a whole, from North and South, appreciate the remarkable work carried out by the Derelict Land Unit over the past 10 years? The people of North Wales do not believe that there is any discrimination in favour of one region against another. Will my right hon. and learned Friend be good enough, however, to look in particular at certain areas in Gwynedd—Clwyd has already been mentioned—which are affected by state waste and, for example, Paris Mountain in Anglesey, which is still in a state of serious dereliction as a result of the old copper workings?

It was, of course, my right hon. Friend who started all of this. He has created an enormous appetite in Wales. I do not complain. I boast about his achievements. The result has been £45 million worth of bids for the next programme in Wales. The resources which we could allocate were of the order of £15 million, the totality of which I have agreed, although there has been a discrepancy—10 per cent. or there- abouts—as regards some of the schemes. I will look at any area to ensure that we make the fastest possible progress in removing dereliction throughout Wales.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.



asked the Secretary of State for Wales what steps he has taken to encourage public debate on that sector of education in Wales within his sphere of responsibility.

I recently chaired a conference in Cardiff attended by about 200 people from all parts of Wales and representing many educational interests, as well as both sides of industry, parents and pupils.

Is the Minister completely satisfied that he is getting a full expression of parental views on all the educational issues involved in Wales? Secondly, will he urge his right hon. and learned Friend to take the utmost care before agreeing to the Welsh Joint Education Committee's recommendation that Wales should have a single examination system for 16-year-olds instead of the CSE and GCE O-level? Will he bear in mind that the Department of Education and Science has not accepted a similar recommendation for England, and that if Wales goes it alone on this it seems that we shall have no means of comparing standards of educational achievement in Wales with those of the rest of the United Kingdom?

To take the latter point first, I am aware of the Welsh Joint Education Committee's views about examinations. I must, however, give them careful consideration and come to no hasty decisions. The decisions must be arrived at between Ministers. As to the hon. Gentleman's first point, there were 70 organisations represented at our conference. Of the 52 people who spoke from the floor, many were teachers and representatives of parents in Wales.

Will the Under-Secretary accept that the great debate on education initiated by the Government is basically a "con" trick in that this great debate is taking place at a time of serious reduction in the allocation of resources to education generally and when we have a high percentage of unemployed young teachers in Wales?

It is not a confidence trick. It is a success as a conference. Two hundred people from all over Wales met to debate an important issue—the future of our children in Wales. The hon. Gentleman should remember that without any doubt many improvements can be made, even during a shortage of resources.

Will the Minister consider organising the showing of the film recently made by the BBC about a comprehensive school in Acton so that Welsh parents and governors of Welsh comprehensive schools may compare our schools with what goes on in the rest of the country?

The hon. Member was a distinguished educationist. I think he is really saying that we are doing quite well in Wales with regard to our schooling. There is no complacency, but there is much to be proud of.

Is my hon. Friend aware that we in Anglesey would welcome television cameras into all our comprehensive schools so that the country may appreciate how successful the system is?

Hospital Services (Cynon Valley)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what proposals have been submitted to him regarding the future of hospital services in the Cynon Valley and particularly the casualty unit at Aberdare Hospital.

Those contained in the Consultative Paper on the Reorganisation of Hospital Services in the Merthyr and Cynon Valley and Rhymney Valley Health Districts published by Mid Glamorgan Health Authority in 1975. The authority proposed that minor casualty services should continue to be provided at both Aberdare General Hospital and Mountain Ash General Hospital.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. The deputation that came to see him expressed anxieties about the future of the hospital services in the Cynon Valley. There is particular concern about the casualty unit, and there are rumours that it will be taken from the area. Can my hon. Friend categorically confirm that the casualty unit is to be kept open?

I recollect the deputation that came to see me and the strong case that it put. I recollect, too, the many representations made to me by my hon. Friend about health services in his valley. The area health authority, in its submission, has not proposed to discontinue the casualty unit. If it did do so, it would first have to go through the normal processes of consultation.

Rural Wales


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied that the Welsh Development Agency is making adequate arrangements to deal with the economic problems of those parts of rural Wales that fall outside the responsibility of the Development Board for Rural Wales.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the highest levels of unemployment in Wales are outside the Mid-Wales area—indeed, are outside the special development areas? I welcome the emphasis placed by the WDA on the importance of small businesses, but does the Secretary of State think it sensible that the new Budget scheme to help small businesses should be confined to the special development areas? Does he not think that we should reconsider the boundaries of all these regional schemes in order to concentrate help where it is most needed? Are not some of the divisions that now exist becoming most unsatisfactory?

It is always difficult to draw a line whatever one does, but the special development areas have had traditionally a high degree of priority, and this is where we shall start with any problem.

Has the Secretary of State received the appallingly clichéridden document produced last week by the Welsh Development Agency, which apologises throughout for not being a proper strategic plan for the development of the Welsh economy? Will he now accept that it is time to give orders to the Agency to take its finger out, to stop scratching about on the environmental surface of Wales and to invest in public enterprise development in the empty advance factories from which so many of us suffer?

I do not accept any of that tirade. In the short period of its existence, the Welsh Development Agency has taken on major responsibilities for derelict land and the building of advance factories. It has also played a major part in ensuring the development in Merthyr Tydvil and has started, as the hon. Gentleman may have seen in the Press, on its joint investment programmes. For example, an important firm was announced recently for Newport, and there are others.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the Welsh Development Agency is doing exactly what we said it would do, unfortunately, in raising very high expectations and being totally unable to fulfil them, particularly in North-East Wales?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the plans so far announced by the Welsh Development Agency in the environmental sector have been largely welcomed. Obviously there have been criticisms about some of the points raised in earlier Questions. Generally, however, the Agency has set out to tackle the task it was supposed to do. It has recruited its staff. It is getting more and more involved in industrial development, and we are already beginning to see the fruits of the seeds.

Transport Fuel Costs


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what examination the Welsh Office has made of the impact of transport fuel costs on the economy of Wales.

The impact on the economy of transport expenditure as a whole forms part of the background to the Government's review of transport policy.

Does not the Secretary of State recognise that, particularly coming on top of the abrupt withdrawal of REP, the proposed increase in fuel costs will have a devastating effect on many firms and will contribute to increased unemployment?

I do not accept that. The Budget will have a minimal effect on Welsh industry, and a rough calculation has been made of about 0·056 per cent. of industrial turnover.

Is the Minister aware that it is difficult to imagine a tax more damaging to the rural areas of the Principality? Will he take account of the fact that in large parts of Wales people are peculiarly dependent on private transport? Whatever he may say, this will run counter to the Government's policy of making Wales a development area and, indeed, of setting up the Welsh Development Agency. Is not this an idiotic tax in the context of the problems of Wales?

Coming as I do from rural Wales, I am fully aware of the problems of living there. But I am sure that some of these points will be fully adumbrated in today's debate.

Would not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one lesson to be learned from the outcry over the recent relatively modest increase in petrol prices is that there is now no chance whatsoever of replacing the vehicle excise duty by an increase on petrol and that, therefore, one effect of that will be that employment at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre is secure?

First, may I welcome my hon. Friend back to the House after his recent illness. I am sure that the welcome he has given to this proposal will be widely echoed in his area, which is an important source of employment for the Swansea Valley. I take great pride in having been one of those who sited the centre there.

If the Secretary of State is aware of the effect that this increase will have on rural areas, will he press the Chancellor very hard indeed, if the measure passes tonight, between now and the Finance Bill debates to ensure that an amendment comes forward to reduce the catastrophic effect that this increase in the price of petrol will have in rural areas, not only on personal transport costs, when people perhaps have to travel 40 miles each way to work, but also on the prospect of bringing new factories to areas such as the Caernarvon area, where transport costs are a disproportionate part of the total revenue?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be putting such viewpoints forcibly if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, either today or in the course of the debates on the Finance Bill.

We are always interested in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's views. How does he justify the doubling of the petrol tax since 1974 in view of its effect on the economy of rural Wales?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman or some of his hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench will want to put those points in the course of the debate this afternoon. But what is important is that we are doing, and have done, much more for Mid-Wales and for rural Wales than the Tory Government ever did. How will the hon. Gentleman explain after being a member of a party that killed off the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) for Mid-Wales and did nothing at all in the four wasted years afterwards?

Glan Taf School


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received about the proposed closure of Glan Taf school.

My right hon. and learned Friend has received 47 letters and a petition signed by 3,100 persons objecting to the South Glamorgan Authority's proposals to cease to maintain the Glan Taf High School and to establish a bilingual school in the premises.

Does the Under-Secretary agree that closing a community comprehensive school without a public meeting is an act of folly on the part of the local authority? Would he agree also that, the local authority having refused the request for a public meeting, the least he can now do is to have a public inquiry as part of the great debate, because the parents will not be satisfied with anything less?

Individual parents met the local authority. We shall be giving very careful consideration to the case, and every expression of view will be taken into account. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's last point, the normal practice is to consider a Section 13 proposal on the basis of written submissions.

Health And Personal Social Services


asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many projects have been started during the 1976–77 financial year which have been jointly financed by area health authorities and local authority personal social services departments; and how much he plans to make available for joint financing in 1977–78.

Area health authorities and local authorities have already on occasion shared the funding of services on the borderline of their respective statutory responsibilities. I have no central record of these cases. During 1976 I discussed with local authority associations and area health authorities possible arrangements to enable NHS resources to be used to help in financing developments primarily the responsibility of local authorities. My right hon. and learned Friend will soon be consulting on his final proposals.

Does the Under-Secretary accept that that answer is totally unsatisfactory in view of the fact that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services made available in the last financial year £6 million for joint funding in England and that £21 million is to be made available in the current financial year? Will he accept that it is time he insisted that local authorities and social services departments in Wales took note of circulars that have been produced by his Department and that the forthcoming circular on joint funding should be a joint responsibility of his Department and the Department of Health and Social Security?

I must reject the inference at the beginning of the hon. Member's supplementary question. He has not told us that the £8 million and the £21 million totals were to come from area health authority budgets in England. Is he really saying that we should do the same in Wales when already area health authority budgets are under great stress?