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Volume 22: debated on Monday 19 April 1982

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Welsh Development Agency


asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many new factory units have been built by the Welsh Development Agency since its inception.

Between January 1976 and March 1982 the Welsh Development Agency completed 836 advance factory units, 11 bespoke factory units and 63 factory extensions.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the great majority of those factory units have been allocated or occupied? Does he agree that they are making a genuine contribution to the provision of jobs in Wales?

I can confirm that allocations have been high. The Department estimates that 1·15 million sq ft of WDA factory space was allocated—that is 186 units—in 1981–82. The vacancy rate has risen, but that is hardly surprising in view of the record level of factory building that has taken place.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the number employed in all the advance factories in Wales has been reduced by more than 10,000 between 1977–80?

If the hon. Gentleman tables a specific question, I shall answer it. It is true that some of the existing occupants have laid people off during that period. However, a record number of new jobs were created last year by new projects going into WDA factories.

Do the figures include the Hoover factory in Merthyr Tydfil? What prospect does the Secretary of State hold out of large numbers being employed in that factory?

The figures that I have given are for newly completed factories. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Hoover factory was completed some considerable time ago. It is obviously a high priority to find a new user for that factory.

As the effectiveness of the two development bodies in Wales depends not only on advanced factories but on the availability of investment grants, will my right hon. Friend bear that in mind when the review of the status of Mid-Wales takes place in the next couple of months?

I have already confirmed to my hon. Friend that we are carefully considering those issues in the review to which he refers.

I welcome and applaud the efforts of the Welsh Development Agency, but will the Secretary of State confirm that in the first days of this month 1,100 manufacturing jobs were lost in South Wales alone? If he finds it difficult to confirm that figure, I refer him to the daily reports in the Western Mail. How many advance factories does he believe are needed to make good that loss, apart from the existing level of unemployment in South Wales?

I shall put the matter into perspective. The 186 WDA factories to which I referred as being allocated for the year to March 1982 should promise about 4,700 jobs. That is obviously an important contribution.

Order. I shall call the hon. Members who are rising, but we shall have to move more quickly on the other questions.

Is the Secretary of State aware that as Dunlop has pulled out of North Gwent with the loss of almost 1,400 jobs in the last two years, the people of North Gwent, while not protesting at Dunlop's action only a few months ago, are horrified that the Department is now encouraging Dunlop to set up a new factory, not in North Gwent, but elsewhere in South Wales?

The hon. and learned Gentleman is well aware that we have made clear to Dunlop, as to other companies, the range of financial assistance that is offered in existing factories and in new factories. If at some future date the company wishes to set up a new factory, I am sure that that would be welcomed by hon. Members in all parts of the House.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that much of the good work of the Welsh Development Agency may be undone if the public utilities, particularly the electricity and water authorities, make exorbitant charges for connection? Is he aware that they often charge ridiculous sums for providing electricity and water to these factories?

I shall certainly bring that point to the attention of those bodies, although it has been my experience in dealing with the statutory authorities that they make considerable efforts to meet the special requirements of incoming industry.

Planning Applications (Gwynedd)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will review his policy relating to the criteria used in the granting and withholding of planning permission in Gwynedd, with particular attention to the significance to be attached to the county structure plan, the role of the national parks committee and the views of local authorities.

No, Sir. Our policy is to determine every planning case on its merits, taking all material considerations into account and giving full weight to the factors mentioned by the hon. Member.

Is the Minister aware of the grave concern in Gwynedd at the way in which the Welsh Office has overruled the decisions of local planning authorities in several applications in the past few months, particularly in Harlech, Gaerwen and in Groeslon, and that more recently the Welsh Office nominees on the Snowdonia national park authority have swung a decision against the democratic will of the people on the relevant committees in Gwynedd? Does he agree that there is no point in having structure plans and local democratic planning authorities if nominees and the Welsh Office itself throw them overboard in this way?

Structure plans give very useful guidance, but they are not overriding. Circumstances change, and individual planning decisions must reflect that. There were more than 1,300 appeals against local authority decisions in the Principality last year. The people who make those appeals expect a public hearing, an independent hearing, and a decision by an inspector.

Does the Minister agree that too much of the land in Wales is under the jurisdiction of the national parks?

Welsh Development Agency


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied with the operation of the Welsh Development Agency within the guidlines set by him.

I shall be discussing the agency's future strategy and operations tomorrow with the board of the agency, but I am satisfied with its achievements to date.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Welsh Development Agency, like the Scottish Development Agency, has had its effectiveness greatly reduced by the restraints put on it by the Government? Will he discuss with the agency tomorrow the possibility of widening its powers and increasing its resources so that it can deal effectively with the high level of unemployment in Wales?

I find it hard to accept that the agency's effectiveness has been reduced when 836 advance factories have been completed since its inception, 684 of them in the period since may 1979. That is more than three times as much factory space as in the period from January 1976 to May 1979. As I have said, I shall be discussing with the board tomorrow the scope of its future activities.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the work of the development agency would be severely reduced if this country left the European community, as the Labour Party urges?

I entirely agree. Indeed, I have just come from a lunch with the CBI, which estimates that it would mean the loss of 1 million jobs.

Does the Secretary of State recall that when we last discussed the Welsh Development Agency, in the Welsh Grand Committee in July last year, he indicated that he was asking the new chairman of the agency to undertake a review of its investment policy, and also expressed the hope that the agency would be prepared to take risks? Will the Secretary of State now tell us the result of that inquiry? Is he satisfied that the agency has sufficient powers and is using them to preserve existing firms and industries in Wales?

I shall be discussing precisely those issues with the agency tomorrow. The agency has produced a paper setting out certain proposals. It proposed to set up an investment subsidiary to assist it in its tasks. It has carried out exactly the remit that I asked it to undertake.

Job Creation


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what effect the Budget proposals will have on unemployment in Wales.

The Budget measures will foster economic recovery and assist industry to provide viable and secure employment in Wales as elsewhere.

Is the Secretary of State aware that this week alone there has been the closure of the Christie Tyler factory at Bridgend with the loss of 300 jobs, of Avon Rubber, announced this weekend, with the loss of 260 jobs, and of TMD Sewing Industries in the Ogmore valley with the loss of 43 jobs? Does he realise that that is 600 jobs lost in one week? Does he also realise that the Government's financial policy for industry is destroying the whole Welsh industrial base?

I am sure that against that background the hon. Gentleman will have particularly welcomed the reduction of 4,500 in the number of unemployed in Wales.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the year from the last quarter of 1980 to the last quarter of 1981 manufacturing production in Wales rose by no less than 13 per cent.?

I welcome the upturn in industrial production that is taking place, as I welcome the large number of new factories and premises now being opened.

Unemployment Statistics


asked the Secretary of State for Wales by what percentage unemployment in the Deeside travel-to-work area in the county of Clwyd and in Wales has increased since May 1979; and if he will make a statement.

Between May 1979 and March 1982, unemployment increased by 177·8 per cent., 109 per cent. and 105·2 per cent. respectively. The Government have recognised the special needs of Clwyd by providing substantial additional factory building, at Shotton and by upgrading the Wrexham and Shotton travel-to-work areas.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the latest closure on the horizon in my area is that of Connah's Quay power station, while Courtaulds Flint mill has closed temporarily and the Greenfield paper mill is fighting for its life? Is he aware that those closures affect some 600 jobs in an area with 9,000 out of work and only 1,100 jobs in the pipeline? Will he concede that a major job project must be located on the banks of the Dee? What has happened to the Nissan project?

I have no further news on the Nissan project, but a number of important firms are considering projects in the area. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have welcomed the news that Squibb Surgicare is to take on some 200 people. I recently discussed the future of the Courtaulds works with the chairman of Courtaulds, and he understands the importance of the works to the locality. I have also recently been in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy about the future of the power station to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

In view of the anxiety of people at Point of Ayr that the closure of the Connah's Quay power station may affect their future, will my right hon. Friend join me in pressing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to ensure that the project for the liquefaction of coal at Point of Ayr goes ahead at lull speed?

I understand the importance of the power station. At the end of the day, however, decisions about the power station must be the responsibility of the CEGB. As I have said, I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy about this. I can confirm that work is continuing on the liquefaction project, but I have no new information to give my hon. Friend.

Does the Secretary of State agree that his figures clearly show that unemployment in Wales, even using his favoured seasonally adjusted figures, is now 15·1 per cent.? Unemployment is now higher in Wales than in Scotland or any region in England. Does he further agree that the Government's public expenditure White Paper presumes an increase in unemployment of 300,000 in the coming year, and that the Welsh share of that will be about 17,000? If my figures are too pessimistic, will the Secretary of State give his own figures?

The unemployment figures are presented on exactly the same basis as those presented by the right hon. Gentleman when he was in the Welsh Office. The Government have not made, and do not intend to make, any forecasts about unemployment levels for the coming year. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman w ill have welcomed the recent reduction in unemployment levels.

Schoolchildren (Bus Passes)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what discussion he has had with county councils concerning the provision of free bus passes for schoolchildren.

Is the Minister aware that some of my constituents who are not prepared to allow their children to walk two and a half miles and more to school along busy main roads are genuinely unable to raise the £50 or £60 a month to pay for their children's bus fares? Does the Minister appreciate that from today, the beginning of the summer term, these children are no longer enjoying the right to universal free education? What advice would he give to such parents?

I am, of course, aware of the problem in the Clwyd local education authority. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the decision to withdraw discretionary free bus passes from children is a matter for that authority.

Is that not an unsatisfactory answer, given that in my constituency parents at Broughton who send their children to Saltney high school find that their domestic budgets are being blown to bits because of the extra money that they must find? Is it not about time that the Minister considered giving special and urgent aid to the local authority and to the parents?

I can understand the anxiety of the parents and of the hon. Gentleman, but I can only give the assurance that all children living beyond the statutory walking distances are entitled to free transport and that the authority will continue to make provision for those children.

Will the Minister state his policy when children are bussed free of charge considerable distances beyond schools that provide similar and suitable bilingual education? Should not children attend, where humanly possible, the nearest appropriate school that has already been the parental choice?

Order. Is the hon. Member's constituency in Clwyd or Gwynedd? It is in Gwynedd. I am sorry. Mr. Hooson to ask question No. 7.

Mental Health Services


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what progress he has made with joint financing of personal social services projects for the development of mental health services.

Earlier this month my right hon. Friend announced the largest ever increase in the Government's contribution towards joint finance in Wales—more than £1 million for schemes beginning in 1982–83. This brings the total central contributions to jointly financed schemes to almost £4.5 million.

I am delighted to hear of that progress. Is there any sign that local authorities are having difficulty in matching the Government's contribution?

The bids for joint finance were six times in excess of the earmarked funds. That does not suggest, to me at any rate, that local authorities are unwilling to bring forward schemes.

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware of the difficulty of local authorities in meeting their part of the responsibility from those schemes? In his county of Gwynedd the social services committee is having difficulty. Will the Under-Secretary also say what progress has been made on the other aspect of mental health services in Wales—the grants for MENCAP and the development of MENCAP services in Wales?

In reply to the second part of the question, I should make it clear that the figures do not include the £1·13 million for each of the five years beginning with the year 1983–84 which is concerned with the mental handicap initiative.

As to the difficulties of local authorities, although one understands them, nevertheless, as I said, there is clearly a considerable desire on the part of local authorities to participate in joint finance.

Does the Under-Secretary appreciate that there is considerable anxiety about the provision of mental health services in Gwent? We now find that Mr. Ron Evans, who has taken a keen interest in this matter, is to be replaced by an outsider as chairman of the Gwent area health authority. Does the Under-Secretary appreciate that political nepotism in these public appointments is deplored throughout Wales?

That matter does not arise under this question. However, with regard to the appointment of the new chairman of the Gwent area health authority and the retirement of Mr. Ron Evans, I should point out that Mr. Evans was appointed by the previous Conservative Government.

Holywell (Bypass)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether, in view of the deteriorating condition of the A55 road in the Holywell area, he will bring forward the date for the construction of the Holywell bypass.

The statutory, engineering and other preparatory work for this scheme has not yet been completed, but it is being proceeded with as quickly as possible.

Will my hon. Friend please get a move on? The bypass has been under discussion ever since I was first associated with the area 11 years ago. The road is rapidly disappearing down a blooming great hole, and is almost impassable. Does my hon. Friend agree that something must be done about it before 1989?

I sincerely hope that something will be done before 1989. To begin with, we intend that the existing A55 will be repaired by early next month. The earliest starting date for the bypass that I can give my hon. Friend is September 1984.

Does the Minister understand that those of us who live between Queensferry and Flint are having a torrid time, with huge traffic jams and much environmental blight? Why does not the Minister bring forward the Holywell bypass start date? Is there not proof that the much mooted river road should be started early? Will the Minister cut the waffle and give us some action?

I understand the frustration of the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones), but he might have been generous enough to refer to the considerable landslip in the area, which resulted in a two-year delay in work on the road with which he was once associated.

Beef Herd


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has any plans to stimulate the beef breeding herd in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

Beef producers' returns have improved considerably during the 1981–82 marketing year. Support measures for the beef industry are currently being reviewed as part of the CAP price-fixing negotiations.

Will the Secretary of State explain why the Government have not paid the extra £29·37 per cow to Welsh beef producers for last year?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we pay substantial grants to Welsh producers and there has been a sharp improvement in returns to beef producers during the past year. The average market price for fat cattle is now 21 per cent. up on last year, and there is a considerable improvement in the market.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind when the discussions take place on the future support for beef that this is the weakest element in the hill and marginal farm economy?

I understand the importance of this sector, but, as I said, there has been a notable improvement, and prices at the 1981 autumn suckled calf sales were up 20 to 25 per cent. Those are substantially above the increase in input prices during the same period. We are seeing a considerable improvement.

Trunk Roads


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied with the standard of those trunk roads in Wales principally used by traffic whose destination is the South-East of England.

Yes, Sir. With the opening of the M4 Bridgend northern bypass in September last year, there is now a road of dual carriageway standard from the South-East of England into Dyfed.

Does the Minister appreciate that everyone in South Wales is asking about the Severn bridge? Any long-term closure of the bridge would place the whole economy of South Wales in jeopardy. What are the Government's plans for repairing the defects and strengthening the bridge, and is there long-term provision for a new bridge?

Work on strengthening the bridge is in hand, and my right hon. Friend is awaiting the report of the consultants who were asked to appraise the whole bridge. I think that the House and those of us associated with South Wales recognise the great importance and significance of the smooth use of the Severn bridge for the economy of South Wales.

Will the Minister look again at his Department's priorities for the A5 in Wales, in view of the construction work that the Department of Transport is now doing on the M54?

Does the Minister appreciate that a considerable percentage of this traffic to the South-East of England is en route to the Continent? Does he further appreciate that if the Channel tunnel were built a considerable amount of that traffic could go by rail, which would be very much to the satisfaction of the people of Kent? What consultations is he having with his right hon. Friend on the building of the Channel tunnel?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I am not at present engaged in such discussions.

I drove across the Severn bridge this morning. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of yet another set of restrictions on that bridge? How many times and how many days in the last 12 months has that bridge been free to traffic as opposed to being heavily restricted, as it was again today, with little evidence of much work being done?

First, I apologise for my answer to the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) a few minutes ago. I did not interpret that question as widely as I should have. Of course, we take that matter into consideration.

I cannot give the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) information about how many days the bridge has been completely free from restriction, but clearly it has not been sufficient. There have been technical troubles associated with the bridge, and for safety reasons we have had to impose these restrictions. We shall, of course, clear the bridge as soon as we can, because we recognise its significance and importance.

Will the Minister make an authoritative public statement regarding the present condition of the Severn bridge, the steps that are shortly to be taken to improve it and the long-term view regarding the possible need for a second bridge? There is considerable disquiet among industrialists in South Wales, who fear that any closure of, or restrictions on, that bridge would adversely affect industrial development and growth in the area.

That, of course, is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and he has promised to keep the House properly and fully informed.

University College Hospital, Cardiff


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will give details of repairs and rebuilding being undertaken at University college hospital, Heath, Cardiff.

Remedial works at the University hospital of Wales have covered mosaic cladding, repairs to ceilings in Meirionnydd House, defects in Pembroke and Brecknock residences and ward B4G. I am awaiting a report on the extent of any further works following a detailed structural survey of the hospital.

Pending that survey, will my hon. Friend say what the cost to date has been; what it is expected to be; whether anyone has been held legally responsible; and, when he receives the report, whether we can expect an end of the matter and that we shall not have to repair and rebuild this hospital every eight or 10 years?

The remedial works undertaken to date have cost £1·8 million. The report on the survey of the defects indicated a total cost of £6·3 million for the necessary remedial works, but a working party was set up to consider what further work was to be funded from central NHS sources. That working party is due to report shortly. It is expected that the cost will be in the region of £2 million, in addition to the £1·8 million in all spent so far.

As to action against those responsible for the defects, no one has admitted liability and responsibility for the current situation, but writs have been issued against the consultant engineers and the architects with regard to the mosaic defects. The question of litigation in respect of the further defects is also being examined.

In order to contain the obvious apprehension, as stated by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist), will the Minister arrange for Welsh hospital capital building expenditure to match or even exceed the per capita figure for England and Scotland?

As the hon. Gentleman should know, significant NHS capital works are taking place in Wales. We are building no fewer than four new district general hospitals. Of course, the expenditure figures on the University hospital of Wales must be related to the fact that that hospital would cost £100 million if it were built today.

Does the Minister agree that it is a public scandal that, so soon after the completion of this hospital, these remedial works are now required? Will he keep the House closely informed of the progress of litigation?

I agree with a great deal of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. I quote from memory, but I think that the hospital is about 10 years old. The Department has been carrying out a study of its procedures for controlling major projects, and it is hoped that the findings will help eliminate future defects in major capital projects.

Redundancies (Merthyr Tydfil)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will estimate the number of redundancies in Merthyr Tydfil since May 1979.

Between May 1979 and March 1982, 3,856 redundancies were notified to the Department of Employment as due to occur in the Merthyr Tydfil area.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is almost the total number of jobs that we could expect even if Nissan came to South Wales, and that is in one community alone? When can we expect some growth and an increase in the number of jobs in Merthyr Tydfil and other Heads of the Valleys communities, or will we be bypassed, in view of the fact that one Minister has referred to traditional industrial communities? When can we expect to see some real growth and real jobs back in the Heads of the Valleys communities?

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about unemployment in Merthyr Tydfil, which is clearly extremely serious. It is also true that a number of projects now coming to Wales are deciding to locate in the Heads of the Valleys area. I welcome that. Furthermore, the improved road links that have been completed during the Government's term of office will help, and the hon. Gentleman will know that at present we are pressing ahead with the important road link up the valley to Merthyr.

Heart Disease


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will take steps to discover the cause of the high rate of heart deaths in Wales and to improve specialist treatment of heart disease.

As long ago as December 1979 my right hon. Friend asked the Welsh Medical Committee to prepare a report on cardiothoracic services in Wales. The report was presented to him in January, and I have myself discussed it with its authors. The report's recommendations are now being examined and costed by Welsh Office officials, and when this work is complete it will be published.

I welcome my hon. Friend's reply. Does he agree that the alleged leak was premature, irresponsible and caused unnecessary anxiety? Will he further take on board the fact that there is only one cardioangiography unit in the whole of Wales—at Cardiff—and, while other units over the border could be used, we do not have trained specialists to use them?

It is true that many treatments of Welsh people take place outside Wales, in both London and Liverpool. As to the so-called leak of the contents of this report, blatant party political propaganda is involved. Many of the figures, especially with regard to deaths, relate to as far back as 1978.

In addition to the working party report led by an eminent cardiologist, is the Minister aware of the report of Dr. Farrow, of the Welsh National School of Medicine, who states that expenditure on Welsh health should be according to our higher morbidity and not as calculated at present?

I am aware of that report, but the one that we are dealing with under this question was commissioned by my right hon. Friend and relates to cardiothoracic surgery in particular.

In calling the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas), I should point out that earlier I interpreted Question No. 6 narrowly, and I apologise to him. The hon. Gentleman might then have had a chance to ask a question, but he now has the opportunity to do so on Question No. 14.

Pneumoconiosis Research Unit (South Glamorgan)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether his Department has commissioned any research from the pneumoconiosis research unit in the South Glamorgan area health authority.

The Welsh Office has not commissioned any research at the Medical Research Council's pneumoconiosis research unit at Llandough hospital, but the work carried out there on occupational lung disease is directly relevant to health problems in Wales.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the recent statement by the former director of the unit suggesting that it was "withering away"? Is that not a serious statement from someone who was concerned with research that has been vital for Wales, and, more recently, for Cornish tin miners, in relation to industrial chest diseases?

I understand that the director retired early and that he made some comments to the press, which I read with interest. I have no reason to believe that the future of the unit is in jeopardy. It is dominated by the Medical Research Council, which is sponsored by the Department of Education and Science, and I understand that another director is to be appointed.

Is the Under-Secretary aware of the poor progress being made in the tripartite talks on pnuemoconiosis between the Government, the NCB and the NUM? Is there nothing that the Secretary of State can do for an area that is more blighted by pneumoconiosis than any other part of the United Kingdom?

The problem has been with us for a considerable time, but I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that much has been done over the years. The unit at Llandough is already conducting a major research programme on matters of special interest to Wales.