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New Clause 1

Volume 35: debated on Thursday 27 January 1983

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Employment Of Local Labour

Any contract entered into by the Secretary of State for the purpose of carrying out the tunnel works shall include such provisions as the Secretary of State considers appropriate for securing so far as practicable the maximum employment in carrying out those works of persons normally resident in the area formed by the counties of Gwynedd and Clwyd.".— [Sir Anthony Meyer.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.24 pm

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The project for a submerged tunnel across the Conwy estuary is a major building and civil engineering operation. It is, therefore, natural that people in north Wales concerned about employment in the area should look on it largely in the light of the number of jobs that it will provide.

In the area of the tunnel itself—the Colwyn bay travel-to-work area, which includes Conwy and Llandudno junction—the level of male unemployment is 17·3 per cent. and the overall level of unemployment is 13·9 per cent. At the last count in December—this is somewhat out of date because the new figures that should have been published this week have been held back by a week—a total of 3,782 people in the immediate area of the tunnel were unemployed.

Further west, in the Bangor travel-to-work area, the male level of unemployment is 20·2 per cent. and the overall level is 16·2 per cent. The number of people out of work is 3,943.

The picture becomes really scary when one travels east into my own constituency to the Rhyl travel-to-work area. There, the level of male unemployment is an almost unbelievable 29.2 per cent. and the overall level is 22 per cent. In terms of bodies, that represents 4,130 people, a figure that is expected to rise when the new figures are announced in a week's time.

It is not surprising that the project should be seen not merely in terms of the enormous benefits that it will bring to the area as a result of new industry and improved communications but in terms of the number of jobs that it will provide.

Even though the scheme will inevitably create many jobs, there is the possibility that it will draw in labour from outside, and not merely from England, because we are the receiving point for traffic coming from Ireland. The Irish are highly skilled in civil engineering and construction and there is every likelihood that the scheme will suck in many Irish work men.

I have nothing against Irish workmen, but once the scheme is finished and they have discovered the joys of living in north Wales—there can be fewer more agreeable places in which to live—they will remain there out of work, thus swelling the dole queue. The risk is that one ends up with a higher level of unemployment than one started with.

6.30 pm

I am sorry that I missed the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) but I was in Committee. The experience that he describes is one that we suffered during some of the major capital projects in North Wales in the late 1950s and 1960s. He will be aware that the problem was successfully overcome in the Dinorwic scheme, where a provision in the relevant Bill that was similar to the new clause that the hon. Gentleman is moving today, was included. That provision was of tremendous value to the Dinorwic scheme and it was coupled with sensitive management of the scheme. We were very lucky in having Mr. Iorwerth Ellis as manager of the scheme. He had an empathy with the area and was therefore able to carry out the provisions of the clause in a sensitive manner. Those two factors taken together overcame the problem. For that reason I welcome the new clause.

I am most grateful. I was about to speak on that point and to refer to the scheme. I paid a visit to the scheme in the early stages and I thought that it was not merely one of the most impressive bits of civil engineering that I had seen anywhere in the world but one of the best managed projects that I had ever seen. The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) is right to refer to the empathy that existed at all levels during the entire scheme.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts), who is busily engaged in Committee. He is more closely affected by the scheme than anyone else and fought very hard to get such a scheme included in the Dinorwic legislation. If he were free to do so, I am sure that he would speak in favour of the new clause.

I am aware of the difficulty of framing a clause that avoids all the pitfalls. A previous attempt was made to move an amendment and it was found to be defective. It is the experience of all Back-Bench Members that any amendment that they try to move is defective. I have taken the best advice that I can in the present case and I hope that I have hit upon a formula that does not fall foul of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act or the Trade Descriptions Act. I hope that the definition of areas is clear.

I stress that the new clause refers to Clwyd and Gwynedd. Although the project is in Gwynedd, it is on the borders of Clwyd, which has an even grimmer unemployment problem than Gwynedd. I am sure that the hon. Member for Caernarvon will not complain about the inclusion of Clwyd. That helps to make it much more workable.

The wording of the new clause is deliberately flexible, because obviously many skilled jobs will have to be done in this connection and it would be absurd if the whole scheme were to be held up because nobody was available locally with the necessary skills for one particular enterprise. I hope that the wording of the new clause is about right and I look forward with a mixture of hope and trepidation to what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say.

It is not my intention to delay the passage of the Bill on this new clause, which has some very good lineage. As the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) said, it follows very closely section 48 of the North Wales Hydro-Electric Power Act of 1973. Everyone seems to agree that that worked fairly well.

Those who have been to see the scheme have seen its advantage. Something along the lines of section 48 could be included now. I attempted to introduce a new clause in Committee but it ran into objections from the Under-Secretary of State, who told me that my word "workman" would offend the equal opportunities legislation and that my use of the word "areas" might be considered vague.

I took those words from the 1973 Act and I say to the hon. Member for Flint, West that his ingenious new clause seems to have avoided all those pitfalls that the Under-Secretary of State pointed out to me. The new clause does not tie the hands of either the contractor or the Secretary of State. It gives considerable flexibility to the Secretary of State and, at the same time, by avoiding the word "workman" and using instead the words "persons normally resident" and defining the areas of Gwynedd and Clwyd, he has provided a formula that should be acceptable to the Government. After all, the Under-Secretary of State made some very sympathetic noises in Committee.

In the knowledge that the idea behind the new clause has support from both sides of the House, I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will accept it. One has to bear in mind the appalling unemployment figures mentioned by the hon. Member for Flint, West, and it would be a tragedy if we in this House did not do everything possible to ensure that such a great new venture employed as many from that area as possible.

In Committee several hon. Members gave their support to a clause of this nature. This new clause was introduced by the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer). Over a long period, he has shown his vigilance in looking after the interests of the unemployed and stressing the importance of employment prospects for the whole of north Wales. He has obviously consulted well on the wording of the new clause and the Government are prepared to accept it.

However, no one should imagine for one moment that in accepting the new clause, we are indifferent to considerations of economy. Like anything else for which the taxpayer foots the bill, the road must be built as economically as possible but, consistent with that principle, I am sure that the contractors will do all they can to ensure that the employment opportunities that it offers benefit the residents of Gwynedd and of Clwyd.

With its advantage of being on the spot, I would in any event expect local labour to be on the inside track and to be employed by any contractors involved in major work in that area.

This exceptional case should not be regarded as a precedent for departing from the Government's view that authorities placing contracts should not become involved in imposing requirements about the make-up of a contractor's labour force. Some authorities are attempting to apply, across the board, arbitrary and detailed requirements on contractors for political and ideological reasons. My acceptance of the new clause today should give them no encouragement whatsoever.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second rime, and added to the Bill.

Motion made, and Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.