§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chichester-Clark.]
§ 11.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Milne (Blyth)
One of the most refreshing features arising from the problem of North-East unemployment and the attraction of industry to the region has been the efforts of local authorities to set in motion far-sighted schemes to revive the economy and to secure full employment at an early date. Long before the Government had realised, the extent of the problem on their hands, and prior to the appointment of the then Lord Hailsham as the Minister responsible for the North-East, Northumberland County Council, in conjunction with other local authorities in the county, was getting down to the task of attracting industrialists northwards.
Since then many firms which have established themselves there have found that all the good things said about Northumberland and about Northumbrians are correct, and those who have come are the strongest advocates for bringing others to share what Northumberland and the North-East has to offer.
Although we welcome the improving position of the last eight to twelve months, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is possible to take too optimistic a view of the employment prospects in the North-East. As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, during 1955 and 1956, and into 1957, our unemployment figures were about the national average. Even with the improved position of recent months, our figures are too far ahead of those for the Midlands and the South to engender any thoughts of complacency.
The Government's White Paper on the North-East said that the decline in the labour requirements of the region's traditional heavy industries would be offset by the growth of employment in the newer manufacturing industries which could be expected to grow in the region as fast as elsewhere. The growth rate in the North-East will have to exceed considerably the growth rate elsewhere if we are to get within striking distance 598 of full employment in the near future, and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it was with that aim in view that Northumberland County Council fostered the projects of the new towns of Killingworth and Cramlington, which ultimately, would reach populations of 17,000 and 48,000 to 50,000 respectively.
The concentration of new development at the growth points of Killingworth and Cramlington was solidly based on a detailed assessment of the needs of the area, and provides a framework for a tremendous spring forward in all aspects of development. It also ensures that action by many individual bodies and authorities is directed towards a common objective. It is possibly symbolic that since then a pit heap at Killingworth has disappeared to provide a fine site for the headquarters of a regional gas board.
Since September 1958, when Cramlington was considered a suitable place for expansion, a similar decision was taken in regard to Killingworth, much solid work has been done, and much has been achieved. At both places large areas of land have been prepared for development. Extensive industrial estates have been laid out, and the industrial land taken up at Killingworth will provide jobs for 1,500 people. The firms which are developing the first section of the Cramlington Industrial Estate, which is much larger than Killingworth, will provide work for several thousand people, leading to wider and greater expansion.
When these decisions were taken and it was decided to build these two new towns, there was no question of the Government doing the job, and the Northumberland County Council had no alternative but to go it alone. We are not engaging in controversy in this debate, but I think that that is the real answer to Government spokesmen who sometimes complain that the North-East is not, and was not, doing enough for itself.
The local authorities in Northumberland were engaged in the battle to attract industry while the Government were still making up their mind whether or not the problem existed. The wisdom of the council's decision was proved when the White Paper on the North-East virtually adopted for the whole of the North-East the type of policy and programme that the Northumberland County Council had 599 been putting into operation for several years before. In the proposal to establish a new town at Washington, it sets out to do for South Tyneside and North-East Durham what had already been set in motion at Killingworth and Cramlington for the area north of the Tyne and Northumberland.
Following the issue of the Hailsham Plan, a meeting convened by the Newcastle City Council was attended by about 66 local authorities and a resolution was passed, the full contents of which do not concern us in this debate, but two extracts from which are worthy of note. The resolution declared its concernthat no firm promise of financial assistance is given as this is essential to relieve the inevitable financial pressure on the ratepayers who will have to bear the cost of implementing most of the proposals in the report.It also declaredits opinion that the Government should consult representative organisations (including local authorities) before making major decisions fundamentally affecting the prosperity of the Region.The following day a sub-committee met the Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development and impressed upon him the necessity for putting forward these suggestions in relation to the need for assistance to be provided in the industrial area north of the River Blyth, and for the Cramlington and Killingworth new towns to be treated on a similar or comparable basis to that of new towns elsewhere in the North-East.
At this late hour, and with the restricted time available, I do not intend to go into details on the necessity for the extension of financial assistance. Briefly, the substance of our claim on behalf of the areas which form the subject matter of tonight's debate is that while the county council does not doubt its ability, financially and otherwise, to go ahead and to complete the project commenced so courageously in advance of Government planning in this matter, it nevertheless feels that there is no justification for the new towns at Killing-worth and Cramlington being treated less favourably than are new towns elsewhere.
Although we appreciate that within the framework numerous schemes have been put into operation and set in motion in the development of 600 North-East industry, we would ask the Parliamentary Secretary and the Ministry to look closely at the matter, because Killingworth and Cramlington are the growth points for expansion in Northumberland, and their success, and the speed with which it is achieved—and I have already indicated that there is no doubt of their completion and putting into effect by the county council—will be all the greater if the maximum assistance, financial or otherwise, is put behind them in relation to these projects.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)
First, may I say to the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) that of course we very much welcome the laudable initiative of Northumberland in this as in other directions. The difficulty with which we are faced, however, is that Northumberland having gone ahead in the light of the existing legislation in regard to the grant of Government assistance is now coming to the Government and asking what the Government can do to help it financially. This puts us into the position of confirming that we can help only within the terms of existing legislation.
I can assure the hon. Member that we have combed the Town Development Act with a view in every instance to finding good ground for helping Northumberland in these projects, but we are limited by the legislation. He will know that the county is sending a delegation to meet my right hon. Friend next week when, without doubt, we shall be able to thrash out the problems in rather more detail and more satisfactorily than we can across the Floor of the House. I can assure the hon. Member that we start with every sympathy for Northumberland's problems and every wish to help, but the difficulty, for instance, as far as housing subsidies are concerned is that under the Town Development Act, the only Act which is relevant, we can pay subsidies only where there is an exporting authority and an exporting authority for this purpose must be a congested area. It is a prerequisite of the subsidy to know where the people are to come from. We have made it clear to Northumberland that we shall look at 601 the scheme as it progresses and see if there is any chance of extending any grants available on the ground that it has drawn from other areas and so on, but Northumberland will want to know where it stands in advance and that is a difficulty for which I do not see means to overcome.
Another problem which arises is that Killingworth is probably not a suitable place for a new town within the concept of the New Towns Act. We would not select an area as close to the conurbation it has to serve for a new town, and of course it is on a relatively small scale. Cramlington is in a different category. Naturally I cannot give an undertaking here and now that we would make it a new town but nevertheless I understand that Northumberland is rather loth to hand over development of Cramlington to a new town corporation. I understand that this is in part due to the fact that the enterprise of Cramlington was conceived as a joint one between the county, the local authority and a consortium of local builders who own the bulk of the land scheduled for residential development and as a shopping centre. Quite apart from Northumberland's own interest in running its own show, it feels a certain obligation to that consortium.
Those are definite obstacles to taking the project under the umbrella of the New Towns Act which the hon. Member's suggestion implies. We are therefore left with the Town Development Act which has very considerable limitations for this purpose. Probably the main difficulty which faces Northumberland is the fact that embarking on any project of this sort one is bound to have a period at the beginning of the enterprise when a great deal of money is outstanding with practically no return for some years. Of course under the New Towns Act a corporation can borrow to meet these deficits.
A local authority, whether it be a county council or a district council, is very much more limited in that regard, although the hon. Gentleman will be aware that last Session we passed the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act, 1963, which goes some way to help, in that it enables local authorities to borrow and to defer the repay- 602 ment of interest. In other words, they borrow a bigger sum in order to cover the payment of interest in the first few years when there is no return.
I fully appreciate that even those provisions may not entirely deal with Northumberland's problems, but I do not think that I can usefully say very much more now in view of the meeting that has been arranged. I can assure the hon. Member that my right hon. Friend and I are both very anxious to encourage these developments and to help Northumberland in every way possible but, as hon. Members will know, we are as much bound by the existing legislation as anyone else and we shall have to discuss the problem against the background of what we are empowered to do.
If it comes to considering seriously whether Cramlington should be made a new town, Northumberland, too, will have to look at it in the light of what sacrifice it will have to make in giving up something in which it naturally takes a pride and for which it would like to continue as developing authority. If it is not possible, I am sure that Northumberland would consider whether the value of the scheme is not sufficiently great to make it worth while giving up its own immediate control to a new town corporation. That, of course, is the only way in which we can operate a new town under the Act, and the only way in which a new town can get the benefits of that Act.
I can assure the hon. Member that we are very m ach aware of the problem and want to help. We have been through the Town Development Act, and through such other Acts as might be relevant, always with a view to finding means by which we might help. We have come, admittedly, to some sort of impasse, but, as I have said, the county council will be discussing the matter with my right hon. Friend. I hope that as a result of the discussion we shall be clearer about where possibly the county council may be able to meet us, and thereby help us to get over some of the problems that at present prevent us from helping or to be able to make other suggestions for the future. We are anxious to help.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes to Twelve o'clock.