§ Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Charles R. Morris.]
§ 10.52 p.m
§ Mr. Bert Hazell (Norfolk, North)
In the limited time available I want to draw attention to a number of matters highlighted in the first Report of the East Anglian Economic Planning Council. May I say at the outset that the Report is a complete vindication of the creation of this Council. The House will recall that originally it was intended that East Anglia should form part of the South-Eastern Economic Planning Council. It was as a result of pressure from myself and my parliamentary colleagues, when we impressed upon the Government the necessity for a separate planning council for East Anglia, that this Council came into being.
As the Report shows, the problems of the area are quite different from those elsewhere, and certainly different from those in the broader area of the South-East of England. North Norfolk is a delightful area, with broadland, on the one hand, and 40 miles of coastline, on the other. It has, however, many problems affecting the livelihood of those who live there.
In Part I of the Report the Council says that it can act only in an advisory capacity. It says:At the national level the effects of the new regional economic planning machinery should be to ensure that regional considerations are taken into account more explicitly than in the past.It is for this purpose that I put in a request for this Adjournment debate.
For a long time I have been stressing the peculiar problems of North Norfolk, which, in themselves, are different to those even of East Anglia, and, indeed, different in some aspects to those of the rest of Norfolk. The Report itself confirms all that I have said in this direction, and focuses in no uncertain manner the difficulties of the area in many respects.
I was interested, when the Report was summarised by the local newspaper, that it headed its summary, "North Norfolk is the greyest of the grey". This obviously relates to the grey areas which 1485 the Hunt Committee was set up by this House to investigate and to advise the Government what should be done for grey areas.
Now, I am aware that the Hunt Committee has taken evidence from different parts of Norfolk and East Anglia, but we are still awaiting the outcome of that Committee's findings. We have been assured from time to time that in due course they will be presented to this House. We who live in Norfolk, in particular—and certainly myself representing North Norfolk with its many problems—have been anxiously awaiting this Report and one cannot, in the light of the Economic Planning Council's first Report, ignore a situation known to many of us and wait for the ultimate outcome of the Hunt Committee because it is anybody's guess when that will be forthcoming, and how soon—or indeed if—the Government will act upon its recommendations.
The problem of North Norfolk is an urgent one, needing a considerable amount of pressure, and I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will, in view of the fact that his own Department was responsible for creating the planning councils, say tonight that the Ministers of the various departments will be gingered into some action to help to solve some of the problems in my constituency.
Let me deal with unemployment first. In response to a Question I put down last week, I was informed by the Minister that unemployment in the Cromer, Sheringham, Holt area stands at 6.1 per cent., in Fakenham and Wells-next-the-Sea, 4.6 per cent., and in North Walsham and Stalham, 3 per cent.
If we take the 3 per cent. of North Walsham and Stalham it is well above the national average, but when we look at the situation as a whole throughout North Norfolk the position is very serious indeed. Not only is the ratio of unemployment high, but there is, at the same time, a great deal of underemployment Indeed, unemployment would be very much worse were it not for the fact that many people have to travel each way distances of between 20 and 30 miles each day to Norwich or King's Lynn to seek employment.
1486 In the Report it is stated that during the past 15 years the net outward journeys of people from North Norfolk to seek employment elsewhere on a daily basis have risen from 850 to 3,200. This is not surprising, because North Norfolk has relied mainly upon agriculture. Last week, I put down a Question in the House and in reply the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food stated that the outflow of labour from agriculture in Norfolk in the past 10 years has meant a drop of 14,000 employees. Therefore, the question of employment opportunities, unemployment and underemployment is very acute indeed.
As the Report states, unemployment in North Norfolk is persistently above the regional average and has been for a number of years. It goes on to say that whilst the total numbers may be small in comparison with the country as a whole, those relating to the small isolated communities represent a considerable volume.
From time to time one has stressed the low earnings of male workers throughout East Anglia and Norfolk, in particular. The Report points out that it is likely that in North Norfolk earnings are below the Norfolk average, which itself is 7 per cent. below the East Anglian average which, in turn, is 8 per cent. below the national average. This means that earnings throughout North Norfolk are very low indeed. There is a vital need for new industry to solve the problem of unemployment and under-employment and to raise average earnings throughout the area.
If, in the past—and this is true—some of the small coastal towns have deplored the idea of new industry, such is not the case today. Towns like Wells-next-the-Sea, Cromer, Sheringham, Fakenham and North Walsham are urgently seeking opportunities for new industry. Indeed, the Report refers to the need for industrial growth in order to revitalise the rural areas.
The Report also draws attention to the housing problems in North Norfolk. It states that in the rural districts in North Norfolk housing is among the worst in the country from the point of view of the basic amenities. It mentions that two-thirds of the houses lack a hot water 1487 tap or a fixed bath, and that a quarter have no water closets. This is roughly double the national average for rural areas.
I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will impress on the Minister of Housing and Local Government the need to make sums available to bring about some improvement in these housing conditions. We often talk lyrically about the roses round the door, and this is a truism in Norfolk villages and hamlets. But behind the facade of the roses around the door exist very primitive conditions. The people who occupy these properties are as much entitled to modern amenities as are people living in the more populated areas.
The problem of communications throughout North Norfolk has been highlighted. It is true that a drive through the lanes and by-roads of Norfolk is a fascinating experience for one who lives in a town, but we must recognise that modern road vehicles increase in size and that to manoeuvre large motor vehicles through the narrow winding roads of Norfolk presents a hazardous problem to the drivers and a constant source of danger to other people who have to use the roads. The Report emphasises this by stressing that the roads are poor, narrow and tortuous. I suggest that that is an under-statement.
All rail services throughout the area have been withdrawn, with the exception of the Norwich—Sheringham line. The buses which have been substituted for rail services are inconvenient and slow, and in many places the roads do not permit of the use of such vehicles. Often a driver must wait by the side of the road to enable another vehicle to pass.
The Norwich—Sheringham line is also threatened by closure. I hope that my right hon. Friend will draw to the attention of the Minister of Transport the fact that if that line is closed it will create great hardship for the commuters from my constituency who find employment in Norwich as well as for the holiday traffic to the Broads and the coastal areas who rely on this line as the only rail service available to them.
As my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Derek Page) wishes to speak for a few moments, I will conclude, and I will do so by emphasising 1488 the paragraph in the Report entitled "Conclusions", which reads:The decline in agricultural employment will continue for some time and it is likely that unless measures are taken to improve the opportunities of employment growth, the trends of unemployment, population stagnation, growth of long-distance commuting and low earnings will also continue.I end as I began. North Norfolk is a delightful area, but its people have a right to live a full life, to enjoy a standard of living comparable with that of the rest of the country and to be housed decently in this modern age. New industries are urgently needed—not large but medium and small ones which will provide opportunities both for the present and future generations. Without these opportunities the young will leave, and we shall be left with semi-derelict villages and hamlets which will be a tragedy for Norfolk and rural Britain.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Page (King's Lynn)
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) for giving me a few of his precious minutes in the debate. There are one or two points which I am anxious to make about the Report.
On the whole, I welcome the Report, which gives substance to a point which Labour Members for Norfolk have been making for the last four years—that this is a tragically under-developed area where people have a very hard time compared with those in the rest of the country. The Report also adds substance to our suggestion that one of the main reasons is low earnings. It goes into a number of possible factors for the low earnings, and I agree with its analysis of such factors as it has considered. One or two factors, however, have been omitted, and I ask my hon. Friend to consider whether these factors, too, should be looked at in the future.
For example, the Report contains no review of trade union structure and activity in the area. If wages are low, it may well be that that could have a relevance to the extent and vitality of trade union activity in East Anglia. On the other hand, it may have no relevance. Unless it is looked at, who could possibly say? I cannot understand why it has been ignored and I urge that in its future work, the Council should examine this closely.
1489 Attention is given in the Report to education and it is pointed out that in many ways the children of East Anglia are under-privileged in this, but I am disappointed that among the many factors comprehensive education was not examined. Hon. Members on this side of the House believe that comprehensive education is an efficient way of educating our children, and the fact that we have not yet got it in Norfolk can be, and I believe, is, a serious factor in dragging down our children below the limit of achievement of which they are capable. It is the duty of the Council to examine this and to assess the advantages which may accrue.
I take issue with the Council on its assessment of the importance of North Sea gas. The Report tends to discard it as something of minor importance. The Council takes the attitude that it will not employ many people, but the evidence of the last few days, since the Report was issued, completely confounds this opinion. We have seen a tremendous contract negotiated by the chemical industry for about one-fifth of the total production of North Sea gas to go into chemical manufacture. It need not be used in Norfolk, but there is no reason why it should not be, with tremendous benefit to us.
These are the reservations I have to the Report. I welcome the improvements it suggests for East Anglia, but in addition to easier I.D.C.s and bigger investment grants, pressure should be put on industry to look at East Anglia before applying for I.D.C.s elsewhere. Too often industrialists are turned away before putting in an application. They should be encouraged to look at East Anglia when they wish to move from London, Birmingham and Manchester, and not only to look at development areas.
The Report is of the greatest value, and if it goes forward to look at other factors, the Council will be of even greater value. We look to the Government to do something about the Report, because only by implementation of what is needed, can something be achieved. We look forward tonight to an assurance that we will get some action.
§ 11.14 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Economic Affairs (Mr. T. W. Urwin):
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) impressed the House this evening by the constructive and vigorous manner in which he put the case for his constituents. I congratulate him on having obtained this debate, and I am grateful to him for having raised the matter of this planning Report, which was published last October.
The Council has stressed that its report is essentially preliminary in character and intended only to serve as a basis for dialogue with bodies and organisations in the region about a wide range of planning problems. All will agree, however, that it is a thorough and useful document. For the first time a comprehensive range of regional facts and figures has been brought together in a form which will assist both local planners and the Government in formulating regional planning policies. The Chairman and members of the Council hope to continue to work to refine the ideas and to develop a more detailed strategy in cooperation with others concerned. Obviously, many of its readers will wish to challenge some of the propositions in the Report, and it is only by discussion and debate of this kind that effective regional policies can evolve.
All who have studied the Report will, I think, agree that the Council has convincingly demonstrated that East Anglia is a distinct entity, with a range of characteristics all of its own. The Report amply justifies the Government's decision to establish East Anglia as a region separate from the much larger South-East.
I understand that the Council is now seeking the initial views and reactions of local authorities and other interested parties to the study. Both my hon. Friends will recall that consultation has already taken place between the Chairman of the Council and Members representing East Anglian constituencies at a most interesting meeting a few weeks ago. The several and varied views expressed will be very fully taken into account by the Government when considering their reply to the study. My hon. Friend asked for action. Ministers will shortly 1491 be meeting the Chairman or the Council and some of his colleagues to discuss at first hand and in detail some of the many important issues which the Report raises. I understand that it will probably be held on 3rd March.
The points raised in this discussion will be taken into account in the Government's reply to the Council's study, and this should follow fairly soon after the meeting to which I have referred. I know that there must be much discussion and other exploration of the Council's suggestions about strategy before it can establish some common ground for planning purposes.
My hon. Friend laid great stress on the problems arising from lack of economic growth in North Norfolk. I am very conscious of the effects of the rundown in agricultural employment in this part of the region, which has led to some unemployment and fairly long-distance travelling to work. The Government are well aware that technological change, which has followed from the massive Government investment in agriculture, has caused and will cause redundancies, and pose problems in various parts of the country.
I appreciate that unemployment rates in North Norfolk have been above the national average. My hon. Friend has referred to certain figures. In 1968 the rate varied between 4.8 per cent. in January and 2.9 per cent. in July, and in January, 1969, it was 4.6 per cent. Clearly the situation is aggravated because of the seasonal nature of much of the employment, particularly that in agriculture and the holiday trades.
Unemployment rates do not, however tell the whole story. The numbers and characteristics of the unemployed are also important in estimating the size of the problem. For an analysis of the unemployment registers in North Norfolk this month, it is known that about 37 per cent. of the unemployed males are aged 60 or over, about twice the size of the national proportion. These are people difficult to place. I do not wish to imply that any man of this age group willing to work should be denied the opportunity of employment, but the numbers involved reduce the effective size of the labour reserve.
1492 In North Norfolk—the employment exchange areas of Hunstanton, Fakenham, Cromer, Aylsham and North Walsham—the numbers unemployed at July, 1968, were 750 and at January, 1969, were 1,200. These numbers are not substantial, though that is not to say that the problem is not important. I readily accept that even a few hundred unemployed represent a serious social problem for a small community.
My hon. Friend has referred to difficulties in communications. I remind him that in reply to a Written Question by my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Derek Page) on 19th December, I indicated that expenditure on roads in the East Anglian region had increased sevenfold over the past four years, during which the present Government have been in power, and further increases are estimated to take place in following years.
My hon. Friend also referred to housing. Here I remind him of the advantages that will accrue to the local authorities in regard to the difficult problem of old housing in the area. The enhanced grants available for improvement should provide a great stimulus.
My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn referred to the fact that incomes are comparatively low in the region. This is undeniably true. A relatively low wage economy has for a long time been a somewhat unfortunate feature in East Anglia. Latest returns indicate also that there is a sort of inter-regional problem. Norfolk, excluding Norwich, has the lowest income levels of any part of the region, about £940 in 1966–67.
It was to consider the problems of areas such as these that the Government set up the Hunt Committee to examine the situation throughout the country in the intermediate areas. The Planning Council and other authorities in the region have given evidence and put their case to the Hunt Committee. The Government hope to receive the Hunt Committee's Report in the very near future. Only then can we decide, and I assure my hon. Friends that the decisions will be taken as speedily as possible. As to co-ordination between Departments, we are fully apprised of the necessity for speed in relation to the Report. We will then decide whether any changes in existing policy are desirable. 1493 In the meantime, I am assured by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade that he is following a sympathetic and flexible industrial development certificate policy for the area, where more industry may be needed. In the last three years, no application for an I.D.C. has been refused in North Norfolk. It should, perhaps, be more widely known that most of the industry which has moved into the region in recent years is doing well and expanding.
The nature of the Government's response and the formal reply to the council's study will be very much influenced by the crystallisation of comments 1494 and reactions in the region. It is not possible at this stage for me to predict what attitude the Government will take to the study as a whole and, clearly, time does not permit me to deal in any greater detail with some of the points which my hon. Friends have quite properly raised tonight. I give my hon. Friends the firm assurance, however, that the fullest possible consideration will be given to the points which they have so ably presented to the House in this all too brief debate.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes past Eleven o'clock.