§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Dr. John A. Cunningham (Whitehaven)
I beg to move,That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to increase public investment and industrial incentives and to restore confidence in the Northern Region, thus activating full employment and a better environment.Before speaking to the Motion, it is right for me, as the first speaker from this side of the House, to record our deepest regret at the death of one of our cherished colleagues, Arthur Skeffington. He has recently been national Chairman of the Labour Party and for many years has been an outstanding Member of the 2302 House. His untimely death will be deeply mourned by everyone in the Labour movement. We are very sorry to see him go.
I wish to call attention to the deteriorating economic situation in the Northern Region resulting from the doctrinaire weakening of regional policies by Her Majesty's Government. I have tabled the Motion in general terms so that we may have a debate about regional policies, because my constituency is part of the Northern Region and is directly affected by regional policies pursued by Her Majesty's Government. Regional policies are vital to the whole framework of society within my constituency, where unemployment is now more than twice the national average.
Many people will regard the subject of this debate as a small rider to yesterday's debate about the general economic situation, and this kind of thinking has bedevilled regional policies for years. The idea that regional policies should be an addendum or an afterthought to the general economic policies of central Government is nonsense.
We welcome the presence of the Secretary of State for the Environment. I understand that among his other accomplishments he speaks on behalf of the Northern Region in the Cabinet. I am not quite sure on what premise he does that but, nevertheless, it is reassuring to know that a man of some substance in the Cabinet—and, goodness knows, there are not many of them—is speaking on behalf of the Northern Region. He also has much wider responsibilities, of course, for the whole framework of regional planning and the development of regional planning policy, and I want to say some thing more about his duties later.
There never has been any argument in the House about the existence of the regional problems. They are intractable; they have been with us for decades, and both sides of the House have said, when in government, that they were determined once and for all to solve the regional imbalances which have existed in Britain for so long. Various attempts have been made. This debate is about the different philosophies employed by the two sides of the House and the different policies which have been followed—in particular, how these differences 2303 have affected the Northern Region and my constituency.
The debate centres on the argument of intervention by the central Government in industrial development and in industrial affairs in general. The opposite view—the non-intervention view, the market forces argument, which we hear so much about from the Government—is incompatible with any realistic policy for development in the regions. This is crucial to the whole argument. Any Government who do not believe in intervention in industrial development cannot possibly hope to pursue realistic regional policies.
Why should we have intervention? It is a good question. The very impracticable nature of the regional problems suggests that positive action by the Government must be taken. Market forces patently have not solved the regional problems. Indeed, those same market forces have created the other side of the coin in the prosperous areas of Britain in the West Midlands and the South-East, where we have manifest overcrowding and over-utilisation of the social capital of those regions. It is no accident that the urban problems which have developed there—the problems of racial tension, housing and wage-cost inflation—have arisen in those regions where market forces have been allowed to run freely and unbridled.
It is interesting to note, in talking about population, that some estimates say that, by 1990, the population in the South-East and the West Midlands will have increased by possibly up to nine million. This is a staggering increase when one sets it beside the social problems which already exist in those areas, and it will take a very brave Government, and a Government with full commitment to overall planning of the economy on a regional basis, to arrest this bulge, which is rapidly coming in the South-East and the West Midlands, and to create a more evenly balanced growth throughout the United Kingdom. We can learn many lessons by looking at what has happened in the United States, where there are tremendous problems of urban renewal and of ghettoes simply because of the completely unplanned nature of growth.
It is well known that, for every new job created in a growth area, the income 2304 multiplier in effect produces approaching three times the actual wage of that job in terms of extra growth through services and the like. This is important. Until we can provide the situation where higher paid jobs going into the development areas create all these elements of growth in the mini-economies of the regions, we shall not solve the problem.
True regional policies must involve quite strong and wide-ranging Government intervention. There can be no argument about that central fact. I want to say something now about the kind of policies which were pursued by the last Government. I shall pick on only certain of the main features, because no doubt my hon. Friends from the Northern Region will be going into these policies in greater detail.
First, and probably most important, we had the first commitment to any attempt at regional planning. The structure was not perfect—we all acknowledge that fact—and this is where the right hon. Gentleman has such an important rôle to play. We may need a new structure to develop adequate regional planning. That is not in dispute. What is being argued about is the very need to maintain and develop such a structure. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will be giving us his views on that.
Apart from the creation of this structure for regional planning, we had direct intervention in the industrial situation in many ways. We had strict control of industrial development certificates; we had direct investment grant payments; we had the regional employment premium—to name three of the most important aspects of intervention in industrial development. Coupled with this, we had a high level of general public expenditure in the development areas. Nevertheless, in seven of the basic industries, mainly in the development areas, in the same period there was a decline in employment of almost 750,000 jobs, and it is against this background of declining employment in our basic industries that we must objectively judge the effects of the Government's policy in that period.
By 1969–70, the amount of aid in total to the development areas was running at about £310 million per annum and still—let us be quite frank—the problems remain. No one on this side could realistically claim that in these areas the 2305 problems of the Northern Region or for that matter of Scotland or Wales had been solved. I do not think that anyone has ever made this claim. The claim was made that the foundations were being laid for the solution of these problems, which is much more important.
There are major disparities not only in employment but in housing and in the provision of health and education facilities. A major effort was made to hold the employment situation in the hope that, with the progression of the Government's policy, the whole infrastructure of the regions could later be improved. Nevertheless, there were significant changes, even in that period.
Perhaps I might quote a few statistics. Public investment in new construction in the South-East in 1965–66 represented 30.9 per cent. of the United Kingdom total. In the Northern Region it represented only 5 per cent. of the United Kingdom total. However, by 1968–69, the percentage in the South-East was 29.7, a small decrease. In the North of England it was 6.9, representing a significant increase of 38 per cent.
In terms of industrial development certificates and job creation, in the five years from 1960 to 1964, I.D.C.s in the development areas numbered 2,470. This represented 19.4 per cent. of the Great Britain total. Between 1965 and 1969, the percentage rose to 23.1 of the Great Britain total. That represented a significant increase of 20 per cent. The estimated additional employment in the region resulting from the increase between 1960 and 1964 was 70,700 jobs. That figure compared with the total of 96,100 in the five-year period from 1965 to 1969, representing an increase in additional employment of 36 per cent. These are significant improvements in the share that the Northern Region obtained as a result of these policies, and even better statistics can be quoted for Scotland, Wales and other regions.
When this situation set against the background that in, an almost similar period, the decline in employment in existing industries in the Northern Region topped 100,000 jobs, one has some measure of the problem. My constituency is situated on the western side of Cumberland. It is a very odd constituency in that it contains some of the most beautiful parts of the Lake District and also some 2306 very old industrial establishments and run-down towns and villages, where worked-out mines are a complete contrast to the surrounding environment.
In the period to which I have referred, there were two disastrous closures in my constituency. Millom Haematite collapsed and 1,000 jobs were lost in a town where only about 7,000 were employed. That was a staggering blow to an isolated community which is 30 miles away in one direction from Whitehaven and 30 miles away in the opposite direction from Barrow. Today, 2,000 men in that town do round trips of 60 miles to work, very often for low wages. The impact of their travelling expenses on family incomes in the area is extremely serious.
At about the same time, Harrington Colliery closed, which meant that another 1,000 jobs were lost in one fell swoop in a constituency of 50,000 electors. Those two major employers of labour have not yet been replaced, so I do not claim that even in my constituency the projects and policies which were being pursued have solved the problem. However, we have the projected growth and the coming development at Lillyhall, on the boundaries of my constituency—it is in fact in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart)—where several hundred new jobs are being created. I might add that currently in my constituency some 1,800 people are still out of work. It is perhaps as well that the developments at Lillyhall have already been given the go-ahead, in view of the changes in policy that have been announced. Had they been known, one wonders whether they would have gone there at all.
Employment is not the only problem. Family incomes in the regions and, consequently the economy of the regions, are also a problem. If I may make another comparison, in 1967–68 the average family income in the South-East was £32.65. In the Northern Region, it was £26.65. There is a staggering difference between average family incomes in different parts of the country. These basic facts of family income, employment opportunity and educational opportunity are matters about which any Government committed to realistic regional policies should be thinking. In this six-year period. there 2307 was also a tremendous expansion of the industrial training problem. The number of establishments doubled. The number of places in those establishments trebled.
We on this side of the House ask ourselves the reason for these changes in policy. This is the salient point. We have been told that a thorough-going review of the situation is in hand. Investment grants and R.E.P. began only in 1967 and, when we have asked for statistics, we have been told that they are not available. It is an odd kind of review which is going ahead without the latest statistics.
The Gracious Speech promised to… stimulate long-term growth in the less prosperous areas by increasing their economic attractions and improving their amenities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1970; Vol. 803, c. 46].There were immediate moves to alter the incentives on offer in the regions. They have caused a crisis in confidence. People no longer have faith in the Government's determination to solve the problem by means of industrial expansion in the regions. There has been a slackening of resolve in respect of industrial development certificates. In addition, we have seen the scrapping of investment grants and the announcement of the Government's intention to scrap R.E.P. which was worth £109 million last year. They have decided to change to investment allowances, which are not directly related to the number of jobs being created. This is important, since we had several statements from senior Ministers before and after the election saying that value for money was not being achieved by the previous policies. But at least with investment grants there was some control, whereas with investment allowances there is no relationship to the number of jobs.
Between 1964 and 1970, the rate of new jobs going to the Northern Region had virtually doubled, yet the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who, I understand, will not be attending this debate, told my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn):The reason for the change of policy was that quite evident failure of the policies pursued by the last Administration.… The faults were quite evident to us all. The changes were, therefore, urgent and were carried out urgently. As a longer-term measure, the whole review 2308 of the structure of regional policy is being carried through."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1971; Vol. 811, c. 7.]If the faults were self-evident and if it were an abject failure, it is interesting to pose the question: why, in his announcement yesterday, has the Chancellor effectively extended the policies? First, we are told by the Secretary of State that they had failed and that this was self-evident. Then yesterday the Chancellor told us that he was actually extending them.
Cmnd. 4516, "Investment Incentives", tells us that the cost of providing jobs is too high. This was before any review had been completed. So the question is again posed: how do we know that the cost is too high until we have a thoroughgoing review of the effects of past policy?
We have referred to these changes as doctrinaire, because of quite categorical statements that a future Tory Government were not prepared to invest in the regions at the current level. This was a euphemism for saying that less money would be provided.
We have tabled this Motion because of the increasing rate of unemployment in the Northern region and in other development areas. There have been fewer inquiries for development sites. I can quote several people who are not normally known as sympathetic to the Labour Party. Mr. Tom McIver, a director and executive of Tyneside Shipbuilders, is quoted in the Evening Chronicle of Saturady, 13th February, as saying:All we ask is that Mr. Heath and his government take a realistic view of the situation, that they are far-seeing enough to ignore doctrinaire prejudices.That is not a statement from any Labour politician. It was a pious hope. The doctrinaire decisions were taken before the right hon. Gentleman even came to office.
There were rumours recently about a development in the British Steel Corporation. The Sunday Times of 14th February states:£1,000 million steel plan for the South-East coast.It is incredible when one compares that with the fact that a projected 3,000 jobs will be lost in the steel industry on Teesside alone in the Northern Region by the end of this year. There will be more 2309 on this point about the environmental implications later.
The movement of manufacturing industries since the war highlights, quite succinctly, the different results from different Government policies. In the period 1945–51, movements involved 373,000 jobs, of which 237,000–66 per cent.—went to the regions. In the period 1952–59, 274,000 job movements were involved, of which 79,000–29 per cent.—went to the regions.
Experience in my constituency highlights this trend. Not one major employer of labour in my constituency has gone there under a Tory Administration. It is beyond doubt that the changes in policy have already had a serious effect. Was yesterday's announcement the final word? Was this the thorough-going review which we had been promised? Or is there more to come? We should like to hear something about that.
The extension of special development areas is welcome. So is the improvement in building grants. But this is not the solution. The solution must involve a complete commitment from the Government to embark on regional policies of planning and of intervention in the industrial scene. There can be no other way to solve the problem.
Any talk about one nation—this kind of glib statement which we hear about creating one nation—when at the same time the Government are acquiescing in the almost three-quarters of a million unemployed is nothing more nor less than cant. Incentives and controls alone will not work. We need growth, as was highlighted in yesterday's debate. I do not intend to repeat what was said then.
We also need a better and deeper statistical analysis of the effect of regional policies. When we ask questions on this score we are told that at sub-regional level no statistics are available. Again, a very odd survey, a very odd examination, must be in hand which cannot produce sub-regional statistics for an area like, say, West Cumberland.
We can learn some lessons, too, from policies pursued by the Common Market countries, particularly in looking at schemes such as the Taranto-Brindisi area which has some similarities with West Cumberland in that major industrial complexes were established there 2310 but no smaller industrial infra-structure developed. I ask one of the Government's Front Bench spokesmen for at least a commitment to publish a statistical analysis of either a region or a subregion affected by development area policies so that we can have an objective assessment. There will no doubt be good arguments for change—no one would deny this—but let us see the evidence and let us have change based on some concrete data.
We are talking about the regions of this country in which 30 per cent. of the population resides. We are not talking about some odd appendages to the Metropolis, but about 30 per cent. of the total population of this country. We need constructive policies. We need more help for industries to evaluate the cost of moving to the development areas, for instance, and we need the transfer of complete units, not depôts, as was instanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) in his maiden speech.
We also need regional planning in all its aspects upgraded and moved more closely towards the centre of the general economic policies of any Government. Let us make no mistake: the last Government were equally at fault in this respect. They were too far from the centre of activities, but at least we had a firm commitment for the first time to set up the framework necessary to do the job.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
First, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. John A. Cunningham) on his good fortune in the Ballot. I regard this as an unfortunate Motion, but that does not detract from his good fortune. I am sure that it gave him great pleasure to be able to present the case for his constituency and the Northern Region. That is not to say that I agree with all that he said, but I know how pleasant it must be for the hon. Member to put his point of view and to have a go at a Government in which he does not believe. I hope that he will continue to serve his constituency, as I am sure he will try to do, even though he has to make use of all the benefits and organisation of the Government to which I belong. 2311 I regret the terms of the Motion. There is such a problem in the Northern Region that I should have liked a full discussion without any political implications, if possible. But it is not possible. Many years ago, when I first entered the House, I made my maiden speech on the mining industry and my second speech on unemployment. That was in 1931. Last night, the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) talking about unemployment, kept talking of the 1920s and quite forgot about unemployment in the 1930s.
I am not going back as far as the 1920s, but I want to give some of the background. I know that all hon. Gentlemen opposite will be waiting to tear me to pieces if they can, but I hope that they will bear with me for a moment while I state one or two of the facts, because they are important to a united effort by the Opposition and the Government to solve the great problems which we have to face in the North. I will say this quickly, so that I do not arouse too much comment from hon. Members opposite.
In 1931, not in the 1920s, the Labour Party had been in office—I will not say "in power": I know my facts—and had contributed to a treaty for reducing the building of naval vessels, thus adding to unemployment. It was a very bad period of unemployment. I was then the Member for Wallsend, and was very proud to represent the people there at the time—although I know that they would never have elected me again—and I knew that 84 per cent. of the employable population in part of my constituency were unemployed. So I certainly know about unemployment.
Equally, the beginnings of special treatment for areas of high unemployment were the work of one of the greatest Prime Ministers which this country has ever had, Mr. Baldwin. He started an examination—for which the hon. Member for Whitehaven asked—of the problems of areas like ours and started the experiment of the first two trading estates—the Team Valley Trading Estate in the Northern Region and the Treforest Trading Estate in South Wales.
Whatever our differences of opinion may be about the way effectively to pursue regional policies, no one can accuse 2312 the Conservative Government of not having a deep and sympathetic interest in the problems of the unemployed and the need to ensure, so far as possible in a very difficult world, that our region in future becomes prosperous.
In recent years, with the rundown in mining, the mining community has behaved magnificently. It was a very difficult decision for the Chairman of the Nationalised Coal Board to take, and the mining community co-operated in a remarkable way. Sometimes I fight the miners, sometimes I support them—[Interruption.]—no, I will not be deflected from what I want to say—but it is important to remember, however much we differ on policy, that it was the Conservative Party and a Conservative Prime Minister who instituted the basic philosophy on which regional development and the efforts to deal with the problems of the regions are based.
§ Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)
You mentioned that the greatest Prime Minister in time was Mr. Baldwin. You mentioned the Treforest and Team Valley Estates. Were they with Government aid or not?
§ Dame Irene Ward
The original establishment of the trading estates involved Government money. That is quite clear. All that I am trying to establish is that the Conservative Party is as deeply interested in the humanities and all that flows from the problems of our region as the Opposition, although I know that they naturally have a deep and sympathetic interest in this problem.
It was under the recent Conservative Administration that the Tyne Tunnel was built. We have always argued about the difficulty of communications and we know that we are in many ways isolated from the big Midland and southern areas. It is important to remember that, with improved communications—this was a direct charge on the Conservative Government of the day—we built the Tyne Tunnel, which has improved communications between Northumberland and Durham. Credit should be given for what we have done. 2313 I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for saying that he will speak in the Cabinet on behalf of the Northern Region. This is a novel commitment for a Secretary of State and I am proud of him. Every now and then we exchange letters and sometimes my right hon. Friend tells me, "You have sent me a rather unkind letter", to which I sometimes reply, "I am occasionally a very unkind person," but I am not always unkind and I assure my right hon. Friend that I am deeply grateful to him.
I appreciate that the overwhelming number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent prosperous areas of the country sometimes get rather fed up when we keep on trying to raise the problems of our regions. It was, therefore, an excellent gesture on the part of the Secretary of State to agree to speak in the Cabinet on our behalf. It is nice to know that we have a senior Minister who we can contact by letter or see face to face about our problems. This is not always the case with Ministers, especially when one wishes to raise a problem which affects a small number of people, such as I frequently raise in connection with those living on small fixed incomes.
The hon. Member for Whitehaven quoted unemployment figures. I remind him that in 1954 the level of unemployment in our region was 2.3 per cent., that in 1955 it was 1.8 per cent. and that in 1966 it was 2.6 per cent.
§ Dr. John A. Cunningham
The hon. Lady has jumped from year to year giving unemployment figures. She will recall that at the time of the passing of the Local Employment Act, 1960, by the then Conservative Government, unemployment in the development areas was averaging 4.3 per cent., while three years later when that Act was in force—I refer to 1963—unemployment in those areas was running at 7½ per cent.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I will not be diverted from my main theme, especially as it is natural for hon. Gentlemen opposite to choose the figures which suit them best. I am entitled to choose those which suit my case best.
In 1966 unemployment was running at 2.6 per cent. In 1967, despite what hon. Gentlemen opposite call the magnificent efforts of the Labour Government, it rose 2314 to 4 per cent. and in 1968 it rose to 4.7 per cent. By 1969 it had risen to 4.8 per cent. and in 1970 it remained at 4.8 per cent. Although I agree that some of the features of the policies adopted by the Socialist Government were both creative and thoughtful, they did not have the wonderful results which the hon. Member for Whitehaven seems to think they had.
Perhaps that is because he has not been an hon. Member for long enough to appreciate the position or has not had an opportunity to research or study the statistics. I urge hon. Gentlemen opposite not to forget that the Conservative Government have been in office only since 18th June, 1970. However good regional policies may be, they take time to develop.
In February, 1970, the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) initiated an extremely interesting Adjournment debate in which the right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) took part. I congratulate them on the way they presented their case. It is important that hon. Members on both sides occasionally criticise the Government of the day, and just because one happens to be a supporter of the Government, it does not mean that one cannot sometimes express dissatisfaction with what that Government are doing. After all, there are world and European affairs, disasters and various problems which can upset Government policy. It is, therefore, right that from time to time we should be able to complain if something being done by our party is not quite right.
I sat through that debate which the hon. Member for South Shields initiated and listened to the remarks of hon. Gentlemen opposite with deep interest. Sometimes the hon. Member for South Shields and I co-operate, not on politics but on organisation, and I was interested to hear him begin his speech on that occasion by saying:My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) and I had some discussions with my hon. Friend the Minister"—that was the Minister of Stateshortly before Christmas on the very serious and developing problem of unemployment in our area, and particularly about how one could best speed up sites for the new industry which is so badly needed there.2315The situation in South Shields at least—it is different in Jarrow—has not improved. We now have about 2,944 men out of work in South Shields at the moment, including 550 or more older miners, who have been affected by some of the serious pit closures which we have suffered. In addition, we have a heavy number of ship repair workers, and a particularly large number of building and constructional engineering workers who are also out of work, including 108 joiners".In his reply, the Minister said:Despite the high unemployment in the South Shields and adjoining areas, they still do not measure up to those criteria for designation as special development areas".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th February, 1970; Vol. 795, c. 755, 764.]I pay tribute to yesterday's announcement by the Government, but I want to know, since the hon. Member for South Shields and the right hon. Member for Jarrow were then drawing attention to the policies of the then Labour Government which have not succeeded in improving the situation in this part of the country, whether the creative suggestions which they made in that debate are being implemented. I urge the Secretary of State for the Environment to read that debate and try to get action along those lines taken urgently.
As a result of the actions of the last Socialist Government, we on Tyneside are extremely worried because Tyneside is losing out to Teesside. Tyneside, Teesside, Cumberland and Carlisle are all in the Northern Region. It is very sad to think that Tyneside is being run down to the benefit of Teesside, though I hope that Teesside will profit by it, because I try to speak for the whole region. It is important that we should have fair treatment for Tyneside and for Cumberland.
I fully realise that Cumberland is very isolated. Part of the problem of attracting industrialists to our region is difficulty of communication, and I am glad that my Government have decided to move in the very important direction of improving communications. A great deal has been done to the roads, and I am glad that the intention is to continue improving them. It would help Tyneside, Cumberland and Durham if, instead of always thinking of south to north and north to south communications we occasionally looked at the east-west position. One has to be pretty strong to undertake a train journey from Manchester to Newcastle.
2316 It would be of great assistance to the unemployment situation in our part of the world if the Government were to get rid of the selective employment tax. We have had a lot of promises—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—that is absolutely true, but I do not think that my Government make as many promises as did the previous Government. The abolition of selective employment tax would greatly assist people, particularly in Whitley Bay, which is in my constituency, to get jobs. That tax has undoubtedly done a great deal of harm to employment. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has kept on saying that it will be done away with. It was also a pledge in our election manifesto, and I am sure that that pledge will be kept.
The hon. Member for Whitehaven also mentioned the regional employment premium. We in the Conservative Party spoke in our manifesto of phasing out the regional employment premium. I have not the slightest idea how such phasing out is organised, but I am glad to see that that term is not used in the full statement that I have seen in the Library. The new statement says that the regional employment premium will be paid until 1974. I am grateful for that statement because I publicly made by own reservation that I would not necessarily commit myself to that part of the manifesto, as the regional employment premium at present plays a great part in the finances of the Northern Region. I am very glad that the position has been made clear. I have great faith in my party's methods of dealing with these problems, but if the position was not satisfactory in 1974 I would still try to maintain my undertaking.
Shipbuilding and ship repairing are very important industries on Tyneside. I know that there is controversy about investment grants and investment allowances and that in the changeover of Government we have given some other incentives. Shipowners are rather worried about the sort of change that will be made, and its final result on the carrying out of their contracts. I should like some information on that subject.
We on the Tyneside are proud of what the firm of Swan Hunter has done. Smith's Dock, which is a repairing firm, has also done a great job. Nevertheless. 2317 Swan Hunter has been incurring losses. What I find very difficult to understand when discussing these matters is the fact that money and profit do not seem to enter into the calculations of the Opposition at all. That is very regrettable. We are pretty hard headed in the North, and to talk as though we could carry on without making profits is to be very stupid and unrealistic. The right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) talked the other day about the Post Office workers and the Wilberforce Report, but the money has to be made.
We ought to do a lot to back up the lower-paid workers. I should like to see an overall survey, which would be much more interesting than that suggested by the hon. Member for Whitehaven, of what I call the comparable wages of people in various industries. If in any industry wages are paid which that industry cannot at present afford, the necessary money has to be found by a lot of other lower-paid workers and by those on small fixed incomes. If in due course our economic policy is a success, as I am sure it will be, I will then be arguing for those people who have not yet had much out of the country and out of the Conservative Government's economic success, in order that there shall be a fairer division of money and an improvement in the conditions of living.
I am sometimes rather frightened that even my Government—they are all much younger than I—do not realise that when the last war broke out the decision was rightly taken that we were not to have any new industry because the assessment was that our part of the world would be bombed to bits by the enemy. Thus all the new developments, such as the aircraft industry, radio and television, and all the things which one finds in Birmingham, did not come to our region. There was no development in new technology on the North-East Coast.
This had a very serious effect, because mining is now a declining industry. Our coalfields, which were second to none in the type of coal they produced and exported, made a great contribution to Great Britain's prosperity. Many of our mines are now worked out. We had no new, modern industry and no advantage of technology and its development. Therefore, we are entitled to as much help in re-establising new industries 2318 in our area as it is possible to give. This is tremendously important.
Before the war I thought that the Formica firm, started on the North Shields Trading Estate, was a wonderful thing for our region. I am sorry to see that its profits have declined. I am no mathematician, but one of the matters which worries me is: if all profits decline—on the whole, the Labour Party scorns profitability—how shall we be able to raise the money to keep this country going at all? I should like to hear about that from the Secretary of State.
I want a lot of cherished things for our people. But if we do not have profits made by industry, whether public or private industry, to tax, we shall not have any money to run the country. It would be far better if the Opposition paid a little more attention to realities. Hon. Members opposite are ready to tear me to pieces, and I shall enjoy that. I speak without notes, but even if I had had notes I should never have been able to make a speech at all in the old days, when I was the Member for Wallsend.
I should like to see some high-ranking, knowledgeable individual assess whether, apart from Government policy or Opposition policy, the decision to change from grants to allowances will be satisfactory. I have great confidence in my Government because they have done so well in the past. But it would be helpful if we had a proper financial assessment, because it is very important to have realistic facts.
In the House of Commons men talk in overall terms, and one of the very few advantages of women is that they are more attracted by detail. I want a little more detail. What would really be the cost of having proper transverse communications between the North-East and the North-West? That is very important. I should like to have a financial assessment of all sorts of things. I should like someone independent, who has a good financial and mathematical brain, to examine these matters. What was the good of the Benson Report objecting to the Consett Iron and Steel Company having been sited on top of a hill? They could not get rid of the hill or take it off the hill. The Consett Iron and Steel Company has done a wonderful job in the production of iron and steel. 2319 I want more financial details before we finally settle on our regional policy. I could say a great deal more but I want other hon. Members to have a go. This is an opportunity to ascertain the right direction in which to travel.
Sometimes employers are jolly slow and sometimes trade unions are jolly slow. I like trade unions, but sometimes they get so politically minded that I could scream with rage at them, because they are not sensible. If men did a fair day's work for a fair day's pay, on the Tyne we would have more money to spend on the development of our region. Employers sometimes need not wait for the trade unions to start negotiations when their men have done a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. The employers could say that the men had done jolly well, and they could give them a bonus or something else. There are good employers and jolly bad ones. There are good trade unionists and jolly bad ones.
I want a realistic humane policy. I hope and believe that we shall have it under this Government. Therefore, though I congratulate the hon. Member for Whitehaven on what he said, it is a ridiculous Motion and will not help anyone. I shall have the greatest pleasure in voting against it.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. James Boyden (Bishop Auckland)
I add my tribute to Arthur Skeffington. He made a great contribution to the House, to the philosophy of the Labour Government, and to the Fabian Society, of which he was a life-long and very active member. He was a personal friend of mine and a great friend of my constituency. I am sure that I speak for the whole of the northern group and all hon. Members present when I pay tribute to him and express our deepest sympathy to his wife and family.
As Chairman of the northern group, I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Dr. John A. Cunningham) on behalf of the group for selecting this subject and to support his clear and damning indictment of the Government.
The northern Labour group Members have turned out in some force today, and if they are fortunate to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I hope that many of them 2320 will be able to make short speeches in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven. I shall not follow the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) in any particular, notably in the length of my speech.
Central to the Government's policy on the regions is the substitution of investment allowances for investment grants. The figures involved are considerable. It is proposed to save £300 million in 1972–73, £400 million in 1973–74, and £500 million in 1974–75.
I know full well that some of the money will be coming back to the firms concerned in the allowances. However, for the regions this is disastrous. What the investment grant does which investment allowances do not do is to give an incentive for people to come to development regions and to take risks. Their profitability is often low at the beginning of their development. So the change from grants to allowances tilts the scales in precisely the wrong way. It is a central feature of Tory philosophy; and it is disastrous for the North.
The results of this are already clearly to be seen. We got very tired of Tory Ministers, in the days when the Prime Minister was at the Board of Trade, talking about the number of jobs in the pipeline. The result of this Government's policy has been that there is nothing at all in the pipeline. There is not even talk about it. In my constituency only one industrial development certificate has been granted since the Tories came into office. Far worse, firms which were contemplating coming to the constituency have changed their plans.
There is a notable illustration of this in the urban district of Bishop Auckland where a large factory development was planned at South Church, a village which was to be reconstructed from the ashes, and where a very important local project—the building up of the Eldon Lane area—is in hand. The fact that this firm has decided that it can no longer set up there will impose considerable damage on the rebuilding of South Church and dashes the hopes of the people of Eldon Lane and its area for jobs on the spot and for a great impetus to the building up of the area generally.
I am sure that as the debate continues many of my hon. Friends will be quoting experiences from their constituencies, 2321 commenting on this kind of thing and emphasising the folly of Tory policy and the lack of confidence it is producing among industrialists.
One of the great features of the House of Commons is that the contribution that hon. Members make from their own constituencies rings a great deal truer than airy philosophies from the Government or from political philosophers. We always speak from the knowledge of what is happening. The Secretary of State will do well to take note, from the point of view of administrative action, of the things that emerge from the debate and the indictment that the debate represents of Conservative policy.
The trouble is that the present Administration are more doctrinal than a Conservative Government have been for many years. They have been very slow even to work out policies that will fit in with their doctrine and it does not seem to have dawned upon them that they have a duty to the nation, and to the regions in particular, to have at least some first-aid measures or some continuance of the previous Government's policies while they are introducing their new measures. The fact that they are so unpopular in the country as a whole, and in the North in particular, is an indictment of their Administrative capacity as well as of their own philosophy.
As if the position about investment grants is not bad enough, there is a whole field of curtailment in Cmnd. 4578 of other Government expenditure in the development areas. The regional employment premium is to be cut off. The figure for general services for assisting trade, industry and employment is slowly dropping between 1971–72 and 1974–75 by £8 million. Assistance to the coal industry drops by £9 million in 1971–72, by £11 million in 1972–73, and by a further £18 million in 1974–75.
The set-off to that is additional sums made available for the promotion of industry under the Local Employment Act. We on these benches were never satisfied with that Act; it was a very poor Measure. The sums that are to be put aside for the future amount only to an extra £8 million each year.
My constituency is very dependent upon the nationalised industries. We are very worried about the prospects of hiving- 2322 off. The town of Shildon in my constituency depends very much on the British Railways workshops. At the moment the workshops have a full year's work ahead of them. I should like an assurance from the Secretary of State that the hiving-off of the nationalised industries will not affect the private contracts that the Shildon workshops are looking forward to. I do not know whether the Secretary of State knows it, but at the moment the workshops have a very successful private contract for wagons for Malaya, and we were hoping that this was the beginning of a long run of private work done by this nationalised industry.
During the election my constituents in Shildon were far more caustic about the Government over this kind of thing than I was. Therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to gain any popularity he will need to make a very firm statement to the effect that the future of the Shildon workshops, which are competing very well for private work, will not be interfered with.
I have a very distinct feeling from looking at the figures in the "Forward Look" that there are great difficulties ahead. For example, page 28, support to nationalised industries, shows that the sum for transport drops from £118 million in 1969–70 to £54 million in 1974–75, a saving of £64 million on the nationalised transport side of industry. It drops roughly at the rate of £10 million a year.
I greatly hope that the Secretary of State will apply his mind to this and seek to reassure my Shildon constituents.
The Secretary of State has the next field of activity to which I wish to refer very much within his own control. He knows full well that I disagreed with his being made the Minister responsible for looking after the North, even though he is in the Cabinet. He is a very energetic man, but however energetic he is he will not be able to cope with the detail that is required if our interests are to be looked after.
In the field of house building and council house contracts the right hon. Gentleman could make amends for the damage he did when he was in opposition in relation to Tory councils. During the period of the Labour Government, in 1967 there was £43 million worth of council house contracts placed in the 2323 Northern Region. In 1968 there was £41 million worth. This was the heyday of council house building, which was very much needed in the Northern Region, as the Secretary of State knows. I admit at once that in 1969 there was a drop to £18 million. This was very serious. The trouble is that there has been practically no recovery from this position. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends in Government were making the most strenuous efforts to persuade Tory councils to increase the number of their contracts, but very little sign that this has been successful has come through. For example, in the first half of 1970 there was only £12 million worth of council house contracts for the North and in the third quarter of 1970 there was only £4 million worth. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can give me the figure applicable for the last quarter of 1970. The figure in the first quarter under the Tory Government was one of the lowest figures for council house contracts in any quarter since the beginning of 1966.
I hope that the Secretary of State will not say that private housing is the answer. Hundreds of thousands of people in the North cannot afford to buy private houses, and over the period 1967 to the present the building of private houses has remained pretty stable and it will be very difficult to make much impact on that figure. There are thousands of building employees out of work in the North. In my own constituency the figure is far too high. I hope that the Secretary of State will give us some reassurance that this big activity in council house building will be resumed so as to re-employ our building workers as well as to improve the housing conditions in the North.
The trouble with the present Government is that they have made no attempt to bridge the gap between the change of policies of their own and the previous Administration. They believe so much in private enterprise that they will not take the necessary steps, as my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven said, to interfere with private industry in ways which are necessary in the North. Our philosophy in the North is entirely different from the Conservative philosophy. We believe in co-operation, in helping each other, and we cannot con- 2324 ceive that a regional policy should be based on a free-for-all with entire emphasis on private profit.
However, that being as it may, the right hon. Gentleman must devote his mind to particular measures that he has within his control which will do something to stimulate industrial development and improve the general conditions in the North. For example, for several years the Labour Government made a special allocation of moneys to local authorities for winter relief, though I understand that this has now stopped. This is the kind of measure that would go some way to reassure us, although we have very great doubts on the general philosophy of the Government party. But where it is within the right hon. Gentleman's own specific control, we look at the end of the debate for some measures of reassurance in certain respects. On the general philosophy, we feel that he has very little indeed to offer the region.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Walker)
I should like to start by adding my own words to those already expressed on the sad news concerning Arthur Skeffington. I think he was one of the most popular, and certainly one of the most courteous and kindly, Members of the House of Commons. In the period in which I was in direct opposition to him, I found him a formidable opponent and one who took great care over every matter with which he was concerned. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will remember that in every letter that they received from him, the phrases that he considered important were underlined, and he obviously took a tremendous amount of trouble with everything that he did. Those of us who knew in more recent months that he was a sick man also admired his courage during that period. I certainly wish this side of the House to be warmly associated with the views already expressed.
May I also add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. John A. Cunningham) on obtaining the opportunity for this Motion, and say how much I welcome this debate, although I do not welcome the Motion. Also, while not wishing to appear presumptuous, I should like to congratulate him on the way in which he harnessed the material 2325 for his effective speech. One of the difficulties of being in government, as opposed to being in opposition, is that when in government one receives a little more help in preparing one's material than is available to hon. Members in opposition. I appreciate the tremendous amount of time that the hon. Member must have put into preparing his speech.
I welcome also the speech of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden). His constituency is one where I was once politically active, against regulations. I was for one year stationed at Barnard Castle, and during the 1950 election I participated in a certain amount of heckling of his predecessor.
I welcome this debate because it gives us an opportunity to look at the whole situation and try to analyse what can be done in a region which has considerable problems. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland agreed that at the end of six years of Labour Government there were still considerable problems, and both sides of the House will agree that no matter what actions are taken by the Government, it will be some time before we can obtain the improvement that we all require. However, I wish to tell hon. Members opposite that I hope that in their natural desire to criticise the Government, which it is their duty to do—do not complain; I participated in that quite freely when my party was in opposition—they will not take that opposition to the extent of not praising things which are of general benefit to the North.
The fact that the chairman of the northern group of Labour Members should have delivered his speech today without any mention of favourable effects on the North of the announcements made yesterday is a great mistake. The fact that another Labour Member, I gather, described yesterday's announcement as mere window dressing is a mistake, because in doing so, this positively hinders the situation in which firms could be interested in going to the North. I hope that both sides of the House will point out the very considerable advantages of being a special development area.
§ Mr. Arthur Bottomley (Middesbrough, East)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in addition to Labour Members making such statements, the Press, as well as leading industrialists, have done so?
§ Mr. Walker
That is a great mistake. I hope it will be realised that being a special development area carries considerable financial incentives. The announcement made yesterday means that in the Northern Region, whereas previously only 19.3 per cent. of the insured population of the region were in special development areas, about 46 per cent. now enjoy those benefits—not just benefits of special development areas as laid down by the Labour Government, but considerably improved benefits, because we have improved the benefits which result from being designated as a special development area.
We previously announced an increase in building grant from 35 per cent. to 45 per cent. Yesterday the operational allowance scheme benefits were increased from 20 per cent. to 30 per cent. Today in the Northern Region we not only have more than twice as many people in special development areas as existed under the Labour Government, but all of the people in special development areas are receiving much better terms, conditions and incentives than existed at the time of the Labour Government.
§ Dr. John A. Cunningham
On this specific point, you are arguing, quite rightly, that building grants and the rest have been increased. I acknowledged that in my speech. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) did not go into that matter. But are you telling us—
§ Dr. Cunningham
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. Is the right hon. Gentleman telling us that, investment grants having been withdrawn and investment allowances having been substituted, the Northern Region will receive more in aid than it was previously receiving?
§ Mr. Walker
I believe it will be found that the total aid to the Northern Region will be far better under the present Government than under the previous Government. What I am saying is that it is very much in the interests of the Northern Region that hon. Members on both sides of the House should point out the considerable financial advantages to firms going into the Northern Region—advantages that the present Government have 2327 substantially increased—and not in a climate of steeply rising unemployment in the Northern Region.
What is interesting when one looks at the unemployment figures for the Northern Region, either as a whole or in terms of particular areas, is that there is no more justification for increasing the incentives this February than there was last February or the February before. Indeed, the unemployment figures for the male population in the Northern Region are lower this February than they were either in 1970 or in 1969. If in the present unemployment situation hon. Members opposite consider that there is need for desperate measures, they were needed just as much in 1969 and 1970. The difference between the two sides of the House is that we in February, 1971, have taken measures and have increased the incentives.
§ Mr. Kaufman
As it was stated in a Written Answer the other day that the saving on investment allowances over investment grants would be £65 million a year, could the right hon. Gentleman say how much more will be spent in the Northern Region per annum as a result of the Government's measures?
§ Mr. Walker
The Government must be judged on the total amount of help to the Northern Region. When hon. Members opposite see the total figures, some of which I shall give later, they may discover that they will have a very bad case on aid to the Northern Region by the time the next election comes.
The male unemployment situation is no worse. Much of the increase in the February figures in the Northern Region is caused by female labour, which was put off as a result of the postal strike. The male employment position is slightly better than it was in the previous two years. The important actions announced yesterday by the Government illustrate that there is no division between Opposition and Government in the realisation that we must pursue a positive regional policy. The hon. Member for White- 2328 haven correctly pointed to the dangers of a laissez faire attitude and the absence of positive incentives to improve serious problems in several regions. I wish to make it clear, as did my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday by his announcement, that it is the Government's intention to pursue a positive regional policy.
I should like to comment on the view expressed by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland on the Ministerial representation of the Northern Region. As the Minister responsible for regional planning, I have a responsibility in the Cabinet and elsewhere in speaking up for matters affecting the problems of the regions. As there is a Secretary of State for Scotland and a Secretary of State for Wales, so I have a particular task in the Northern Region. The Government's system of Ministerial responsibility is a considerable improvement upon that of the previous Government. I say that with no personal hostility to the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin). He has worked and lived among the people of the Northern Region and has been active in endeavouring to do all he can for the benefit of the region. What I say is in no way a reflection on him but a reflection on the power which he previously enjoyed.
The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring was Minister of State in the old Ministry of Housing and Local Government. No matter what a Minister's personal qualities may be in that situation, he has nothing like as much power and authority to act as has the Secretary of State for the Environment, commanding, as he does, considerable public resources and attending all Cabinet and other meetings which affect the problems of the regions.
This is also reflected in an examination of Ministerial visits to the Northern Region. Questions have been put down recently on this and the figures are interesting. The number of Ministerial visits to the Northern Region since the election has been similar to the number of Ministerial visits during the previous year under the Labour Government. The difference is that under the Labour Government half the Ministerial visits were made by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring and the other half were made by all the other Ministers put together. 2329 What is happening under the Tory Government is that Ministers with power and responsibility are going to the Northern Region, discovering what needs to be done in matters for which they have responsibility and taking appropriate action. Ministers in my Department in the last eight months have made 16 visits to the Northern Region. About once every fortnight one of my Ministers has been there to have discussions on ports, derelict land, home improvement schemes, national parks, economic planning, water resources, sport and recreation and local government.
§ Mr. Walker
Not specifically, as far as I know. I sent the Minister who specialised in derelict land to talk about derelict land, and another one who specialised to talk about house improvement schemes. The Northern Region gets a much better service from a range of Ministers, with specific powers, functions and knowledge, who make constant visits, than it could get by having only one Minister, not a senior one, not in the Cabinet, who carries the broad title of being responsible for the North. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is today in Teesside visiting the region. The Ministerial attitude to the Northern Region is the correct one, and I believe that it will have its effect.
In the long term it is the infrastructure of the Northern Region which is of basic importance. There will be more economic activity in the region if the quality of the infrastructure can be substantially improved. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland knows full well that in the last three years of the Labour Government house starts and house building were in a steady and constant decline in both the public and the private sectors. The situation which I inherited was that in the private sector there was a ghastly shortage of money available for mortgages, the price of houses had substantially increased and the number of starts and the general confidence in the building industry were at an all-time low. In the public sector there had been a decline in house building by both Labour and Conservative councils. The hon. Member is too experienced a Minister 2330 not to know that the figures of the completion rate of housing cannot be reversed overnight.
§ Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)
Did not the right hon. Gentleman encourage Tory councils not to build houses during the period of the Labour Government?
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) recently published our correspondence. I am glad he did so, because it is very much to our advantage. He recognised that the quotation which he used had been taken badly out of context. He published in the correspondence what I said at a conference in Manchester—not a conference of Tory local authorities. I said that I wanted council house building to continue for good social purposes, and I repeat that. The public sector has an important rôle in the Northern Region in the provision of houses for people who need to be housed in a tolerable standard of accommodation through the public sector. Likewise, housing the elderly and the disabled is an important feature of public housing. That is what I said in my Manchester speech from which a quotation was taken out of context, and the recent correspondence has shown that to be so.
The changes which I am bringing about in housing finance will be of particular benefit to the Northern Region, where 110,000 unfit houses need to be demolished and rebuilt. In my reorganisation of the finance of housing I intend substantially to increase the slum-clearance grants for the many older properties and slum properties. This will be an incentive to local authorities to go ahead more quickly with that part of their programme.
A few days ago in an Adjournment debate the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science announced a stepping up in the rebuilding of older primary schools. Whereas in the last Government's programme there were 25 major schemes in the Northern Region at a cost of £2.2 million, in the following year, as a result of the changes, there will be 39 schemes at a cost of £3.5 million. This extra incentive for slum clearance and the extra finances which are going into the replacement of older primary schools are examples of two specific Government actions to improve the infrastructure. 2331 Eqsually important are roads. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) mentioned the importance of communications, particularly east-west communications. I recently looked at the roads programme for the coming five years with the object of using my resources to give the maximum aid to the regions. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that, as a result, there will be very substantial improvements of the east-west roads in the Northern Region. I expect to spend in total in the Northern Region over the next five years £150 million on improving the road structure. This is another very substantial sum to be employed in helping the infrastructure of the Northern Region.
This is another example of the advantage of having the Department of the Environment. For the first time one Minister commands all these resources. It is no longer a case of the Ministry of Transport taking one view, with the Minister responsible for regional planning perhaps taking another. For the first time, we have the one Department under a Secretary of State who can look at the total problems of a region and decide how to deploy the considerable resources at his command.
Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the road programme is the greatest confidence trick the Government have played on any region—indeed, on the country? He can rightly claim that he is making no cutback on trunk roads and motorways, but he knows that the cut in new road building is on principal roads. If we are talking about the infrastructure of any region, the most important aspect is the development of principal roads.
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. The total expenditure on roads will be massively increased in the Northern Region over the next five years as compared with the last five years, for part of which the hon. Gentleman was responsible. He knows very well that there will be a massive increase.
§ Mr. Garrett
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the figure of £150 million which is to be spent over the next 2332 five years. If one averages it out, it means only £30 million on highways annually.
§ Mr. Walker
If the hon. Gentleman complains about what I am to spend over the next five years, he must have an even greater complaint about what was spent over the last five years. It is a pity that he was not more vocal at that time.
There are other sectors, which are very important to the infrastructure, on which we also intend to take action. For example, the water resources of the North-East are a very important factor because sometimes the creation of a new industry is stopped because sufficient water would not be available. Therefore, I intend substantially to increase expenditure on water resources, from £2.9 million to £4 million over the coming three years.
But perhaps even more fundamental and of tremendous relevance to the location of industry, the location of housing and the quality of our rivers, is the whole problem of sewerage in the Northern Region. People tend to take no great political interest in the problems of sewerage. They are apt to look upon it as a relatively minor function. In reality, however, it can prevent development on a considerable scale. It is vastly important. I am, therefore, pleased to announce that, over the coming three years, we shall spend on sewerage schemes in the region about £45 million, which compares with a total of £l1 million spent over the last three years of the labour Government. Expenditure on sewerage will thus increase fourfold over the expenditure of the last Government, and I think that this will be of considerable help in improving the infrastructure of the region.
§ Mr. Boyden
Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman has come to some agreement on the big scheme of bringing water from the Tyne to the Tees, including a viaduct and so on?
§ Mr. Walker
I cannot comment on the details. A planning position exists in which decisions have not been announced. I know to what the hon. Gentleman is referring, but there is a planning position, and since I am in a judicial position at the moment, I cannot comment. However, that is the amount of money which we have made available for total sewerage 2333 schemes throughout the region during that period, and it will be an important contribution.
I turn to environmental policies. The Northern Region is one of the worst in relation to clean air. This is so for a number of reasons, one of them being that in areas where cheap or free coal is available to miners there is no great passion to go over to clean air policies. That is understandable. But I hope that we can forge ahead. Some Newcastle Members, two of whom are not here today, have commented about the clean air position there. I remind them that it was the last Government who, in mid-1970, suspended eight out of the 12 clean air districts in Newcastle. The fact is—and now they admit it—that they made an appalling hash of providing smokeless fuels to keep the clean air policy going.
When I arrived at the Department, I discovered that we did not have enough smokeless fuels to keep many of the clean air zones going. I immediately took action to remedy the situation, but I fear that there will be two years of permanent damage to the clean air policy as a result of the last Government's failure, and, naturally, expenditure by local authorities was affected when they knew that the Government were unwilling to keep smoke control orders going due to lack of availability of smokeless fuels. I hope that, in the Northern Region, when this temporary problem is overcome, the local authorities will do all in their power to see that the region catches up with other regions in this very important matter.
Mr. Bob Brown
Do we take it from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks—which I welcome —that he is putting a flea in the ear of the Tory-controlled Newcastle City Council to get on with the problem?
§ Mr. Walker
I prefer to put the flea in the ear of the last Government, who created the situation in which the Tory Council of Newcastle had to suspend eight of the 12 clean air orders. The hon. Gentleman was a member of the Government responsible for suspending two-thirds of the clean air areas in Newcastle, and that is a pretty bad record. It is perfectly reasonable for a local authority, when the Government suspend 2334 clean air zones, to suspend spending money on them until the Government have sorted themselves out. The fact that there has been a retreat in the clean air campaign is completely the fault of the last Government.
We expect to make substantial progress on the clearance of derelict land over the coming years. We shall increase expenditure substantially on this task. We are currently in negotiation with Durham County Council on the problem, and we shall see that there is a substantial increase in its expenditure on the clearance of derelict land. The clearance of such land is one of the most important features in improving the environment of the whole region, and I assure the House that the region will receive every encouragement from me. I intend first, over the coming months, to go to both Durham and Northumberland to discuss with the county and district councils ways in which they can improve their targets for clearance of derelict land and how in the coming years they can make much more progress than in the past.
The total position is that unemployment in the Northern Region is no worse than it was in the previous two years. The Government have just decided to give very substantial incentives to industry covering 46 per cent. of the insured population of the Northern Region. In terms of the total infrastructure, we have a road programme more ambitious than that of our predecessors. Our water resources programme is more ambitious. The sewerage programme is four times more ambitious. We are doing very much more in our drive to get derelict land cleared. The improvement grant scheme is getting a momentum far greater than that given under the last Government. Slum clearance will be given further incentive and we shall do all we can to remedy the mistakes in the clean air campaign which the last Government made. In total, that makes a far greater and more progressive contribution to the welfare of the Northern Region than anything that has previously been known.
§ Mr. Boyden
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, may I remind him that I made an important point about the nationalised industries? I think that this reveals the weakness of his position about Ministerial responsibility. He has not given us even a half sentence about 2335 the nationalised industries, which are being cut very severely. If the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for trade, industry and employment in the region, why has he said nothing about it in his speech?
§ Mr. Walker
Later in the debate, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will hope to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, and no doubt he will deal with these matters.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. David Reed (Sedgefield)
I wish that I had been the Labour Member who first used the phrase "window dressing". In fact, I must attribute it to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier). Yesterday afternoon, this House was presented with the most blatant piece of economic window dressing that I have ever experienced. However, the performance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday has been surpassed by that of the Secretary of State for Environment this morning.
The right hon. Gentleman is fond of using the expression "public relations". Today, he has presented a fine public relations package in answer to our criticisms of the Government about the rising rate of unemployment in the Northern Region, for which he and his right hon. Friends are responsible. Incidentally, if the right hon. Gentleman is at all worried about my use of the phrase "public relations", perhaps I might point out to him that before the General Election I was a public relations officer. From a professional point of view, I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) wisely pointed out, the Secretary of State has skated round the real facts which, in the Northern Region, are rising unemployment, the Government's creation of a complete lack of industrial confidence and their determination to make the regions prosperous.
In January, only one industrial development certificate was granted in the North-East, compared with the previous months when there were 20 or more on each occasion. This has happened after only nine months of the present Government. All that we are getting, once again, is a parade of Tory philosophy.
A leader in The Times once said that 2336… the Government continue to regard areas like the North as economic cemetaries, the character of which may be brightened up by planting a few flowers, straightening up a few tombstones and employing a new sexton or two, but which cannot be radically changed.If that is not exactly what the Secretary of State has said, and if his words are not a new manifestation of the original Tory philosophy, I do not know what is.
Let us consider the case for the special development areas. Obviously hon. Members on this side of the House are delighted with this extension of Government aid to the regions. However, it is an exact parallel with the actions of a Tory Government about 10 years ago when they sent the then Lord Hailsham on his whistle-stop tour of the Northern Region. Year after year, there had been rising unemployment, until the Government were pushed into a panic measure. That is exactly what has happened again but this time the time scale has been a lot shorter. However, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, pulled out of the hat yesterday the extension of the special development areas.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
There has not been a rise in unemployment in the Northern Region. In fact, this February the unemployment rate for males is lower than it was in 1970 and 1969.
§ Mr. Reed
The have rising unemployment, we have no new industry applying to come into the region, and the Government alone are responsible.
We are not discussing the immediate situation. We are concerned with the next year or two, and it must be borne in mind that projects applying now for industrial development certificates will provide the jobs in a year or two when we need them. Not only are Durham and Tees-side left out of the special development area status now but last year it took all the efforts of the regional development organisations to attract new industry in order to keep the employment rate at a standstill. Last year on Teesside alone, 2,106 new jobs were created. However, in the same period 2,009 jobs were lost due to the continuing contraction of the basic industries. 2337 That is the problem of the North. I do not claim that the policies of the previous Government were anywhere near perfect. They were not. But at least their efforts to tackle the problems were the best yet.
People in the North do not accept that a Tory Government really care about their problems. The facts are there for all to see. From 1945 to 1951, we had the two Acts of Parliament which were the fore-runners of modern development area policy. They were the Distribution of Industry Act and the Town and Country Planning Act. In that period, out of 373,000 jobs involved in movements, 237,000 went to the equivalent of what are now development areas. In the following seven years of Tory Government, 274,000 jobs were involved in movements. Only 79,000 of them went to the equivalent of the development areas. During Labour's last term of office, new jobs in the development areas totalled 387,000.
Again, that did not completely tackle the problem. But it has been argued that a continuation of that policy, given industrial confidence and the Government's determination to put the development areas right, would have solved the problem in the long term. However, the General Election intervened, and we shall never know.
Hon. Members on this side of the House want to know whether yesterday's announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and today's speech from the Secretary of State represent the full extent of the much promised review of development area policy. If they do, I shall have to warn my constituents about the bleak future that they face. I hope that they are not. I should like the Government's policy to work. Unemployment is a serious matter. Unfortunately, I do not think that the Government will go far enough.
Without going over the argument about investment allowances versus investment grants, perhaps I might read a letter that I received from an industrialist in my constituency only three days after the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last October. It says:We are extremely concerned at the Government's proposals to abolish the Regional Employment Premium and the Investment Grants.2338I can assure you that these had an extremely great influence on the policy of our firm. Because of the Investment Grants we have been able to instal, instead of secondhand equipment, better and more modern new equipment, as a result of which we have been much more competitive than we should otherwise have been. …I do hope you and your colleagues will do your utmost to ensure that some special consideration is given to the development areas, otherwise I can see nothing but disaster looming ahead.That letter was written in October. I am sure that the gentleman who wrote it did not believe that his fears would be realised only four months later.
I do not want to go too deeply into the subject of industrial development certificates, but it is important to point out one or two facts. One of the first steps taken by this Government was to relax the stick end of the stick and carrot policy Last year, 12½ million sq. ft. of factory space were involved in projects of between 5,000 and 10,000 sq. ft.—
§ Mr. Reed
Apparently the right hon. Gentleman does not agree. However, these are his own Department's figures. On a normal reckoning, about 100 jobs are involved in every 25,000 sq. ft. of factory space. In this case, 50,000 jobs were involved in projects which the Government decided deliberately to put outside their control. We cannot claim that all of them might have come to the development areas if the Government had refused industrial development certificates. But the fact remains that even a proportion of those 50,000 jobs would have ended the short-term unemployment problem in my constituency. Those are the facts about industrial development certificates, though I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will try to prove me wrong. I do not think that he will succeed.
I want to ask the Government to look at the development area problem in a different light. Hon. Members on this side of the House do not expect a Tory Government to show any real concern about unemployment in the regions. Their whole social policy in other spheres proves the lack of humanity in their approach. If they do not want to look at it from that point of view, let them consider the wasted assets. Will they accept that an effective development area 2339 policy is part of a national economic policy?
During the last five years £1,000 million of public money has gone into the Northern Region. Are the Government prepared to write off that investment, or are they willing to produce a positive policy to get the best return on it?
Let us consider the problem in another way. In the Northern Region over 60,000 people are out of work. That is the real problem. Their earning capacity is wasted. It is impossible to put an accurate figure on it, but I estimate it at approaching £1–£5 million a week of earning capacity. That does not take into account the amount coming out of Government coffers to pay their unemployment and supplementary benefits, and all the rest. All that is being wasted while the Government refuse to introduce an effective industrial attraction policy for the region. It is fine to improve the environment. The Secretary of State has announced some useful measures in that direction, but he has not produced an attractive policy for new industry.
Yesterday both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer laid great stress on the problem of inflation. They made it clear that the Government's opinion is that inflation is the greatest single economic problem. Accepting that, surely the Government realise the potential of the development areas for tackling inflation.
Let us consider the Northern Region. Per capita income is less than throughout the rest of the country. Demand for goods and services is less than in other parts of the country. Congestion in regions like the North is less than elsewhere. All these factors surely mean that the region has a vital part to play in any anti-inflationary policy which the Government are proposing to conduct.
The Government must realise that an effective national policy to tackle inflation without the necessary ingredient of an effective regional policy not only for the environment—I am sure that the Secretary of State believes most sincerely in that part of the problem—but also for attracting new industry amounts to what I should like to describe as cooking up a recipe for national economic suicide.
§ 1.13 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Elliott (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)
I should like to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for the announcement which he has made this morning regarding the North-East of England. Those proposals will in themselves be a substantial step forward in the region's well-being. My right hon. Friend's proposals on water, sewerage, roads and clearance of derelict areas—still an enormous problem in the North-East—will be greatly welcomed.
I also appreciate my right hon. Friend's suggestion that the Government will do their best to repair the damage done by the last Administration on the smokeless fuel front. I thought that the comment of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown) strange indeed. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the Conservative controlled council of Newcastle should get on with its smokeless fuel policy. The hon. Gentleman is as aware as I am of the absolute dismay of the Conservative-controlled council last winter when it discovered that, due to a remarkably futile and hopeless fuel policy on the part of the Labour Government, it had to withdraw eight of its smokeless fuel zones. I ask the hon. Gentleman at least to recognise what was said at that time by an extremely able city official, Mr. Mair, the public health inspector. I thought the hon. Gentleman's comment very odd.
Mr. Bob Brown
The hon. Gentleman must realise that the city council, under Labour control, would by the end of last year have had Newcastle completely smoke-controlled because of the provision which it has made. It is not good enough for the hon. Gentleman to hark back about the eight orders which had to be rescinded. The hon. Gentleman knows that they are being reimposed and that the Newcastle city council has mercilessly slashed its estimates down to £11,000 for smoke control, which will not control even a couple of streets.
§ Mr. Elliott
I fail to see how a Labour or a Conservative-controlled council could proceed with a smoke control policy without smokeless fuel. However, I do not wish to stay on that point. I have other matters to raise and some of my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to speak in the debate. 2341 In following the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed), I remember with considerable pleasure his period in the employment of the North-East Economic Development Council. The hon. Gentleman used to supply me, and other hon. Members, with useful statistical matter. However, I did not have the same pleasure listening to his speech today as when I used to receive his statistical matter. I should like to make one or two comments on the hon. Gentleman's speech, because some of his points were somewhat remarkable.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that the Hailsham Plan was a panic measure. The Hailsham Plan is still the basis on which regional development, not only in the North-East but in other development areas, is proceeding. [Interruption.] It it odd that I have not yet been asked to give way by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Ron Lewis). In the last four debates on the North-East, the hon. Gentleman has interrupted me during the first three minutes of my speeches. But there are obvious substitutes for the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. David Watkins (Consett) rose—
§ Mr. Elliott
I would give way to the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Watkins), but I should like to proceed with my speech.
I should like to refer to the point made by the hon. Member for Sedgefield in the context of the speech made by the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. John A. Cunningham), that the rundown of traditional industry is the measure of the problem in the North-East. Of course it is the measure of the problem in the North-East.
When I came to this House in 1957 there was full employment in the North-East. It was, and certainly still is to a degree, the rundown of our traditional industries which brought us a major problem locally. There is also a major problem nationally, with which I shall deal, which greatly affects the development areas.
The Hailsham Plan was not a panic measure. It was a sensible and worthwhile blueprint for regional development which the last Administration, although not as I should have wished it to do, followed in broad outline.
2342 The hon. Member for Sedgefield referred to I.D.cs. The hon. Gentleman is a master of statistics. However, he must surely have realised that in the past few years the development areas will, at their peril, fail to recognise the problems of expansion of industry elsewhere. When the hon. Gentleman has been in this House a little longer—certainly when he has been in this House as long as some of us—he will realise the enormous problems for the economy as a whole which come into being through the problems of the "grey" areas, as we came to call them, simply because there had been an over-emphasis on I.D.CS in development areas.
Thinking of one of the most prosperous areas in the country, I ask the hon. Gentleman not to fail to recognise the warning in the newspapers this morning of rising unemployment in Birmingham. I wish wholeheartedly to retain the differential regarding Government aid and assistance to the development areas, but it is the health and strength of the economy of the country as a whole which is the basis for regional prosperity.
§ Mr. David Reed
In regard to my statistics, before I came to this House, I had to take an entirely non-political rôle. I am thankful that I do not have to do so any more. The thing about Lord Hailsham's visit was not the report he produced but the fact that the Government, before sending him to the region, had ignored the problem. That was my point. On industrial development certificates, if the hon. Gentleman and his Government believe that control of those certificates in other parts of the country is stifling industrial investment which in any case might not go to the development areas, it is surely in their power to relax them even more.
§ Mr. Elliott
On the last point, the Hunt Report recommended a considerably greater relaxation. We must play this one along as things develop. But the health and strength of the national economy is the main base on which we shall eventually know prosperity in the regions.
I must refer to one point which the hon. Gentleman made which we on this side wholly deplore —the suggestion that there is no concern on this side for the 2343 unemployed of the Northern Region or anywhere else. It is remarkable that such a statement could be made in modern times. I have taken part now in a considerable number of debates on the problems of the North-East. Between the beginning of the last Session of the Labour Government and the General Election in June, through one medium or another, I managed to speak five times on this subject.
But I have been speaking on it longer than that. When I say that, I am expressing the concern which I certainly have always felt, on this side of the House or on the other, about unemployment. The debates have varied over the years. Generally, there has been a variation of the weight of the problem, but the problem of the region has always been there. Certainly, until today, there has been joint recognition on both sides that high unemployment in the North-East is completely unacceptable to both major parties. We have worked together to at least some degree, in our attempt to overcome it.
Therefore, I would again deplore not so much the presence of the Motion on the Paper—I, like my right hon. Friend, welcome it, because it is yet another occasion when we can discuss the problems of the region—but I certainly deplore its content, or rather, I would have altered its content.
It is critical of a Government who have been in office since 18th June, 1970, and the date now is only February, 1971. It is wholly ludicrous to suggest that problems of unemployment are caused by a Government who have been in office for seven months. The hon. Member was right to be critical, but he should have criticised the six-and-a-half years of Labour Government.
§ Dr. John A. Cunningham
Will the hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that what I said was that I was not claiming that the previous Government had solved the problem? That was the first point. Second, I said that we were objecting to the doctrinaire changes in those policies before any realistic assessment of the true effect had been made. Those are the bases of our objections. No one suggests that we had solved the problem.
§ Mr. Elliott
I am grateful: at least we have had a recognition now that the problems were not solved. But the hon. Gentleman talks of a realistic assessment of policies. The Labour Party was in office for six and a half years. That was a good long period in which to assess the working of policies—certainly a better period than seven months.
A great deal has been said this morning about the difference between grants and allowances. The hon. Member for Whitehaven referred to it in his first speech and indirectly in his intervention just now. A great deal has been said about cancellation of investment in the development areas and in the North-East in particular because of the change of policy. I would call in aid here Dr. William Reid, the acting Chairman of the Economic Planning Council, who is quoted in The Times Business News on 28th January, 1971, as saying that there is no evidence at all to suggest that a change of policy has led to any cancellations. He acknowledges that a change of policy has led to certain postponements, but of course the main reason for the slowing down of investment is not so much change of policy as the fact that we have inherited, as a party in office, a stagnant economy.
If only hon. Members opposite—I have said this before in debates of this nature—would appreciate that, to a businessman, a grant may be very important but it is not, never has been and never will be everything. It is only part of his investment, and on any investment it is not the grant which the businessman thinks of in the long term. Initially, it is of course of assistance to him. It is not any taxation relief which he may receive in a development area as against outside the development areas which are his main consideration. His main consideration, however unpalatable it may be for hon. Members opposite, is the profit which his concern will eventually make.
When we talk of changing policy, we are hoping that we are, in our changes of policy, in investment allowances as against investment grants, encouraging the making of profits. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) wisely said, unless this country makes profits, both in private and in public industry, there is very little future for it.
I am afraid that the criticisms made this morning have a hollow ring from 2345 the Labour Party. It is necessary to repeat some statistics. In 1964, 40,267 people were unemployed in the Northern Region; in 1970, the figure was 67,573. Yet we are given the full responsibility after just seven months in office for this fantastic increase—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman was not in the House when the Conservative Government lost office in 1964, and he was not here in 1966 either.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) has written in a newspaper this morning of window-dressing and a public relations exercise. We knew all about public relations exercises when we moved to that side of the House in 1964. We did not know how to plan, we were told by the new Labour Administration. We had not been able to plan, but all this was to be changed. The economic planning councils were to change things overnight, the Labour Government would think in a much bigger way, there was to be a hot line from the desk in Welbar House to the desk of Lord George-Brown in the newly created Department of Economic Affairs.
Whatever happened to the hot line, to the bigger and broader thinking? Whatever happened to the Department of Economic Affairs? Whatever happened to the National Plan? I would remind the hon. Member that the National Plan was to be the basis for the cure of all our ills, with its estimated essential basic annual 4 per cent. expansion in our economic position as a nation. We have not had that 4 per cent. increase. Whatever happened to the National Plan? It is gone, forgotten. I would say to the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West that his recent suggestion that the Conservatives were turning the North-East into a derelict area was reminiscent of other days. Such wild statements do great harm.
The hon. Member for Whitehaven delivered his speech extremely ably, but he did not get to the root of the trouble, which is the fact that the difficulties of the North-East of England, which we are united in our hope to overcome, stem not from 1964 but from the dawning of that July morning in 1966 when his right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) announced his freeze and squeeze. The North-East has suffered from that ever since, as have all 2346 other development areas. In just over two years of the right hon. Gentleman's Chancellorship, Government expenditure increased by one-third, yet industrial production increased not at all.
Then came the Chancellorship of his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), who yesterday talked in glowing terms of his period in office. My hon. Friends remember that period as being one of greatly increased taxation. His predecessor at the Treasury having raised Government expenditure, the right hon. Member for Stechford was obliged to raise taxation to cover it, and he did it mainly through indirect taxation, and that led to a rapidly rising cost of living and a wave of wage demands.
The right hon. Member for Stechford told us at the time, when we expressed in opposition our great concern about the rising cost of living, that all would be well. "It will be all right because the Government will introduce a prices and incomes policy." Should that be added to the Department of Economic Affairs, the National Plan, the hot line and the rest? That, too, went and, as it went, the floodgates of wage demands were opened. Rampant inflation is the big trouble of the North-East today, and it got out of hand at the time of the Labour Government.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot expect the Conservative Government to have overcome all these difficulties in seven months. However, we are changing the policy for the development areas. We will phase out R.E.P. Our memory on this subject is good because we have been hard up against it all the time. We were told, on the introduction of R.E.P., that it would bring quick results in employment and that unemployment would go down rapidly.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart), who was at the Department of Economic Affairs, having been at the Foreign Office, to which he eventually returned, told me in answer to a Question that R.E.P. would bring quick results in reducing unemployment. Quick results have not come. Our criticism is that that policy was indiscriminate. We have had enormous investment through investment 2347 grants, but we still have high unemployment in the North-East.
Our criticism is simple. It is that the aid has been indiscriminate and has not been attached to jobs created and expanding production. We intend to attach future aid to jobs created and to the creation of healthy and viable business in the North-East.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield said that the North-East had a big part to play in creating national prosperity. I agree, and aid under the Conservatives is designed to encourage the North-East to play its part in the creation of national prosperity, which I believe it will do in the next four years.
I remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that our criticism of the Labour Government in 1964 was not immediate, unlike the criticism of the Conservatives by the hon. Member for Whitehaven. Nor was our criticism immediate in 1966, though we were quick enough to criticise after the July freeze and squeeze. We gave hon. Gentlemen opposite their chance. They should judge us on our results and performance and I hope that, if unemployment is overcome by our measures for the North-East, as I believe it will be, the hon. Member for Whitehaven will table a Motion congratulating the Conservative Government for what they achieved.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Mrs. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)
How much would it be a surprise to Parliament if, at some future date, we could table the sort of Motion that the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) mentioned in his closing words?
One need only look at the history of the Conservatives in power to realise that their total approach to planning in its effect, on the economic or social aspects of employment, has failed, and will probably continue to fail, lamentably.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North chided me for calling yesterday's announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer "window dressing". Does the hon. Gentleman expect me to go down on my knees and say, "Thank you, Tony, for those beneficial measures for the North-East?"
§ Mr. R. W. Elliott
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in innumerable debates and at Question Time the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) have asked for exactly what the Conservative Government gave them yesterday—though they asked the same of the Labour Government, but in vain?
§ Mr. Bagier
That intervention shows the folly of giving way. Had I not given way, the hon. Gentleman would have seen that I was about to deal with that point.
I was wondering whether hon. Gentlemen opposite expected my hon. Friends to go down on our knees to thank the Chancellor for making our part of the country a special development area when we must first analyse what the likely effects of that will be. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and I were asking the Labour Government for special development area status, we were asking for that status in addition to the existing grants which the then Government were giving to the regions.
We now have the old Tory "con" trick of a package deal which, in total, will result in a net reduction of cash inflow into the region of between 12 per cent. and 15 per cent. This is the estimate of the North-East Development Council. Before I applaud the Chancellor's announcement I want to know the net effect; in other words, will it take us back to the equivalent of what we were getting before the switch in investment grants and investment allowances?
I will remind the Secretary of State, who is now responsible for our region, what he has claimed for his latest statement. I hope that things will improve, but I very much doubt whether they will. We have had a number of contradictory statements from Ministers. For example, earlier this month, in answer to a supplementary question from the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), said:The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, agree that there has been a downturn in general business activity as a result of the policies pursued by the last Government. Surely it is not beyond his wit to realise that nothing this Government have done has 2349 altered the economic and industrial climate as yet."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1971; Vol. 811, c. 1196.]He must be joking. Practically every industrialist in the development areas has roundly condemned the transfer from development grants to investment allowances.
And if, as the Minister has said, there has been no such alteration, does the hon. Gentleman disagree with his Prime Minister who on Tuesday admitted that in the development areas two firms had abandoned plans to go to development areas on the ground of the change of industrial investment? The right hon. Gentleman also understood that 37 firms were reviewing their position but that investment allowances were not necessarily the reason. So the Prime Minister admits that there is a change in business climate, with 37 companies reviewing their position and two having already cancelled their plans. We cannot get statistical evidence of industrialists who had been thinking of moving into the development areas.
I know that I cannot blame the present Government for the existing situation. I appreciate that we had 61½ years in power, with high unemployment during that period. As one of the hon. Members representing Sunderland, a town in which 36 men are chasing every vacancy, no one knows that better than I do. I appreciate what unemployment means, but I should like the Government spokesman to explain why the atmosphere has changed so dramatically in the last eight months among industrialists who were thinking of moving into the region. Why has investment stagnation occurred, not only throughout the country but especially in the North-East?
Why, with this very high unemployment problem, have the Government felt it so important first of all to dilute the investment development certificate system? Why was it one of their priorities to dilute that system by increasing the required area from 5,000 sq. ft. to 10,000 sq. ft.? Why did they feel it so important to allow further office building up to the 10,000 square foot level in the Metropolitan area? The answers to such questions vitally affect the regions, because if these people know that they have the Government behind them in building 2350 in the Metropolis they will not look elsewhere.
Perhaps the Minister can give me some idea how he feels about the effect on the regions of the removal of grant and its replacement by investment allowance. Will he try to come clean with the House in this very important debate dealing with a very important region, and say how much the Government think this cash inflow into the regions will amount to? If the North-East Development Council says that the figure is between 12 per cent. and 15 per cent., is that right? Can he give us some idea of what is involved?
How much does he think is involved in the Government's shelving of the Inland Revenue computer centre? My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterle-Street (Mr. Pentland), my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North and myself welcomed the fact that that project was to come to Washington New Town and to create about 3,000 new commercial jobs there. But among the first activities of the Government in the last eight months has been the shelving of something that would have created some much-needed jobs of this type. It is measures of this sort that the Government have taken in the last eight months, and it is not good enough for them now to harp on about 6½ years of Labour Government creating these conditions.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North said that these things were not greatly affecting the North. and that his Government had not had time to do all they wished. If he feels that whatever his Government have done or may do has not affected the North, how does he explain the one barometer, which is so important, that in the whole of January in the whole of the North-East of England one industrial development certificate was granted, creating jobs for 33 males and two females? Twelve months ago, 19 industrial development certificates were granted in the Northern Region, creating well over 1,000 new jobs. That was not the great be-all-and-end-all, because there was a requirement for more.
The Government have had eight months in which to decide how to deal with the development districts, but their decision was announced almost as soon 2351 as they came into office, and was put into operation in October. The end product has been to bring almost complete stagnation to the North-East, with a continuing rundown of industries already there. We see a bleak future.
Any joy which the Secretary of State may draw from the fact that the Northern Region has not been quite so badly affected as the rest of the country in the move towards high unemployment probably results from the fact that some 3,000 mining jobs have been required, but there is no joy for me in the fact that in my constituency overall unemployment has risen from 6.2 per cent. to 7.1 per cent. in one month. As that increase has occurred in one of the mildest winters we have had in many years, we cannot blame climatic conditions.
I have heard many suggestions by the hon. Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne, North on many occasions, but I must confess that his suggestion that we must make the Birmingham area or the South-East area so prosperous that some of that prosperity rubs off in the North—
§ Mr. Bagier
The hon. Gentleman says, "No", but that was the philosophy he was expounding just the other week in the radio programme "Grass Roots". Speaking of industrial development certificates he then said:That is why I too would disagree so strongly with the direction of industry from the South-East, from Birmingham or from anywhere else. The whole trouble with the development areas in the past few years has been that our national economy has not been expanding.I agree with the latter part of that statement, but if he is arguing, as a Northern Member, that we must so expand the Midlands and the South that whatever spills over may come to the North, I can only say that his philosophy is vastly different from mine.
§ Mr. R. W. Elliott
The hon. Member is grossly exaggerating what I said. Both today and in the broadcast which he has very kindly quoted I emphasised that the trouble with the North-East was the failure of the Labour Government's central economic policy; that we were running hard into trouble two or three years ago, as the hon. Gentleman will admit 2352 if he is honest, in regard to the grey areas and the rigid adherence to industrial development certificates. I was suggesting that where the national economy could benefit by issue of industrial development certificates, that could in the longer term assist the development areas. To infer from that modest suggestion that I was saying that we should "rub off" from Birmingham and the South-East is a gross exaggeration.
§ Mr. Bagier
Birmingham, of course, is not a grey area. If I am being unfair to the hon. Gentleman, I am sure that he is quite capable of defending himself here and elsewhere.
In Sunderland we feel that we have had a very difficult time over quite a number of years for all sorts of reasons. I welcome the inclusion of Sunderland as a special development area, with the reservation that I want to know what the sums will be. It would be churlish not to welcome it. If it were successful, I should be the first to say so. With about 6,500 males out of work, I am looking for jobs from wherever they come.
I question whether it will be effective. I hope that the rub-off from the Rolls-Royce situation can be settled. I have about 750 men working at a Rolls-Royce factory in Sunderland. If they are added to those already unemployed, we shall rapidly reach a disastrous situation. Seven hundred and fifty men added to the figure which I have mentioned would make it extremely difficult, especially in view of the fact that when firms like Rolls-Royce came to the North-East, we showed that we could handle this type of work. This was highly skilled precision engineering, and the factory in Sunderland albeit small by Rolls-Royce standards, is one of the most highly skilled and well-managed, and certainly may be the happiest factory which Rolls-Royce has.
I hope that in whatever very important negotiations take place, the situation in Sunderland will be borne in mind. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman replies he will answer the questions which I have specifically asked. Will he do his sums and say what the package deal is which has been trickling out since October? Will he say whether the net figure is an appreciable increase for 2353 the North-East, the same as it was, or less?
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier). As I listened to his words I had to ask myself what they would do to help new industry come to his constituency. When I heard the rather grudging welcome which he gave to the extension of special development area status to his constituency, I felt that he was doing little justice to it.
I warmly welcome the fact that Sunderland is to be included in a special development area. I say that as one whose family came from Sunderland and as one whose name is borne still by a well known business in Sunderland.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. John A. Cunningham) is not in the Chamber. I shall say a good deal about what he said.
I am the only other Conservative Member from that part of the Northern Region likely to take part in the debate. Westmorland is in the northern planning region, although this is the first time in the debate that the name of Westmorland has been uttered. I hope that the hon. Member for Whitehaven will return before long, when I shall be able to deal with some of the points he raised.
Part of the Motion talks about Government action to create a better environment in the Northern Region. I begin by speaking of my constituency and its problems in creating a better environment, because people from the whole of the Northern Region, and from the whole of Northern England, spend a good deal of their time visiting my constituency and seeing the beauty of the National Park and the Lake District.
We have today a growing problem of the sheer numbers of tourists coming to the National Park. The Lake District is a very small place. There is no doubt that we are in danger of having the amenity and beauty spoilt by the sheer weight of numbers of visitors. This has been made much of a problem by the recent opening of the M6 Motorway, in that it is now possible to drive from Gloucestershire right into my constituency, 2354 into the outskirts of the Lake District, on the motorway.
To deal with this influx of visitors in future, there will be an added responsibility on the Lake District Planning Board. The announcement this week of proposals of the Secretary of State for the Environment to reorganise local government and to create a single upper tier authority, which for the sake of ease I will call Cumbria—Cumberland, Westmorland and North Lancashire— will no doubt help to make a better and better co-ordinated body as far as the Lake District Planning Board is concerned. It will make the administration of the Lake District from a planning point of view a good deal easier.
I am very pleased to read in paragraph 26 of the White Paper thatIn the Government's view, very little change is needed in the present statutory provisions governing planning functions in national parks. They intend that the two existing Planning Boards should be retained.However, I am still somewhat worried about certain aspects of the activities of the Lake District Planning Board. Some of my constituents heartily dislike and hate the board, although most people feel that it does a most difficult job in a reasonable way. The difficulty is that people find the board very remote indeed and feel that it has far too little consideration for the interests and problems of the local people who live within the Lake District. People are perplexed by some of the planning decisions which the board makes. One will sometimes find that a caravan park will sprout in an otherwise unspoilt valley overnight, vet someone who wants to put up a garage or garden shed has great difficulty in doing so. I hope that the Secretary of State, when he strengthens the powers of the planning board—which I am sure he will have to do—to create a better environment in the future, which the Motion speaks of, will give much thought to the membership of the planning board when it has this added responsibility. There is already talk that the sheer weight of numbers of people coming to the Lake District will mean that the planning board will have to control the traffic on certain roads. Proposals are being discussed regarding the control of traffic, for instance, in the Langdale Valley, which will be known to all hon. Members. This 2355 will mean that the greatest care and delicacy will have to be exercised in finding suitable members who will be able to maintain the confidence of the local people. I must warn that the confidence of the local people in the board is at present in some doubt. I hope that the Government will give careful thought to this matter.
No good was done by a report in last Sunday's Observer of the annual general meeting of the Ramblers' Association, at which the National Secretary, Mr. Christopher Hall, is reported to have said that he thought that the administration of National Parks is in a shambles. He said that, as the Minister appoints only a third of the members of park committees, this gave local councillors a two to one majority. He said that there was no doubt that this system had militated against the protection of National Parks.
That was a very unhelpful statement. The worst thing that can happen in parts of the country of great environmental beauty is for people to try to stir up conflict between the local people and people who live in other areas, such as the North-East, Lancashire and Yorkshire and who spend so much time in the Lake District National Park. I hope that a conflict will not be built up between those who live inside and those who live outside our parks.
I turn to the problems of communications and transport in my part of England. Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Chancellor referred to the importance of infrastructure. I want to say something about the roads in the North-West. I have mentioned the M6, which now goes right through Westmorland and which will create many jobs, particularly in North Westmorland which has had a serious depopulation problem. The creation of such a new super-highway creates a spin off of jobs which will be very welcome.
Mr. Bob Brown
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to thank the Labour Government for the creation of this super-highway.
§ Mr. Jopling
I am interested that the hon. Gentleman should say that, particularly in view of his experience at the Ministry of Transport. The planning of that stretch of motorway was begun before the Labour Government came to 2356 power and it is very odd that he should take credit for something which was already in the pipeline.
There will be an improved road system when the Kendal western bypass is opened later this year and it will take much of the remaining traffic out of Kendal. Most of the traffic which formerly used Kendal has disappeared with the opening of the M6.
In terms of an improving environment the Government can do much to help with the improvement of Kendal as a tourist centre. People remember Kendal as a place of delays, traffic jams, exhaust fumes and frustration. [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) should enter the Chamber just as I am talking about Kendal. The hon. Gentleman is a great champion of the snuff industry and he knows that Kendal is the place where the most famous snuff in Britain is made. The hon. Gentleman and I have done a good deal to try to help British snuff manufacturers.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
I am interested, not only in snuff, but also in the North-East, my native town being Sunderland. I only wish that the Sunderland football team would do a little better, because that would improve the morale of the whole of the North-East.
§ Mr. Jopling
If the hon. Gentleman had been here when I began my speech he would have heard me say that my family also comes from Sunderland, a fact which perhaps he did not know. I hope that the Government will think, if they get the opportunity—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—of giving help to the ancient town of Kendal.
The other road which has an important rôle in the future of the North-West is the A66 which goes east-west from Scotch Corner. What is to be done about improving this road? The plans are rather vague at present. It would be of the greatest benefit if the section of the A66 from Keswick across to Penrith could be improved as soon as possible. Great problems are caused to the amenity of the central part of the Lake District because much of the heavy road haulage traffic which is going to the West Cumberland coast from the south cuts off the the motorway at Carnforth and goes up through Kendal, Windermere, Ambleside. 2357 Grasmere and Keswick, and thence across to the West Cumberland coast.
If the A66 could be improved from Penrith across to Keswick, much of the heavy haulage transport, which is doing a good deal to spoil the beautiful towns and villages I have mentioned, would go up the motorway to Penrith and then straight across to Keswick. That route might be a little further, but it would be a much easier route with many fewer twists, turns and hills.
The last stretch of the A66 which I want to mention is that from Penrith through Westmorland across Stainmore Summit to Scotch Corner. This stretch of road must be improved. I received a letter from a member of the previous Government—I suspect that it was from the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown)—saying that he thought that the traffic had little difficulty on the A66 between Penrith and Scotch Corner. This was the most arrant nonsense. This is a ghastly road. It ponders its way through many villages; it twists and turns in its ascent and descent of Stainmore.
Within the last few days I have received evidence to the effect that, although many people thought that the M6 motorway would take a lot of traffic off the A66 between Penrith and Scotch Corner, this does not seem to have happened. A constituent of mine who runs a good deal of heavy transport from that part of the world visited me here only last week and told me that there seems to be just as much traffic as ever on this stretch of the A66. I hope that the Government will be able to do something about it as soon as possible.
The final stretch of road to which I shall refer—I am glad that the hon. Member for Whitehaven has returned and that I have been able to save up what I want to say about him until his return—is the state of the Barrow link road. This has been the subject of a public inquiry within the last few months. It concerns a proposed viaduct across the top of Morecambe Bay which would undoubtedly improve the road communications to Millom, West Cumberland and Barrow.
Can the Government give us some idea when the report of the inquiry will be published? I attended the inquiry and gave evidence to the effect that I 2358 thought that it was wrong at this stage to be deciding whether or not the Barrow link road should be built across the Morecambe Bay at Arnside, because later this year we shall receive the report of the Morecambe Bay Feasibility Study and we shall hear what conclusions the Water Resources Board has reached about the possibility of making this tremendous estuarial water a conservation scheme of one sort or another.
There are many alternatives. The possibility of a full barrage right across the lower end of the Bay is one. There are other schemes to link the Cartmel Peninsula with parts of Lancashire and to trap the two estuaries there. Any one of even the less attractive schemes of road communication in the Morecambe Bay survey would give a better road communications system to Barrow than the Barrow link road.
Some months ago in the House I asked what was the distance from Carnforth on the M6 across to Barrow, first of all by the existing route, and the answer was 36 miles; secondly, by the Barrow link road, on which there has just been an inquiry, and the answer was 30 miles; and finally, the distance using one of the schemes which are under study by the Water Resources Board in Morecambe Bay, and the answer was 24 miles. I went to the public inquiry and I said that I thought it was wrong to decide at this stage whether or not to go ahead with the Barrow link road when a much better communications system might emerge later in the year from the Morecambe Bay study. I hope that we shall get a decision as soon as possible and that when the Morecambe Bay survey report is produced the Government will deal with it with the greatest speed. It will have tremendous importance in the north-west of England—
§ Mr. Jopling
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Whitehaven nodding his head. I hope that nothing will be done to delay the implementation of the report when it emerges.
I should now like to refer to the hon. Member for Whitehaven, who is my neighbour constituency-wise. First, I should like to say how grateful I am to him for introducing this debate on 2359 the Northern Region. I am sorry that he put down this Motion. I am sure that, having heard what has been said in regret a good deal of Motion.
I feel rather sorry for the hon. Member. I think I can understand what happened. He drew first place in the Ballot and he was consumed with this worthy desire to have a debate on the Northern Region. But the trouble is—and it happens to many of us; it happens to many better men than he and I—that when one first enters this House one listens to the Whips. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman wanted a perfectly innocuous debate dealing with the whole strategy, on reasonably non-political lines, and the Whips said "You cannot do this. Do you not know that there is a thing called the Industrial Relations Bill, with the guillotine? You must have a real punchy Motion so that we can try to beat the Government about the head with something." I feel sure that is what happened. My advice to the hon. Gentleman is, "Put not your trust in the Whips".
§ Dr. John A. Cunningham
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his references to myself. But on this point he is rather wide of the mark. There was no interference from the Whips. Indeed, I was presented with a list of possible topics by the Whips, but this was not one of them.
§ Mr. Jopling
When the hon. Gentleman reads tomorrow what I said, I do not think he will find that it conflicts with what he has said. I am sure the hon. Gentleman regrets putting down this Motion, particularly in view of what he heard in yesterday's debate and what my right hon. Friend has said today.
It seems to me quite clear that the extension of the special development area concept to Tyneside and Wearside will be much welcomed in those localities. I am surprised that some hon. Members opposite have been talking glibly about window dressing. I believe that, as my right hon. Friend said, they will come to regret those remarks when the next election arrives. I hope that the hon. Member for Whitehaven has not been talking about window dressing. I took the trouble to see what he said in his address at the 2360 last election. In his main appeal to the electorate, he did not decry the special development areas. He said:Labour has made almost the whole constituency a special development area with generous incentives to industry setting up new factories here.That is what he said about the special development areas. I am surprised that his hon. Friends should shout it down as window dressing when we are extending and strengthening the special development area concept so that even more money will be put in.
I do not think there are any grounds for criticising the Government. I should have thought that instead of putting down a Motion which is critical of the Government, the hon. Gentleman would have done better to have had a post mortem in the Labour Party and criticised his own late Ministerial friends. It seems to me that when one considers West Cumberland, this is one of the sorrier stories of the previous Government's actions.
I have been looking at the unemployment figures in the hon. Gentleman's constituency for Whitehaven, Cleaton Moor and Millom. Whereas the unemployment rate in 1965 was 4 per cent., in 1969 and 1970, taking the average of the six monthly figures, the figure was 7.2 per cent. I know the reason, as the hon. Gentleman explained very well in his speech. The reason is largely the tragedy of Millom. This town, with its tragic situation, with which I am sure we all sympathise, is a grim memorial to the inactivity in West Cumberland of the previous Government. They did nothing to help Millom when it was beset with its troubles. They have done very little to revive that tragic town.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Houghton-le-Spring)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting, in his remarks about the benefits and advantages which are likely to flow to Tyneside and Wearside as a result of the bestowal of special development area status, that the situation is any different from that which applied in Millom when Millom Hematite closed and the Labour Government bestowed similar status on Millom? Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that a miracle can be performed now because the Conservative Government are doing this as opposed to the Labour Government?
§ Mr. Jopling
I am quoting from the hon. Gentleman's election address. It was he who seemed to set such great store on the special development areas. If the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) would like to see his hon. Friend's election address, I shall be delighted to pass it over to him. I am saying that in Millom we had an extraordinary and tragic situation, but still the Labour Government were not prepared to do anything about it, in spite of all their high-flown phrases. The business of West Cumberland and its problems go much wider than this. It is not just Millom. I am surprised that no one has mentioned this document which I have in my hand, which emanated from the Northern Economic Planning Council, entitled, "Outline Strategy for the North". It is an outline strategy of development up to 1981. I am surprised that nobody has mentioned it. I suppose that, like the National Plan, we have all conveniently forgotten about it.
§ Mr. Garrett
The reason that we have not mentioned it is that the hon. Gentleman has been talking so long about West Cumberland.
§ Mr. Jopling
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, the initiator of this debate is a West Cumberland Member. As the nearest Conservative Member to his constituency and the only one from that area taking part in the debate, surely I am entitled to make some remarks about West Cumberland.
I was about to say that in that document, which I do not remember the Labour Government trying to rescind, the whole point appeared to be that the economy of West Cumberland would be allowed to die and the population would be absorbed in Carlisle—I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Ron Lewis) is here—and to a lesser extent in Penrith.
I quote from paragraph 34 of that document:For this reason, it is unrealistic, within the time scale of this strategy, to plan for any major growth or population increase in this area.That is what the last Labour Government tolerated in West Cumberland. We should not have critical Motions against the present Government after only nine months in office, when the last Govern- 2362 ment behaved so appallingly badly to West Cumberland.
§ Mr. Ron Lewis
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his reference to Carlisle; I appreciate it. But I would prefer it much more if, instead of hogging the time in an exercise merely to beat the clock, he would give way, so that hon. Members from Carlisle and other parts of the region could have their say.
§ Mr. Jopling
The hon. Member for Whitehaven took well over 30 minutes, and I have taken about 30 minutes. We all have a good deal to say. I have nearly finished.
The hon. Member for Whitehaven and the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) said that no new employers had been coming to the area. That is the result of six years of stagnation by the previous Government. Employers are reluctant to set up factories in the Northern Region because we have had industrial stagnation for six years—the worst stagnation this century.
§ Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)
On a point of order. Mr Deputy Speaker, may I draw your attention to the fact that although hon. Members on the Government side represent less than one-fifth of those from the Northern Region they have already taken up 120 minutes of the debate as against 79 for the Opposition. I submit that there has been a good deal of filibustering this morning.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
I am sure that the hon. Member knows that that is not a point of order. No doubt his words have been heard by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
§ 2.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I shall speak only briefly because I am conscious that many other hon. Members wish to raise urgent issues affecting their constituencies in the Northern Region and will want replies to their questions.
I start by paying tribute to my good friend and colleague, Mr. Arthur Skeffington, who has just died. We worked together on many matters. He will be particularly known for his enormous enthusiasm for the open air, trees and the planting of trees, footpaths 2363 and footways and, perhaps above all, for the committee of which he was chairman—the Committee on Participation, which may prove to be of long lasting benefit and importance.
I am concerned about the subject of our debate because a headline appeared in my local newspaper last night, sayingDole Queues Worst for Eight Years.Like the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) I have been very critical of past Governments for not doing enough for the North-East. With others, I have campaigned hard to have the constituency that I represent designated a special development area, and I should be the last to complain about the proposed extension of development areas on Tyneside. I recognise that when we were pressing this on our own Government—and I wish that they had given way then—we were concentrating on the older mining areas in West Durham and elsewhere—areas that needed urgent attention. I appreciate that if we tried to spread these areas too widely we should endanger the whole proposal.
§ Mr. Armstrong
May I draw the attention of my hon. Friend to the fact that the whole of my constituency is a special development area? It has three new advance factories, which are at present untenanted. He should not imagine that the conferment of special development area status will solve his problems. It is the kiss of death to areas like West Durham.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I hope that that will not prove to be the case in South Shields, where for years we have suffered from excessive male unemployment, now risen to the highest figure of all—nearly 13 per cent. This is a matter of extreme urgency and concern for an area like mine.
I welcome the fact that the seriousness of the position is recognised to the extent of our having the attendance of the Minister, and a speech from him earlier in the debate. I want to take up immediately a point that he raised when he took credit for a large expansion in the provision of finance for sewerage development which he properly regarded as an important matter. I am concerned about this because one of the biggest sewerage development schemes on the Tyne has 2364 been awaiting Ministerial approval for the last nine months. I know that objection was taken, but the hearing was held months ago. I hope that we shall be able to get ahead with that scheme. If the Minister is going to take credit for the expansion of sewerage work for the region, I hope that he will be able shortly to announce his approval of the scheme to which I have referred. I had hoped that he would announce it today.
§ Dame Irene Ward
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the grant has been held up? It is due to some noxious substance appearing at the mouth of the Tyne. He will be interested to know that I have a Question down on the subject.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The hon. Lady will remember that she has already spoken for nearly an hour. This sort of thing is a little trying, because we are anxious to allow our colleagues to take part in the debate.
I want to put three or four urgent questions to the Minister. I have given him notice of some of them. We want action on them, because we want the debate to be practical and valuable. In my constituency a high proportion of people work in the shipbuilding and ship repair industry, on both sides of the river. They work in the hon. Lady's constituency, in Smith's Dock, and in many repair yards on the south side of the river. We are deeply anxious about the future of the ship repair industry. Our concern has been aggravated by the Government's refusal to do anything to help maintain Palmer's Yard on the Tyne. and what we fear may be its consequences on other proposed developments.
We know that the industry presented a report on its future last autumn, but we have not yet heard a word as to what action the Government intend to take. We understand that the industry put forward a number of practical and detailed proposals, including measures to encourage British shipowners to put their repair work into British yards. We want to know the Government's answer to those practical proposals, and whether they intend to do anything to bring ship repairing into the general framework of aid for the shipbuilding industry.
We note that the new Bill extends the guarantee scheme, but we have had no 2365 word about the Shipbuilding Board, and whether the grants made by it in the past will continue. In view of what the Government have been saying in respect of other matters, grave anxiety is felt about the whole future of the shipbuilding and ship repair industry, in terms of Government co-operation. I should like to know what the Government intend to do about the report of the industry and its recommendations.
A good deal has been said by the Government, even before they took office, about how they intended to improve communications. I pay tribute to the last Labour Government for the immense improvement in road communications in the Northern Region, particularly on the north-eastern side. I wish that we could say the same about rail communications. I hope that we shall be able to go ahead with the improvement of the railway on both sides of the River Tyne but especially from Newcastle to South Shields. This matter has been raised many times and promises have been given that there will be a serious attempt to raise the standards. Why this has not been started, I do not know. It is urgently needed.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
The Government have approved substantial improvements there, and the timing is up to the Board of British Railways and not to the Government.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I was assured months ago that approval had been given, but I am anxious to see the work done. The impression one gets when travelling down the railway line is absolutely appalling. If any business man ever made the mistake of travelling down the line—which is unlikely—he would think the conditions in the whole area were disgraceful. This must be tackled without further delay.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to do what he has promised to do in speeding up the clearance of dereliction. This can be a complicated and difficult problem in some areas. In South Shields there is a need for a small committee, representative of the Department for the Environment and the Corporation of South Shields, to iron out on the spot complicated problems of ownership and other problems which are holding up the major clearance work in that area.
2366 South Shields is an area, not altogether peculiar in this part of the country, with a most magnificent and remarkable coastline, which we want to protect. At the same time, as recommended by the Countryside Commission, there is need for the development of new entertainment facilities in the older part of the town. I hope, therefore, that we shall have the Secretary of State's co-operation and help in continuing the protection of the cliffs, the open coastline, the sands, bays and harbours and, at the same time, in encouraging the new entertainment industries to develop in the older, urban part of the area. These are the few matters on which I hope we shall have a reply before the debate ends.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ Mr. John Sutcliffe (Middlesbrough, West)
The last debate on the Northern Region took place exactly a year ago—in fact, there were two debates last winter—and we who are from the North are extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. John A. Cunningham) for affording us the opportunity of again discussing the North.
I cannot agree with the terms of the Motion; they are far too partisan and premature. When the hon. Gentleman himself admits that, after pumping £1,000 million into the North to encourage industry, there are still many unsolved problems, I hardly think the terms of the Motion are justified. Certainly the achievements of the Labour Government do not match up to the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the Conservative Government's performance in seven months.
I do not want to waste the time of the House by disputing the record of the parties, or indulging in party polemics, but I would like to pick up something which my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) said which positively asked for a come-back from me. She said that Tees-side was getting too great an advantage and she called for a better balance in aid in the North-East. I feel strongly about this, and dispute what she says, especially on communications. The conurbation of Tees-side, with its vast potential and its great industrial complex, is not even connected by a through dual carriageway to the Al, and we shall not be connected directly to the Al and to the national road network until about 1974 or 1975. 2367 We do not even have a through rail link. The money that has been spent on communications— and a lot of money has been spent on roads in Durham and the North-East generally—has been spent north of Tees-side.
On Tees-side, S.E.T. has aggravated the imbalance between service and manufacturing. We are desperately short of office jobs. I appealed to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently to remove S.E.T. from the development areas, but I do not think he accepted this idea. The removal of S.E.T. would cost £120 million and reduce the S.E.T. revenue by about one-fifth. We should like to see S.E.T. removed, even if the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to do it by stages.
I do not want to argue about the relative advantages of grants over allowances, except to say that the Government White Paper on Investment Incentives (Cmnd. 4516) in paragraph 5 stated:In deciding to end the investment grants scheme the Government are conscious of the need to avoid any sudden reduction in companies' cash flow and the profitability of their investment.This consciousness of the need to avoid sudden reduction is not very evident. The Government appear to be taking a rather inflexible attitude towards investment plans of certain companies the cost of whose capitalisation is very high. Companies which, prior to the change of Government, had planned investment in the North-East have been dramatically affected overnight by the switch to allowances.
Even if legally a case cannot be made for the Government to take a sympathetic view and allow these companies the investment grant on the basis of which they planned their move into the North-East, at least morally the Government should look into this. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to take a sympathetic view and to look into the needs of companies which do not make profits in the first few years and which will undoubtedly be discouraged from coming to the North-East by the change in policy.
The Tees-side unemployment rate is much the same as it was this time last year, 4.4 per cent., but the figure represents unemployed unskilled and semi- 2368 skilled men. In terms of this problem, we welcome what the Government have done to put a new emphasis into training methods at lower levels of skill. This is very important to us.
We are concerned about the closure of Cochrane's and the Britannia Works of the British Steel Corporation. We welcome the new investment which the B.S.C. proposes to make on Tees-side. The trouble is that 1,500 men will be put out of their jobs by these closures and new investment will not absorb them immediately. This is a problem which other hon. Members from Tees-side and I have been concerned in putting to the Steel Corporation.
Tees-side is a region in its own right. It will be the first authority in the country to draw up an urban structure plan, which will be presented very shortly under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1968. It has been possible to achieve this because we undertook on Tees-side an expenditure of £380,000 in order to produce the Tees-side Survey and Plan. Tees-side, as I have said, is an obvious area of potential growth and the course is charted. Here is the opportunity, if ever there was one, for the Government to launch an area, a region—Tees-side—on to target, and Tees-side could pioneer the way to success in the development areas on the basis of its structure plan.
I am most encouraged by the fact that my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for the Environment today have emphasised their determination to do something about infrastructure. Whereas grants are important as an incentive to encourage manufacturing industries, and whereas profits are important, unless we have an attractive face we are not going to encourage firms to come to us, and I think that the emphasis has been too much on bribing firms to come and not enough on doing something to nourish the areas to which we want them to come.
§ Dr. John A. Cunningham
There is no evidence of any sort anywhere to show that improvements in the infrastructure naturally are followed by industrial expansion. I agree that one naturally thinks perhaps that it would follow, but it does not.
§ Mr. Sutcliffe
That is arrant nonsense. Anyone coming to Tees-side and observing the road situation and its bottlenecks 2369 —the difficulty of getting goods to the market by road through all the congestion—is going to be put off coming to Tees-side. We have known this for years. It is arrant nonsense to suggest that, if one improves the environment—the education, the roads, the whole infrastructure—of an area generally, it will not have an incentive effect on firms to go there. This is the whole essence of what I am trying to say. We are not attractive enough. Nothing like enough emphasis has been put on the necessity to make the area attractive, and this is the thing which, I hope, will now be done under the direction of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
However, several points worry me about this policy. His Department has issued circular 2/70, which has the laudable aim of increasing the freedom of local authorities to decide on the expenditure of capital. But the effect on Teesside—it may not have this effect anywhere else—has been at the same time to decrease the availability of capital. It may be because we are a new authority, but to apportion money, as the new policy does, on the basis of the previous three years will have the effect on Tees-side of cutting by about 70 per cent. locally determined schemes, and this in turn affects key sector schemes. The basis is not right for Tees-side, which emerged as a new authority only in 1968. Tees-side should not be assessed on the period which marked the years of its teething problems.
Unfortunately, the separate pool for large projects is not the answer either, because I understand that this is already over-committed. It is not going to help Tees-side, which has spent years on demolition and the creation of waste areas, to be told that it cannot start on projects now planned and ready to be put into execution. These projects include a new civic, centre new law courts, an expanded and improved polytechnic, and—recently submitted—a major sewerage scheme, costing £30 million, designed to stop domestic sewage from going into the River Tees more or less untreated and to stop industrial effluent from going into the sea. If we are at all serious about regional development, these are the things we must spend money on, and spend it fast now to give Tees-side its 2370 chance. I ask my right hon. Friend to look into this very serious problem, of which I became aware only the other day.
There is a genuine difficulty for Tees-side here. What is going to be cut? The sort of things affected will be the acquisition of property under the planning blight schemes. This will affect the expenditure on principal roads and office accommodation, of which we are desperately short. It will affect school building and decrease accommodation. Yet these are the sort of things we need most.
I plead with the Government to take carefully into consideration the fact that we have very little of the Civil Service in the Tees-side area of the North-East. The work we are losing—the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) and I have pursued this matter—through the phasing out of the investment grant office means that 137 Civil Service jobs will be lost to the area in the course of this year. That is a very large proportion of the total number of civil servants we have in Tees-side, which shows how badly served we are in this respect.
Although I welcome the steps being undertaken for the devolution of the Civil Service, I am worried that the result of the study will not be available until the end of this year. The phasing out and transfer of civil servants from Tees-side will have taken place before the end of the year if no other work for them is forthcoming.
§ Mr. Ron Lewis
On a point of order. After her marathon effort earlier this morning, I notice that the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) is now fast asleep—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair, nor does it expedite the debate.
§ Mr. Sutcliffe
I ask my right hon. Friend to work vigorously to alter the face of Tees-side, to alter the balance in the structure of Tees-side and to take the measures necessary to help us in Tees-side to stand on our feet without special help.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Houghton-le-Spring)
Let me first take this opportunity to join my colleagues and the Secretary of State in paying tribute to our old friend Arthur Skeffington. I knew Arthur for a very long time, and greatly appreciated the valuable work that he did in this House and in the Labour movement.
Let me also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Dr. John A. Cunningham) on having been successful in the Ballot, especially so early in his parliamentary career, and on his wisdom and judgment in selecting this subject for debate.
Whenever we have this kind of debate, it occurs to me that it is a penchant of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to magnify all the problems that they see confronting their Government but to belittle and to a large extent ridicule the identical problems when their opponents are in office. I was surprised by the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott), who poured scorn on the policies of the last Government. He spoke at length about the Economic Planning Council and quoted employment figures without attempting to look behind the figures and to identify them with the serious difficulties which confronted the Labour Government in 1964 and which had existed for a long time before, despite his own denial. Indeed, they existed long before Hailsham came to the Northern Region to carry out a much-belated responsible task for the thousands of people in the region who had been unemployed for long periods. If the hon. Gentleman had ever stood in a dole queue, he would have more respect for the problem as well as for the people who have to endure this terribly difficult situation.
§ Mr. R. W. Elliott rose—
§ Mr. Urwin
No, I will not give way. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong) very properly drew attention earlier to the time being wasted by hon. Members on 2372 the benches opposite. There are 35 hon. Members who represent constituencies in the Northern Region, 29 of them on this side of the House. Five hon. Members—only five—have taken up 120 minutes since eleven o'clock—
§ Mr. John Spence (Sheffield, Heeley)
On a point of order. I, for one, have been in the Chamber since eleven o'clock with only a brief interruption, and I am patiently waiting for an opportunity to speak on a matter in which I have great interest.
§ Mr. Ron Lewis
On a point of order. It occurs to me that the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), who spoke for 30 minutes, is probably sitting in a train at the moment on his way back to Westmorland.
§ Mr. Garrett
Has not there been a deliberate attempt by hon. Gentlemen opposite to sabotage this interesting debate?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. These points, which hon. Members know are not points of order, do not help the debate.
§ Mr. Urwin
The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) also referred to the unemployment figures. Not unusually for her, she quoted only those which she had selected to suit her argument.
Between 1946 and 1964, the mining industry in the Northern Region lost 50,000 jobs, and there was a further loss of 49,000 between 1964 and 1970. If those who lost their jobs had all been unemployed simultaneously, they would represent a very high proportion of the existing male unemployment rate. However, those figures heavily underline the magnitude of the task which faced the Labour Government when we took office in 1964. A difficult situation was already evident, and it was becoming even worse, since 20,000 jobs had also been lost in shipbuilding, ship repair and marine 2373 engineering in the Northern Region in the 1960s.
In the steel industry, as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Sutcliffe) pointed out, the onset of rationalisation was already making itself felt before the Labour Government left office. Redundancies were taking place, and we knew that the situation in Tees-side would become increasingly difficult as a result of the B.S.C.'s proposals for that part of the region.
Before the General Election, a tremendous amount of diversification of industry had occurred in the Northern Region against a very difficult background of which no supporter of the Labour Government has any need to feel ashamed. We ensured an increasing volume of industrial development by our rigid and strict control of the industrial development certificate policy. It was the only weapon at the disposal of a Government intent on removing the imbalance existing in the densely populated and more prosperous parts of the country. In 1968, 12,000 sq. ft. of factory space was secured in the Northern Region. That was a record year in the history of the industrial development certificate policy.
The Government have decided very quickly to raise the limit of industrial development certificates, and we can see the deleterious effect that that step is bound to have on the development areas and the whole Northern Region, which still needs as much encouragement as it can get.
In the year ended March, 1970, the Labour Government further assisted the procurement of new industry by the allocation of £97 million in preferential assistance to the Northern Region development area. That compared with the £15 million allocated in the year that we came to office. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the system operating when the £15 million was allocated in 1964–65 is one to which the Government have chosen to return. In place of investment grants they have again substituted tax allowances.
We are grateful to the Secretary of State for coming to the House to participate in a debate of this kind on a back-bench Member's Motion relating to the Northern Region. But I cannot help 2374 wondering about the motivating factors which lead, first, the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a statement during the course of his speech yesterday and, secondly, the Secretary of State for the Environment coming along today and making a statement on what the Government propose to do over the next two or three years.
Might it be that yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer, finding himself in difficulty in defending the Government's policies in face of a Censure Motion, felt that he had to pull something out of the bag to distract attention from himself? Is it also the case that the Secretary of State for the Environment has honoured us with his presence today to trot out to us some figures, which I sincerely hope are correct and will fructify over a period, relating to the matters to which he referred?
The right hon. Gentleman referred to improving the infrastructure and spending more on it, and to a determined attempt to do more about the clearance of derelict land. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the clearance of derelict land has been attacked with increasingly impressive vigour by the Durham County Council and the Northumberland County Council over at least three years with the advantage of generous assistance from the Government by way of 85 per cent. grant. This treatment contrasts rather sharply with that which was meted out to similar authorities —the right hon. Gentleman was not here at that time; nor was I—when the Conservatives took office in 1951. At that time they abolished completely grants payable for the clearance of derelict land and they never paid a penny in this sphere until 1959. Small wonder that some of my hon. Friends regarded with a just a little suspicion some of the things about which the right hon. Gentleman spoke from that Box.
I am reminded, in relation to Circular 2/70, that my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Dorman), who unfortunately is not here today, had to draw the attention of the Secretary of State to what appeared to be a mistake in the lumping or telescoping together of moneys available to local authorities under the circular which would have a detrimental effect on the amount of land which they could clear. 2375 Did not the right hon. Gentleman accept that pressure put upon him by my hon. Friend and give an assurance on that occasion, two weeks ago, that the Durham County Council, and other authorities presumably, need have no fear that this would not be put right?
Between 1968 and 1970 new impetus was being given to the clearance of derelict land in the Northern Region at a cost to the Exchequer of £2.7 million. Rather than what the right hon. Gentleman has been saying with some degree of pride, I said to a delegation from the Northern group of Labour M.P.s when we met a few days ago that there would be a very steep increase in the money allocated by central government for the clearance of derelict land. Is it not a fact that the rolling programmes of these local authorities were already in preparation before the right hon. Gentleman took office? How can the right hon. Gentleman seriously claim credit for something which happened before he even became a Minister in the new Government?
§ Mr. Peter Walker
First, concerning the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dorman), I had given instructions on that matter before the hon. Gentleman raised it. On the second point, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the present Government are doing more to activate local district and county councils in this sphere than our predecessors did.
§ Mr. Urwin
The Government may be doing more to activate them, but it is within the framework of a vehicle established by the Labour Government. What I am saying about the Durham County Council is undeniably true.
The Northern Region is making a tremendous effort, with the stimulus, to clear itself of this heavy burden of dereliction. Also dramatically increased between 1966 and 1969 was public investment in roads and lighting. It was almost trebled. The right hon. Gentleman told us this afternoon that the Government will spend considerably more than we spent over the last three or four years. I cannot recall the exact period mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. But in the last five years, 85 miles of motor- 2376 way has been completed in the Northern Region, 42 miles of dual carriageway and 45 miles of other principal roads. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many miles of similar motorways and principal roads he intends to construct over the next five years? If it is to cost substantially more, how much of that additional cost will be eroded by cost inflation?
§ Mr. Peter Walker
On the latter point, the figures which I gave are for fixed terms and not on a variable amount. If the prices go up, the amount will go up with it. It is in constant terms. On the motorways which the hon. Gentleman is claiming, as he asked me about things which I inherited, may we know how many of these were planned when he came in?
§ Mr. Urwin
What was planned is an entirely different matter. There have been repeated references today to Lord Hailsham and what he achieved in the Northern Region. What he produced, apart from providing some good material for the cartoonists, was a piece of paper—nothing more than that. He was not in office long enough after providing that plan to implement it, so it was the Labour Government who spent the first penny and the last penny to improve communications in the Northern Region, which had been neglected by the right hon. Gentleman's Government for so many years.
I have not seen, in the answers to questions which the right hon. Gentleman has given me this morning or since Wednesday, how many times he himself has visited the Northern Region in the last three or four weeks, or since 18th June. He was in my constituency a couple of years ago, and found another ten Tories to make up a party—that is how many there are in the constituency—when he was opening a factory there.
While he has been in the region, has he looked at the dramatic improvement which has been effected in communications in the North? We can now claim, justifiably and proudly, that we have the best system of communications in the whole country, and this has been achieved by a Labour Government, not by Lord Hailsham or anyone else—
§ Mr. Urwin
It is not nonsense: it is the absolute truth.
We can also claim that a system like this must provide a strong attraction for new industries which are thinking of changing their industrial location. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned three, four or five sewerage schemes which he has or will authorise. Is it not a fact that there was a scheme in preparation when he took office, and that some work had already been done with the objective of stepping up the allocation of public expenditure in this field? I know that some work was done: whether he has inherited that or whether it is entirely new, only he can know.
What I claim is that the Northern Region, in a period of severe economic strictures, has been heavily cushioned against the worst impact of the national economic situation. The right hon. Member referred to £1,000 million injected between 1965 and 1969; it is a matter for conjecture whether his Government, in a similar situation, would have been as generous as that.
The plain fact of life is that, by 18th June, 1970, there was a new feeling abroad in the Northern Region. There was a buoyancy, a new spirit beginning to develop, despite the high unemployment figures. [Laughter.] The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) may laugh. I am not surprised; after sleeping so long and talking so long, she is entitled to laugh. But what I am saying is the absolute truth.
The Secretary of State himself this morning paid me the compliment of saying that, of all the Ministerial visits paid to the region when I was Minister for the North, half were made by me. I was flying between here and the Northern Region seeing people twice, sometimes three times, a week. I regarded that as part of my responsibility and I wanted to see the problems at first hand so that I was better able to try to resolve them with my colleagues in Government. As I said, a new spirit and confidence was beginning to be formed in the Northern Region.
The Motion refers tothe doctrinaire weakening of regional policies by Her Majesty's Government".The doctrinaire approach to which my hon. Friends have referred began a year 2378 ago, at the famous Selsdon Park weekend of hibernation. It was as a result of that conference that the Conservative Party emerged fully equipped, we were informed, with policies clearly defined and ready to swing into action. They had a prescription to provide the cure for all the ills of the nation when they became the Government.
No doubt they had already decided on the measures that were necessary to reduce unemployment and prices "at a stroke". We have seen the abysmal failure which has attended those much-lauded promises. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) dealt effectively with these matters in their excellent speeches yesterday.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) spoke, when in opposition, in the debate last year and gave the first glimpse—afterwards more fully revealed in the Conservative Party Manifesto—of the strong regional policy that the Conservatives intended to pursue, should they be elected. The announcement at that time—that investment grants would be replaced by investment allowances and that R.E.P. would be withdrawn by 1974—first precipitated the crisis of confidence. That was aggravated when the official statement was finally made last October, though it was not even a shock to us because we had steeled ourselves to that sort of situation developing.
It was the mechanics, the manner and the timing of the announcement which caused apprehension to both hon. Members and observers outside. When the whole situation cried out for consolidation or a retention of the status quo, at least until the much-vaunted review of regional policy was completed, hon. Gentleman opposite did the reverse.
The Motion is in precise terms and typifies the actions of Conservative Governments. Their political dogma must be satisfied. Time does not permit me to quote extracts from Press reports which show how concern over the situation spread far beyond the confines of this House. Suffice to say that as early as 11th November, a couple of weeks after the statement was made in the House, the Business Editor of the Northern Echo 2379 commented at length on the subject in an article headed:The North cries out in the dark for more jobs".He castigated the Government for creating uncertainty and pointed out the fear that existed that something worse was likely to follow.
It was revealed that there was a continuing and alarming decline in the number of inquiries for I.D.C.'s. Peter Jay, Economics Editor of The Times, wrote an excellent article on 17th January last headed "Northern advance in jeopardy". I urge hon. Gentlemen opposite to read it. I put the blame for the present situation fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Government and not on those of their predecessors who left office on 18th June last. It blames them quite properly for the situation which they had allowed to develop. Local authorities, too, shared this deep concern. The Government have most certainly created a situation which can scarcely be described as conducive to badly needed industrial investment in the Northern Region.
The effect of the new industrial policy has been appalling. A calamitous situation has developed, which is reflected by the information about I.D.C. approvals for 1970. One sees from OFFICIAL REPORT for 1st February, 1971, that for the first two quarters of 1970—and this includes Selsdon Park, and all that—a total of 5,613,000 sq. ft. of factory space was approved, estimated to produce 13,900 jobs. The crisis of confidence is clear when we look at the last two quarters, when only 2,793,000 sq. ft. of industrial space was approved, giving an additional 4,400 jobs when that development took place.
My hon. Friends have gone a little further this afternoon by referring to January of this year, the next following month, when, horror of horrors, one industrial development certificate was approved for the whole Northern Region—a region with over 60,000 people unemployed. This is the Government which dare to attempt to lay at our door the responsibility for the present unemployment situation in the region.
No doubt the 35 people who will get new jobs as a result of the grant of that one industrial development certificate for 22,000 sq. ft. of factory space will 2380 rejoice—they may have a wage packet to take home at Christmas—but it is doleful news indeed for the rest of the 66,000 unemployed in the region, including many school-leavers of 16 and 17 years of age who have yet to obtain their first employment in a region which has been so badly neglected for so long by Conservative Governments. Is this indicative of a much-vaunted strong regional policy, or is it not a deliberate attempt to keep unemployment at this level, or even to push it higher?
The right hon. Gentleman has talked of the difference between investment grants and tax allowances. He has said—and others of his colleagues are on record as saying the same—that the North will benefit just as much under this as under the previous system. It has been estimated that the very fact that one system replaces the other means that the whole package as it existed becomes 15 per cent. less in value to the developer.
At least one Minister described the North not very long ago as a pensioner. He will probably rejoice in the saving of subsidies to these people who have so long been denied employment. The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth, speaking from these benches in a similar debate last year, said that the Motion then moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. David Watkins) was somewhat fulsome; that she could not agree with it but that she could understand why he wanted to poke his Minister. She said that she would like to do the same because that was how to get things done. I agree entirely.
§ Mr. Urwin
The hon. Lady was looking forward to the day when she could poke her own Minister. The hon. Lady has had eight months to do this poking, pushing and jostling of her Ministers. I suggest that she must have realised by now that they cannot be stirred very far, no matter how hard she pokes. It is an abortive exercise.
§ Mr. David Watkins (Consett)
For the record, I totally dissociate myself from any of the hon. Lady's aspirations in that direction.
§ Mr. Urwin
The hon. Lady also knows that, whereas she is concerned quite properly about Government policies, her right hon. and hon. Friends are spending a good deal of time working out methods to hive off the more profitable parts of nationalised industries. They cannot spend all the time talking about development, not even in the development areas.
The hon. Lady, all credit to her, attempted last week to intervene on the question of U.C.S. and Yarrow shipbuilders, which involved the small sum of £4 million. She was not allowed to get in, unfortunately.
§ Mr. Urwin
The hon. Lady was not able to make the intervention as lengthily as she would have liked, but the point was made. The hon. Lady surely cannot expect her Government to help the shipbuilding industry on the Tyne when they stood by and allowed the Palmers ship repair yard at Hebburn to close after it had been reprieved by the Labour Government to save 1,200 jobs. That had to go. It was the first of the lame ducks of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I am sure that the hon. Lady would not share his pride in the fact that that was his first victim.
§ Mr. Urwin
I refer briefly to the request made to the Secretary of State for the Environment—if he is still in the right environment—by my colleague, the Secretary of the Northern Group of Labour Members, to meet a deputation in connection with our campaigning for the appointment of a Minister for the North. The initial request was made to the Prime Minister. After all, the Prime Minister is the right person to adjudicate on such a request; it is a matter for him because of the relationship between Environment and Trade and Industry.
2382 With somewhat lofty nonchalance the Prime Minister referred us to the right hon. Gentleman, and even though there are only a handful of Conservatives from the Northern Region in the House, the attempt was made to press upon us the attendance of one or two Conservatives as well. We mounted almost a marathon courtship with the right hon. Gentleman before we finally received his is assent to a meeting, despite all our wiles and arts of seduction, but the request was refused by the right hon. Gentleman. He said that the problems of the North could be better resolved and the North could be better served by himself acting as Minister for the North. He went further and said that if he were to appoint a separates Minister for the North, it could be only a public relations exercise.
I and my hon. Friends are not very happy about the decision not to accede to that request. We cannot help but compare ourselves with our Scottish and Welsh colleagues. This is not a matter for the right hon. Gentleman but one for the Leader of the House in the conduct of the House and its affairs. The Northern Region development area was, until a few weeks ago, top of the unemployment league. I intend no disparagement of my Scottish and Welsh friends, but they have their own days for Questions and they have their own Grand Committees. I do not want to take anything from my Scottish and Welsh hon. Friends, but the preferential treatment they get places the Northern Region in difficulties. Because of the far-flung empire over which the Secretary of State presides, it is very difficult to get Questions in sufficiently early in respect of the Northern Region which are likely to be reached when the right hon. Gentleman is here to answer Questions.
However, the right hon. Gentleman is the Minister for the North. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was prepared to be judged on results in four or five years' time. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) said that he is prepared to ask the right hon. Gentleman questions in four or five years' time. My hon. Friend must not be so generous; for if the right hon. Gentleman is to be judged in four or five years' time, he must also be judged for the last eight months. If he speaks as Minister for the 2383 North, where was he when the Tory Government decided to abandon the Inland Revenue computer centre. Did he fight to keep Palmers shipyard open?
§ Mr. Peter Walker
How many times did the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) asked the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin), when he was Minister for the North, that Sunderland should be made a special development area but fail, whereas under me the hon. Gentleman succeeded?
§ Mr. Urwin
My hon. Friend dealt with that point whilst the right hon. Gentleman was absent from the House.
What steps is the Secretary of State taking with his right hon. Friends to ensure the replacement with something similar of 3,000 fundamentally important jobs in the Northern Region—white-collar jobs, especially important for youngsters leaving school and jobs requiring only five O levels? Can the right hon. Gentleman act effectively? I ask him that in view of his extensive responsibilities?
I am not grudging in my welcome of the right hon. Gentleman's announcement yesterday that Tyne and Wear is to be included in the list of special development areas. I could only wish that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South had been able to secure that facility from the Labour Government. They were unable to get it then, but they have it now.
The creation of special development areas is not of itself a magic wand. The hon. Member for Westmorland, in a fairly long speech, referred to Millom. We—the Labour Government— applied special development area status to Millom, but it did nothing for Millom. It has been claimed that Millom was more apt to be a special development area than is Tyne and Wear, in that more new jobs would be attracted. Why is this granting of special development area status not accompanied by the announcement of another programme of advance factories, which is what my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) did 2384 when he announced the setting up of intermediate areas last year?
This is government by default. It is no use setting up special development areas and doing nothing about getting industry into them. It is cash that counts more than anything else. The Motion is a potent and cogent one which I am sure has the support of every hon. Member on this side.
§ Mr. Jopling
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman's speech, but it has been brought to my attention that while I was out of the Chamber for a few moments the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Ron Lewis) suggested that I was on the train going back to my constituency. Could you tell us whether it is the custom of the House for hon. Members to make remarks of that sort? I always understood that the custom of the House was, after one has made a speech, to stay and listen to the speech which follows, which I did. I then heard the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Sutcliffe). I do not intend to make any suggestions about the hon. Member for Carlisle. What he says is up to him, but I should like to know whether that is the custom of the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think that is a point of order. No doubt, what the hon. Member has said will be reported in HANSARD and he will then have made his point.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Mr. John Spence (Sheffield, Heeley)
I intervene briefly very largely because of the earlier statements made by the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. John A. Cunningham) in the course of his introduction of the Motion. He said quite rightly—
Mr. Bob Brown
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This debate was initiated by a Member of the northern group of Labour M.P.s. It has been much abused by long speeches from the benches opposite. Now it seems that we are to have inflicted upon us a speech by a Member from Sheffield. The only thing that he has in common with the Northern Region is that Sheffield is in the same country as the Northern Region.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member knows that that is not a point of order. The selection of speakers is for the Chair, and it would be unfortunate if the House restricted these debate absolutely. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Spence) said that he was going to make a brief speech, and it has now been lengthened by one minute owing to that intervention.
§ Mr. Spence
I know, Mr. Speaker, that you have said in the past that interventions only lengthen speeches.
Of course, Yorkshire is in the Northern Region. One point that we have in common with the North is the problem of the shrinkage of the traditional industries based on the science and technology of the last century.
I would have thought that it was now time for hon. Members opposite to cease to propagate this arrogance that we on this side of the House do not have as much concern for the success of the regional policy as they do. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) reminded us earlier, we can go back to the days of the Team Valley Estate. I can go back to the construction of the pedestrian and cyclists' tunnel between Jarrow and How-den, which was a major contribution to that area in earlier days.
I should like to get back to the basic problem, namely, that we seem to have gone wrong in our basic approach to economic planning and to the regional strategies which we seem to pile one on top of the other. I am sure that the Northern Plan is like the Yorkshire strategy; it falls into that sort of classification.
I should like to put forward three points. First, I should like to know what my right hon. and hon. Friends can do to recruit, in aid of the planners and the economic strategists, the full force of public opinion. There seems to be a great gap. Listening to the speeches today, I am amazed that hon. Members of long standing—I will mention no names—have done their best in the course of their speeches to undermine the confidence of public opinion in much of the work that has been done in the past and which we are endeavouring to do now. I believe that the strength of public opinion is enormous. It is vital for the 2386 success of any plan that it should get close to the people and really understand people's needs.
Secondly, in the course of future planning proposals and the propagation of these plans, would hon. Members do something about educating the people in the area on whose lives the plan could very well have a vital effect? I should like to refer to one of the principal objectives in a North American plan with which I had something to do. This was a five counties plan for the state of New York. The first objective was to create an awareness among people of the significance of growth patterns and the potentials for future economic and social well-being in the region. This, I believe, is cardinal point No. 1. We ought to take notice of this. Planners must therefore ensure that they do not find themselves isolated from the people.
Thirdly, we must remember that plans should be implemented. Throughout the strategy of the plan for the Northern Region, in common with that for Yorkshire and Humberside, no positive proposals for implementation have been put forward. In the document to which I referred earlier one of the detailed schemes sets out the structure of the organisation that is set up, contemporaneously with the plan, and an essential ingredient of the plan, dealing with the implementation of its provisions.
Do my hon. Friends agree that the three points to which I have referred show the weaknesses in our planning and the strategies that we have put forward? Do they agree that positive steps should be taken to correct them?
My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth has referred to cost-effectiveness studies. Another great failing of ours is that we do not put forward cost-effectiveness studies in our strategies. There are also contradictions in our land-use economics. That is another question that could be dealt with in detail. Further, there are the unimaginative town planning laws and procedures. All these factors affect the implementation and effectiveness of any plan or strategy that we put forward in the Yorkshire and Humberside area, just as in the Northern Region. These are common factors.
I ask my hon. Friends to bear in mind the three points that I have made—the need to get public opinion on the 2387 side of the planners; the need to educate the people in the region as to what the plan does for them, and the need to create a demand in the region for the implementation of the plan. I sincerely believe that unless we take measures of this kind we shall lose the vast benefits that can flow from the excellent work done by our planners in the last 25 years.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Milne (Blyth)
The debate merits the tendering of congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for White-haven (Dr. John A Cunningham), not only on his luck in the Ballot but on the manner in which he has introduced the subject of his Motion. Much stress has been laid on the importance of yesterday's anouncement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the creation of new special development areas. Any extension of aid to the Northern Region and the North-East is to be welcomed. But in the debate we are examining the whole post-war history of the area and the failure of successive Governments to give the North-East the full employment that would bring about a solution to the problem that we have discussed today.
Since June last year we have heard about the effect on our economy of cost inflation, in terms of rising wages. I ask the Government to consider the cost-inflationary effects of unemployment in development areas, and to consider how much more effective our economy would be if we had full employment in the Northern Region. Many debates on this subject have taken place in the House in the ten years since I first came here. This one, like the others, is not merely a question of special pleading on behalf of a region; it is a plea that the regions be given the opportunity of making the contribution which they undoubtedly can make to the benefit of the country in the years that lie ahead.
Every industrialist who has been attracted to the region since the war, particularly in the last seven or eight years, has paid high tribute to the adaptability of the labour force and the ability of the people in the region to adjust themselves to the changing economic and industrial scene. The measures adopted by successive Governments have not succeeded, and I am convinced that it is not merely a 2388 question of inducements to industrialists, not merely a question of special development area status or of grants, but that what is needed in the 1970s is direction of industry into the area.
I know it will be said that if we talk about the direction of industry we shall also have to bring in the direction of labour. The people in the Northern Region and other development areas have been subject to the direction of labour for generations. Every time one of my constituents takes a single ticket to Yorkshire, Birmingham or London, he has been directed; his labour is directed by the economic forces that prevail. So that, if we have the direction of industry we shall not boggle at the direction of labour.
When I first came to the House ten years ago we were discussing the same problem. Lord Hailsham's descent on the North-East and the subsequent Hailsham Report have been mentioned. I will not weary the House with details of the Report, because to me, to my constituents and to others in the Northern Region the significant factor of the Hailsham Report was the date on the cover— November, 1963—when a Conservative Government had already been 12 years in power and unemployment figures had risen.
My Conservative opponent in the Blyth by-election in 1960 had to telephone the then President of the Board of Trade to get action taken. He told the Government of the day that the affluent society stopped short at the borders of Northumberland, and that is a striking commentary on the Administration which had been responsible for this position since 1951.
Mistakes have been made by successive Governments, particularly since 1951, in failing to implement and extend the development area policies of the immediate post-war period, and had we looked at that policy of the Attlee Administration of 1945–51 in subsequent years, our situation today would have been considerably better.
We have been told in the last few months—and we were told during the General Election—by the Chairman of the Northumberland County Council that the failure of the Labour Government of 1964–70 was in attracting the wrong type of industry into Cramlington new town, Killingworth and other development 2389 areas in Northumberland. Can the Government now tell us, if this is indeed the case, what types of industry are to be brought to Cramlington and to Killing-worth in order to redress the supposed imbalance as indicated by the Conservative Chairman of the County Council? When we examine the situation, when the dust of this debate has died down, we have to face the fact that full employment is what the Northern Region requires.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Anthony Grant)
First, I should like to add my voice to the regrets expressed about the death of Arthur Skeffington. I do so because the first time I contested a Parliamentary seat—I was unsuccessful—was against him, and I remember very vividly how kind and tolerant he was to an extremely brash new young candidate. He will always remain in my memory as a kindly and friendly opponent.
I recognise that hon. Members opposite have been very anxious to take the full opportunity to speak and make their points, and I have deliberately kept my reply brief in order to allow as many hon. Members as possible to get in. But it is fair to say that hon. Members on both sides of the House are equally entitled to the Floor of the House, and it was quite unjust to accuse my hon. Friends of monopolising the debate. When the times are investigated, it will be found that hon. Members opposite have taken just as much as, if not longer than, we have. I shall, in the short time available, try to deal with some of the points which have been raised.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland referred to the Shildon railway workshops in his constituency. We are aware of the situation. We have no reason to doubt that the British Railways Board, in developing its new corporate plan, will have regard to the fact that the Shildon workshops are in a special development area. I hope that it will be possible to give some comfort to his constituents in this respect.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) dealt with the question whether the method of assistance given by the present Government were 2390 or were not better than those hitherto obtainable. I tell him clearly that the Government consider that the North-East Development Council is quite wrong about the question of cash inflow into the Northern Region. Our view, broadly, is that it is the same as a result of the October measures. The measures announced yesterday are additional.
I want the House to understand clearly that the measures announced yesterday are extra and over and above the assistance already being given to the Northern Region. Indeed, one of the first visits I made as a Minister was to the North. I was, therefore, astonished to hear the hon. Gentleman say today, in a wild and sweeping statement, that all the industrialists and business men there are against investment allowances. That is contrary to the opinion I got when I was there. Industrialists have not generally condemned the new incentives. Admittedly, one or two have complained, but unfortunately the people who are against something always tell one and those who are in favour, do not.
Mr. Bob Brown
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) was quoting not only industrialists but also Tories in the area. The Chairman of the North-East Development Council, Alderman Arthur Grey, of Newcastle—a Conservative—is re-reported by the Guardian this morning to have said:Benevolence is not a substitute for policy. It's nice for industry to come with more money in its pocket, but the important thing is to make it come. Nothing is going to happen until John Davies spells out what his policy is in respect of the development areas.
§ Mr. R. W. Elliott
In fairness to Alderman Grey, I should point out to the House that he accepted that the measures announced yesterday were short term, He went on to say that only the creation of an easier money climate would bring lasting prosperity to the North-East.
§ Mr. Bagier
Will the hon. Gentleman say who is in favour of investment allowances as against investment grants? The hon. Gentleman suggested that everyone was not necessarily against them, but will he say who is in favour of them? Does not he agree that the proof of the pudding is in the result: one industrial development certificate approved for the whole 2391 of the North-East in the month of January?
§ Mr. Grant
Undoubtedly the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and I shall be interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman says when it is discovered, as it will be, that we have produced the right sort of employment and that the right sort of businesses have been attracted— businesses geared to profit which give a lasting long-term future.
I must, of course, congratulate the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. John A. Cunningham) on choosing this subject for debate, though I commiserate with his unfortunate timing. In view of my right hon. Friend's announcement yesterday, this debate has gone off a little like a damp squib.
From the chorus of harsh words and shrill tones of hon. Gentlemen opposite, it is sometimes hard to remember that both the main parties have a great deal in common when it comes to regional policies. We all want to see progress in the reduction of regional disparities, an end to the waste and social injustice of high unemployment, and the opportunity for all the regions to make a full contribution to national growth and prosperity.
Our debate today, therefore, has been about method rather than ends. Unlike hon. Members opposite, I do not think that it is right to cast doubt upon the sincerity of those with whom one disagrees. It is the purpose of the present Government, and certainly it is mine, to bring as much employment as possible to the Northern Region, and I very much resent the suggestion of hon. Gentlemen opposite that my right hon. and hon. Friends are somehow in favour of unemployment. I reject the suggestion entirely.
This Motion talks of the… doctrinaire weakening of regional policies".From all that has been said today, it seems to me that it is right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite who are doctrinaire. The previous Administration established broad development areas in which very substantial financial assistance was made available to incoming and existing firms alike. Having introduced massive investment grants which tipped the balance in firms' investment plans in 2392 favour of capital which displaced labour, they had then to try to correct the balance by introducing a general labour subsidy in the form of the R.E.P. In spite of that, they had to set up the Hunt Committee, from which emerged the present intermediate areas, and they were constantly criticised by their own backbench hon. Members for what they had done.
I now want to consider the effect of these policies on the Northern Region. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have sought to show that they were successful. But let us look at some of the facts. Despite the high level of expenditure of the previous Administration, male unemployment on Tyneside, with 30 per cent. of the working population of the Northern Region, was 7 per cent. in January three years ago, 7.4 per cent. two years ago, and 7.7 per cent. one year ago. On Wearside, with nearly 10 per cent. of the working population, the figures for the three years were 8.5 per cent., 9.8 per cent., and 8.8 per cent. That is not exactly a success story.
When the existing policies had so manifestly failed to deal with the problems of an area of the Northern Region accounting for nearly half the population, only the doctrinaire, like hon. Gentlemen opposite, would not wish to see changes made.
The present Government are changing the whole structure of development policy in a manner in which we believe will be in the long-term interests of the areas. But, whenever a Conservative Administration introduce a Measure of this kind. it is described as "panic". When a Labour Government introduce it, it is "solid, purposeful, Socialist planning". The answer is to be found in the result.
Hon. Members have asked about industrial development certificates. I will deal with that now. I think that it was the hon. Member for Sunderland, South, or it may have been the hon. Member for Whitehaven, who stated that we had diluted the control. This is nonsense. We have done no such thing. We have merely regularised what was happening under previous Administrations. Applications for schemes under 5,000 square feet in the South-East and Midlands and 10,000 square feet elsewhere were not refused. These small schemes are not mobile. A firm wanting to expand to 2393 employ no more than a handful of extra workers does not pack up and go to a development area. Many of these small I.D.C.s do not involve extra labour. It seems astonishing that the Opposition consider that we should continue the enormous bureaucratic process and ritual of investigation, for small schemes which were never refused.
§ Mr. Armstrong rose—
§ Mr. Grant
I am not prepared to give way again.
The I.D.C. weapon is essential in administering a development policy, but I.D.C.s will be freely available to assist areas. I shall use this policy as an important weapon in regional policy. I shall undoubtedly, as I forecast, become one of the more unpopular Ministers, because I often have to resist requests from other districts. Nevertheless, I shall continue to do so. This will be important in our policy.
Concerning the Government's announcement generally, I think that hon. Gentlemen opposite were churlish and rather lacking in courtesy, particularly the hon. Member for Sunderland, South. But the hon. Gentleman is not at one with Dr. Reid, the acting Chairman of the Economic Planning Council for this area, because he has said that he wasabsolutely delighted with the news. These concessions are a real shot in the arm for the area. We have about 50 Government factories standing idle, but we are sure Mr. Barber's plan will enable us to get them filledNot only that, but Councillor Ian Arnott, the leader of the Sunderland Council, has expressed the view:This is something for which we have been fighting for four years and we must now give priority to hammering down the high unemployment rate we have in this area. It is up to the local authorities to get cracking and get firms up here.I advise the North, and the country, to disregard the doctrinaire carping criticisms made by the Opposition. They have been unfortunate in the timing of their Motion. There were many miserable faces opposite yesterday when the Chancellor made his announcement. The message is clear. The Government have, as Dr. Reid said, given a shot in the arm to the North. It is now up to the North—a splendid region with superb people—to show some confidence, to show that the views expressed by hon. Gentlemen 2394 opposite are not representative. Therefore, they should do what I advise my hon. Friends to do, namely, to disregard this ridiculous Motion.
§ Mr. Armstrong
I wanted to tell the Minister that the whole of my constituency has been a special development area for three years. It has three new advance factories without tenants—[HON. MEMBERS: "Vote."]—so that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is wrong. The kind of prosperity which hon. Gentlemen opposite have talked about is…[HON. MEMBERS: "Vote."]—
§ Mr. Armstrong
I have been shocked today by the complacency displayed by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench. In the light—
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to increase public investment and industrial incentives and to restore confidence in the Northern Region, thus activating full employment and a better environment.
§ put accordingly and negatived.