§ Mr. Malcolm Thornton (Crosby)
I beg to move,That this House, concerned at the long-term implications for public expenditure of the condition of much of the national housing stock and infrastructure, particularly in the North West region, urges Her Majesty's Government to open immediate negotiations with the construction industry with a view to encouraging greater private sector financing of inner city housing and infrastructure projects and a more effective utilisation of existing monies which Her Majesty's Government have made available through a variety of programmes designed to deal with both urban renewal and job creation.The background of the debate is one of an accumulation of decline, not only in the lifetime of this Government or even the previous Government, but over two, three or perhaps more decades of neglect and lack of investment in our basic infrastructure. The standards of much of our housing and in many of our schools, the state of so many of our public buildings and the condition of our roads add up to a pretty sorry saga.
There is increasing public concern over these matters, as all of us know from our mailbags. Everywhere looks rather shabby. The state of the infrastructure is having a major effect on the quality of people's lives in many areas. They see for their increased rates very little improvement in the basic quality of the infrastructure in their areas.
The facts speak for themselves. The 1977 housing policy review estimated that the nation needed 300,000 new houses per year. In fact, since then there has been an average of only 200,000 starts per year—an accumulated shortfall of about 750,000 new properties. The 1981 house condition survey revealed that 4.3 million houses—about 20 per cent. of the total stock—were unfit for human habitation, lacked basic amenities or required repairs costing £2,500 or more. Moreover, the number of homes in serious disrepair had risen from 860,000 in 1976, when the previous survey was carried out, to more than 1 million.
A recent inquiry by the Department of the Environment into the local authority housing stock revealed that public housing was in an advanced state of decay. The study estimated that more than 3.8 million dwellings—84 per cent. of the stock—were considered to need expenditure totalling £18.84 billion, at an average cost of nearly £5,000 per dwelling. Nearly 40 per cent. of those properties required repairs to the basic structure and external fabric. The backlog of repairs and maintenance of local authority housing has been estimated by the Audit Commission to be growing at a rate of at least £900 million per year.
About 20 per cent. of all primary schools are housed in unmodernised buildings which are over 80 years old. One quarter of all schools have outdoor lavatories and one child in 10 is taught in temporary accommodation.
In 1983 a report by Her Majesty's inspectorate on the effects of local authority policy expenditure on education provision in England directly linked the condition of buildings to educational standards. Poor or unsuitable accommodation was considered to be adversely affecting the performance of one quarter of all the schools visited. In 1984 the position had not changed much. Her Majesty's inspectors reported:all in all, much of the country's school building stock is in a sorry state of repair and getting worse. Long-standing defects, allied to little sustained improvement over recent times, are 455 resulting in some cases in a number of school buildings rapidly approaching the stage where repairs are impossible and new buildings may have to be provided.The report goes on to say:The continued neglect of the school building stock is not only storing up potentially enormous bills for the future but is also seriously affecting the quality of work and achievement of many pupils and providing a grim environment for them and for their teachers.The 1981 Government report "Care in Action" admitted that a significant amount of hospital care is still provided in old and outmoded buildings. Three quarters of our hospitals and health centres date from before the second world war and half from before the 1914–18 war and those buildings have not been properly maintained. The Department of Health and Social Security has recently estimated that £1.7 billion needs to be spent to bring hospitals and health centres up to a minimum acceptable standard.
Decay in the infrastructure can undermine the efficient provision of health care in many ways. A recent DHSS report on community homes showed a majority of premises to be in poor shape and general levels of comfort disturbingly low.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
Is it not a fact that the Government are engaged on the largest hospital building programme ever?
§ Mr. Thornton
The condition of many of our roads is appalling. Frankly, many of them are dangerous. They are a classic example of the consequences of delaying required maintenance work. The average life for a road surface dressing varies between four and eight years. Failure to renew the dressing—the minimum treatment—at the right time can lead to the need for complete resurfacing at a cost per square metre some 10 times greater. If resurfacing is also delayed so that foundations are affected, the cost of restoration is a staggering 50 times that of surface dressing.
Those are the basic facts and give some indication of the scale of the problem. The implications for public expenditure in the long-term are horrendous. It is a huge post-dated cheque. It is not just work of a cosmetic nature, work for its own sake, but work that will have to be done sooner or later—and better sooner than later. It is the classic example of a stitch in time. The window which is not painted today will have to be renewed tomorrow at perhaps 10 times the cost. That is a lesson which every householder knows, and it clearly needs to be kept in mind when considering the future implications for public expenditure.
Clearly more investment is needed. The motion is not just a plea for more money, perhaps not even a plea for more money. However, I would always argue that one can spend more on infrastructure. The motion refers to negotiations with the construction industry as a matter of urgency and a need to establish a partnership with a sector of our industrial infrastructure which can achieve many of the things we all agree need to be done. We need to establish a long-term strategy on which the industry can plan.
§ Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)
Would the hon. Gentleman say how much more public expenditure he is calling for?
§ Mr. Thornton
If the hon. Gentleman listens to my remarks as I develop them, he can draw his own conclusions. I am asking for more effective use of existing moneys. That is stated clearly in the motion, which the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) clearly has not read very carefully.
I feel especially strongly about the fact that for so long we have tended to see what I call the scatter gun approach to solving some of the problems. We are throwing too little money at too many problems and significantly failing to solve them.
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
The hon. Gentleman said that his motion calls for the better use of existing resources. As the Conservative administration in Wirral has now lost overall control, will he make some suggestions to the incoming groups as to how they can better spend incoming resources?
§ Mr. Thornton
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I had the honour and pleasure of leading the Wirral authority at one stage. I should be delighted to talk to the new administration, if there is one, about the ways in which we tried to achieve what I am talking about now, to concentrate the resources we have on solving problems. I have referred to that on a number of occasions as the laser approach. It is much more effective, especially when we are trying to hold down overall levels of expenditure and when we have to recognise the fact that we cannot always allocate the huge sums of money that would be required, to concentrate those sums of money on the specific problems rather than scattering one's shot more widely.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Will my hon. Friend welcome the fact that in Lancaster and a number of places in the north-west private builders are coming in to take over unwanted blocks of flats and, in my city at least, are on the point of doing them up to an acceptable standard?
§ Mr. Thornton
The partnership that is necessary to solve many of the basic problems of decline, especially in our inner city areas, is one that I welcome. Certainly my point about the use of the laser is relevant to my hon. Friend's point.
Liverpool has hit the headlines on more than one occasion, very often for reasons which those of us who live on Merseyside deplore. Nevertheless, whatever one's feelings about Liverpool and similar cities, one cannot fail to recognise the problems that exist there, the serious nature of those problems and the fact that much money needs to be spent to solve them. However, throwing public money through local authorities is not always or even usually the best way of solving them.
In Merseyside we have seen one example of the way in which the laser can be used, whereby relatively small sums of public money were put through a Government-sponsored organisation, in this case the Merseyside Development Corporation, in order to solve a particular problem. The problem in Liverpool was the reclamation of derelict land. We have seen in the docklands of Merseyside and we are seeing in the docklands of London the way in which a development corporation of this nature can tackle a specific problem which, in many cases, local government could not tackle. I say that as one who spent a long time in local government.
In its present role, the Merseyside Development Corporation has been able to do something quite 457 significant and magnificent in redeveloping part of the city of Liverpool. I should like that concept to be expanded still further. Many people have said to me, particularly in the light of the recent political disturbances in Liverpool, that if only Merseyside Development Corporation could be given the task of sorting out Liverpool's housing problems, that would be a significant way forward and a significant step forward.
Merseyside Development Corporation has two advantages. First, by effective management, it bypasses much of the nonsense and political claptrap that we have heard about the problems that the council has faced. It has also shown a singular ability to attract private investment. Relatively small sums of public money used as pump priming have been used to attract private sector finance into the area of the development corporation's ambit. That needs to be expanded when we look at our basic infrastructure problems in future.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the magnificent work that the development corporation has done, but will he tell the House what the figures are? How much public and private investment has there been? Those figures are revealing.
§ Mr. Thornton
If I had the figures before me, I should be delighted to tell the House, but I have not. All that I know is that, apart from the land reclamation costs, which people always accepted would be high in the initial period, major dock refilling and major problems of dereliction in the docklands that had to be overcome, there has been a growing ratio of private to public pounds, particularly in the Albert dock development. I do not have the current figures in front of me, but I believe that that is likely to increase.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
The hon. Gentleman was referring to the development corporation, but also attacking local councillors. Does he not appreciate that the more he attacks local democracy, the more he puts the whole of democracy at risk? It is only a short extension from his argument that one has a development corporation for local things to suggesting that it would be much more efficient to run the country in that way. Surely it is important to involve local democracy. Unfortunately, the development corporation does not do that.
§ Mr. Thornton
If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will see that the one thing I was not doing was attacking local government. I was saying that on some occasions local government had shown its inability to tackle the problem. I know from my experience what a local authority can do if it is willing to work with the private sector, and if it is prepared to recognise that its own direct labour organisation is not necessarily the best way to deal with housing policy. There is ample evidence, certainly in the example of the city of Liverpool, that the policy on housing, and particularly housing repairs, can be managed in a far better way than it has been managed for many years.
§ Mr. Frank Field
May I go back to the Merseyside development corporation because I should not like us to refer to it without paying tribute to Basil Bean and the effect of his talents on the whole of Merseyside? I also compliment the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. 458 Heseltine), whose vision established the development corporation. People in Merseyside are now seeing the fruits of that.
The hon. Gentleman says that this is the approach that he wants because it does not lead to a substantial increase in public expenditure, but I fear that his message may be so coded that his hon. Friends on the Front Bench do not receive it clearly. Will he tell the House that Merseyside development corporation has spent about £80 million of public money? That is a sizeable sum. If people look at how it has been spent, I think that no one will dispute that it has been spent effectively. If the hon. Gentleman is calling for only minor increases of public investment of that nature, many Opposition Members will support him.
§ Mr. Thornton
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for paying a handsome tribute to Basil Bean and his team in the development corporation because their work has been spectacular.
I am not in any way seeking to minimise the amount of money that has been spent, but a much more effective way to do so would be to concentrate it on a specific problem rather than adopt the scatter gun approach. We need to give far more attention to that. The development corporation concept has shown that it can work effectively, and it gives far better value for money in many respects than channelling the same amounts of money through local authorities.
I should like to refer to the community programme in connection with the more effective use of money and what the Government are already doing. All of us, particularly in the areas of industrial decline in the north-west, feel that the Government face the task of reducing unemployment. They have shown their commitment by the considerable amounts of money that they are putting into job creation schemes. I question whether the community programme is the right vehicle for such expenditure. I question its effectiveness in several ways. Many people feel that it is merely job substitution and that it would be better to channel the money through the construction industry properly—with adequate supervision, and proper protection for those having the work done in case the work is put in the hands of people who lack the necessary expertise.
Another aspect which is of equal, or perhaps greater, importance in the long term is the training aspect of the community programme. The industry is rightly concerned that if the millennium occurred and the Government tomorrow said that the industry could have unlimited amounts of money, in places such as Merseyside, people would not be able to respond by using the indigenous labour force because, to a large extent, the skilled people are no longer there. If they are, they are in insufficient numbers and not coming forward for retraining and the new jobs which we hope will come from the money that is to be channelled through the construction industry.
The fact is that as long as the present downturn in the construction industry continues, the more depleted the industry's skill reserves will become with the passage of time. The figures show clearly that there has been a reduction in real terms in the number of apprentices coming forward for training in the construction industry. If, as I believe will happen, there was more effective use of Government money, and if there was more work for the construction industry, which I also believe will happen, it would be a sad day for areas in the north-west if we had 459 to import labour from other parts of the country to fill the jobs created in our region by such an upturn in the construction industry.
One other point connected with what the Government are doing within the present expenditure levels is the argument, waged on many occasions, between the merits of an increase in capital expenditure and taxation cuts. The Government have recognised that job creation is at the heart of their strategy. An exercise was carried out by Cambridge Econometrics which revealed a comparison that makes interesting reading. The study estimated that if one were to invest £500 million per annum on building over a five-year period, that would produce 55,000 jobs at a cost to the public sector borrowing requirement of £198 million per annum or, more effectively, £3,600 per job. The same sum, £500 million, as a stimulus in the form of tax cuts, would produce 20,000 jobs at a cost to the PSBR of £278 million per annum or £13,900 per job.
§ Mr. Thornton
The hon. Gentleman can read the figures tomorrow in Hansard.
Any figures can be challenged and there must be a great deal of subjective speculation as to what figures relating to tax cuts would achieve by way of stimulus. Even if one was to err on the side of generosity and knocked a substantial amount off the figure of £13,000 and increased the figure of moneys per job going through the construction industry, it is evident that a similar figure could create more jobs at a lower cost in terms of public expenditure. That is an important point which my right hon. and hon. Friends should consider.
§ Mr. Favell
Does my hon. Friend accept that the construction industry will flourish where private enterprise flourishes? The greatness of Manchester, Liverpool, and of all the great northern industrial cities was built on the back of private enterprise. People build factories where there are jobs and where there is enterprise. People build roads to towns that are flourishing, and they build houses where workers are in work. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that we should encourage private enterprise rather than hoist public spending?
§ Mr. Thornton
I agree with my hon. Friend. He is not disagreeing with the main thrust of my argument, but he has picked up a specific point that I was about to make.
Nothing I have said has been a plea for increased public expenditure. I am specifically asking the Government to examine their existing expenditure plans to see whether there might be better value for money and whether that money could be spent more effectively. I agree with my hon. Friend that only by having the right environment—and that must include a flourishing and thriving private sector—can we hope to bring about the long-term improvements to which I have referred.
§ Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)
On the hon. Gentleman's point about spending, does he agree that councils should be allowed to spend an increased percentage of their capital receipts? What effect would that have? Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the present 20 per cent. restriction on capital receipts?
§ Mr. Thornton
I have already stated my views on that. I believe that councils should be able to spend a higher proportion of their capital receipts. We are facing such a severe problem that we can only tackle it by using capital receipts.
The motion is especially relevant to the north-west, the industrial heartland of the country, which has suffered major and dramatic decline in the past few decades. Major demographic changes have followed that decline and have resulted in poor environment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) inferred, we have seen the consequential lack of investment in the area.
We can see the effects of the decline on the environment in Manchester. They measure the size of the holes in the sewers in Manchester by the number of double-decker buses that would fit into them. We have seen the cumulative effect of the decline in the north-west. The lack of employment which has been caused by the industrial decline has led to social and economic decline.
Today's debate has given me the opportunity to draw to the Government's attention the opportunity that is staring the Government in the face. The Government and the people both want the same thing, and that is real jobs. We want not cosmetic jobs, but jobs which give skill training which will guarantee the quality of workmanship of the labour that is needed in our infrastructure. We want work that will improve the environment which we all know to be necessary. We all want to see the standards of houses, schools, hospitals and roads improved, and we want to see stability in the industry. There must be a plan which will enable the industry to plan for the future, not stop, go, stop, stop or half a pace this year and a quarter of a pace next year.
I believe that there should be a long-term project which stretches as far into the future as any of us can see. The problems of our great metropolitan areas will take decades to solve. It is already too late for some areas, but the consequences of further delay are unthinkable. It would be a devastating indictment of successive post-war Governments if Britain were to enter the 21st century still housed educated and cared for in 19th century conditions.
I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to adopt the spirit of the motion—few would disagree with its spirit—and to give effect to its urgency and to the real opportunity that it presents.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
Mine will be only a brief intervention in the debate, as many of my hon. Friends wish to speak. The debate is an important one for the north-west and I thank the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) for this opportunity to press the claims of a region which is crying out for more investment. This is our chance to try to convince the Mr. Bumbles at the Treasury that we must have more.
In congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his choice of subject, I also commiserate with him on the timing of the debate, which comes hot on the heels of the most devastating electoral defeat ever suffered by his party in the north-west of England. In Manchester the Conservatives were virtually eliminated as a political force in the city's affairs. Elsewhere in the north-west they suffered one spectacular rout after another. Indeed, Macclesfield is now left as the only Conservative-controlled council in the region and, as everyone on the 461 Conservative Benches must know, the Government's treatment of the north-west was a principal cause of last Thursday's debacle.
Regional imbalance in Britain has increased, is increasing and must urgently be diminished. For all who are prepared to listen, that is one strikingly clear message from the electorate of the north-west. There is now very little regional economic planning, nor any coherent strategy for regional development, and the north-west is among the hardest hit of the losers.
In many parts of the region, unemployment rates are more than double those of the south-east. Youth unemployment is an even bigger scandal. One of the best economic historians ever to write in the English language said of Manchester that talking about industrialisation meant talking about Manchester. Today it is not possible to talk about deindustrialisation without talking about that city. There is gross underuse of resources, mass unemployment, rampant decay and dereliction. We have male unemployment rates of over 50 per cent. in localities all over Manchester. Even more grievously, more than two-thirds of our young people go from school to scrap heap.
In a plea to the Government from Manchester last Wednesday, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) described the housing conditions of many Mancunians as "unforgiveable" and called for more determined action to close the gap between rich and poor in Britain today. He was visiting, as a repentant sinner, a city that has lost over £400 million in grants since the present Government came to power.
The hon. Member for Crosby referred to hospitals. I hope that the right hon. Member for Henley was told in Manchester that our hospitals are also in deep crisis. While DHSS Ministers pat themselves on the back, Manchester hospitals are unable to admit patients who are seriously ill because of swingeing cuts in their budgets and further ward closures.
Ministers can talk until they are blue in the face about pouring more money into the NHS, but doctors in my constituency complain angrily of the closure of their local hospital to all admissions on several occasions this year and of 11 heart attack patients who had to be turned away from Wythenshawe hospital in a single month. While he was in the city, the right hon. Member for Henley ought also to have been informed that Manchester university, in the words of the vice-chancellor, now faces "academic bankruptcy" in consequence of the Government's proposed cuts in funding over the next four years.
"What's good for the south-east is good for Britain" is what many people in the north-west see as the central theme of the Government's policies. They are sick to the teeth of the creeping south-easternisation of this country. They reject the argument that, as the south-east depended a century ago on the industrial might of the north-west, so now the north-west needs the wealth and growing tax base of the south-east.
We are told that "overheating" of the south-east's economy helps to fund investment for a more modern industrial environment in the north-west. That is not true; it does not. Fewer resources than ever before are being applied to rebuilding the most stricken parts of the northwest. In fact, taxpayers there are made to "featherbed" the south-east by supporting commuter services, by paying for London to have more than its fair share of infrastucture investment and by paying for London-weighted salaries. 462 To give just one more example, 40 per cent. of mortgage tax relief goes to the 31 per cent. of householders in the south-east.
There is an overwhelming case for a statement from the Government on how they intend to correct regional disparities in terms both of economic and social conditions. They must recognise that a solution to the problems of the north-west requires more than a regional policy can provide. The impact of such investment decisions as the proposed massive development of Stansted airport and the Channel fixed link, and indeed the effect of main expenditure programmes of Government Departments, are of the first importance. So also are the main spending decisions of the nationalised industries and major private sector investments.
If we are to stop cramming more industry and housing into the south-east—to the further detriment of the north-west and other regions—every policy decision that affects economic activity must be reviewed to ensure that the regional dimension is fully considered. There should be a statutory requirement for a regional impact analysis of every major new investment project and, more especially, of all main spending programmes of Government Departments. We must also have policies for our airports and tourism that take proper account of regional disparities. In particular, there must be an absolute limit of 7 to 8 million passengers per annum on Stansted and the total elimination of cross-subsidy at that airport.
We on the Opposition Benches are not the only strong critics of the shambles that now passes for an airports policy. Listen, for example, to the judgment of the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), an acknowledged specialist in that field, in a debate on the Airports Bill. Speaking of the Government's policy and, in particular, its effects on regional imbalance, he said:I believe that the policy stinks. The north of Britain is woefully economically deprived. There is a huge economic gulf between the south-east and the north. Why should people be artificially attracted to airports such as Stansted, which they do not wish to use, when the north is crying out for the jobs and infrastructural development that is associated with airports?"—[Official Report, 9 April 1986; Vol. 95, c. 257.]We have a Government who have been refusing to listen not only to the electorate, but even to their most informed parliamentary supporters. I ask them now to listen and to read—and especially to read the policy initiatives called for in "State of the Regions", which the North of England Regional Consortium recently published—and then to act urgently to correct the regional disparities which have so gravely damaged the north-west of England. If they fail to do so, they will soon find out for whom the bell tolls loudest.
§ Sir Walter Clegg (Wyre)
Like the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) on initiating this debate, which is of especial concern to those of us in the north-west. My hon. Friend made some interesting comments in his introductory speech.
It can be said at the outset that the problems facing the north-west are not new. I have been a Member of this place for 20 years and we were facing the same problems 20 years ago. The problems started in the 1930s with the rundown of the textile industry. The region has suffered 463 through movements of trade and because of its geographical position, which was once its strength. The problems to which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby referred are long-standing, but he made some important comments which many of us would recognise, one of which was that so much money has been wasted, especially money in the private sector.
When I visit some of our inner cities and, to a lesser extent, the smaller towns of the north-west, I am astonished at the state of housing that was erected only 10, 15 or 20 years ago. It seems that there was a time in the 1960s and 1970s when we built cheap and built into that cheapness expenditure for the future. For example, flat roofs on schools are extremely expensive to maintain. Lancashire county council displayed the state of the school building problem and the problems of maintaining schools in Lancashire. The old Victorian schools had lasted very well, but it is heartbreaking to find that money spent in recent years has not produced value for money in the long term. Instead, it has produced buildings that are extremely expensive to maintain.
I shall give an example—a small one, perhaps—that is typical of the waste that took place. Some local authority buildings, especially some for old people, had an inexpensive electrical heating system built into the floor. Such systems were so expensive to run, however, that the residents could not afford to use the heating system that had been provided. Had there been higher capital spending and a cheaper system to provide heating, so much the better.
§ Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)
I take the hon. Gentleman's point that some of the rubbish-build, system-build and package deals of the days of which he speaks were disastrous and that local authorities are now reaping the whirlwind. Does he agree that Governments of both complexions of the 1960s and 1970s altered housing subsidy with a view to high density system building, a move in which local authorities were not involved? Therefore, previous Governments have some responsibility.
§ Sir Walter Clegg
I am not laying all of the blame at the feet of local government—the mania seemed to sweep the whole country. Nor was it peculiar to the northwest. For the very best of reasons, men and women of good will tried to do the best for their communities but landed us with an extremely difficult inheritance in a short time.
I am attracted to the motion and the idea of bringing in private industry because private industry can build what people really want to live in better than anyone else. If we had done that rather than build some of the monstrosities that were erected, we should have been in much happier circumstances today.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)
We all agree about some of the devastating buildings that went up in the 1960s, but almost all of the system-built blocks of the 1960s, certainly in the Manchester area, were built by the private sector, not the public sector.
§ Sir Walter Clegg
Much of the work was put out to the private sector, but presumably the plans were approved by the customer—the local authority—and the Government 464 consented to the buildings. I am not blaming anybody; I am merely describing what has happened so that we might learn the lessons.
As usual, the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe made an interesting speech and I should like to take up some of the issues that he raised. One was Manchester airport and regional airports such as Speke and Blackpool. Any subsidy to Stansted which would affect development at Manchester would be outrageous. For reasons that I have given in the House before, we need development at Manchester. I would not go as far as to condemn the Channel tunnel, as did the right hon. Gentleman, as there is a certain geographical inevitability about it and we combat it in vain.
We can get better value for money from public money. It should be used on infrastructure, but it must be used correctly. There has been some interesting debate about whether local authorities can do their tasks properly. I started my career in local government and it is clear that the demands on it have changed. Perhaps the lack of expertise in many commercial matters contributed to present difficulties. If local government is to run commercial enterprises, more commercial expertise will be needed to replace the administrators of the past.
The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe also spoke about the Health Service. The resource allocation working party has affected hospitals in the south-east as well. Resources have been deployed to the north-west. The allocation of resources in the north-west has been somewhat at Manchester's expense, with funds going to authorities such as Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde, which is a poor relation of all district health authorities and has been denied for years.
I do not know whether hon. Members have heard the great shout that shifting resources to the north-west has aroused in the south-east and London. The television and local newpaper reports down here have been full of it. Any reallocation of resources will cause any Government problems.
§ Mr. Straw
There is a reason for people shouting about the Health Service all over the country. There have been cuts in health services in the south-east and in the north. There have been cuts in the number of staff in Blackburn and Manchester. RAWP was never designed to be an excuse for absolute cuts in the Health Service in London and the south-east. The difference between the Government and the Labour Government is that RAWP is now being used as an excuse for such cuts.
§ Sir Walter Clegg
I did not intend to use RAWP as an excuse. I was in on the early discussions, and it was absolutely necessary if a wrong, which had been created many years before, was to be put right. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's comments about the Government's treatment of the Health Service. He knows that there are more doctors and nurses than when we came to office. It is a demanding service. A large hospital has been built in Liverpool and the money required for such provision is immense. I envisage no end to demand. That is one of the difficult problems which will face any Government. People will always want more. We have to do the best that we can.
As a northerner, I am deeply depressed by the north-south divide which is springing up. I do not want it to happen, as it will be bad for the country. Scotland and 465 Wales have development agencies and perhaps we shall have to think about something along those lines for England. I saw in today's newspapers a huge advert put in by the Welsh Development Agency, trying to attract modern industry to Wales. It made me think that perhaps we have not the resources in the north-west to do the same on the required scale.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby for giving us a chance to speak for the north-west once more. His idea of involving the private sector could produce results far and away better than what we have achieved with similar expenditure before.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
I utterly agree with the hon. Member for Wyre (Sir W. Clegg) about the problem of having to deal with mistakes that were made 12 or 15 years ago. In my city and others in the north-west, putting right the system building and the massive municipal bantustans which stretch facelessly from the railway lines to the cemeteries, the spine blocks and the cluster blocks, which people have rejected, is becoming a nightmare for many local authorities. Resources will have to be made available if we are not to avoid demolition of blocks—which can be witnessed in my city at the moment—that are only 12 years old. As the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) said, the resources can come from the private as well as from the public sector.
I agree with the hon. Member for Wyre about the NHS. He referred to the new hospital in Liverpool. I am not especially beguiled by massive new schemes. Indeed, there is much to be learnt from the mistake of building great hospitals such as the one in Liverpool. It is too big to be administered properly and visitors get lost. I have received many complaints about the sheer scale of the place—not about the staff who work extremely hard or about the facilities which are extremely good. Perhaps we did not think sufficiently about what is of use to human beings and too much about what was of use to the architects and planners who have created these nightmares, be they in housing or the NHS.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) talked about regional disparities. I agree that it is no coincidence that the 100 constituencies with the lowest level of unemployment are situated in the southeast of England. We are all conscious of the sun belt that has grown up on the western side of London. That contrasts with constituencies in the north-west, where it is increasingly difficult to make democracy relevant in areas where unemployment is as high as 50 per cent., as it is in parts of my own constituency. It is extremely difficult to hold the line for democracy and democratic values when people from the extreme wings of politics—militants in particular—are able to ensnare those whom democracy has rejected or has little to offer.
That is why it is important that we debate this motion. We should all he grateful to the hon. Member for Crosby for making this time available to the House so that we can discuss these important issues. Obviously, I do not agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman said, as he will no doubt have realised from my interventions and those of hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). In particular, I am at variance with the phrase in the motiona more effective utilisation of existing monies466 given that no more money may be available for the public expenditure cake. There is a need for more money to be made available. However, I recognise that we can sometimes use existing resources more effectively, and I agree with the view expressed about direct labour organisations. Nevertheless, there is a desperate need for more resources.
Organisations such as the Merseyside development corporation need more public funds if they are to carry on with land reclamation schemes and the renovation of Albert dock. Although one would like to see the injection of more private funds, that has been disappointingly small compared with the public money that has been allocated to date.
The motion is lacking in that it adopts a cosmetic approach to the problem rather than getting to the heart of the difficulties faced by the north-west—a total lack of public and private resources. Only four or five weeks ago, the Government had an opportunity to do something about this, and I was disappointed that they decided to give £1 billion in tax cuts rather than making more resources available for the construction industry or for cuts in employers' national insurance contributions.
I was glad that the hon. Member for Crosby dissociated himself from that decision, and I suspect that in the future there will be even more opportunities to do so, because the Government have already indicated that a further £4 billion may be given away next year to reduce the standard rate of income tax to 25p in the pound. That should not be our chief economic objective in the context of our social priorities.
I also despair about the way in which we have given away about £30 billion in North sea oil revenue that has come into the coffers. I despair that assets amounting to £7.6 billion that have been sold off since 1979—a further £14 billion will be sold off between now and 1989—have not been reinvested in the economy. That is why I agree with what has been said about capital receipts. It is scandalous that local authorities, having sold off council houses, are not able to reinvest those resources in their local economies. I would not object so much to privatisation or to the sale of properties if the resources that were liberated were reinvested in the economy.
There is also the cost of keeping people unemployed. The Treasury now estimates that it costs £23 billion to keep people out of work. That is ludicrous when there is so much work that needs to be done.
The week before last some of us were present in Westminster abbey at the celebration service for the Domesday book—a survey carried out 900 years ago. At that time, William the Conqueror, having despoiled many parts of the north of England—and known by the epithet of "the harrier of the North"—sent his men to survey the north of England. They saw the damage that had been done and the ravages that had taken place in the north. Those incidents were carefully detailed in the Domesday book. If a similar survey were carried out today, I wonder what would be found. If surveyors were to go there now, they would find that another harrier had been at work. They would see cities that are dying, estates that are disintegrating, roads that are collapsing and homes that are decaying. They would find the people demoralised, including many disillusioned and embittered young people who are now resorting to heroin. Half of all the crime in the north of England is now committed by young people. There is bitterness, hopelessness and 467 despair. People are short on hope, and although they are our greatest resource, they are left to lie idle on the dole queue and consequently become increasingly embittered and dejected. That resource must be matched with the need, and that is why we should invest more in things such as homes.
There is a need to spend more on improvement grants. More than 500,000 homes still do not have inside sanitation, running hot water or bathrooms. That is nonsense while 400,000 building workers are standing idle on the dole.
The same can be said of house insulation. In 1979, £35 million was spent on energy efficiency, but in 1986–87 that has been reduced to £8.3 million. Throughout the northwest there are council estates and terraced houses where the heat is going out through the roofs because of inadequate insulation. There is work to be done in that regard, and there are building workers waiting to do it.
Many empty council and private dwellings could be used for people in need. In my own city alone, more than 6,000 properties in the public sector are standing empty while people are in need of those homes. We ought to encourage co-ops, self-help groups, private enterprise and the public sector to tackle those problems. That is why, when I was housing chairman, I encouraged organisations such as Barratts to come into Liverpool and to embark on low-cost homes-for-sale schemes on derelict land in the inner city. That is why I encouraged Barratts to take over disused tenement blocks in places such as Myrtle gardens and to build low-cost flats for sale, all of which have been bought by people who now live in the heart of the inner city.
Imaginative schemes are possible, but it needs pump-priming. It is significant that, in his evidence to the Select Committee on the Environment just over a year ago, Laurie Barratt said that schemes such as Minster court and the one in Salford would not now be possible because of the additional burdens that have been placed on construction firms and the lack of Government incentives. There should, therefore, be more pump-priming and help for private enterprise which embarks on such projects.
The hon. Member for Crosby also spoke of the need to spend more on roads, sewers and schools. I agree that the conditions in some of our schools are absolutely primitive. The construction of a Mersey barrage should also commend itself to the Minister and should be supported by hon. Members. That would be a symbol of hope for the people of Merseyside in particular. It could supply one third of the electricity requirements of Merseyside as well as create thousands of construction jobs. It would create new deep sea water facilities in the mouth of the Mersey and a massive area for recreation. Private enterprise has shown an interest in such a scheme. It would cost about £222 million, but when compared with the cost of a new nuclear power station at about £2.5 billion, that is small money indeed. Like the Channel tunnel, such a scheme should commend itself to the Government, and I hope that they will consider it seriously.
We cannot dodge the fact that more resources are needed. There is no point in robbing Peter to pay Paul. There is a desperate need for more resources in the public sector as well as pump-priming to encourage the private sector. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Crosby for 468 drawing our attention to these important matters and concentrating our minds on the enormous problems facing the north-west.
§ Mr. Ken Hargreaves (Hyndburn)
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) on his success in the ballot and commend him for his choice of subject.
It is a matter of regret that we can spend many hours each Session in the House discussing the problems of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, yet we must win a raffle to get three hours to talk about the problems in the north-west. I shall spend a few minutes of that valuable time dealing with the housing problems that we face in the north-west.
The housing problems of Hyndburn are typical of many areas in the north-west. Sixty per cent. of our houses were built before 1914 and most were built before 1890. Eighty per cent. are owner-occupied, 41 per cent., or 11,000 properties, would qualify for repair or intermediate grant, and 10 per cent. have no fixed bath or inside toilet. It is a depressing position.
The Government are to be congratulated on recognising our problem and increasing our HIP allocation. Last year, Hyndburn borough council spent £1.8 million on improvement grants—eight times as much as in 1978–79, when it spent £233,000. At present levels of expenditure it will be 30 years before each owner-occupied household can expect to enjoy basic amenities in a property free from major defects. Although we are grateful for that increase in allocation, it is still not enough. We are worried that it may be reduced, which would be economic madness.
Either we improve our present substandard housing and keep it in the private sector, or we allow it to deteriorate still further so that, eventually, it must be demolished and replaced by council houses at six or seven times the cost of an improvement grant. That invariably means that the householder is rehoused in an area where he does not want to live in a house he cannot afford, and that, subsequently, he needs and receives further subsidy from the public purse. Given that the Government are committed to reducing public expenditure and increasing owner-occupation, I fail to see how that latter course of action can help to achieve either.
The way forward must be through an increase in spending on home improvement grants. That being so, I ask the Government to increase their support for the neighbourhood revitalisation service scheme. It presents them with an obvious opportunity to help. It was set up and designed to tackle the problem of encouraging local authorities and the private sector to work together in their own interests and in an organised way. Basically the scheme is committed to an assault on some of our rundown housing areas, each comprising 2,000 to 3,000 houses, through fostering community programmes, based on making the most effective use of limited public resources and maximising private funding.
The four pilot schemes in Sheffield, Oldham, Bedford and Gloucester have been most successful, and areas in the north-west would benefit greatly from the extension of the scheme. The initiative is now at a crossroads: either it can tick over as an interesting applied research project or it can be developed rapidly to 150 or more schemes at a modest budget of £6 million. From experience of the pilot 469 schemes, it seems that a ratio of 1: 3 of public to private sector money would be generated over four years. A modest start of a constant 25 projects would require new funding of just over £1 million. That would generate £25 million of HIP allocation and £75 million of private sector investment. It would create 1,084 jobs on site and 360 jobs in factories producing building materials. At £759 a year per job it must be a bargain. It must be the answer to our two major problems—housing and unemployment. Those problems are so massive that the Government and local authorities alone cannot deal with them. The public sector, the private sector and individuals must all work together to solve them.
The north-west, with so much substandard housing, would be a major beneficiary of an extension of the NRSS. I welcome the fact that even a small increase in funding would enable a scheme in Hyndburn to go ahead. The benefits of an extended NRSS are enormous in terms of reducing unemployment, providing decent housing and generally giving a boost to areas such as the north-west. It is an efficient, effective way of spreading scarce resources. I urge the Government to seize this opportunity to provide the small amount of extra funds necessary to allow a minimum of 25 new schemes a year to go ahead. By doing so, they would demonstrate that they continue to recognise the problems of the north-west and that they are prepared to deal with them.
§ 5.6 pm
§ Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)
I, too, welcome this opportunity to debate the motion, and congratulate the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) on moving it.
Obviously, hon. Members from all three sides of the political spectrum will raise their voices today in favour of the development and well-being of the north-west. We have raised our voices many times in the Chamber. Only a couple of weeks ago Lord Dean of Beswick raised his in the other place. The chambers of commerce, the chambers of trade and the trade union movement have raised theirs. We have all spoken about the decline of textiles, engineering, chemicals and paper manufacturing in the north-west.
The trade unions, in their 1986 Budget submission, made a number of interesting points for an improved regional industrial policy. They called for a restoration of the money removed by the savage cuts in the regional industrial budget, which had nearly halved the programme since 1979. The north-west has lost about £50 million a year as a result. Those resources should have been used to support companies coming to and expanding in the north-west. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that that can be done without any financial investment. He wants something on the cheap, but unless we can bend the Government's ear and unless financial resources are invested in the region, we are wasting our breath, as we have done in previous debates.
One of the main planks of infrastructure investment is the reconstruction programmes. The trade union movement proposed a £290 million programme of investment in houses, roads, schools and hospital building in the north-west. All hon. Members know of the housing waiting lists from the great numbers of people who attend their regular advice bureaux. The housing waiting lists have increased by about 40 per cent. since 1979, and the backlog of repair work is reaching crisis proportions.
470 We have some heavily used motorways and trunk roads, all of which require a great deal of maintenance, and replacing and renovating such infrastructure would assist the north-west. As a Member of Parliament representing the inner city of Manchester, I do not need to be told about the number of road collapses that occur. It is sometimes said that one needs a helicopter to get across Manchester because the roads are collapsing as a result of worn-out Victorian sewers. These are massive problems. Hon. Members have talked about the school and hospital buildings that are outmoded and inadequate. A reconstruction programme would, in addition to improving the attractiveness of the region, create about 60,000 jobs.
Most of the infrastructure changes would help to rebuild public services. We need to rebuild our public services, particularly increasing expenditure on education and health services. About £180 million needs to be spent in these sectors. We are talking about real money because this cannot be done on the cheap. The TUC budget package, if implemented, would give a £900 million boost to the regional economy and would create about 30,000 jobs in the first year and up to 90,000 jobs over the next four years.
The inner city of Manchester has tremendous housing problems, for the reasons set out by the hon. Member for Crosby. Governments of both political parties changed the subsidy on housing and invited local authorities to build high density tower blocks and provide system-built package deal housing, the problems of which we now have to face. Some of these "highways in the skies" have been built for only 10 years, yet the bulldozers are being moved in to demolish them. One can never assess the social deprivation caused in those years.
In housing we do not need speculators' dreams of system-built housing, but brick-and-mortar traditional housing with gardens—the homes that people desire. In the north-west over 92,000 households are overcrowded, over 131,000 dwellings lack basic amenities such as a fixed bath or an internal WC and 388,000 dwellings require major expenditure. At this rate, it could be more than 20 years before enough houses are built to meet current needs alone. Moreover, the current efforts on improvement are equal to less than 7 per cent. of demand. The number of dwellings falling into the unfit category now outstrip new build and renovation.
We all know that the motorway system is bad. Anybody who drives to and from Manchester, as I do, will know how many road repairs are being carried out in the northwest, and a great deal more needs to be spent on this. We have been calling for railway electrification for the northwest, but so far the Government have not agreed to allow this. We also need a rail link to Manchester airport. Stansted airport has already made its rail proposals, which have been accepted. We had to have a debate in the House to stop that Stansted line from going ahead because Manchester is still waiting. If the Government would give us the go-ahead on the Manchester rail link, we should have no objection to Stansted. However, the drift to the south-east means that Stansted will get heavy and hidden subsidies, which will be to the detriment of Manchester.
We are still waiting for the rapid line transport system in Greater Manchester, and I hope that, when the opportunity comes, I shall be able to introduce a Bill to bring fast modern tram cars into the centre of Manchester.
471 These are all exciting ideas. The will is there. We require the resources to carry out such plans.
A great deal of attention has been paid to derelict land. In the north-west we have about 10,000 hectares of treatable derelict land, and this is about 29 per cent. of the total for England as a whole. North-west local authorities have put in bids totalling £70 million for derelict land grants, but the most optimistic reply, from the Department of the Environment, is that only £5 million will be available in any one year. That would merely scratch the surface.
Almost every day I see derelict sites in my constituency. For example, in 1978, in just one section of Manchester—the north-east—manufacturing employment accounted for 63 per cent. of all jobs. Since that date, the job losses in manufacturing industry there have been dramatic. Between 1979 and 1983, at least 12 firms employing more than 100 people closed. These include international names such as Laurence Scott Engineering, Richard Johnson and Nephew—which had celebrated 200 years in existence and which was the finest manufacturer of wire in the world. They have closed, and closed for good. Some 350 jobs have gone at Easicut Tools, and Walden and Makin have lost 270 jobs. Now, GEC Switchgear, a company that is supposed to be the epitome of all that is good in profit-making, will lose 300 jobs before the end of the year. Last week I heard that Manchester Steel, the last steel mill, was closing for good. This is not like the 1930s. These firms are closing for ever, leaving empty monuments to the past. These are vandalised, which leads to dereliction, and the local authorities have to pick up the pieces. That happens regularly in inner city areas such as Manchester.
The environmental consequences of these changes can be seen in vacant and unused land and buildings. One quarter of the industrial land in the east of Manchester is vacant. The Manchester city council, through its initiatives, has tried to take steps to remedy the problem. It has spent about £8 million in acquiring land and buildings to carry out demolition, but if this is to happen and new buildings and businesses are to be enticed into the area, more finance and resourcing from central Government is needed.
The city council has pressed the case for funds to be provided on a regular programme basis and we are arguing that £10 million is needed over the next three years to carry out reclamation of derelict land building. The Government should be committed to Britain's industrial future—one that would support industry and its workers as other countries do. It has frequently been pointed out by trade and commerce that we are not comparing like with like. In other countries industry is subsidised and is getting favourable interest arrangements. As a result, we cannot compete. The Government must listen to the voices from both sides of the north-west today. We are asking for some action.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
Recently the lease on my house in London came to an end, and I went to docklands to see whether I could afford a house there. It was the first time that I had visited London's docklands, and I found acre upon acre of dereliction. I have read in the newspapers and heard in the House of the good work that 472 is going on in docklands, and no doubt it is; but it will take decades to solve that problem. Anyone who walked through even half of the area would realise that. When I saw the problems that exist there, even though the City of London, with all its wealth, is only two or three miles away, I realised how great the problem is north of the Wash.
I have lived in the north all my life. I was born there, brought up there and worked there, and I know the north well. Docklands is a minuscule problem compared with the problem in the north. If we in the north-west, or the north-east, expect the taxpayers of London and the southeast to come galloping to our rescue and solve our problems overnight, we have another think coming. When Labour Members continually bleat and say, "As long as we get grants, or a little more money from Westminster, our problems will be solved", they do the north a disservice, and the sooner they realise it, the better.
We must remember that the greatness of the north was built on private enterprise. Liverpool's greatness was built by the people of Liverpool, not by the people of London, Southampton or Brighton. It was built through the sweat, labour and hard work of the people of Liverpool. The same applies to Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle. If we continue to kid our people that Government grants will solve the problems, we shall do them a great disservice. It is a lie, and Labour Members know it.
We must encourage private enterprise, which is what we are doing in Stockport. Our unemployment is less than 10 per cent. Stockport is in the north-west and has suffered the same problems as everyone else, but we have encouraged enterprise, and it works. Unemployment is less than the national average; it is far less than the average in the north-west. We have no enterprise zone and we receive no grants. The only way in which we shall solve the north-west's problems is by the hard work of the people who live there. We cannot rely on the help of the hard-pressed taxpayers in the south-east; and they are hard-pressed, with mortgages of £40,000, £50,000 or £60,000 for houses that they could buy much more cheaply in the north-west.
§ Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)
This is one of the rare occasions when we can make a few comments about the north-west. The great pity is that this is a short debate and we must be brief.
Some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) were offensive to some residents in the north-west. The people of the north-west are not asking for handouts from the southern counties. They are asking for their just entitlement from the Government. The Labour party believes that the Government should spend money in our areas to the same extent as they invest it in the south. The money that is invested in the south does not belong only to southerners. It comes from the taxpayers of Britain. For that reason, we are making a just demand on the Government and saying that we are entitled to a share of the money. We have not received our share and that is why one. speaker after another, including Conservative Members, have made similar demands.
The north-west has made probably one of the biggest contributions to the welfare of Britain since the industrial revolution. Its contribution is beyond comparison with that of any southern county. The north, including the northeast, brought all the greatness to Britain. It was not the 473 southern counties. It is about time to dispel some of the stories being told, including those of the hon. Member for Stockport. Nowadays, we receive nothing like the amount of money to which we are entitled.
There has been massive investment in airports, but not in the north-west. The great success of Manchester airport has been due to the tenacity, ingenuity and courage of the people in the Manchester area in supporting their airport with their money. We have never received handouts, as has been implied. That is why we object to money being invested in places such as Stansted. We hear that the Government will invest thousands of millions of pounds in the new Channel link, which will not create a single job after construction is completed. It will merely siphon off more jobs and expenditure to the south, leaving a desert in the north-west and the north-east of England.
Matters became even worse after 1979. I clearly remember hearing the present Secretary of State for Education and Science, when he was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, say that he would remove industrial development area status from many of the areas represented by hon. Members in the Chamber today. He removed industrial development area status from Manchester, which meant that no grants were available. Company after company was induced to move to other towns and leave established factories because they could obtain grants in those other areas. About two years ago, the Government had to relent, change their policy and reintroduce industrial development area status.
The people of the north-west have always been pioneers, and I resent anyone saying that the people of Manchester and Liverpool are lazy and want only handouts. That is not the case. The pioneers who built the Manchester ship canal, Manchester airport and other developments were second to none.
§ Mr. Eastham
I shall discuss Trafford park in a moment.
The Government have some responsibilities that they cannot avoid. It is not fair to tell the people of the northwest, "You must do it yourselves." Communications are the Government's responsibility', and Government money should be spent on them. We do not receive the money to which we are entitled. Speaker after speaker today has drawn attention to Manchester airport and the just demands for the railway spur. It is incredible to hear the Government talk about a possible rail link for Stansted. We do not even know whether it will be a success. Yet the Government have been procrastinating for years about the decision to encourage the railway authorities to invest the money.
§ Mr. Favell
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we all have the future and prosperity of everyone in the northwest at heart? Should we not emphasise what the northwest has to offer? We have the finest motorway network in the country; we should tell people about it. We have the finest airport outside London; we should tell people about it. We have good, cheap houses; we should tell people about them. If people need to modernise their houses, the building societies would be only too pleased to lend them the money to do so.
§ Mr. Eastham
That is precisely what I have been saying. We are the people who pioneered Manchester 474 airport. Depite having a rotten Government, we have spent money on priorities such as communications. We object to massive sums of money being pumped down south, where the people have not been working any harder than those in the north. That is a legitimate complaint to make against the Government.
Trafford park is dear to me. I worked there for several years as a planning engineer, when GEC alone employed 25,000 workers. Now only 12,000 workers are employed in the whole estate. Yet in one way or another Trafford park affects 500,000 people. It was one of the first industrial estates in the world to be built and was created not by the Government or by those in the south but by the people of the north-west.
It is a fact of life that there has been a decline in our traditional manufacturing industry. We in the north-west recognise that and know that it is not the result of neglect. Industrial trends have changed. Microtechnology was unknown before the war. But that does not mean that the people of the north-west should not have a share in some of the new industries. During the past two years no fewer than 25,000 jobs have been lost in Trafford park. But all is not lost. There are many opportunities, if only the Government would take them. The north-west has a skilled labour force. I marvel when people say that there is a serious shortage of skilled labour in the south, because in the north-west skilled men and women work as attendants in hospitals, or in parks. They could be doing magnificent, highly skilled 'work.
The north-west has an excellent road network. Land is immediately available, so there is no need to waste time. We can make quick decisions. The infrastructure already exists in Trafford park. Gas and electricity are already laid on and everything is there waiting, yet we do not gel. the Government assistance that we need.
We have some of the best education facilities in the world, let alone in England. People are sent to Manchester university or Manchester polytechnic because those institutions are the home of high technology. Much of the technology in computers and the chip came from the northwest. Yet to the Government's shame, the north-west has never shared in the prosperity to which it is entitled.
Local authorities can deal with many of the problems, but the Government must first help. They must encourage investment in the north-west, and must give more urban development grants. The Minister may refer to Trafford park's great potential at the end of the debate. I know that he has been there. But Ministers tend to go to Trafford park, say that it has great potential and that they will do something, and then go away and do nothing. It is not only politicians but industrialists who are dissatisfied. They, too, say that something must be done. It is not good enough for Ministers to come along, say that they will look into the matter and then go away never to be seen again. Another Minister then comes and goes through the same rigmarole. He has a walk round Manchester and the industrial estates and then goes away and does nothing.
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
While the Minister was there, he might see 6,000 empty houses and flats. The hon. Gentleman was talking about quack decisions. Does he not think that Manchester city council should make a few quick decisions, and follow the example of Bolton council, which has used Government money in co-operation with private developers to clear up such problems?
§ Mr. Eastham
I do not mind dealing with housing, and if time permits I may come to that. Sometimes decisions cannot be quick, because we are talking about years of neglect. The Conservative party has been in office since 1979, so we are not asking for a quick decision when we tell the Government to get off their bottoms, get up north and do something about it. They should get on with the job for which they were elected.
I was in local government for a good number of years, and know that the legacy of old Victorian schools meant that people were desperate to build new schools. But all Governments said that that would cost too much. Consequently, authorities could not build schools with the pitched roofs that they wanted. The Government would only allow so many thousands of pounds for building a primary school. It was not a question of people not realising the problems involved with flat roofs; it was merely a question of money. Perhaps that answers some of the points made about schools.
Housing is a very sensitive area. I remember scores of debates on housing and its problems. Contrary to what the hon Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) said, properties are vacant not because of local authority neglect but because of the massive cuts made by the Government which have affected home improvements. Massive modernisation schemes were stopped in their tracks after tenants had already been moved out because there was a stop on the money. Does the hon. Gentleman think we should have moved those people back in even though the property may have needed a new roof or have had defective electrics that could have been a fire hazard? The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East spoke about 6,000 houses, but there are 110,000 council houses in Manchester. It is thus understandable that some of them will need maintenance. I hope that answers some of his cheap points.
Only last week I received a letter from the managing director of Wilson's brewery saying that he was sorry to advise me that nearly 300 jobs would be lost in July. He said that there would be redundancy pay and so on. But people do not want that; they want jobs. As long as this Government remain in office, people know that they will not get another job—;
§ Mr. Eastham
If the hon. Gentleman would care to stand on his feet, I will deal with him. It is not rubbish for me to tell Conservative Members that there are now nearly 4 million unemployed. Do they call that rubbish?
§ Mr. Hind
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the past 12 months the workforce has increased by nearly 1 million, from 23 million to 24 million? That has happened despite the fact that the number of school leavers has increased greatly due to the earlier birth bulge, and has outnumbered those retiring. Is he further aware that once the birth bulge is reversed the unemployment trend will reverse and begin to fall? Many people have accepted their responsibilities and have said to themselves "I will get myself a job." They have gone out and got one. Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that his sort of defeatist talk gives the north-west a bad name?
§ Mr. Eastham
The hon. Gentleman cannot expect 4 million people to jump on bikes and find jobs in another area. The hon. Gentleman is deceiving himself if he 476 believes that more jobs have been created. If he analysed the Department's figures, he would find that many of the jobs to which he referred are part-time jobs. The full-time jobs are going. The part-time jobs tend to be the worst jobs and the lowest paid. People cannot even survive on such low wages. That is what the Government are aiming for.
Wilson's brewery told me that nearly 300 of my constituents will be out of a job in July. In its letter to me, the brewery said that it is an old plant and it is to move to a more modern plant in another town. That decision had nothing to do with the work force. It was not taken because of any neglect on their part. No investment has been made in the brewery. The workers, through no fault of their own, are losing their jobs. The Government ought to spend more money on refurbishment and modernisation in industry to keep jobs.
§ Mr. Favell
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House why Wilson's brewery is investing in a town other than Manchester?
§ Mr. Eastham
I will not go into the mechanics of Wilson's brewery. Wilson's brewery owns a chain of pubs in Manchester and makes much of its profit as a result of people drinking Wilson's beer. When Wilson's closes down, there will be a few hundred fewer people spending money in its pubs. If the people of Manchester were to boycott Wilson's brewery and say, "If you cannot invest in Manchester, we will not buy your beer", it might reconsider its position.
High unemployment places many burdens on local government. It is unfair that local government must make provision for social services and so on because people are unemployed. The Government's philosophy is that of low pay for workers, not giving workers a fair deal, and attacking fair wages. Hon. Members will see examples of this in the debate on the Wages Bill on Wednesday and Thursday this week.
The Government have imposed massive increases in transport costs. That has placed another burden on the low paid, because many of them do not own cars. Those who rent council properties have been faced with fantastic increases as a direct result of Government policies.
The north-west is right to remind the Government, as it did in last Thursday's election, that citizens will not forget the dismal policies and failure of the Government during the past seven years. I am sure that the Government will be swept out of office at the general election.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) for giving the House an opportunity to consider the problems of the north-west. I ask the House to consider the Opposition's view of those problems. Let us not forget that many of the problems inherited by the Government in 1979 were the direct result of the economic disaster that was foisted upon us in 1976 by the Labour party, which went to the International Monetary Fund, borrowed money left, right and centre, and slashed capital programmes completely.
§ Mr. Hind
Especially hospitals. An amount of £1 billion was slashed off the hospital building programme, and the public have a right to know. Those problems were inherited by the Government in 1979. The Government 477 had not only to pay back the money that was borrowed and rectify the economic disaster but to restore the capital programmes that had been vastly reduced by the Labour Government. It ill becomes Labour Members to complain and whine about the state of the north-west when they have blood on their hands regarding the problems that face us today.
I am proud of the north-west and the part that my constituents play in it. It is worth taking a few minutes to put before the House some of the successes in the northwest—for example, private housing. In the whole country, in the third quarter of 1985, new orders for housing were I l per cent. up, and 21 per cent. up on the same period in 1984. The figure was 15 per cent. up on 1981. In 1985, £27.8 billion was allocated for private housing construction—the highest level since 1981. The Government's policy is that, if possible, every person should be given the opportunity to own his own house. I am pleased to say that 63 per cent. of the people in this country have taken the opportunity to do so. Well over 1,500,000 have purchased their houses from local authorities under the right-to-buy programme.
Nobody denies that there is a shortage of housing. It is a problem which we should be tackling, but there are successes in the private housing sector. The north-west is an example. The north-west is doing much better under the Conservative Government than it ever did under the Labour Government.
The north-west has probably one of the most ambitious hospital building programmes ever seen in this country. A sum of £600 million is to be spent over 10 years. Hospitals are to be built in almost every major centre in Lancashire and the north-west. In December 1988, a £19 million programme will commence for phase one of a new hospital in my constituency, followed by a further £16 million three years later. There will be a new hospital in 1994 at Skelmersdale, at a cost of £3.5 million. My constituency is not an exception. Other north-west areas are in a similar position.
Those who complain about hospital wards closing down forget that the Warnock report showed that we should close down the Victorian asylums, which we politely call mental hospitals, and move the mentally and physically handicapped into the community. That has taken place, ending many of those old hospitals. We must remember that when a new hospital is built, an old one tends to close down, because the facilities in the new hospital are much better.
Manchester airport has been mentioned. There is only one airport outside London which is classed as an international gateway. The White Paper contains a proposal to build a rail link between Manchester and the airport. The Government made a commitment to that. A working party has been established to consider a rail link. The airport terminal was recently refurbished. Six million passengers will go through the airport this year. It is projected that the figure will rise to 13 million passengers in five years. The White Paper also contains a proposal for a new second terminal at Manchester airport. The runway has been extended. Some hon. Members were not fully supportive of the Airports Bill because it was felt that it could go further. The Government said that they would not tolerate cross-subsidisation between London airports in order to give Manchester airport a proper chance.
§ Mr. Hind
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I appreciate that comment.
The motorway network in the north-west is probably the finest in Britain. Our colleagues in the south-east complain that we have more motorways than they ever dreamt of. Our motorway network planning has been imaginative. My constituency is on a motorway T, on the M58 and the M6.
If we abolished the dock labour scheme in Liverpool—I hope that will. happen in the next few years—the port of Liverpool would be more competitive and would advance ahead of the non-dock labour scheme ports it the south-east.
I heard the comments of the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) about the loss of jobs. To what extent is that caused by Labour-controlled authorities overcharging on the rates? Last year, industry spent as much in rates as it did in corporation tax. That is the size of the overheads faced by business. To improve competitiveness and achieve tight worldwide competition, industry must have lower costs. That is why some Conservative-controlled council areas are benefiting from industries which have moved from places such as Liverpool to areas in west Lancashire which have well-controlled, well-run Conservative councils that keep the rates down. That is a fact of life, and those who complain must look at what they are doing.
The Government have led the field in the north-west in the enterprise agency movement. It was pioneered in St. Helens and Rossendale. Rossendale was so successful that it lost its assisted area status.
We must consider the north-west as a whole. How many constituencies there do not qualify for Government grants, for industrial selective assistance and regional development grant? My constituency, except for two parishes, is a fully assisted area. In the financial year 1984–85, we received £3.5 million in regional development grant alone to create new jobs, to build our factories and to improve the infrastructure.
§ Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)
Is my hon. Friend aware that Bury, which had long suffered from not having such assistance, was granted it two years ago? Is he further aware that recently one of the leading companies and the largest employer in the Radcliffe part of my constituency, the East Lancashire Papermill Company, announced a £20 million development programme? Do not such actions, for which the Government rightly take credit, help to reduce unemployment in the north-west?
§ Mr. Hind
I agree with my hon. Friend.
479 That is not the end of it. I have said that there have been major successes in the north-west, but we should consider some of the problems. Like my colleagues, I shall not say that everything in the garden is rosy. There is a strong argument on the industrial side for having a north-west development agency similar to the development agencies in Wales and Scotland. Many of my colleagues must object to the advertisements on Granada Television showing the sun coming up over the Welsh mountains with a Welsh choir singing. It must stick in their throats to know that such advertisements are showing the competition faced by the north-west in attracting new regional industries. Perhaps we should do the same and repeat the successes of the Welsh Development Agency on Deeside in south Wales and of the Scottish Development Agency in silicon valley in north-east Scotland.
About 47 per cent. of schools in Lancashire are church schools and 35 per cent. of our pupils attend them. There is a strong argument for providing more money for new projects and to improve those schools. There is an argument also for improving those schools controlled directly by the Lancashire education authority—for example, by alleviating the flat roof problem which occurs in schools throughout Britain. Recently, an all-party delegation comprising hon. Members from both sides of the House—including the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) and me—saw my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to argue the case for the north-west, especially Lancashire. There is no doubt that greater infrastructure spending is needed for the north-west.
Despite the problems, there have been improvements—for example, in housing and schools. What is the answer? It comes down to the economic argument. It is no good following the path that the Opposition want to take. Their proposed fresh public expenditure of £24 billion—an increase of more than a sixth—would lead to an additional 5p or 6p in the pound on income tax. That would destroy jobs and everything else that is being done and would create inflation beyond our wildest dreams. There are alternatives.
It boils down to an argument which is taking place in the Conservative party between infrastructure spending and tax relief—between spending the £3.5 billion or £4 billion which may be available next year and giving it out in tax relief. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will bear in mind hon. Members' comments. The problem, especially in the north-west, is unemployment. Increased infrastructure spending will help us to tackle it. In some communities, including Skelmersdale in my constituency, there are estates with 40 per cent. male unemployment where people have little skill except in the building trade. I believe that there are about 800,000 building operatives in Britain without jobs. Those people will be assisted by infrastructure spending on housing and home improvement grants, road maintenance, school maintenance and public building maintenance as a whole where the work is labour intensive. Such spending will attack the unemployment problem and assist us to improve our infrastructure.
It is no good the Opposition complaining about the reduction in housing improvement grants. Under the 480 Labour Government, those grants were well below £100 million. Since then, they have increased by well over seven times.
The north-west cries out for improvements in capital spending. The Government must balance the needs of the economy. They must look at the books and consider what we can afford. Perhaps in future, as the economy grows, as it has done in the past six years—;
§ Mr. Hind
The hon. Gentleman laughs. He does not want to hear that the economy is doing well. He wants the unemployed as a massive army to vote Labour so that he can tell them how badly off they are and say, "Do not worry, chaps, we shall put it right, just like we did in 1976." But we all remember the IMF. That is not the answer. Infrastructure spending will have an important role to play as the British economy develops further under a Conservative Government.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)
The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) is wrong on so many counts that it is difficult to know where to begin. However, let me tell him about spending on hospitals. His hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) has been beating a path to the door of the Secretary of State for Social Services on many occasions in recent months because he refused to honour the promise to build the Altrincham hospital in the borough of Trafford. That failure affects my constituents. Furthermore, his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) has joined Labour Members in trying to ensure that British Rail and the Department of Transport do something about the rail link to Manchester airport. Despite their White Paper, this Government are notorious for not honouring their promises. They have not yet delivered on that promise.
The hon. Member for Lancashire, West referred to the Government's success in the public sector. He referred to the success of British Rail's electrification programme and to the success of the local authority-owned Manchester airport. Opposition Members agree with him about that, but in the north-west the private sector has failed abysmally to honour its part of the bargain.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) referred to the problems at Trafford park. I intend to refer to Trafford park, too, because the hon. Member for Lancashire, West referred to the success of the private sector in Conservative-controlled authorities where there are low rates. The borough of Trafford claims to have one of the lowest rates in the north-west. For many years it has been a Conservative-controlled and extremely doctrinaire authority, and Trafford park has lost more jobs than have been lost in any other borough in the north-west. The hon. Member for Lancashire, West shakes his head, but he does not know the true position.
I could read out a list of companies that were once great manufacturing companies. I could refer to companies, such as the General Electric Company, that have shed thousands of jobs under this Government. Greengate Cable has just laid off nearly 300 workers in my constituency. I could also tell the hon. Gentleman about companies such as Ingersoll Rand that have laid off employees and closed factories in Trafford park because 481 it has been impossible under this Government to sustain manufacturing investment. The result of the Government's failure to invest in the infrastructure in that area is that it has been impossible to persuade industry to reinvest there. It has been impossible to get the Arnold Weinstocks of this country to reinvest in Manchester when they can reinvest more successfully in other parts of the country. Who would come to Trafford park when it is in such a poor condition?
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has visited Trafford park. He is one of the few Ministers who has made it to the north of England, and that is possibly why he has been asked to reply to this debate. The Minister has intimate local connections with the north-west and he is one of the few Ministers who has listened to the arguments. But a Secretary of State ought to be responding to this debate. This job should not have been fobbed off on an Under-Secretary of State, who is always dragged out to respond to debates of this kind. A Secretary of State who knows about industry in the north-west and about the need for investment in the industrial infrastructure of the region should have replied to this debate. However, a Secretary of State is not to respond to the debate, which means, sad to say, that it is a downgraded type of debate. But that is what the north-west deserves, according to this Government's priorities.
Conservative Members have bleated about the role of the private sector. What is the role of the private sector in housing? Several blocks of flats in my constituency have been sold off to the private sector for improvement. Improvement is badly needed, but the local authority was forced by this Government's policies to sell off those blocks of flats. The local authority would have preferred to improve those properties, but it did not have the money with which to do so. Their sale means that many of my constituents, with massive housing problems, will be unable to be housed by the local authority for many years. In one case, eight adults are sharing a small terraced house. One of the young couples in that extended family has no chance of being offered a house in Trafford because, as an authority, Trafford has failed abysmally in its responsibilities.
Trafford's policy of flogging off council property to the private sector means that the waiting list will not get shorter. The reality is that those with money will continue to have access to private sector housing in Britain. However, there is no hope for would-be council tenants. There will continue to be overcrowding and ever-lengthening housing waiting lists.
I should like the Minister to tell me why the northern regions, with their massive housing problems, have received less money from the housing investment programme during the last two years. Why has the housing investment programme allocation of the southern region and London been increased? The northern regions, with their massive housing problems, have suffered from this policy. What have Conservative Members been doing about this? The north-west region has been one of the biggest losers. Its housing investment programme allocation has been reduced from 15.7 per cent. to 14.6 per cent. What have Conservative Members done to ensure that the north-west receives its proper allocation?
§ Mr. Lloyd
My hon. Friend says, "Nothing" and of course he is right. The north is faced with massive housing 482 and transport problems because of disinvestment by the private sector. It has moved its investment to the southeast. The amount of money that has been made available by the Government is irrelevant to the problems that face the northern regions. Voters may be attracted by the idea of fine tuning, of a subtle change in public and private sector investment and of a more efficient use of public money, but that will not solve the problems of the northwest. It will not solve the problems of the thousands of families who need to be housed. It will do nothing to create jobs for the thousands of people who are unemployed. It will do nothing to create the infrastructure that is urgently needed.
The work force in the north-west has great talent and great skills, but there is a leeching of those skills and a bleeding of those assets because of the failure to invest and reinvest by both the private sector and central Government in a sensible and adequate training programme. Our greatest asset in that region is the skilled work force, but we are bleeding that region. The responsibility for that will continue to lie with this Government until the day comes—very shortly now—when they are kicked out of office.
§ 6.7 pm
§ Mr. Tom Sackville (Bolton, West)
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) for raising this important issue, which affects many right hon. and hon. Members. I shall risk being unfashionable in seeking to find common ground with the Opposition. I agree that more investment in the north-west is needed. However, the Opposition seem to imply that it is in the Government's gift to bring that about. That is not true. The Government can do a great deal but we have to recognise the Government's limitations in the private sector. The real problem is the disparity in private investment between one part of the country and another. The amount of money being invested by the private sector in the south of England is many times larger than that which is being invested in the north-west. That is the main reason for the growing disparity between the various regions. That problem has to be addressed. It is no use arguing with each other about policy.
Why is the economy becoming more and more centralised in the south-east? There seem to be various reasons for it. They are partly to do with history and partly to do with the fact that some traditional industries are closing down or reducing their capacity, in particular in the north of England. It also appears to have something to do with the fact that for many reasons London is becoming the centre of finance and various new industries. When a new industry closes down in one part of the country it is not replaced there but new industries appear in a narrow band somewhere between London and Swindon. No Government can try to reverse that trend by themselves. It is up to regions such as the north-west to attract business back.
There are various ways that the Government can help. The first is with major infrastructure projects, which are needed not just for their own sake but to attract industry to a region. For example, in the Bolton area we have long been campaigning for the trunk road network to be completed. Last year the Government promised the M6-M61 link—route 225—which will do a great deal to complete the network and improve industries' communications in a westward direction. It will also do a great deal 483 for road safety. We have also been campaigning for a long time for the Windsor link between Victoria and Piccadilly and we now have a promise of that. Such projects are vital if we are to make the region more attractive to industry.
Hon. Members have mentioned the airport. That is a major asset of the north-west. It is unlikely that modern businesses will decide to set up in the north-west without good air travel facilities. I endorse what has been said by others about the rail link. Even if the rail link between Manchester and the airport does not meet British Rail's current criteria, it should be recognised that it is vital that everything possible is done to help Manchester airport to grow and serve the region in future. If the rail link does that, Ministers should look carefully at the criteria that they are using and do everything possible to reach a favourable decision.
§ Mr. Thurnham
Will my hon. Friend deplore the action of trade unions which call for strikes at Manchester airport when the Government are doing so much to encourage investment there?
§ Mr. Sackville
I agree. The last thing that we need do in the north-west is to shoot ourselves in the foot in that way by closing an airport for the day. What can possibly be achieved by that? The one-day strike must have destroyed a great deal of business.
The Government can also help regions through regional grants. It is wrong to talk about the Government pouring money into other parts of the country. Public sector investment per head in the north-west is much higher than in other parts of the country, as will be borne out by the statistics. Again, we must not confuse public sector investment with private sector investment. On the other hand, it is not that easy to convince Government to give the north-west the right priority. I notice from a recent parliamentary answer on regional selective assistance that in 1985–86 Scotland received £41.6 million, Wales £21.7 million and the north-west, with a comparable population, £10.8 million.
Money for other infrastructure projects such as housing is important and I should like to see housing allocations reflect more accurately the real needs. The allocation of housing money in Britain should be affected by the unemployment rate in the different regions.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) that a Secretary of State should reply to the debate. I have no worries at all about my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment answering the debate. I am sure that he will do so ably. However, the Government should, in all their decision making, take greater account of the regional impact of what every Department does, whether it is a matter of health, housing or whatever. Britain needs a better and more comprehensive regional policy. Then perhaps we shall have a better and more equal spread of private investment in the regions. One of the regions most in need is clearly the north-west.
§ Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)
This is an important debate. The north-west is asking for nothing that it is not entitled to. Britain's wealth and prosperity in the previous century and in the early part of this century was made in the northwest which was the cradle of the industrial revolution. 484 Indeed, it is because we were the cradle of the industrial revolution that we face many of the problems that we do today, which need a solution and demand more money from Government sources.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) who said that the private sector can largely do that job. I do not deride the private sector and say that it has no part to play in this, but at the end of the day the problem is so vast that the Government must provide the money that is needed.
As has been said by several hon. Members, the rail link to Manchester needs electrification. I welcome the proposed introduction of Sprinters on the line from Manchester to Blackpool, but that line also needs electrification, as, ultimately, does the east Lancashire line which has now seen the welcome introduction of the Pacer trains.
We need the M65 link to the M6 and M61. There is a strong case for a link from the M65 eastwards into Yorkshire and to the M1. We need that because the M62 is overloaded. Another transport feature of the area, which is evidence of the industrial revolution, is the Leeds and Liverpool canal. The Government have a duty to support the project, at present under study, to deal with the obsolescence and dereliction along that canal and they should make funds available for that. It runs as a ribbon through Lancashire and into Liverpool and resources are needed to deal with the problem.
The project that has been undertaken at Wigan pier will be a tremendous improvement and its example can be followed in Lancashire, Wigan and, indeed, in the Weavers triangle in Burnley.
Lancashire needs some £44 million over the next five years if we are to bring our schools into an adequate state of repair. In my constituency one school was closed earlier in the year and the county council has now decided that two schools need repair and rebuilding as a matter of priority. To carry those schemes out will mean taking money from other parts of Lancashire unless the Government are prepared to make money available.
Those are just a few of the points that can be made. We need resources. The Government need a change of direction and if they do not make it they will get the answer at the next general election.
§ Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)
We have had an excellent debate and I thank the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) for arranging it.
We had a major contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who drew our attention to the "State of the Regions" report from the North of England Consortium, which is supported by all the local authorities in the north, and speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham), for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) and for Burnley (Mr. Pike). I am pleased that the debate has also been attended by my hon. Friends the Members for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), and for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) and by my right hon. Friends the Members for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) and for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon).
It has been recognised, certainly since the early 1970s, that there has been a major inner city problem in this 485 country with its roots in complex economic and social factors that go back at least to the war. However, the scale and depth of the problem have become much worse in the past seven years.
Ten years ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), when Secretary of State for the Environment, made a major speech in Manchester which signalled a change in the Labour Government's approach to inner cities and the start of a major effort by that Government towards the inner cities. He drew attention to the appalling unemployment in the Liverpool travel-to-work area, which stood at 12 per cent.—a rate which is now below our national average for unemployment. Today's figure for the Liverpool travel-towork area is 21 per cent. and in many parts of Liverpool the figure is up to 50 per cent.
We see the same story across the rest of the region with unemployment at 15 per cent. in Manchester—even on the Government's fiddled figures—and in Blackburn and Burnley, 19 per cent. in Widnes and Runcorn and 18 per cent. in Rochdale, the Wirral and Chester.
However, unemployment is primarily an urban problem. Even in the north-west there are areas of great and sustained prosperity. For example, cheek by jowl with my constituency at Blackburn is the rural area of Ribble Valley, where the Clitheroe travel-to-work area has the second lowest unemployment rate in the country at 5.6 per cent. It is over the hill and far away—another country. We are dealing with partly a regional problem and partly a problem of the major conurbations. There are similarities between the problems that we face in the north-west and those that are faced in the hearts of London and Birmingham.
Jobs are an indicator of the depths of the problem, but so, too, is housing. The decay of the housing stock in both the public and private sectors in the north-west has been cataclysmic. There was a small increase in expenditure in 1982, with the pre-election splurge on improvement grants, but that has been it. The figures of the decline of housing investment, even allowing for the relative improvement in expenditure on grants for the private sector, tell their own tale. A sample of eight boroughs in the north-west—Liverpool, Manchester, Salford, Knowsley, Sefton, Rochdale, Blackburn and Blackpool—shows that, at constant prices, £285 million was allocated to those areas for housing investment in the last year of the Labour Government. This year, it is £94 million—a cut of two thirds in housing investment.
Another indicator of the problems is the extent of social and economic decay, which have been most obviously and graphicaly illustrated in the past decade by riots of a sort that we have not seen since the turn of the century, and by the level of drug addiction and the idleness and waste.
There are many causes of the problems faced by the inner cities. Official policy, reacting to overpopulation after the war and in the 1950s, favoured decentralisation and moving people out of the cities. Many people in the cities did not need official encouragement and moved without any encouragement. Overestimates of population growth led to great emphasis being placed on the growth of new towns, with the inner cities suffering.
In addition, we have seen the results of market forces, with companies deciding that it is more profitable to leave the inner cities and invest outside. They have done that in 486 great numbers, which is one reason why Ribble Valley is much more prosperous than Blackburn. though the people are roughly the same
The Government's constant refrain is that problems have been caused and not solved by the use of extra resources. We have heard from the chairman of the Conservative party, who is now basking in the glory of last Thursday's election results, that the problem of the inner cities was that money was thrown at them. We remember the inner city debate in which we were treated to an intellectual extravaganza by the chairman of the Conservative party as he heaped one insult on another in an effort to prise open the problems of the inner cities.
However, even more thoughtful members of the Government, who have nothing to do with the chairman of the Tory party, have been dragged down to that level. The Secretary of State for the Environment said that in the 1960s and 1970svast sums were literally thrown at the inner cities."—[Official Report, 4 December 1985; Vol. 88, c. 293.]That statement is simply untrue. The record shows that in the 1960s and 1970s, precisely because of the emphasis of policy away from the cities, money was not thrown at the inner cities. Of course, money was spent on housing, but it was principally spent on slum replacement and would inevitably have had to be spent. The emphasis of expenditure was not towards inner cities but away from them. It was against that background that the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) made a speech in the 1970s when he was Secretary of State for the Environment in which he spoke of the revolt of the cities. They were revolting against the lack of expenditure. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney—against all the odds—turned the engine of Government towards the inner cities, but generally there has not been expenditure on the inner cities; they have been neglected.
When examining the record of the last seven years, no one could accuse the present Government of throwing money at the inner cities. There has been a catastrophic loss of resources. A total of £2.4 billion of rate support grant has been taken away from the north-west compared with 1979—£370 for every man, woman and child in the region. As I said, housing investment programmes have been cut by 66 per cent.
Everyone accepts that Liverpool has a housing problem, yet its housing investment programme has been cut from £66 million to £26 million. Manchester's programme has been cut from £96 million to £26 million, and Salford's programme has been cut from £50 million to £14 million. Even Blackpool, which has a housing problem, despite the fact that it is represented by a Conservative council, has seen its programme cut from £7 million to £1 million. That is a record of utter neglect by the Government.
We have also seen the neglect of public transport. There have been cuts in subsidies and fare increases and soon there will be chaos and anarchy as a result of the deregulation of the buses. There is no doubt that a good and cheap public transport system is critical to keeping industry in the inner cities. The British chambers of commerce say in their latest submission that the Tyne arid Wear metro has hada magnetic effect on company location.As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central said, the same would happen if the rapid light transport 487 system and many other improvements in public transport were introduced in Manchester. Instead, in response to the crisis in the inner cities, we have had only cuts in public sector investment, and that has been a major contribution to the crisis.
Partly in consequence of the neglect of our region, the voters gave the Government a massive rejection at the polls on Thursday. I should put on record the fact that not one of the urban councils in the north-west that were up for election last Thursday remained Conservative. Indeed, of the 29 councils up for election in the region only one stayed Conservative, and that was Congleton—hardly a major urban centre.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), is a wet. I was told earlier that Ladbrokes quote the odds against his becoming Secretary of State for Education and Science at 1,500 to one, and we wish him well. However, while we know the hon. Gentleman to be a good wet who agrees with us rather than with the chairman of the Conservative party, he supports and sustains the Government, as do all the other Conservative Members who have been wringing their hands. The Government's problem is that, like the Bourbons, over the past seven years they have forgotten nothing and learnt nothing from their experiences.
One reason why those of us present on the Opposition Benches are Socialists—at least, all but one of us are—;
§ Mr. Straw
We are Socialists because we do not believe that market forces alone can benefit the people. We believe that a free market wastes resources. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in the inner cities. Although it is rational for companies to decide to establish their firms outside inner cities if they find that land, transport and communications are cheaper, it does not follow that the aggregate total of those decisions is of benefit to the country as a whole. The hidden hand of the market does not work in that way. The result is that resources are wasted within the inner city and outside.
Conservative Members may disagree with my analysis about the failure of market forces to produce welfare, but they should wake up to the consequences of neglecting the inner cities for their heartland areas.
§ Mr. Straw
I shall not give way because of the time.
It is true that on the whole inner city areas are Labour controlled, but if the inner cities are neglected the problem will flow to the Conservative semi-rural heartlands. The pressure will be on for building land. People who have moved into green and pleasant countryside areas to get away from city hordes will find that all sorts of housing estates are popping up and that filthy factories are being run next door. The developers will have a riot on their hands such as the one in Essex, which is faced by those trying to develop the green belt area around Tillingham hall. I may not appeal to the social conscience of the Government in pleading for inner city policy, or pleading that they be converted to our view of Socialism, but, rather like the argument used by the public health protagonists in favour of the Governments of previous centuries doing 488 something about cholera, I say that unless we do something about inner cities the problems will spread to the areas of Conservative Members.
If we felt that private enterprise would work to provide a solution, as the hon. Member for Crosby suggests, we would support the motion wholeheartedly. However, I ask hon. Members to look at the record. Look at the record of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). Five years ago he took a bus load of entrepreneurs around Merseyside and said, in exactly the same terms as we have heard today, that all they had to do was harness the private sector and all would be well. Look at the fact that Inner City Enterprises, an institution set up to harness entrepreneurs and big institutions to the inner city, has managed to produce only £3 million to £5 million and the National Westminster bank, a key backer of ICE, has pulled out.
That is the record of the private sector. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Derek Hatton"?] Let us look at the record of the present Secretary of State for Education and Science before Mr. Derek Hatton was even thought of. I have said that the Conservatives have forgotten nothing and learnt nothing. The rhetoric we are now hearing is the rhetoric which the House and the country heard 23 years ago from the present Secretary of State for Education and Science, then the Minister responsible for housing. The inner city problem was described as a "twilight" problem. The right hon. Gentleman was going round the country saying that private enterprise had to be brought in to solve the problems of inner city housing. He said:The energies of private enterprise must be released in this field as they have already been released, most successfully, in the field of town centre redevelopment.Local authorities were forced to put up tower blocks all over the country because of the subsidy policy of that Minister and because the appeal to the private sector to be involved in the development did not work. It wanted the profits from putting up the buildings, but it did not want to be involved in the risks because that is not British capitalism.
From the hon. Member for Crosby we heard about the example of the Merseyside development corporation. I hope that he is not part of the Tebbit tendency which believes that when one loses local elections one should abolish those councils or reduce their powers, because some of the things he said are very worrying. There have been many suggestions, not from the hon. Member for Crosby but from those senior to him who have votes on the Cabinet Committees, that local authorities should be bypassed in the need to regenerate inner cities. I hope that the Minister mentions that in his reply.
I applaud the work of the Merseyside development corporation. It is in a different category from that of the London Docklands development corporation. It works well with local authorities. Development corporations have a role, but local authorities have the key role. Professor Noel Boaden, a member of Merseyside development corporation, was quoted in The Guardian on 13 December as saying that such bodies as development corporationsare successful only when tackling specific projects like riverside renewal.He said that their role has to be limited. I am glad that the hon. Member for Crosby accepts that. The role of development corporations is not to replace the role of local authorities but to supplement it.
489 What we need to see from this Government—I do not think that we will—is a total shift in the emphasis of policy to recognise the importance of the region and the importance of the industrial heartland of this country to the wealth of the rest of the country, including, above all, the City of London. London is and always will be a leech and parasite on the rest of the nation. Our wealth depends on manufacturing.
We need a change in regional and industrial assistance. The Government have massacred such assistance. That is reflected in the fact that relative unemployment figures are much worse between the regions than they were seven years ago. We need a regional voice. At least the Labour party is now calling for regional councils for areas such as the north-west so that the regions can have a vibrant voice.
We need a major change in the Government's public expenditure priorities. At the weekend we heard of the now significant split inside the Cabinet between those who want to give people back their own money by way of tax cuts and those who want to give it back by way of jobs through public spending. I hope that the Minister will say that he is on the side of the Biffen tendency when he replies. If the Government were to put money and real resources into the north-west and our inner cities, it would benefit not only those areas but the people of those areas and at last the jobless total would start to go down rather than up.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)
I am conscious of the fact that I am the only Member to speak who does not come from the north-west. I begin by recognising that the scale of the problem is very different from that in the area of London that I represent. Having said that, I find it strange that none of the Labour Members representing Liverpool, where the problems of the north-west are at their most acute, spoke in or appeared during the debate.
I begin by complimenting my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) for the measured and eloquent way in which he moved the motion. I was impressed by the arguments he deployed about the need to make a stitch in time to save higher expenditure later. He said that the problems he described had not arisen overnight and that they would take some time to solve. The key theme of his speech was the recognition that if we are to make faster progress we must harness the energy and dynamism of the private sector in a number of areas, not least in housing. He showed quite forcefully that investment through the construction industry was one of the most effective ways of reducing unemployment in the north-west, as anywhere else. I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that, due to the eloquence with which he moved his motion, the Government are happy to accept it. I shall deal with many of the points he made.
The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and others referred to the local election results in the north-west last Thursday. My reaction to the taunts of the Labour party is to quote from what the chief of police said in the final act of "The Pirates of Penzance":To gain a brief advantage you've contrived, but your proud triumph will not be long-lived.
§ Sir George Young
If provoked, I could sing not only that but the rest of "The Pirates of Penzance".
490 However, there is a note of caution for Opposition Members in the election results. A number of Labour-controlled authorities in the north-west may either adopt or continue to implement policies which will deeply embarrass the Opposition Front Bench and give a totally different flavour from that currently being advertised on television.
I see from today's edition of the Daily Telegraph that the Opposition are already aware of that risk. The article states:Mr. Kinnock, Labour leader, and Dr. John Cunningham, Labour Environment spokesman, have told the new groups they will not back confrontation with the Government which could lead to illegality.I also notice that some of the results were not an undisguised triumph for the alliance. In Rochdale, which I imagine would be a Liberal stronghold, there was a net loss of two seats, and the alliance lost its only representative in Rossendale.
Last week's results were disappointing. I am sorry to see some good councillors and administrations lose office through no fault of their own. For us, it has to be a time of analysis, reflection and teamwork.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)
I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the result in Sefton, which he failed to mention. It puts me in a difficulty. I can no longer attack Sefton council with the same regularity as in the past because the Conservatives have lost overall control. Also, although many of my Liverpool colleagues are not here, I am here from Bootle as secretary of the Merseyside group of Labour Members of Parliament, and I am listening attentively to the debate.
§ Sir George Young
I am not sure that the presence of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) compensates for the absence of the five Labour Members of Parliament from Liverpool. It is not helped by the fact that the hon. Gentleman arrived within the last five or 10 minutes.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) said that the north-west has lost most from the recession. It follows from that that it has most to gain from the recovery in the economy. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Sir W. Clegg) put the problem in perspective, and rightly reminded the House that much of the poorly constructed housing in the north-west was built by the public sector. For that reason, he cautioned us against over-reliance on the public sector in future.
§ Sir George Young
The hon. Gentleman spoke for about 22 minutes. I must try to deal with the debate.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) implied that the Government were cutting back on home insulation grants. The fact is that expenditure has been less to avoid allocating funds that are not used. We made it clear when we allocated the money at the beginning of the year that supplementary resources are available, and local authorities that find that their allocation is used up can bid for extra resources.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) made a powerful case on housing. I am aware of his constituency's needs. He has been good enough to bring delegations on at least one occasion. He mentioned 491 the neighbourhood revitalisation scheme. I had a positive meeting with the National Home Improvement Council last week, which sponsors the NRS. I was interested to learn that it is anxious to expand the scheme. I hope that my Department will be able to help. I shall certainly bring to its attention the strong claim of my hon. Friend's area if the scheme is expanded.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) mentioned education, as did some other hon. Members. Of course, the Government take seriously the reports from Her Majesty's inspectors and others about the repair of some school buildings, which often have suffered from years of neglect. The responsibility for repair and maintenance lies with the education authorities, but our expenditure plans have allowed a 13 per cent. increase in real terms between 1981–82 and 1984–85 for school repairs and maintenance.
Some hon. Members mentioned recent job losses and redundancies in the region. It would have balanced the picture if they had mentioned some of the good news. For example, Philips Electrical and Du Pont announced an investment of £4 million in compact disc production at the Mallard plant in Blackburn by the end of the year. There will be some 30,000 sq. ft. of plant and about 150 people will be employed. There has been major investment by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Defence in the north-west through the defence programme. One has to put that in perspective and not just look at the closures. One also has to look at the jobs that are being created.
I was interested to see that the vacancies notified to jobcentres in the north-west in March 1986 were more than 10 per cent. up on the same month a year ago. I am sure that the whole House will agree that that is a trend in the right direction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) gave a robust exposition of the case for free enterprise and self-help, which we all greatly enjoyed. The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) mentioned Trafford park, as did some other hon. Members. I hope to say a word about that in a moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) mentioned the revival of the private sector house building industry. Through our policy to bring down inflation and mortgage rates, the private sector has confidence that it did not have throughout the 1970s. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) rightly mentioned some of the constraints on central Government and asked us to take note of the regional consequences of national decisions. Of course, we must do that.
In addition to my hon. Friends who spoke, I was pleased to see in their places my hon. Friends the Members for Chorley (Mr. Dover), for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg), for Lancaster (Mrs Kellett-Bowman), for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) and for Bury, North (Mr. Burt).
At the beginning of his remarks, the hon. Member for Blackburn contrasted capital allocations for housing in the last year of his Administration with some more recent ones of ours. He left out capital receipts. Under the Labour Administration, there were not many capital receipts because there was no right to buy. If one is to look at the total picture, it is slightly more accurate to add to the allocations the accumulated capital receipts on which local 492 authorities can draw. I was slightly surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman, whom I had always thought to be one of the more sensible members of the Labour party, refer to the City as a leech and a parasite. It generates a substantial amount of invisible earnings for this country, which enables us to import food and other raw materials. It is one of the areas where we can compete effectively with Europe, north America and other parts of the world. To decry the City of London in those terms is short-sighted and not in this country's interests.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby was rightly concerned to ensure that our infrastructure is maintained and renewed so that it is healthy and capable of supporting a growing economy. The Government have been doing that. Our public sector capital spending record is good. Equally important, it has been achieved alongside policies that have been responsible for turning round the economy. The country is now entering its sixth successive year of growth, the longest period since the 1973 oil price rise. Therefore, we have maintained public sector investment in infrastructure and established a firm base of economic growth. That has to be the right long-term route to improved infrastructure and lasting jobs.
One or two hon. Members mentioned motorways. The north-west is well served by trunk road and motorway networks compared with the south-east. It has over 300 miles of motorways in use with more under construction or planned. Of the schemes that are planned, several are bypasses of towns and villages, reflecting the Government's policy of encouraging heavy traffic away from residential areas.
One or two hon. Members mentioned the water authorities. There was a sustained decline in capital investment in the region over several years to a low of £67 million in 1978–79. That decline has been brought to an end and turned round with a sustained year-on-year increase in capital expenditure in the north-west. In the current financial year it is £163 million. It has been a long haul to make up lost ground, but good progress is being made.
Some hon. Members mentioned the Health Service. Capital expenditure in the two regions has increased in real terms since we came to office. Since April 1979, six major schemes have been started on site in the two regions—each worth over £5 million—at Salford, Oldham, Tameside, Halton, Macclesfield and Southport. A further 10 schemes in the £2 million to £5 million range were also started during that period.
Private sector housing starts in the north-west last year were over 10 per cent. up on the previous year—double the national increase of 5 per cent. The level of expenditure on housing repair and maintenance in the north-west last year was also running ahead of the national trend. Spending was more than 15 per cent. up in Great Britain on the 1981 level.
Several hon. Members mentioned improvement grants. The number of improvement grants paid to private owners and tenants in the north-west last year were down on the 1983 and 1984 record level, but they were still higher than in any year between 1975 and 1982.
Of course, there are always demands for higher investment, particularly in parts of the country that have undergone sustained periods of underinvestment. I believe that our record on public expenditure in the north-west reflects the Government's good record on public expenditure in the country as a whole. Nationally, capital 493 spending on national roads has increased in real terms by about one quarter since 1978–79 and provision for capital maintenance has also gone up. Capital expenditure on the Health Service is now some 30 per cent. up on 1978–79.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby mentioned inner city policy. The Government have used a variety of initiatives to make progress. Finance for the urban programme has risen from £93 million in 1978–79 to its present figure of almost £300 million. Derelict land grant has risen from £21 million in 1978–79 to more than £80 million now. The urban development grant receives £85 million from public expenditure and has levered £366 million from the private sector. The urban development corporation receives £360 million worth of public money leading to more than £1 billion of private sector investment in the London Docklands development corporation area alone. Some 25 enterprise zones have been designated, and 1,000 firms are providing 10,000 jobs, half of which are new jobs.
The Government have also introduced the land register. Areas of land registered since 1980 total 148,000 acres and the total area removed to date is 38,000 acres.
On the key theme of partnership, the Government have tried to use public sector money to tempt in the private sector. On many of the schemes that I have outlined we have had gearing ratios as high as 5:1—£1 of taxpayers' money invested in a scheme bringing in £5 from the private sector. That is helping to generate confidence in areas and represents an extremely effective use of taxpayers' money. There are several good examples of that in the north-west.
For example, in the city of Salford, unpopular council flats on Regent road were sold to Barratts and were successfully refurbished for sale. Some 280 flats at Ladywell have recently been sold for improvement and sale, and the city council has other proposals which have been submitted to my Department under the urban housing renewal unit set up last year.
There have been other partnership schemes, again with Barratts, for a major transformation of an unpopular inner city council estate of 1,000 flats and maisonettes. The Government are considering a number of bids under the urban housing renewal unit, although in the case of one such bid from Bolton—that for Wilkinson gardens—I have already announced that the proposals have been approved. That is a £790,000 scheme to revitalise parts of a rundown housing estate with a package of measures put together by Bolton borough council in collaboration with my Department. I am delighted that councils in Salford and Bolton have taken a pragmatic approach to the role which the private sector can play in upgrading the nation's housing stock.
Another Labour authority, the city of Manchester, has, unfortunately, been slower to appreciate the benefits of that approach. On 11 December last year, my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction wrote to that council proposing a feasibility study to see how, in consultation with tenants, private developers could contribute to the resolution of physical and social problems on the council's 5,000-dwelling Hulme estate. Although we have undertaken to finance this study, the council has so far failed to respond positively to our proposals. I am surprised and disappointed at that—as I am sure others are—because the council could have seized the opportunity not just to attract extra finance into that problematical area of inner city housing, but to take 494 advantage of the flair and imagination which private developers have demonstrated in other nearby places, often with Labour authorities.
§ Mr. Alton
The Minister has made an important point. How would he enhance the rights of tenants to take the initiative over and above a local authority which decides mindlessly to pull down housing that could be improved if such partnership schemes were entered into: Some authorities do not seem to be prepared to explore such opportunities.
§ Sir George Young
The Housing and Planning Bill, which is in another place and which has been through this House, has made improved provision for tenant cooperatives. The Government accepted an amendment on Report which gave more rights than had hitherto been the case to tenants to allow them to take the initiative over the management of estates. I should be surprised if a local authority decided to proceed with the demolition of an estate or block of flats against the express wishes of the tenants. That would be bad politics and bad economics.
Several hon. Members have mentioned Trafford park, in Manchester. As hon. Members have said, Trafford park was a major industrial estate set up in the 1890s at the head of the Manchester Ship canal. A number of major companies with premises in the park have grouped together as the Trafford park major manufacturers group. They have persuaded the borough council, the Department of Trade and Industry and my Department to put in £25,000 each to fund the Trafford park investment strategy. That will be carried out by outside consultants and is designed to regenerate the area using public sector money to lever out substantial sums of private sector finance. We expect the final report later this month.
The Government's major successes in controlling inflation and creating a climate in which economic growth has not only been nurtured but sustained for the sixth successive year provide an excellent springboard for the future of the country as a whole and for the north-west region. In this, the Government have a clear role in providing the kind of infrastructure to which we attach such importance. Although the Government have initiated and encouraged collaboration between the public and private sectors, we attach great importance to the provision of infrastructure where the public sector is the main provider.
I am greatly heartened by the response of the private sector which I have illustrated with a few examples this evening.
§ Mr. Thurnham
Is my hon. Friend aware that at its northern conference last month the Institute of Directors called strongly for the establishment of a north-west development corporation? Will he support such an excellent and much needed initiative?
§ Sir George Young
Of course the Government will consider such an initiative, but that may fall to my colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry.
As I have said, there is imaginative interest from the private sector in some of the issues that we have discussed. That is shown by the construction industry and by other industries and institutions. The propects for the north-west are bright with the prospect of more jobs and greater prosperity.
§ Mr. Thornton
We have had a wide-ranging debate, although on several occasions hon. Members have strayed from the subject of the motion, but we are used to that in debates about the north-west.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) for my absence from the Chamber during part of his speech. I am sure that he will understand the reasons for my absence. I would like to clarify two of the hon. Gentleman's points. I was not suggesting that the private sector should have the sole role. I believe that there should be a partnership arrangement between the private sector and the public sector at local and national levels. These elements are all important, and one element cannot be taken from the equation if it is to be a success.
The hon. Member for Blackburn expressed some anxiety about my statement about the possibility of local authority powers being bypassed. I hope that the record will show that I was not being critical of all local authorities. I suggested that there are some local authorities which, by their actions, have shown that they are incapable or unwilling—it must be for the individual to judge which—to tackle some of the problems. Perhaps the establishment of development corporations and an extension of their role will be a way of dealing with these critical issues. I believe that there should be a specific role and not a general role. I was not seeking a general usurping of local authority powers. Local authorities are uniquely placed to achieve many improvements in the development of the infrastructure in the north-west. They should play their part and take the responsibility that is clearly theirs.
Several hon. Members have referred to the north-south debate, or divide. It is clear that there is a divide opening 496 up. The purpose of this debate is to draw attention to ways of bridging that divide. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) that we should encourage private sector development wherever possible. We want to stand on our own feet and we do not expect the rest of the country to bail us out. We must recognise that the decline in the north-west, which has had a major impact on infrastructure, is part of the structural decline of the basic industry of the country. The north-west has not brought this suffering on itself and no Government, Labour or Conservative, has been able to reverse the decline. However, all Governments must recognise that the decline must be reversed. If we can be given the investment, both public and private, which can stimulate an improvement in the infrastructure in the north-west, we shall be able to attract investment from which jobs will flow.
The motion proposes the adoption of a series of measures which I cannot believe anyone can oppose. It offers things that the Government want and things that the people want. The construction industry is ready, willing and able to take its part. We need to get the partnership going. Let us get on with the job, for we have no more time to lose.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, concerned at the long-term implications for public expenditure of the condition of much of the national housing stock and infrastructure, particularly in the North West region, urges Her Majesty's Government to open immediate negotiations with the construction industry with a view to encouraging greater private sector financing of inner city housing and infrastructure projects and a more effective utilisation of existing monies which Her Majesty's Government have made available through a variety of programmes designed to deal with both urban renewal and job creation.