Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the population of this important town has been steadily declining; that as a result of the textile slump there has been an additional loss of population in the last year of some 1,700 people, most of whom are young men, and that if the young men drift away because other industries are not provided, then the young women will go with them too—one of the natural phenomena the President of the Board of Trade may not have noticed—and we therefore shall not he able to man-up or woman-up the cotton industry?
While sympathising with the hon. Lady's difficulties in this matter, I would point out to her that there are a large number of textile towns more dependent upon the textile industry than Blackburn, and that if I were to start extending special forms of Government assistance to such a municipality as Blackburn I should have to extend them very widely indeed.
As, in spite of the efforts the Government made in the spring of this year to improve the situation, unemployment is still heavy in Blackburn, which the President of the Board of Trade has seen fit to exclude from his new Development Area, would my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that he will support all applications which are reasonable from Blackburn for building development and for building licences?
I hope I shall always support everything that is reasonable that is put forward from Blackburn or elsewhere, but I must tell my right hon. Friend that if we were to start extending a development area to places such as Blackburn there is no particular reason why we should stop there. We should have to advance over very large sections of Lancashire into places which are far more dependent upon textiles even than Blackburn, and to do that would be to undermine the real purpose of this Act.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that Blackburn was included in the list of areas which were put forward for scheduling to the President by the Joint Planning Committee for the North-East Lancashire weaving belt, which is an integrated economic unit whose problems are identical throughout the whole area; and that by scheduling merely a section of this belt he is making the problems in the rest of that area far worse than if he had not scheduled it at all?
Very large numbers of places, inside and outside Lancashire, have been suggested by that Committee and many other people for scheduling. If I were to accede to all those requests it would mean that the assistance which we could extend to areas which do really need it would become quite meaningless.
As I stated on 29th October in a statement after Questions, the Government propose to relax somewhat the stringent limitations on factory building in some areas outside, as well as inside, Development Areas, where the outlook for employment is such that the attraction of new industries is clearly desirable. I shall certainly consider on their merits new projects for those towns of North-East Lancashire which are excluded from the proposed new Development Area.
In view of the fact that, despite the improvement in the textile trade for which the right hon. Gentleman has just claimed such credit, unemployment in Blackburn is still about 6 per cent., can I have his assurance that he will consider the unemployment figure in Blackburn as sufficiently serious to warrant his agreeing to all applications for licences for industrial development for new industries?
The interests of Blackburn will be considered in common with the interests of other areas both inside and outside Lancashire. If I were now to start giving pledges in respect of particular constituencies, I think I should be pressed from many quarters of the House.
asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that, by designating the proposed new Development Area in North-East Lancashire on such a narrow basis, he will be injuring the future development of excluded boroughs, such as Darwen; and if he will widen the basis in order that such boroughs may attract industries now artificially diverted to the Development Area.
I do not accept the hypothesis in the first part of my hon. Friend's Question; as regards the second part, I have already said in the statement which I made on 29th October that the Government propose to relax somewhat the stringent limitations on factory building for some areas outside, as well as inside, Development Areas where the outlook for employment is such that the attraction of new industries is clearly desirable.
If the weaving area, which the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) rightly said is a national unit, is to be cut into two in this way, does it not inevitably follow that, at least to some extent, the excluded area will be prejudiced in favour of the included area?
No, Sir. I do not think it is prejudiced. It is true that the area which has been designated is one which, in my view, requires special assistance from the Government in order to help it secure some diversification. I have decided to give it that help if the House agrees, and I believe it would be wrong to take away from that assistance by spreading the area so widely as to make the help really meaningless.
If the President of the Board of Trade is determined not to extend the Development Area at the moment, will he at any rate, when he is giving the special assistance which he forecast in his statement to the House, bear especially in mind the rest of the weaving area which was recommended to his attention by the North-East Lancashire Development Council?