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Orders of the Day — Industrial Development, Renfrewshire

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd January 1964.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this. House do now adjourn.—[Mr. I. Fraser.]

10.36 p.m.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

I wish to raise the question of exclusion of Renfrewshire from the White Paper on Central Scotland. Of course, if the time for the debate had been longer, I might have had some support from Members representing the Highlands and Islands, Peterhead, Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Ayr and Dumfries, because all these areas are excluded from the White Paper, as is Paisley, Greenock, Port Glasgow and Gourock.

We are concerned about our exclusion from the White Paper because of the emergence of the new concept of growth areas. We do not understand—and there are very few people who seem to understand—what is the Government's criterion for the selection of growth areas. Is a growth area chosen on the basis of need? In answer to the debate on 3rd December, 1963, the Secretary of State said: What does 'priority' mean unless it means giving more to the places which need it most?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1963; Vol. 685, c. 1096.] If that is the view, I need not argue the point about Greenock, Port Glasgow and Gourock. We have had the invidious distinction of having a high rate of unemployment for many years, and at present our unemployment rate has gone up once more and is nearly 7 per cent. In addition, we have a high migration rate, with a net migration of about 900 a year, which compares closely with the worst of the migration rates in the whole of Scotland.

If it is not based on need, is it a question of capacity to expand? Because of the Rootes factory at Linwood, we have one of the biggest areas of potential expansion, and, moreover, in the neighbouring town of Port Glasgow, we have a whole new part of an estate laid out for expansion. Admittedly, it took some time to persuade the Government to agree to this, it has taken them a long time to buy the land, and they are moving slowly in their preparation of the land; but it is true, nevertheless, that we have the facilities there.

I could not understand the Secretary of State for Scotland when I questioned him about this matter in the House on 27th November last. He had told a representative of the Press, as he admitted later, that within the towns of Port Glasgow and Greenock there was much less available space. In fact, on checking the Press report, one finds that he said that there was no space. However, even accepting the correction which the right hon. Gentleman gave in reply to my Questions on27th November, the fact remains that there is a very large acreage of ground, half as much again as the size of the present industrial estate in Port Glasgow, available for expansion. So I cannot understand the point about the criterion being the capacity to expand.

The area which I represent and the areas represented by the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) and my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. J. Robertson) are excellent areas for expansion.

If the criterion is not need and it is not capacity to expand, what is it? We would like to know, and I am sure that our interest is shared by people in almost every other area of Scotland which has been excluded from the White Paper on Central Scotland.

There appears to be an advantage in being a growth area instead of a development district. This naturally worries the development districts, who are excluded from being growth areas. First, we read from the comments of the Secretary of State for Scotland in the debate on 3rd December that growth areas are considered in preference to other areas. The Secretary of State said that the point made by my Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) to the effect that it was impossible to give advantages to growth areas without, to some extent, penalising other areas is perfectly true."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1963; Vol. 685, c. 1096.] It is thus established that there is obviously some advantage in being a growth area, over a development district.

My second point to draw to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, who is to reply to this debate, is the comments of his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, whom I am glad to see present, in his reply yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton). He made two distinctions between a growth area and a development district. The first is that a growth area will not be descheduled so quickly; I hope that I am not paraphrasing too badly. It means that if an area is a development district and overcomes its unemployment difficulties it may be descheduled by the Board of Trade, but that there is more reluctance on the part of the Board of Trade to deschedule a growth area. This is a matter of alarm to some of us, because we remember the terrible blunders committed by the Board of Trade in descheduling certain areas—Bathgate is the outstanding example—far too quickly. Therefore, this is no comfort to development districts, and, I am sure, little comfort to growth areas.

The second point which is alarming to those of us whose constituencies are not in so-called growth areas appears in column 1067 at Question Time yesterday, when the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said: and, secondly, that there will be more investment in and for a growth area."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1964; Vol. 687, c. 1067.] We have failed to ascertain exactly how much is involved in the distinction between more investment for a growth area and less investment for a development district, but, clearly, there is a distinction. This worries us very much.

Not only that, but the Minister of State, Scottish Office, yesterday went on record as saying that this investment in growth areas, unlike other investments, will not be subject to the cuts consequent on a stop/go economic policy. I am surprised at any Minister, of any Government, being in a position to say that. However, if the Minister of State is to be believed, this investment is not only to be higher but is also to be constant, while in the development districts the investment is to be lower and to be subject to natural alterations in Government policy in the light of balance of trade crises.

We in Renfrewshire much resent our exclusion from the White Paper. We have large docking facilities at the Port of Greenock, which, under the Rochdale Committee, will, if the Harbours Bill becomes law, see one of the major developments of harbour facilities on the Clyde. Are we to assume, therefore, that the main road from Glasgow to Greenock, which is the main land connection between the harbour and the Central Belt, will be subject to the kind of investment fluctuations that are the lot of development districts as distinct from areas which are growth areas?

Then, there is the question of the Erskine Bridge, which is so proudly mentioned in the White Paper. Yesterday, however, the Minister of State, Scottish Office, who said that the Erskine Bridge is not within the plan in the sense that it has been approved, stated: The Erskine Bridge will require specific approval by the Government before it can begin. It does not form part of the proposed programme of public works. This certainly affects the County of Dunbartonshire, which is scheduled, I am glad to say, as a growth area—I only wish we were—although only parts of it, I concede.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

They will be able to build one end of the bridge.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

The fact is that the Erskine Bridge is an essential part of the development of the whole Clyde basin. Is this neglect because we are on the non-growth area side of the Clyde? Is Renfrewshire going to see this bridge held up and subjected to these peculiarities of Government policy?

Again, there is the electrification of the railway. This has been done on the North side of the Clyde most successfully, yet for 25 years we have been urging that it should be done on the South side. There is no reason why it should not go ahead now. There is only one barrier between sanction and operation—the Treasury. I have had conversations and correspondence with British Railways officials, and I know that there is every satisfaction on economic grounds for the money to be spent on electrification of the railway from Glasgow to Gourock and Wemyss Bay. It is wrong of the Government to stand in the way of such a development, and the omission of Renfrewshire from the White Paper again makes us worried that this is to be held up even more.

Then there is the question of expansion of Government advance factories. The Secretary of State for Industry and Trade has made it clear that he was only referring to advance factories going to development districts. He was obviously envisaging larger factories for growth areas. But they are not the only areas in need. We hope that he misunderstood his brief and has erred. If it means that we are to get small advance factories in development districts while growth areas get a large part of the building programme of new Government factories, there will be a great deal of discontent in Scotland.

Finally, there is the problem of derelict sites. The record of the Government in encouraging local authorities to clear these sites, and, indeed, of the Government in promoting their own programme, is a disgrace. It measures up to no more than that. I will not go through the figures again. Many of my hon. Friends and I have questioned the Government so often and have received so many disappointing replies that it is not worth my doing so. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary wants to be constructive. I hope that, in relation not only to Renfrewshire but to other parts of Scotland, he will take a second look at the White Paper. We have had such short shrift from the Scottish Office that we now turn, most hopefully, to a United Kingdom Minister for justice. I want to put six suggestions for Renfrewshire.

First, the Government should schedule Renfrewshire and, indeed, the whole of Central Scotland as a single development district. Secondly, there should be a crash programme of large sized advance factories; thirdly, the Board of Trade should embark on its own derelict site clearance programme financed 100 per cent. by the Treasury; fourthly, we should have more effort by the Government to bring public enterprise in Government factories to this area, and failing that—if it is ideologically unacceptable to them—that joint public-private enterprise should take up occupation of these factories.

Fifthly, it is high time the Board of Trade turned to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and persuaded him to create a Commonwealth Credit Scheme for shipbuilding and machine tools. Many Commonwealth countries are anxious for the supply of these, and there is no reason why the surplus capacity of many constituencies which can produce ships and machine tools should not be fully utilised. At the moment, thanks to pressure from some of my hon. Friends, we have managed to get a Government allowance of £15 millions a year for such a scheme. I suggest that we should expand that scheme, in relation to the Commonwealth at least, perhaps 10 times.

Sixthly, I hope that the Board of Trade intend to put heavier pressure on industry and office expansion in the London area and squeeze them out of there to Scotland, where they are so desperately needed.

10.50 p.m.

Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh

It falls to me to reply to the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) who has raised many points under this general title of industrial development in Renfrewshire. I think he will agree that not only is Renfrewshire an important county, but that it is also a very wide area and that it is questionable how far, for the purposes of industrial development, it is meaningful to think of it as a single entity. Part of the hon. Gentleman's argument rather bore out that contention. Certainly the Eastern end of the county, adjacent to the great City of Glasgow, is far more closely linked with the general development of what, for the purposes of brevity, I might call Greater Glasgow than with Greenock and Port Glasgow at the hon. Gentleman's own end of the county. None the less, the hon. Gentleman has raised the subject on a county basis and I shall endeavour so to reply.

We recognise that Renfrewshire has a serious unemployment problem and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there are seven local employment exchanges serving the county—Port Glasgow and Greenock constituting the Greenock group, Paisley and Renfrew and John-stone constituting the Paisley group, and Barrhead and part of Glasgow South-side belonging to the Glasgow group of exchanges.

Unemployment, as the hon. Gentleman knows far better than I, is and has been more serious in the Greenock group of exchanges than in the Paisley group. The latest figures for the Greenock group show that in December, 1963, there were 2,955 unemployed, representing 6·7 per cent. of the registered labour force, compared with 3,776 at 8·5 per cent. in December, 1962. In the Paisley group, the figures were 2,486 in December, 1963,representing 3·4 per cent. compared with 2,673 or 3·7 per cent. in December, 1962. It will be seen from the figures that there has been some improvement in the position over the last twelve months.

Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh

There has. The figures show it. Equally, we agree that there is still a clear need for further industrial development leading to new employment opportunities in the county, and especially in the Greenock and Port Glasgow area.

The hon. Member rightly asked what had been done by the Board of Trade to encourage new industrial developments in the county. As he knows, and I do not need to remind the House, the whole of the county is now scheduled as a development district, and in consequence the standard grant for the two categories of "plant and machinery" and "buildings", B.O.T.A.C. loans and free depreciation have been and are now available in Renfrewshire. Industrialists have made use of these facilities, not, I grant, to the extent of solving the county's problems, but at least substantially, and I should like to give the House some figures in support of my contention.

Between April 1960 and the end of 1963, total assistance offered under the relevant Sections of the Local Employment Acts of 1960 and 1963 have amounted to more than £21,600,000. This has given rise to more than 10,300 jobs. In fairness to the hon. Member, I must add that the projects so assisted have been located principally in the Eastern end of the county, but the figures I have quoted indicate that substantial efforts have been made to encourage new industrial projects in the county.

In addition, there are three major Board of Trade estates within the county —Hillington, which is the largest industrial estate in Scotland with more than 120 tenants; Linwood, which houses the two great firms of Pressed Steel and Rootes; and Port Glasgow, which is adjacent to Greenock Docks and which provides some 2,200 jobs. There is also the small Cairn estate in Greenock which supplies about600 jobs.

I should now like to examine the problems of the Port Glasgow and Greenock area more closely, first because the hon. Member represents Greenock and, secondly, because in terms of unemployment this seems to be the more serious end of the county. This area has been and still is highly dependent on shipbuilding, and even today shipbuilding and marine engineering employ half the manufacturing labour force of the district and one quarter of the total working population. The need for diversification of the industrial structure of Port Glasgow and Greenock is clear, and we at the Board of Trade accept it. What have we done to encourage diversification? Since the war, no less than 55 industrial building schemes, providing nearly 1.8 million square feet of factory space, have been completed. They have comprised a wide range of industries—textiles, clothing, engineering and foodstuffs and have clearly contributed towards the diversification of the industrial base of the area.

Recently, the main element of expansion in the area has been engineering. Nevertheless, the area is still very dependent on shipbuilding. Here, I can report progress. The Government's Shipbuilding Credit Scheme, which has considerably improved the position in the shipbuilding industry as a whole, has had significant effects in Greenock and Port Glasgow. The total value of orders secured by firms in the area in the second half of 1963 amounted to about £25 million. These orders included three cargo ships, three oil tankers, two bulk carriers, and two submarines, and the leading shipbuilders of the area report that as a result their general level of employment will be maintained for a considerable time to come.

Then there is the new graving dock under construction at Greenock by the Firth of Clyde Dry Dock Company. As the House knows, this will be the largest dry dock in the United Kingdom and will be able to take tankers of up to 100,000 tons deadweight, whereas 24,000 tons was previously the maximum which could be repaired anywhere on Clyde-side. This project is receiving substantial support from the Board of Trade. It is expected to be completed and in operation by the end of March. It is expected by the company to employ eventually about 1,000 people. Executive staff are already being engaged, and the main labour force will start to be recruited towards the end of February.

I should like to say a little more about the Port Glasgow Industrial Estate. The area of factories built and occupied totals more than 500,000 sq. ft., and about 2,200 people are employed on the estate. The estate—and this I think answers some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman about making land available in Greenock—consisted of 50 acres in 1946 when work started. In 1962 it was decided to extend it by 17 adjoining acres. This extension is at present being opened up, and an advance factory of 10,000 sq. ft. is in course of construction. It is due to be completed by the middle of July or early August this year. Twenty-two remaining acres of the total 67 acres are suitable for development on which, it is estimated, a further 250,000 sq. ft. of factory space could be erected. More than £30,000 of public money is being spent currently on the provision of new internal roads and other improvements on the estate to make it more attractive for industry and any firm which goes there will get the full benefit of the two Local Employment Acts and the free depreciation provisions. This should make the estate a thoroughly worthwhile location for industrial development.

In addition, it has been agreed to make land available on the Estate to the Ministry of Public Building and Works for the erection of a 30,000 sq. ft. factory as a Ministry of Labour training centre, where about 100 at a time could be trained. It is also proposed that the factory be returned to industrial use when the Ministry of Labour has completed its training programme.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

When will the industrial training centre be started?

Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh

I cannot answer that now, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman after consulting my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.

I now propose to say a word about the Paisley group of exchanges which covers most of East Renfrewshire. As the House knows, these exchanges were taken off the "stop list" and reactivated in September of last year, and I am glad to say that the situation around Paisley has improved. Over the year ending November, 1963, Rootes and Pressed Steel recruited over 3,700 workpeople, to make their total employment about 8,600, and they expect to increase further during the present year.

The prospects for continued improvement round Paisley are encouraging. According to our information there are about 1,700 jobs in prospect, as against 1,150 currently unemployed. By contrast, in the Greenock group there are about 1,400 jobs in prospect, as against 3,700 unemployed. Therefore, clearly the Greenock situation is more urgent.

None the less, the prospects are not as black as they were. Clearly more industrial development is needed, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we in the Board of Trade will continue to use our powers to encourage industrial development in Renfrewshire. I must, however, emphasise that we have no power to direct industry to any area, nor do we wish to do so. None the less, we use our powers to restrict industrial expansion in areas where unemployment is low, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that if he were to come to my office and meet hon. Members from London, Birmingham, and the crowds areas, he would find them all too conscious of the difficulties of securing I.D.C.s in the congested areas.

I end by taking up the general question raised by the hon. Gentleman about Renfrewshire's place in the development programme; for Central Scotland. As the House knows, the programme for Central Scotland adopted the concept of growth areas. These are places where conditions are likely to be most conducive to industrial expansion.

One of the aims of the White Paper was to identify those areas which after taking into account a wide range of social and physical factors, including access to the main networks of communications and availability of industrial sites, seem to offer the greater prospect of rapid industrial growth. This does not mean that no development will be encouraged in other areas, but merely that in a closely knit community like Central Scotland the Government believe that special stimulation of growth in the most favourable areas offers the best prospects for faster overall development to the benefit of the whole of Central Scotland. I recommend to the hon. Member paragraph 104 of the White Paper. He will excuse my not reading it because time is pressing.

The hon. Member criticised the fact that there is no growth area in Renfrewshire, especially in view of the unemployment in Greenock and Port Glasgow. But the selection of growth areas was not made solely or even primarily on the basis of the local level of unemployment, but on the basis of potentialities for growth. Whatever is chosen, there will be some people who will say that we should have chosen somewhere else. The selection of growth areas does not mean that other parts of Central Scotland are being ignored. I refer to paragraph 115 of the White Paper, which says: Most of the remaining areas of Central Scotland will form part of the labour catchment of the selected growth areas or are themselves scheduled as development districts. In many of these areas there are good sites available whose attractiveness to industry will be increased as the regional infrastructure services are improved. For unemployment and emigration to be reduced, new industrial development must continue to be persuaded to come to these areas. Indeed some industries may find that their needs can be better met here than in the growth areas.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

Would the hon. Gentleman comment on the cut in investment in development districts in difficult circumstances as distinct from the Minister of State's remarks yesterday that investment in growth areas would not be cut irrespective of economic conditions?

Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh

One imagines that conditions could become so serious that there would have to be a cut. But we have given an undertaking not to consider de-scheduling growth areas. There is no question of bringing to a halt public investment outside the growth areas or of discouraging private investment. My right hon. Friend has given an assurance that the general investment programme, particularly as it pertains to growth areas, will be guaranteed. The hon. Member should not read into that that the plans which are announced for development districts in his constituency which are not growth areas will thereby be cut. I do not think he can draw that conclusion from what my right hon. Friend said. All the conclusion he can draw is that the investment plans proposed are even more secure in growth areas than in development districts which are not growth areas. If he has the idea that as soon as one runs into a little trading difficulty automatically Greenock's plans for investment will be cut—

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

That is the implication.

Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh

He is not entitled to draw that conclusion. For unemployment and migration to be reduced, new development must be persuaded to come to these areas. Some districts outside growth areas may meet their needs better than the growth areas themselves. It may well be that a firm may find an estate such as the one in which the hon. Member and I have a common interest more attractive to the type of manufacture it wishes to carry out and prefer this to one of the designated growth areas.

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that the White Paper takes nothing away from places outside the growth areas. Renfrewshire, being covered by development districts, would continue to enjoy the benefit of free depreciation for tax purposes and all the assistance under the Local Employment Acts. There is no question of bringing to a halt public investment outside the growth areas or discouraging private investment, nor do we in the Board of Trade seek to steer what in the jargon one might call "foot-loose" industries which are refused permission in crowded areas away from development districts that are outside the growth areas. If firms take the view that they would rather go to a development district outside a growth area, we certainly would not discourage them from so doing.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

Would the Board of trade encourage them?

Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh

If they want to, yes; but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, all development districts are equal.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

Some are more equal than others?

Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh

It depends on what a firm is trying to do. One firm may need a lot of industrial water. The number of places in the whole of the kingdom which have very large supplies of water—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy-Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at six minutes past Eleven o'clock