Orders of the Day — Government Offices (Dispersal)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th January 1964.

Alert me about debates like this

9.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

The subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) and the competent exposition from my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) have raised very important issues which should be decided at a far greater pace than that at which they are being decided as a result of the Flemming Committee, which was announced in the House by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury last July.

One of the things we can do to relieve the pressure on land in London is to step up the dispersal of office building and Government Departments from the Metropolis. Yesterday, an Answer to a Question made it clear that in 1965–66 there is to be some dispersal of Government staff from London to Hastings. This is unrealistic. There should be a dispersal of buildings and people from the London area to much further afield than Hastings. This proposal merely moves people about a chessboard within the congested area. It would be far better to move them up to the North-East, particularly to Scotland. The Minister bears some responsibility for planning as well as for the issues involved in housing. He has some responsibility for planning over the United Kingdom. The Scottish Department in Edinburgh and the Treasury have some responsibility for the dispersal of offices and Government Departments from the London area.

Three hours ago—two and a half hours ago perhaps—I notified the Treasury that I would raise the issue here tonight on the Adjournment. We have a serious problem in Scotland. We have 101,000 unemployed. Vast areas of our land are undeveloped. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East has given one instance of the frightful exploitation of land values in London because of the pressure of population.

Photo of Mr George Lawson Mr George Lawson , Motherwell

Do I understand my hon. Friend to say that three hours ago he notified the Treasury that in the event of this debate finishing earlier he would raise this question, a question with which the Treasury has been very much concerned? Is it the case that, after having been given three hours notice, it has not been possible for the Treasury to get a spokesman here to reply to the debate? Does not this suggest that the Treasury is not showing very much interest in this matter?

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Order. I am obliged to the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) for his intervention. All these observations, as far as I have heard them—not for very long—are in order, subject to views about remedies requiring legislation. I am not suggesting that it is out of order, because things have passed in my absence.

Our custom has always been for the Chair to deprecate the introduction of topics of which notice has not been given. I have no doubt that the character of the notice given by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) to the Treasury was that, in the event of the debate upon this Adjournment Motion concluding, he would then raise the topic. I do not think that it would be fair to say that that meant that he had given notice that it was to be dealt with in this current debate.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

Thank you for that Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and, having given the Treasury notice and seeing a Treasury spokesman now in his place, I trust that I will not be infringing the rules of the House if I treat this matter as one for Treasury responsibility, particularly since that Department is responsible for the policy of the dispersal of offices and Government Departments from the London area.

We learned yesterday from a Parliamentary Answer that the Ministry of Public Building and Works is to move a Department to Hastings. Hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies have for years been pressing that in view of the unemployment in the North and in Scotland the Government should do more to urge industry to go North. The Flemming Report has given the Government an opportunity to take a lead in this matter and to move some of their Departments to Scotland. The suggestion to remove parts of the Post Office, particularly the research section, to Glasgow or Edinburgh, where facilities are available, was made some time ago.

Although the Government have directed one Department to go to Hastings, which is on the perimeter, I hope that they will consider the terrific unemployment in Scotland and other parts and will urge industries, large and small, along with Government Departments to go there. Many of my hon. Friends here tonight have higher rates of unemployment in their constituencies than I have in mind. However, in the new town of Cumbernauld, in my constituency, there is some unemployment. This new town is an example of the type of place to which Government Departments could be dispersed, as could other organisations from London and the South-East.

Under the Labour Government, the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance was moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and I do not think that there has been any resultant weakening of the Ministry's service. After living in Scotland for 13 years, and being in contact with various Scottish administrative organisations, I am convinced that there would be a considerable increase in the efficiency of many Government Departments if they were transferred there. The Government would be doing a great service to the Scottish people, and also to the people around here who require housing.

We have heard this evening a story of frightful exploitation resulting from excessive pressure of population. It is frightening to think of families from Scotland and the North seeking employment in the London area when we hear of such a case. This tremendous increase in land values must inevitably fall on those who occupy the houses built, and even if they themselves do not bear the full burden the ratepayers and taxpayers must help to bear it. Pressure on land can be reduced by a massive dispersal of Government Departments and industrial concerns. That would redistribute our population and obviate some of the injustices and social evils created by excessive pressure on land.

9.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

I support the plea for greater consideration being given to the idea of Government Departments being moved out of London. The accounts division of one of the Ministries is to move to Hastings. That is a very delightful spot, but if the Channel Tunnel is built, the whole of that corner of England will be over-populated and there will be just as much congestion in it as there now is in London. Has the Treasury given full consideration to that aspect?

Many Government Departments could be well situated in Scotland, where we have many advantages of beautiful countryside and land that is not too expensive. We heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) of land not very far from London changing hands at £30,000 an acre. That inevitably adds very considerably to the cost of housing. The Government will have to pay much the same price at Hastings, but I can assure the Treasury Minister that West Stirlingshire, which is designated as a development district, has sites, not only for office accommodation but for any staff who may be moved if the Department cannot get sufficient employees from the area.

The Government are very keen to have certain things in Scotland, such as the Polaris base. They seem to think that they are justified in putting in Scotland things that are not wanted in the south of England. Here is an opportunity to show that they are broadminded and considerate enough to establish in Scotland some of the things which we desire and will carry out peaceful and not warlike pursuits and will not leave our people the first to be vulnerable in the event of an atomic war. We would be happy if the Polaris base was shifted to Hastings and this office accommodation was put up in West Stirlingshire. Unfortunately, in this Parliament there is a great tendency to try to push Scotland right out of consideration in all these things. Some of these matters are paltry but some are large and important.

Only a week or two ago we found that the Army records of the Highland Division in Perth were being moved to the south. It is fantastic that Members of Parliament who are supporters of a Government should be so insipid in their attitude and so weak-kneed and lacking in backbone and determination and that their preoccupation should be just a matter of trying to obtain honours and get on with the powers-that-be. It is fantastic that they should be prepared to support the Government on issues like this. Here is an opportunity for them to show a little spirit of independence and Scottish grit in demanding from the Government a reversal of this decision.

I do not know when the decision was taken that this office accommodation was to be built in Hastings. It was reported to the House only yesterday in reply to a Question—probably a Question arranged by the Minister. [An HON. MEMBER: "A stooge Question."] I should like to see the stooges opposite do a little more for our country. I suggest to those who do not come from Scotland that they should seriously consider the dispersal of offices from the centre of London to other parts of England and Scotland, but not to an area which will be overcrowded if the Channel Tunnel scheme is implemented.

I know that many of my hon. Friends want to speak on this subject and I appeal to the Government to reconsider this matter and try to put these accounts offices in a place like Kilsyth or Bannockburn or some other area in Scotland with good road and rail communications to the South. We in Scotland could do the job which the Government seek to have done by transferring the work to Hastings.

9.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Guy Barnett Mr Guy Barnett , South Dorset

In no sense do I want to detract from the case so ably put by my hon. Friends from Scotland but, as is pointed out in the Report by Sir Gilbert Flemming, the problem of the dispersal of offices is of nation-wide character. Strongly as I sympathise with the case put from Scotland. I think that this matter needs to be pursued on a wider national basis.

Why does the Minister of Public Building and Works choose Hastings? One can commute from Tunbridge Wells to Hastings, and Tunbridge Wells is already growing extremely fast because one can commute from there to London. I know the area well. I was brought up there. The population in the whole of that part of the country is increasing rapidly. I was interested in the possible consequences to the whole of the South of England of the Channel Tunnel, to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire, (Mr. Baxter) drew attention.

On 1st August last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) asked this question: Is it not essential that the Government should do something more vigorous here and not just on the outskirts of London? If the Government do not set an example, private industry can hardly be expected to follow it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1963; Vol. 682, c. 628.] Obviously, the Government ought to set a proper example. It would not cost them very much.

Some weeks ago, I drew attention to the need for more industry in South-West England. I think that the Minister has as much interest in that part of the country as I have. One of the points I made on that occasion was that we shall not get new industry into the area unless transport facilities are improved. But, of course, Government Departments, the Ministry of Public Building and Works and the like, do not need transport for the adequate performance of their work. It would be perfectly easy to transfer some Government Departments or offices to places like the South-West. There would be no difficulty and no need to improve communications for that purpose. The work could be done just as well as other Government Departments and offices are already doing theirs in the provinces now.

Why have the Government chosen Hastings? I begin to wonder whether it is all part of the framework of Government policy, nowadays announced by the Prime Minister, when he said that "everything that we say or do from now on must be done with the General Election in mind". Can it be that the Government are worried about holding Hastings at the General Election? It seems quite obvious that they have given up any hope of winning back Dorset, South.

Dorset is a very attractive part of the country. It is certainly better than Hastings—and I say that as a Sussex man. There are plenty of places in the South-West which could be very attractive to Government Departments. I mean this very seriously and I ask the Minister to consider it urgently. Admittedly, the South-West suffers from appalling transport facilities, but here is a first-class opportunity for the Government to pursue a vigorous policy, as recommended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North, to establish easily dispersed Government offices in areas into which at first, perhaps, it is not easy for private industry to move. Such action by the Government would act as an encouragement to private industry later to move where it is needed.

I hope that what I have said will not be taken as any sort of contradiction of what has been said by my hon. Friends from Scotland. The policy which we are urging should be pursued as a national policy and a real attempt should be made to disperse Government Departments or offices to those parts of England, Scotland and Wales where employment is badly needed.

9.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr Archibald Manuel Mr Archibald Manuel , Central Ayrshire

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) on his initiative in arranging this further Adjournment debate tonight. I feared at one time that we should have a completely empty Front Bench opposite or that the only spokesman would be the junior Scottish Whip. But he is aided now by the Minister of State, Board of Trade, and, on the other side of the Minister of State, to bolster him up, is sitting another Whip. With one either side, the Minister is well whipped before he starts.

I can see no case against the dispersal of Government offices and Departments away from London unless it can be proved conclusively that their removal would adversely affect the functioning and effectiveness of the Ministries concerned. Our duty in the House is to do all in our power to steer away from London every possible activity, not only Government offices and Government Departments, in order to try to mitigate in every possible way the pressures which are becoming increasingly evident in the South. In the years ahead the transport problems of London will be insoluble. We should do everything we can to relieve the increasing congestion caused by too much transport on the London streets.

In every borough in the London area we see large boards which record the number of deaths and accidents which occur on the roads each month. They are not very edifying sights for overseas visitors. I am sure that every hon. Member agrees that this appalling death and injury rate must be reduced. Is it not nonsensical that people should come into London every morning, in trains which are packed, from towns 60 and 70 miles away and leave again in the evening? There is congestion not only in London, but in its surrounding environs. It has become impossible for people to secure homes in London and, therefore, they have to travel from Southend, Hastings and Brighton every day to earn their livelihood in London. This is fantastic. It is wasteful that people should have to commute in this way in order to earn their living.

There is the increasing problem of trying to provide homes for the people attracted to London from Scotland, the North-East and Wales by the magnet of better and more jobs and higher salaries and wages. How much further will this awful sprawl go? Will it be contained? Is there any blueprint for the location of industries and the provision of houses? We have been talking about this problem for 20 years. It is getting worse. Nothing is happening about it because the Government are not determined enough to face up to private enterprise and profit-making bodies in order to arrive at a solution.

Is there any plan to arrest this sprawl and to contain the industrial and housing development which is flowing out of London and swallowing up villages and townships and covering many acres with bricks and mortar in every direction? This is a most depressing picture. Those of us who know the scenic beauties of Scotland and our flowing rivers and lovely glens are depressed when we come South and look not at the stonework to which we are accustomed in Scotland, but at these acres of bricks and mortar.

There is another side of the coin. What we are arguing about is the dispersal from London of every possible kind of activity. We must recognise the enormous beneficial effects which could accrue from this in certain areas in England, Wales and Scotland. Many townships are decaying and are becoming derelict areas. The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) is present. There is a derelict area in his constituency. This is happening because the major and older industries are running down and new ones are not coming in. Depopulation is taking place at a serious rate, and it is increasing each year.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade, must recognise that in each of these areas the local authorities have invested a great deal of wealth. There has been much capital expenditure to provide municipal houses, hospitals, schools, libraries and clinics and this capital expenditure has to be repaid over 60 years. Each year, the rate yield is becoming less because the people move out, and the local authority has this enormous burden.

If those areas were getting these activities which are not needed in London but which cause congestion and difficulty here, they could bring new life to those areas. Whether they were in Scotland, Wales or elsewhere in England I would not mind. Any area which is decaying from depopulation and where the local authority is getting into a morass of debt because, as a result of the mess caused by the Government, it does not have a sufficient rate yield, would be delighted to have these establishments located in its area. This is a matter which should be looked at carefully, and I hope that we shall be given a considered reply.

9.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Milne Mr Edward Milne , Blyth

I, too, am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) for raising the question of the dispersal of Government offices to other areas, because while I naturally stake a claim for the north-east of England and my own area, the general argument contained in the idea of dispersal is sound not only for the areas to which the Departments would be dispersed, but for the country as a whole. In his brief incursion into the North-East in his endeavour to bolster up our economy, the Lord President of the Council discovered this in no uncertain manner.

During the time of the Labour Government between 1945 and 1951, the Ministry of National Insurance was sited in the North-East, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. If any attempt was made to shift that Department anywhere else, there would be a protest from the employees there, particularly those who were moved from London to operate the Department.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) has referred to scenic beauties and other things. While, as a Scot, I am proud of the beauties of by homeland, they can be equated with the country and seaside scenery of Northumberland.

There are a number of reasons why the dispersal of Departments in the manner indicated in the earlier speeches of this debate would not only assist the economy, but would bring some sort of civilising influence upon the backward areas around London. I have mentioned one example of movement from the South to the North in the appointment of the Lord President of the Council to draw up his plans for the North-East.

Only two weeks ago, the B.B.C. sent a "Gallery" team from London to the North-East to look at some of our customs and habits and to draw a picture of the likely industrial development of the North-East. I said at the time, and I repeat, that it would have been far better for the B.B.C. to have used its excellent teams in the North-East to draw a realistic picture of what could be done. We were told that what was lacking in the North-East—

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

Photo of Mr Edward Milne Mr Edward Milne , Blyth

In the broadcast, as an example of what the North-East was lacking in comparison with London, we were shown civilising things like striptease clubs and chemin-de-fer betting-shops.

We have often raised in the House the question of attracting new industries to the North-East, Scotland, the South-West and Wales. There are solid economic arguments for such moves. In addition, the pressure of opinion in those areas have moved the Government, at this late stage, into indicating that they accept the desirability of so doing, which is a good thing, and they have produced two White Papers, on development in Central Scotland and on industrial development in the North-East.

If they are really sincere, the obvious thing to do is to carry out the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) and consider the dispersal of Government Departments as an example to industrialists. This would show that, not only did they believe it a good thing for industry to move to these areas, but that it was a good thing to set up certain Government Departments there as well. I hope that they will also—although I doubt whether they will now have the time—look at the suggestion that Government factories should be set up in these areas as well.

In Blyth there is a Government advance factory, which was built with a flourish of trumpets. It still awaits a tenant. Other factories have been built by the local authority. One of these is already tenanted and the others are waiting for tenants who will move in in the near future. If the Government had dispersed Government Departments earlier, and had backed up the initiative of local authorities, they would not be in the sorry mess that they are in now.

10.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Lawson Mr George Lawson , Motherwell

I thank the Minister of State at the Board of Trade for coming along to the debate. I know that the notice given was very short, but, in extenuation of his finding himself in this position tonight, he will appreciate that there is great pressure on time in the House and that it would be a great pity if any available were not used. I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) on making use of the time that we have had available to us tonight.

My hon. Friend raised a question of considerable importance. We all believe that it should be the Government's concern to bring about dispersal of Government Departments from London. None of us claim that they should all move out of the capital, for we appreciate that many must remain there, and as a Scottish Member I am not asking that those which can be dispersed should all move to Scotland. I associate myself with my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Barnett) in his argument for his area.

We understand that there are about 133,000 employees in Government Departments at headquarters, the great bulk of them concentrated in London. The accounts division of the Ministry of Public Building and Works is to be dispersed from Central London. It is the division employing 1,000 people. But it is going to Hastings, to that very part of the country which is most crowded. If there is a part of the country other than London which is in great need of some decanting, it is the South-East. This is an area growing even more rapidly than the Midlands; yet the Ministry of Public Building and Works has decided to send the headquarters of its accounts division to Hastings.

How was this decision taken? We understood that the Treasury was more or less the overlord of this matter. What consultations were there? Why was not some public notice given? All that we had was a Question answered in the House yesterday to say that this Department was moving to Hastings. Is this some "old boy" network? Have the civil servants and the others concerned decided that, while they must get out of London, they will go to what they consider to be a desirable place? How was this decision reached? What factors led to this choice?

I am not arguing that Scotland should have been chosen, but it is fantastic that the move should have been in the direction of an area which is already overcrowded. I hope that it is not a firm decision and that we shall hear more about it and that we shall find that a mistake has been made and that the matter has been reconsidered. If this is what is meant by dispersal, we might as well continue to have these Departments in London.

10.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Brian O'Malley Mr Brian O'Malley , Rotherham

Whether we come from Scotland, Newcastle, Rotherham in South Yorkshire, or South Dorset, we all agree that this is a tremendous problem which has been growing in the South-East of England in the 1950s and 1960s until we now have a tremendous growth of population, the growth of a high-cost area with the prospects of a huge conurbation stretching from Dover probably to Birmingham by the mid-1970s. This is an area in which it is extremely expensive to live, extremely expensive and difficult to get a house, and often difficult to get proper staff.

For example, I understand that many firms in London—and I have heard that Government Departments have the same problem—have to pay considerably higher rates for qualified shorthand typists than those which are paid in many parts of the North. Is it not dreadful that qualified girls in the North, as in Rotherham, cannot find office jobs and have to take jobs considerably below their abilities, or come to London and live in basements and bed-sitters for which they pay exorbitant rents?

Here we have a decision, which the Government call planning, to move a Government Department to a pleasant watering place, Hastings, where the population is increasing at an enormous rate. I am horrified by this state of affairs. Anyone who travels down from the North on Monday mornings, on Friday afternoons, or on Sunday nights, meets hundreds of people whose homes are in the North and who have been brought up and trained there, but who are moving down to London, having sold their houses at a reasonable price. They give up all that to move into this ant-heap of tube stations, underground trains and traffic congestion, which does not exist in the North except in some of the big cities.

It is a dreadful tragedy that so many people are forced to leave their native environment, and I think that we in the North have an environment and cultural pattern of which we can be proud, just as my hon. Friends who represent Scottish constituencies can be proud of their environment and culture. This is a case of the Government not setting a good example to private industry, because they are proposing to move a Government Department to a pleasant watering place. The move may suit the civil servants concerned. It may suit the Government's travesty of planning, but it does not suit me or my hon. Friends.

One of the strong arguments for moving out of the crowded South-East is that by doing so one avoids the necessity of travelling in crowded conditions. I know of nothing more unpleasant than having to strap-hang for a long journey first thing in the morning, and we know from sociological and medical reports that the strain on people who have to travel in such conditions is quite considerable, and is the cause of so much absence from work and mental fatigue among the population in this area.

I sympathise with the problems that exist in the development districts, in Scotland, in South Dorset, and in Blyth, and when one considers the position as a whole, one realises that what we need is a detailed overall social and economic plan, such as we on this side of the House have often suggested, and which the party opposite has recently started talking about. Hon. Gentlemen are at last being converted to a form of planning, but here we have an example of the Government's planning—moving a Government Department to Hastings.

We need an overall plan for the country as a whole, and perhaps I might use my constituency as an example of what is happening. I know that we have to deal with areas of high unemployment, but other areas also have problems with which we must deal, even though they may be considered small ones in relation to those which exist in other areas. Many of these areas are not at the moment development districts, but during the next decade conditions may develop to such an extent that they, too, will have to be treated as such.

In Rotherham, and indeed throughout the whole of South Yorkshire, the recent population projection shows that the numbers are increasing at a rapid rate. In recent months I have spoken to youth employment officers in my constituency, and looked at the estimates that have been made for the area. It is obvious that already well-qualified office staff cannot find jobs in that area and are having to move to places like London. There is chronic under-employment among qualified girls and women in my constituency. If the Government were to move a small Government Department, or even part of a Department, into that area, it would help to deal with this pimple on the body economic. We need overall planning in the areas to which my hon. Friends have referred and I ask the Government to give this matter their proper consideration. We need a detailed picture of the economic needs of all the areas of the country so that, having agreed upon the need and upon the equitability of dispersal, we know where industries should go. In my constituency we have the land, we have the housing, which is relatively cheap, and we have good communications. I suggest that here is a case where the Government should take an overall look at the picture, rather than move into Hastings. Let them go to the North, to Scotland, or to South Dorset, as my hon. Friends have suggested.

10.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

This matter arises out of our continued concern for the well-being of Scotland and the solution of the problems of Scotland and other areas of considerable unemployment. We had hoped that the solution of this problem would fit in with the latest advice given to the Government about congestion, and especially with reference to the Buchanan Report. If there was one area that the Buchanan Report highlighted as an area that was already congested, and which ought to keep out of, in the matter of the dispersal of offices from London, I would have thought that it was the south-east corner of England.

I shall say no more about location. It is many years now since the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Power said, in a debate on Scottish employment and industry, that we should think of things other than industry—of office jobs, and so on. He said that we should be able to disperse from London to Scotland. He said that the telephone was readily available, and that teleprinters and other means of communication were there. He said that there was no reason why the headquarters of departments, public or private, should be in London.

We pushed and pushed, and eventually, after Questions and suggestions, a departmental inquiry was set up. It was on 18th July last year when, strangely enough in a Written Answer to the same Member who received the Written Answer yesterday, we had from the Government the gist of the Flemming Report. I have it in front of me. I admit the complexities and the difficulties of transferring existing staffs, because personal problems arise. But in the light of what was said then, and in the light of what has been impressed upon the Government about the need for wide dispersal and for the creation of office jobs and similar jobs in Scotland and elsewhere, I am not satisfied that the Government have taken the right decision in this case.

I gather that 1,000 persons are to be employed at Hastings by the Ministry of Public Building and Works and that—about 600 will be moved from London. In the long run, however, this will create a new avenue of employment within the area. We know from experience how things develop from these beginnings. Such a move would be invaluable for some of our newly designated growth areas in Scotland. There are places in Scotland which offer quite unparalleled opportunities in respect of education, health and social wellbeing. If the Government accept the implications of the Buchanan Report we shall have to face a complete upset in all the aspects of social planning. But in this case the Government have set their face right against those implications. I am sorry that this decision has been taken by the Government and announced so quietly. I had hoped that we could have had a thoroughgoing debate on the Buchanan Report and its implications, particularly in relation to London.

I wish to thank the hon. Gentleman for being present. He will be familiar with both aspects of this matter. He was at the Treasury when the Flemming Report was published. Now he has responsibilities at the Board of Trade for other sides of industry and development. We also have present another Minister with Treasury responsibility as well.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

And Board of Trade experience. We all remember him very well in Dundee and how he helped us to win that by-election.

But we would rather have sensible decisions taken by the Government, be it in relation to jute or to dispersal. We think that this is a wrong decision and that it is a disservice not only to areas in Scotland, the North-East and elsewhere, but to London and the whole aspect of planning which we have raised.

When this was first read this morning in HANSARD, one hon. Gentleman sought leave to put a Private Notice Question about it and another thought of trying to move the Adjournment of the House. Such is its importance. It is not something which we suddenly thought up. We have been pursuing this matter for a long time and we are very angry about it.

10.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Du Cann Mr Edward Du Cann , Taunton

May I say, first, how much I appreciated the remarks of the hon. Member for Mother-well (Mr. Lawson) and the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). I was grateful for the welcome I received when I came into the House. I was even more grateful for their most courteous additional welcome.

I wish also to congratulate the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) on his ingenuity in raising this matter on the Adjournment. I am bound to say that I have enjoyed the debate and found it extremely interesting. I would go further and say that this matter is obviously of extreme importance. The question of the dispersal of offices from London should be taken seriously by the House at all times and the position should remain under review by all who are interested.

I understand the general sense of the debate on the part of those hon. Members who have made contributions. I appreciate very well that although hon. Members have deep constituency interests in a matter of this sort, on the whole they are not pleading for their constituencies but wish to be satisfied continuously that there is a policy and that the policy is adequate and being adhered to. Having made those general remarks, I will try in the short time available to make a number of points by way of answer.

We start from the position that the total of civil servants on headquarters staffs amount to 133,000 and of those 20 per cent. of the headquarters staff of Government Departments already work out of London. In all, three-quarters of all civil servants work in regional and local offices the majority of which are right out of London. A lot has been said about the Flemming Report. This is an extremely complex matter. Everybody cannot be suddenly moved out of London. Aspects of hardship and efficiency must be considered. As Flemming suggested some can be moved right out of London, some can be moved outside and a short distance away and some just to the periphery of London. What is important is that this continuous process is taking place and that people are being moved to the right spots. Never mind the complexities for the moment; these things have to be done and it is urgent that they should be done.

As the House will know progress is being made. It was even being made before we had the Flemming Report. The numbers referred to by Flemming were 18,000. The first moves in those proposals will take place within the year. Meantime, under moves planned earlier 5,000 civil servants are being moved to places such as Durham, Chesterfield, Southend, Titchfield and Basildon. I am glad that the Government are setting a good example. I want the House to be reassured that subject only to the practical difficulties the Government do not have closed minds, and will not close their minds on this subject.

It is, however, not only a question of dispersal of Government offices. It is important to see that offices of private industry should move out wherever it is practicable. I am grateful for this debate in that connection because if it is possible for the view of this House to be heeded by private enterprise it certainly should be. The Government have set up the Location of Offices Bureau, which is working, and working well. The Government would like to see more progress made and we shall do our best to see that it is made.

On the subject of Hastings those Members who have referred to that move would wish me to say this. I shall of course refer this matter at once, and bring the speeches made in this debate, to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I certainly undertake to see that the matter is looked at afresh and that hon. Members who have expressed particular interest are afforded a detailed note thereafter.

Having said those general words about dispersal of offices, perhaps I might deal with certain other points. One of the points made in the debate with which I have the greatest sympathy was that made by hon. Members who spoke of the attractiveness of the regions they represent in this House. How very true that is. Having returned—only just—from a tour of certain factories in East Anglia this evening, one with 90 per cent. turnover in its export record and another with 50 per cent., one at Bury St. Edmunds and one in Newmarket, I could not help feeling how fortunate those people are who live and work outside London. Hon. Members who have spoken about difficulties in London know how true that is.

I was asked about the Channel Tunnel. The Government have this matter under consideration, but, frankly, I am not convinced that the building of a Channel Tunnel would worsen the position. Indeed, I think that there would be great advantages for businesses a long way from the South-East if a Channel Tunnel were built because it would facilitate their transport of goods to the Common Market countries. I am not satisfied that the building of a Channel Tunnel would be merely an attraction for the South-East. I think that it would be rather an attraction for the North-East.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) about London sprawl. He asked if there were any blueprints for dealing with that problem. He will remember the Abercrombie plan. Government Departments are now engaged on a study of the problems of the South-East and it is hoped to publish that study before long. It is being worked on urgently. Maybe when it is published we can have the debate to which the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) referred and we shall be able to go further into a large number of these matters.

I was interested by the point raised by the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Barnett) about the South-West. I hope to be making a tour following the Secretary of State's tour of the South-West during March. I am looking forward to that because the hon. Member and I share a common interest in that part of the world.

I wanted also to say a word or two about the economic situation in general. It is plain that the dispersal of offices is one aspect of regional development to which we must pay attention. It is important in the context of the development of the economy and of the work which the Government with the approval of the whole House are doing in connection with growth areas and areas of high unemployment. I have had less time to answer the debate than usual, but I make no quarrel with that because I was anxious to listen—

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

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.