Industrial Development, Blaydon

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th July 1964.

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

9.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Woof Mr Robert Woof , Blaydon

The subject I wish to raise tonight is a very important matter which often occupies my attention. It is the need to plan industrial development in the constituency of Blaydon. It is only natural that such a subject is causing grave worry to many people in that area.

I think it will be consistent with the facts to recognise that the main industrial structure in Blaydon constituency was formerly based on coal mining. It always seems to me that the history of any great industry is a fascinating study, and while I appreciate that I am not allowed to speak on day-to-day problems of the coal mining industry, I would like for the moment, if I am allowed, to borrow something from the older history of that industry. The House may be interested to know that in the days when miners were bond servants, and for the regulation of the coal trade, particularly when the export of coal from the River Tyne to London reached 200,000 tons a year, there came the first Act of Parliament which dealt with "collier" as applied to the northern pitman. On research, I find that that Act gave masters and owners the power to lay hold of vagabonds and sturdy beggars and compel them to work in the pits". It is more noticeable that that Act provided that if colliers should leave their masters without consent they will be esteemed reported and held as thieves of themselves and of cowardice for leaving such masters. While that may not be of pragmatic significance now, I suppose that such a Measure would enable the Government of the day to be guided by nothing but a feeling of self-preservation, making use of all the means at their command—

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. R. W. Elliott.]

Photo of Mr Robert Woof Mr Robert Woof , Blaydon

But in the present state of affairs, in this jet age, National Coal Board officials go along to the colliery office in their cars and inform the management and workmen that their colliery is to close on a certain day.

This kind of happening in my constituency can only be interpreted as staggering, and in taking cognisance of such facts every thoughtful person shakes his head in despair. The more I think of such courses of action the more I am reminded of Isaiah: They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms;That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof". The whirlwind of closures marks the end of an incomparable era, and as the disturbing insecurity besets many people we are able to draw up a balance sheet of their thoughts, because redundancy is now plunging into deep waters, and from the simple point of such reflections we must somehow contrive to plan for industrial reorganisation, to put back hope into people's hearts and give them a chance to show their willingness to accept changes of jobs. I mention coal mining, because its decline is expected to be permanent. Therefore, it is of prime importance to save an area when its principal industry declines, and this can be done only by the establishment of new industries.

Amazement always remains one of the keenest reactions to our sense of sensibility, yet it is always advisable to know how far we should allow ourselves to be carried away, but we seem to be swept along the torrent of economic influences with the closure of other industrial establishments in the constituency.

For example, the Co-operative Wholesale Society's soap works at Dunston-on-Tyne has been forced to close down. Its programme has been hindered by the fact that many of the conditions of industrial methods and distribution are constantly changing. We cannot avoid recognising the undercurrent of economic change in its extreme form, as transitional stages in the soap industry since 1945 have meant an ever-growing trend towards powders and detergents, and this has reduced the demand for hard soap, but because the position has continued to deteriorate, the Society was left with no other choice but to close the factory.

I do not want to be didactic, but while I am dealing with economic change I cannot resist mentioning another tragic gap that has been left in the ups and downs of economic activity. I refer to the closing down of Smith Patterson's works in Blaydon after nearly 100 years of operation. From the standpoint of competition, it is well known that the introduction of a new and more efficient process by one company compels others in the industry to make similar changes, and failure to keep pace with technological improvements in the process of manufacture may cause companies to pass out of the competitive arena. But because of the present adverse trading position, involving losses over the last two years, the Smith Patterson Co. has explained that, for the foundry to continue in business, an expensive modernisation programme involving capital expenditure would have to be undertaken. With consideration of conditions prevailing in the iron foundry industry, it is claimed that such expenditure cannot be justified. Therefore, the company has decided to cease operations and close down the factory.

When we enter more thoroughly into an objective account of such internal changes we find it hard to sustain any lofty enthusiasm. If it were in the terms of imagination, we would see everything as a theatrical climax, but we have arrived at a period when the need for new industries must outweigh any clouded imagination.

What, then, can we expect of the future? What should we seek? What can we do and what ought we to do if economic progress is to move along the right lines? Unlike King Charles II, who, for his own amusement, gave large tracts of England to his mistresses who pleased his roving fancy, we can at least console ourselves nowadays that the power to dispense wealth has passed into the hands of a large number of organisers of useful industry who are rendering a service to society. But as movements between industry in certain areas have been somewhat extensive in recent years, such an area as Blaydon is grappling with the essential preliminaries to attract industry in order to adjust itself to several distinct needs and objectives.

I should like to have dealt with many other things related to redundancy, but one is limited in time. Among the many problems that confront us, none proves more challenging than the position of school leavers. In the transitional period from school to work, we always wonder what they will make of their powers and what constructive interests will occupy their time since responsibility for their protection and finding work for them will always be with us.

Work is an important feature of the life before them. It plays a substantial part in the scheme of things. But we cannot confidently say that there is enough employment ready waiting for them to fulfil their aspirations and expectations. Some new thinking is clearly needed about the ways and means of encouraging reasonable ambitions, as the range of choice of jobs is very limited because of failure to achieve a proper distribution of new industries to which we are still groping in the dark.

While I have restricted myself to the economic and redundancy side, there is another picture facing us. The outstanding characteristic of the constituency is the development of villages at the end of the last century. They have grown to a substantial size, which was bound to be accompanied by a rapid growth of population in which requirements have become numerous and varied.

While the population has reached 50,000 in the constituency, consolation can be gained by looking at the new surge of redevelopment of residential areas. Both the local authorities and private agencies have taken on the responsibility for planning and carrying through intelligent housing programmes. The process has been of carefully controlled change, in which pride is fully justified in being capable of coping with modern needs. This has arisen from a combination of circumstances, but it becomes apparent that such planning is not an end in itself but only a means to practical change. As a consequence, the disproportion of the opportunity for employment can be seen against this background, which must be judged by the absence of any development for openings of new employment.

I agree that there is no foolproof solution to our economic difficulties, but it is publicly acknowledged that there has not been much industrial movement in Blaydon constituency. Stagnation can be attributed to the misfortune of the old foundations of livelihood without putting in their place any new foundations on which people can be given a chance to satisfy their impulses for work compatible with their happiness.

I clearly remember that, when the Secretary of State for Industry and Trade paid a visit to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in January this year, he coined a catch phrase for everyone concerned with carrying out the Government's plan for reviving the prosperity of the region. It was, "Think ahead and think big". Now that is exactly what the local authorities in Blaydon are trying to do, and I think that it would afford the gratifying sensation of playing a part in shaping a new industrial structure in the constituency.

The Secretary of State went on to announce that a big new Government-financed industrial estate would be sited on Tees-side. He said: To enable this development to go ahead quickly, the Government has decided that we must be prepared to buy the land compulsorily if necessary. In this respect I would say that reason in general has the mission of understanding things as they are, and as a physical science it has to be understood what is reasonable. It may therefore follow that what is good for Tees-side should be good enough for Tyneside. In the event of the local authorities thinking ahead, there should be some perceptible standard which subscribes to the desire for more indulgence to more fundamental economic needs and the acquiring of land for industrial development. Would not the Parliamentary Secretary agree that local authorities should be encouraged to do what the Minister himself implied to be a valid reason for concentrating on the location of industry?

There is a well known statement—the end sanctifies the means—but in so far as every action is accompanied by other actions, it is true to say that our existence is the condition or premise of all our understanding. Our interests are always innumerable, inexpressibly great and we sometimes find conciliation in the determination of what is right and reasonable.

Despite all the circumstances in relation to cause and effect which I have tried to elucidate, I am bound to say that there are no more hard working or industrious people than those I have the honour to represent. There are no people more independently minded. There are no more people more devoted and wedded to the area where they were bred, born and reared. If rational fears, anxieties and apprehensions are to be removed, then more must be done. Not enough has yet been done in this respect. The major responsibility lies with the Government and I hope that tonight the Parliamentary Secretary can give some indication of future prospects which will show the full effect of a turn for the better, constituting a common use of resources for the promotion of common standards and the conception of future human happiness.

10.12 p.m.

Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh

I am very happy to reply to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof), because he is a very respected Member of the House. He has a personal knowledge of coal mining, past and present, and his opening remarks gave us a little historical sketch of certain features of his constituency of which he has an extensive knowledge. Whenever he speaks, he commands the attention of the House. As a Minister who has much to do with my colleagues from County Durham, I can say how extremely courteous, generous and helpful and what a very strong and fair advocate of the needs of his constituency he is. At a personal level, long before I even came to the House I had much to do with people in the southern end of County Durham, and my own respect for people from County Durham is very high.

I should like to make it quite clear from the outset that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are fully aware of the special problems facing those areas of County Durham which have been traditionally dependent on the coal mining industry. I am sure that the hon. Member knows this. I am completely at one with him, therefore, when he says that areas like Blaydon have been hard hit by the contraction and rationalisation in recent years, of that old industry upon which his constituency and those around it have so much depended for their livelihoods and which has also so much shaped the character of the people whom the hon. Gentleman and other Members from County Durham have the honour to represent.

But, as the House will agree, that contraction and rationalisation are an inevitable consequence of the gradual working out of the coal resources which nature gave us in County Durham. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the National Coal Board is following a vigorous policy of redeployment of manpower within the region and of transfers to other Coal Board divisions where the industry's prospects are brighter. But the need remains, as the hon. Gentleman has very fairly put it to us, to expand and diversify industrial activity in North-East Durham itself. The area is certainly entitled to look to the Government for assistance in achieving this end, and my right hon. Friend and I accept that responsibility.

I should like now to describe with figures the problem of Blaydon as I see it. All but a small part of Blaydon Urban District lies within the Blaydon Employment Exchange area, which also covers Ryton Urban District. This area was scheduled as a development district under the Local Employment Act, 1960, two years ago. Most of the remainder of the hon. Gentleman's constituency, that is to say, Whickham Urban District, falls within the Gateshead Employment Exchange area which was scheduled as a development district in May last year. In both cases the decision to accord development district status stemmed from the steady rundown in coalmining employment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that to that extent we have accepted the challenge of trying to diversify the economy of Blaydon and equally of Gateshead.

The four years from 1959 to 1962 saw the closure of four collieries in the Blaydon constituency. In 1963 three more collieries closed, making 72 men redundant to the long-term needs of the industry. The National Coal Board's closure programme for the financial year 1964–65 has not yet been announced, but I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that it includes the Watergate colliery, and the total of the redundancies under discussion at the moment, if they were to go through, would be of the order of 250.

As the hon. Gentleman has told the House, as if a decline in coalmining were not enough, Blaydon heard last May that the 100-year old Premier Foundry and Engineering Works would be closing down because of adverse trading conditions. The owners of that foundry are understood to have promised their employees all possible help in getting other jobs, but the stark fact remains that more than 300 men will have to be paid off from the works over the next few months.

In giving these details of the difficulties besetting Blaydon at the present time, I seek to convince the hon. Gentleman that the Government are fully seized of the area's problems and of the scale of assistance needed to overcome them, but I should like to tell the hon. Gentleman and the House how much has already been done. In the three years ended 31st March, 1963, that is, before the increased benefits came in under the revised Local Employment Act, 10 industrial development certificates were approved for Blaydon Employment Exchange area, involving 125,000 sq. ft. of factory space, and estimated to provide more than 150 new jobs. Progress has quickened considerably since then. Since 1st April, 1963, seven I.D.Cs. have been approved involving nearly 200,000 sq. ft. of factory space and estimated to provide no less than 760 new jobs.

To those figures must be added the further I.D.C. issued for the advance factory of 26,000 sq. ft. which we in the Board of Trade are building at Newburn Bridge, Ryton. This project is one of 14 Board of Trade advance factories built or planned for the North-East. Unhappily, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the start of building operations was held up by difficulties in finding and acquiring a suitable site, but I am glad to say that the project is now well under way and should be completed before the end of the year. When a tenant is found for it the factory should provide Blaydon with up to 100 more new jobs.

I add in parenthesis that in the early stages we do not find it very easy to get tenants for advance factories, but as they get nearer completion, and one has something physical to show, even though it is not completed, one finds that the interest begins to build up. I shall keep in touch with the hon. Gentleman on this matter.

In helping Blaydon to develop a more balanced and prosperous economy, our Department has made full use of the financial inducements available under the Local Employment Act, 1960, and the more recent one of 1963. During the period from 1st April, 1960, to 30th June of this year assistance offered for Blaydon Employment Exchange area under the Acts—I exclude offers which have been declined—has totalled £661,000, including £93,000 for the Board of Trade advance factory which I have just mentioned. This assistance covered 12 projects estimated to provide just over 1,000 jobs and represents 14 per cent. of the total assistance offered under the Acts to Tyneside as a whole. When one considers that Blaydon and Ryton Urban Districts had an estimated population of 44,000 at mid-1963, the area's share of assistance cannot, I think, be described as meagre.

It will of course take time to solve Blaydon's problems and the solid progress made thus far has certainly not led to any complacency on the part of the Government. The unemployment problem is still very real with 440 people—three quarters of them males—out of work at mid-June of this year. I think it is encouraging to report that despite the contraction in coalmining employment to which attention has been drawn both by the hon. Member and myself, 130 fewer people were out of work last month than at mid-June a year ago. I am greatly encouraged by the fact that jobs in the pipeline for Blaydon now exceed the number of people currently unemployed; and better still, that the jobs expected to arise there over the next four years will provide a greater diversity of employment opportunities than in the past.

The arrival in Blaydon of Churchill Gear Machines Limited, whose factory has been one of the most notable additions to the area's economy in post-war years, is already bringing about a substantial improvement in employment prospects for males. I would add in passing —the hon. Gentleman raised the question of school leavers—that here there should be provided more apprentice opportunities for the abler of the young people coming out of school. Other industries expected to give a wider spread of employment opportunities range from quilt manufacture to the production of adhesive compounds.

East of Blaydon, but within reasonable travel to work distance is the Gateshead Employment Exchange area, part of which falls within the constituency of the hon. Gentleman, and which has about 1,950 jobs in prospect over the next three to four years. The Gateshead area contains the Board of Trade's Industrial Estate at Team Valley, one of the finest ventures of its kind in the world. About 14,000 people are employed there by over 100 firms. There is still plenty of room for more and Gateshead's development district status means that the Board of Trade is willing to build premises for suitable projects. As it is, several extensions are being built at Team Valley at the present time, and in the last six months further extensions have been approved which will create another 400 new jobs. Again I would say that all these developments give increasing prospects of diverse opportunities for our young people.

The hon. Member—by inference although not by name—referred to the Ryton Urban District Council's desire to extend the Addison industrial estate and asked whether compulsory powers could be used to effect this. There is I believe other land scheduled for industrial development available in Ryton and Blaydon and the right course would be for the council to discuss with the planning authority—namely, Durham County Council—the case for zoning further land for industrial use. The hon. Gentleman knows that he will find them extremely helpful. Certainly it would be the proper thing for a prudent council to ensure that there is sufficient land zoned for use. It is no good bringing industrialists along to the area of a local authority if there is no land already zoned. It is possible that the site which the hon. Gentleman has in mind is that covered by a British Railways siding which is being closed and cleared. If that be so, I suggest that the Council should continue its negotiations with British Railways. On the availability of compulsory purchase powers, I understand that the Ryton Council could, if land had been designated for industrial use by the planning authority, use the powers of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, and, of course, the county council also has compulsory purchase powers.

So far I have tended to describe the employment and industrial position at Blaydon in isolation. It is also necessary to view Blaydon's future in the wider context of the Government's programme for the redevelopment and growth of the North-East as a whole. Blaydon is in the "growth zone" to which the increased public investment envisaged in our White Paper on North East development will be mainly directed. It is also part of Tyneside, which the White Paper selected as one of three "centres of expansion"—within the growth zone—to be given priority in the investment programme. The object of this investment is to deal with the very problems which can so clearly be seen to affect Blaydon.

Our aim, in fact, is to offset the results of the contraction of traditional industries, such as coal-mining, and to restore the economic balance of the region by improvements in the social, economic and industrial environment. By dint of increased expenditure on such things as roads, urban redevelopment, housing, and derelict land reclamation, we mean to ensure that areas like Blaydon are pleasant to live in, and are able to offer as many attractions to industrialists as can other areas of the country less burdened with the industrial legacies of the past. This concept goes even deeper than the reduction of unemployment—vitally important though that is—and establishes a clear inter-relationship between the needs of particular towns or districts and the redevelopment of the North-East as a whole.

In conclusion, I think Blaydon can look forward to taking its share of increasing prosperity in the North-East. Industrial expansion is already well under way; and Blaydon has the assurance that assistance under the Local Employment Acts will continue, not merely until the area's own unemployment is reduced, but until there is strong evidence of a general improvement in employment throughout the region. I would not attempt to minimise Blaydon's present difficulties, but I think I have shown that there has been progress in the last year or two. I am convinced that the vigorous measures being taken by the Government will lead to a bright and prosperous future for the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and there will still be lots o' lads and lasses there, aal wi' smilin faces".

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes past Ten o'clock.