Problems of the North-East

Part of Civil Estimates, 1964–65 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th July 1964.

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Photo of Dr Jeremy Bray Dr Jeremy Bray , Middlesbrough West 12:00 am, 16th July 1964

In considering the prospects for school leavers, I ask the Secretary of State to make inquiries of youth employment officers this week about their views on this matter. The Ministry of Labour is trifling with tiny little training schemes, waiting for the industrial training boards to grind into action, while at the same time it has the cheek to tell employers that they ought not to wait for training boards but should get on with the training and they would find it worth while in the end. Why is not the Ministry of Labour doing it?

The Secretary of State should look to the contribution which he could make to the problem. He would find the Industrial Estates Management Corporation able to play a very useful part in this rôle. In particular, he will find that the new estate at Thornaby is eager to get on with providing training facilities straight away. I feel that this would be a valuable selling point in attracting industrialists to the estate. This is a matter for the Secretary of State for Industry and Trade. Will he look at it himself and not just leave it to the Ministry of Labour, which is not responsible for attracting industrialists to these estates?

The Government may argue that there is a long way to go—I do not think that the Secretary of State will dispute that—but that we are on the way. What is happening? The fall in unemployment in the North-East has been due to the very rapid rate of industrial expansion in the country as a whole over the last few months—a rate of expansion which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has repeatedly said we cannot maintain without running into a balance of payments crisis. I should be happy to go a good deal further than any Government spokes- man has gone about the North-East; on Tees-side in particular I think that unemployment will fall to a very low level when the present enormous construction boom reaches a peak in 1965 or the beginning of 1966.

In the first quarter of 1964 no less than 25 per cent. by value of the new orders for construction for manufacturing industry for the whole of Great Britain went to the northern region. That is an increase on the published figures, because the Minister of Public Building and Works thought that Wilton was in the South of England. Altogether 25 per cent. of the spending on new construction on industry is going to the North. That might have been expected to produce far more jobs than the Government have announced.

These massive figures for investment are due to the very heavy investment in steel, chemical and oil developments on Tees-side. These developments are most welcome, but the Government are like an innocent child wandering into the strange and fascinating world of big, modern industry, which they have not begun to understand. Look at oil and its impact on coal. A couple of years ago I.C.I. announced a crude distilling plant on Tees-side. Shell then followed with the announcement of a £10 million oil refinery, which in due course it doubled to £20 million, to come on line in April, 1967. At that point I.C.I, and Philips jumped in and announced that they would be building a new refinery on Tees-side to come on the scene one year earlier, at the beginning of 1966. E.N.I., the Italian national oil company, has just announced its interest in building an oil refinery in a develpoment district and I hope that the company will come to Tees-side, too.

The initial output of industrial fuels from these refineries will be 12 million to 15 million tons of coal equivalent a year, and I have yet to hear of a refinery which stuck to its design capacity. The total production of coal from the Durham and Northumberland coalfields is 35 million tons from 100,000 miners. In 1967, 400 oil refinery workers will be producing the fuel which it would take 40,000 coal miners to produce, and this is not at some vague time in the future but within three years of the present. Do the Government expect the three or four competing oil companies to take life gently in the North-East? What about natural gas in the North Sea? If this is found, there will be a very rapid development. The Secretary of State would realise this if he examined the attitude of the Dutch Government to the development of natural gas there.

We all admire the way in which the union and the National Coal Board between them have managed the rundown of employment in mining in County Durham. Unemployment of miners has been far below the national average for other occupations. But the Government have so far failed in their task of providing alternative employment for younger people who are not needed in coal mining. They have not begun to think about what the problem will be within three years from now. I am satisfied from the verly simple questions which I have asked of Shell, Shell-Mex and B.P., and I.C.I, in the last few days that the Ministry of Power has not made the most elementary inquiries about the impact of these refineries on the economy of the North-East.