Orders of the Day — Economic Development, South-West England

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th November 1964.

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

9.58 p.m.

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

I am grateful for the opportunity of raising tonight the subject of economic development in the south-west of England and to have two extra minutes in which to do it. My reasons are chiefly the following three. First, as a West Country man and a Member of Parliament, like all my Conservative colleagues in the South-West I believe that the best is good enough for the South-West and that nothing less will do. Those of us who have the honour to represent constituencies in the south-west of England have pressed hard for this in the past, and I give notice at once upon the new Government that we shall similary press extremely hard in the future.

I am glad to have the opportunity to pay tribute to some of my hon. Friends who have done so much—the hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme), the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir Rolf Dudley Williams), the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins), and I am only sorry—with respect to the new Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills)—that the former Member for Torrington, Mr. Percy Browne, who did so much, is not with us, due to the accident of ill-health. Many of my hon. Friends whose names I have not mentioned have done very much in this regard in the past and with success and credit.

My second reason is that as Minister of State at the Board of Trade in the past I had some responsibility for policy under my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State, whom I am pleased to see sitting in his place on the Front Bench. It is typical of his energy and devotion to the cause of the South-West, and, indeed, of regional development in general for which he did so much, that he should be here tonight. We are proud of the achievements that we realised in the South-West. We are proud of the progress that we made. I am glad to get some of the facts on the record tonight—

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. Lawson.)

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

—not for the least reason that a number of misleading things were said during the election campaign quite recklessly and irresponsibly by Labour and Liberal candidates alike. I am not surprised that four Labour candidates at the last General Election lost their deposits. I expect that at the next General Election there will be more. While I welcome the new hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell), I regret that his stay, like that of the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), will be only temporary.

My third reason is that certain doubts as to continuity of policy have been expressed. [Interruption.] I do not think it behoves the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) to shout, for he is on the knife edge for sure.

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

I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the debate will do his best to dispel those doubts. I congratulate him on his new appointment. We certainly wish him well. We shall support him and his colleagues most warmly when they introduce practical measures which will be of benefit to the South-West, and particularly when they continue the policies of the outgoing Government.

Our philosophy was clear. It was to expand employment, to expand the prospect for employment still further, to ensure that the maximum use was made of Britain's resources, to spread prosperity more evenly over the country, and, last but not least, to secure our objective of making certain that each region was, above all, a pleasant place in which to live and work, where its inhabitants could live full, happy and useful lives with all that that implies in the fields of recreation, the theatre, arts, education and the like. That was our policy for regional development in general. I hope it is still the philosophy of the new Government. I believe it to be the right philosophy and a practical one.

We have deliberately sought at the earliest opportunity to make our views plain to the Government on the subject of the South-West, and I want to list 12 demands. In 1963 a joint committee for the economy of the South-West was set up by the county councils of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset and the city councils of Exeter and Plymouth. My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State received deputations from it on two occasions, and I have paid some attention to its progress since. The importance of co-operation between the local authorities cannot be over-emphasised.

In 1964 the committee commissioned a private firm of consultants to carry out an industrial and economic survey of the four counties, and the Conservative Government agreed that the survey should receive financial aid from the Government. So my first demand is that the new Labour Government should honour the promise that we then made.

The aim of the survey was to examine the economic problems and potentials of the area more intensively than had ever before been possible. It was our intention to examine the report as soon as it was available and to implement its recommendations as far as was practicable without delay. So my second demand is that that should still be the policy of Her Majesty's Government, and not least to take into account the problems of the small market towns which some of my hon. Friends have often mentioned in the House and of which we all have examples in our constituencies in the South-West, in my case Wellington and the like.

The policy of the Conservative Government was based on the idea of partnership between central government and local authorities. It applied to the South-West as well as to the rest of the country. Some of the things said during the election campaign, during debates in the House and today by the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, caused, and will cause, many of us in the House and in local authorities and our constituents in general some misgiving. I should like to say plainly to the hon. Gentleman that in the South-West we do not want nationalisation, State enterprise or direction of labour. In other words, we prefer co-operation without direction by Ministers or their Departments. Many local authorities in the South-West have done and are doing a most excellent job.

I have already spoken about the counties. Devonshire has now produced its first survey of the county plans for the future. Towns like Liskeard, Bodmin, Bideford and Barnstaple—one could mention many others—are providing sites and working harder to attract new industry. They are doing the job and doing it well. The job of the Government is to co-operate with them and to help—not to direct them or interfere with them in doing their practical work in any way.

The Labour Party announced in its election manifesto plans to introduce responsible regional planning boards. We have heard today about planning councils. We shall examine this policy with care. I warn the Government that we want effective action and not bureaucracy; jobs and not red tape. We have heard a lot about words in the debate on the Address but actions speak louder than committees.

Our economic prosperity in the South-West depends chiefly on agriculture, tourism and industry. First, I deal with agriculture. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North is here. He has done a great deal for agriculture and I am glad to acknowledge that.

The aim of the Conservative Government was to make the country's agriculture in general more efficient and competitive. We have made good progress. There has been technical assistance through the N.A.A.S. and the long-term assurance of the Agriculture Act, 1957, together with Measures like the small farmer and farm improvement schemes as well as the increase of £24 million in milk guarantees in the last price review. All these measures, and others, have substantially benefited agriculture in the South-West.

We have our special problems there, not least because of the smallness of the farms. The average size is 42 acres, which is well below the national figure. However, we view vast factory farms with some anxiety and we are convinced that it is essential that hill farms should have special support.

We were proposing in future price re-views to give increased attention to the need to improve farmers' returns. My third demand is that the new Administration should give high priority to the aim of keeping agriculture prosperous and flourishing. We shall insist that schemes to be introduced—no doubt following plans we have laid—to improve marketing in agriculture and horticulture should not be introduced on either too rigid a pattern or alternatively without consultation with the industry.

In 1962, some 27 million people—about half the population of the country—took holidays of four days or more away from home. About 20 per cent. of them spent all or part of their holidays in the South-West. We have done much to help ourselves in catering for tourism. Standards in boarding houses, hotels, restaurants, holiday camps elsewhere have risen greatly.

Tourism is vital to the British economy not only as a foreign currency earner—it brought in about £300 million in 1963—but also to give proper recreation to our people. The South-West is playing a fine part in all this. My fourth demand is for Government support—which, in the past, we gave.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) promoted the idea of prolonging the holiday season and a White Paper was published. We did a great deal through tourism conferences and the like. There is the proposal for fiscal help through tax allowances to the holiday industry for its buildings and equipment.

We want to see our countryside—perhaps the most blessed heritage in the South-West—fortified, looked after and maintained. We want to see more help for the national parks. It is worth reflecting that one in four of those who come to the South-West travel by car and I shall talk about roads in a moment.

Now I deal with industry. Our unemployment figure in September was 1·3 per cent. for the region. That is below the national average, which is good. Bristol had only 1 per cent. but unemployment in Cornwall and Devon is above the national average. That will not do.

We are particularly anxious to keep our young people in the West and provide opportunities for them. There is undoubtedly a curious geographical imbalance. In the area east and north of Taunton there is prosperity. To the west of Taunton the economic growth has been less rapid.

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman saying that the unemployment position in Cornwall and certain other parts of the South-West will not do because it is too high. How long has it been too high?

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

I am coming on to that. There is no doubt that in large parts of Devon and Cornwall unemployment is high and that the development districts—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) will be good enough not to interrupt me, I will come to his point—cover a large part of Cornwall and North Devon. But we have had our successes. Plymouth and Bodmin, for example, are completely delisted and we can take credit for that. Financial aid totalling £2¼ million has assisted 58 new projects in the development districts providing 4,400 new jobs in the last four years, while at this moment another 2,000 jobs are in the pipeline.

The unemployed in the development districts in the South-West are only a small part of the national total, but to us they are extremely important. Our past policy of encouraging industries in all parts of the South-West has resulted in the granting of 822 industrial development certificates for new factories or extensions to existing plants and has meant the creation of 33,000 new jobs in the last five years. So far as I am aware, no industrial development certificate has ever been refused in the South-West. My fifth demand, therefore, is that this should continue to be the policy of the Government.

Wages in the South-West are low—in my opinion too low. It is, of course, gratifying that the increase in average weekly earnings over the last four years has been greater in the south-west region than in any other, but averages, of course, are misleading and I say deliberately that we want to see wages rise very much further in the South-West, not least in the least industrialised parts of the region.

There is no doubt, however, that under the previous Conservative Administration the region is more prosperous than it has ever previously been in its history. This makes nonsense of suggestions, mooted at the last election, either that the region is at the end of the queue, or was in any way neglected by the Conservative Administration. We are proud of what we have been able to achieve and I am glad to be able to get these facts on the record.

My sixth demand is that past policies which have been successful in three respects—in mitigating unemployment in the development district, in attracting new industries and encouraging a faster industrial growth in the South-West as a whole, and in raising wage levels—should continue, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to give a clear and unequivocal undertaking that the South-West will have every facility for further development and that progress will be maintained. Of course, we do not want to build a new Manchester in the middle of Devon, or Dorset, or Somerset, or Cornwall, but we want new opportunities for our people and we are determined to have them.

I come to communications, one of the most important subjects. Our ports, large and small, are vital. We made plans for the development of our larger ports following the Rochdale Report. Falmouth, Bristol, and so on, have a very important part to play in the context of the national economy as a whole. As to our smaller fishing ports, of which Newlyn can be mentioned, it is essential to maintain good overland communications and there should be adequate facilities on the dockside for processing and marketing. There is a great opportunity for development now that fishing limits have been extended. I hope that the hon. Gentleman may be able to tell us, some time if not tonight, which Ministry in future will be responsible for the fishing ports themselves. My seventh demand is that every opportunity to develop our South-West ports, large or small, should continue to be taken by the Government.

I come now to air services in the South-West. As in the United Kingdom in general, these are on the threshold of development. The service from Newquay via Exeter to London, with the development of Exeter Airport, Bristol Airport, and so on, is first class. My eighth demand is that no obstacle will be put in the way of, or, rather, that every encouragement will be given to, the development of new airfields and airstrips, or the extension of existing facilities, and that the Government will not favour the State airlines at the expense of either existing private enterprise air services, or potential new services.

As to the railway, we are supporters in general of the Beeching approach to providing an economical and better and faster railway transport service, both for passengers and for freight, and a good deal of progress has already been made. As for individual closures, the last Government pledged that no closure would be made unless an adequate and effective alternative service could be provided. My ninth demand is that that pledge should be repeated by the new Administration. I heard what was said today by the Minister of Transport. I could not understand what his policies were. We shall want to study them in detail. I would only say now that half of Beeching would be the worst of both worlds. I hope that this is not a pretence for a political purpose in saving that there will be no closures when in fact there will be closures.

The present position with regard to roads is that expenditure on new road construction has reached record levels at a total of £40 million in the period ending 1967–68. In addition—a matter for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley must take some credit—an extra £2 million is available for the A.38 west of Exeter. We brought forward the survey for the Bristol-Exeter motorway, we started the Honiton by-pass, and the Plympton and Cullumpton by-passes were on the programme. The "Brown Paper" says there is to be the rephasing of certain programmes. May I ask for an assurance—this is my tenth demand—that the present programmes should not be in any way reduced and if possible that they should be further increased?

We should like to know when an announcement will be made about the M.4 and the extension to the M.5. We believe that attention should be given to the most urgent need to remove bottle- necks on the A.38 and the A.30 round Okehampton. We should like to know what is to happen in respect of the Buchanan Report

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

The hon. and learned Gentleman is well aware that we have made great progress in the South-West. For all the talk about what the Liberal Party was going to do it is remarkable that it has been left to the Conservatives to raise matters relating to the South-West.

We have undoubtedly had our fair share of new schools, technical college development and the like in the South-West. My eleventh demand is that this policy shall continue. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recommend to his colleagues in the Ministry of Education the consideration of another university in the South-West. We view with alarm some of the proposals regarding grammar schools and not least in respect of Bristol. Our view is that local needs are one thing and dogma is another—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to the question he is raising about economic development in the South-West.

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

It is my opinion—I apologise if I am wrong—that educational facilities are vitally important with regard to the economic development.

My eleventh demand, put shortly, is that plans which have already been made for considering the transfer of some of the burden of expenditure from the rates to the Exchequer shall be continued. They bear especially heavily on the non-industrial communities. Hospitals must not be neglected. We established facilities and we are concerned to learn of some of the delays likely at present in the hospital building programme. So long as the South-West receives a fair share of the national resources we shall be content.

We in the South-West have a long history of rebellion. I do not wish to say that we shall be rebellious in the future, but I will say that we shall be formidable in support of constructive policies to benefit those whom we have the honour to represent. We shall be formidable in attacking any change of policy which we believe to be inimical to progress. I end as I began. Arnold Bennett said that the best was good enough for him. That was a proud thing to have been said by a man who started from nothing. The best is good enough for us in the South-West and we shall be content, as in the past, with nothing less.

10.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Stockton-on-Tees

During the speech of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) I was in two minds whether he was trying to show how far the late Government had fallen short of what they should have achieved, or whether he was seeking to set out what he believed a worthy record. Certainly, in his haste to try to complete his speech—and he took 22 minutes to do so and to present his 12 demands—he left me confused on a number of points not only about his demands, but about his intention.

The hon. Gentleman asked at the beginning about continuity and I wish to make clear that, whereas there may be a case for continuity in some policies followed by the late Government in the South-West, in general a demand for continuity in the policies of that Government certainly cannot be met. I want to dispel that view straight away. There will be no continuity except when we believe, looking at the new facts that we find, that there is a strong practical case for following policies which by chance may happen to have been good ones. Therefore, may I make it very clear that I have no intention whatsoever of acceding to demands? The Government will not accede at any time to demands. They will reply to questions, they will try to deal with requests, and, if it is in that spirit that the hon. Gentleman wishes me to try to deal with the matter that he has raised this evening, I will be only too glad to do so.

I am very grateful for the opportunity of speaking this evening on this Adjournment debate and I am glad, despite the tone of some of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman, that he has afforded me this opportunity at an early occasion to appear at the Dispatch Box as a junior member of the team which has been performing from this side since 3.30 this afternoon. I am also very glad that we are discussing planning in the South-West, because I think that it is possible to associate regional planning more with the industrial wastelands and with the highly congested areas like the South-East than with areas like the South-West, although they have very special problems indeed. It is easy to forget the South-West. I would associate the South-West with Bideford, where I spent my honeymoon and where I spent my only holiday in seven years. It is easy for those of us who have visited the South-West on holiday not to fully appreciate the nature of its problems.

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Stockton-on-Tees

The hon. Member can raise that on another Adjournment.

I turn to tourism. Certainly, the new Government recognise the importance of tourism to the South-West. The previous Government certainly took a number of steps which I think were welcome to encourage tourism and there has been rather more co-operation in recent years between the constituent authorities on tourism than there was on occasions in the past. We would certainly like to encourage more regional thinking about an industry which, as I say, is most important to the South-West, so in this respect I think it would be true to say there should be a certain element of continuity.

I think that most people overlook the problems which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to in part—the rural population drift and the under-employment and unemployment and also the problem of good communications. As time is very limited may I make it quite clear that we attach a great deal of importance to good communications as the necessary sinews of economic growth. It is true that after 13 years, both the A.30 and the A.38 are still greatly in need of much improvement. We recognise that more will be done and we shall attempt to give this priority.

Equally, we recognise that the proposals of the Beeching Report were in a number of respects likely to affect adversely the tourist industry. I was very interested to hear the hon. Gentleman say that the Opposition—as we now must call them—were supporters "in general" of the Beeching Report. I cannot remember one occasion when, during the period of the last Government, the phrase "in general" was used to qualify the support of that Government for the Beeching proposals, even when they were affecting certain parts of the country very adversely.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport said this afternoon, we shall look very closely indeed at all proposals for rail closures, bearing in mind the regional questions and the important part which railways can play in generating economic growth. The hon. Member also mentioned the importance of airports. We recognise this and we shall give our attention to it as far as possible.

It is true that this is a very diverse region. There is a great deal of difference between the circumstances and the problems of Devon and Cornwall, for example, and the problems which are developing in what is becoming almost the conurbation around Bristol, Gloucester and Cheltenham. Nevertheless, if we can succeed in getting the South-West to think regionally, one part of the region will be able to make a contribution to solving the problems of the whole.

Certainly, in all their regional policies the aim of the new Government will be to encourage local authorities and interests of every sort to think regionally. Of course there are traditional differences. Of course there are barriers which have grown up over the years. But without in any way interfering with proper local authority functions, we want to bring these interests together. The hon. Member mentioned bureaucracy. I suggest consent as a very important factor in the making of policy, and I put it to him that the proposals which were outlined by my right hon. Friend the First Secretary this afternoon are an attempt to get a far higher measure of consent to regional planning than was ever attempted by the late Government.

I do not believe that in the regions we shall not find more people with the energy, the talent, the vision and the imagination, who are prepared to give the time to playing a much more active part in helping to locate and distinguish regional problems and to determine the priority of spending, than have been found in the past. Those people are there. They want to be consulted. Consent is a very good principle indeed of democratic government.

As the First Secretary said this afternoon, we shall be setting up new planning machinery—both consultative councils and planning boards. We shall not be creating bureaucracy. We shall not be creating sinecures. We shall be streamlining the present apparatus and carrying it a good deal further forward than the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) succeeded in doing during the period in which he was responsible for regional planning.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

Does this mean that the joint study being, carried on, very much as an example of what the hon. Member described as planning by consent, between the voluntary authorities in the South-West and the Government is to be stopped and to be superseded by the planning boards? Or is this joint operation to go on?

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Stockton-on-Tees

It is not to be stopped. It is not necessarily the Government's policy to extend the present proposals for regional planning machinery over the whole of the country at once. We recognise that different regions are in different stages of development. They have different machinery to do the job. Certainly, it is our wish to see the present inquiry of the joint committee on the economy of the South-West continue, and in this respect I can give the guarantees which the hon. Member for Taunton requires.

There is a great deal more which I could have said about the Government's intention to try to help the South-West had I had the time. The Government care about the South-West as much as did the late Government, and we shall do a first-rate job there. We recognise its problems. We shall certainly do all in our power to solve them. I invite the hon. Member for Taunton to come back in two, three or four years' time and to see what we have achieved during that period.

10.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

In the one minute which remains I would say that it is interesting to see those Tory Members who have got back for the first time on minority votes rising in their places to cry for the South-West. It is interesting that it was the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) who, at the Government Dispatch Box, said that a regional plan for the South-West would not be possible during the last Parliament.

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

I did not say that.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

It is interesting that the closure of the Taunton-Barnstaple line, from my constituency to his, and the inadequacy of the alternative bus services—

The Question having been proposed at 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 half-past Ten o'clock.