Regional Economic Planning

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th December 1964.

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3.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

With permission, I will make a statement on the Government's proposals for the organisation of regional economic planning, and I apologise in advance for the length of the statement.

The purpose of the regional councils and boards which the Government intend to establish is to provide effective machinery for regional economic planning within the framework of the national plan for economic development. Regional economic planning has two main purposes: first. to provide for a full and balanced development of the country's economic and social resources; and, secondly, to ensure that the regional implications of growth are clearly understood and taken into account in the planning of land use, of development—in particular, of industrial development—and of services.

The economic planning councils will be concerned with broad strategy on regional development and the best use of the regions' resources. Their principal function will be to assist in the formulation of regional plans and to advise on their implementation. They will have no executive powers.

The economic planning boards, on the other hand, will provide the necessary machinery for co-ordinating the work of Government Departments concerned with regional planning and development, but their creation will not affect the existing powers and responsibilities of local authorities or existing ministerial responsibilities.

Since regional economic planning must be on a broad scale, the number of planning regions should be kept as few as possible. Special attention will be given to those areas within each region which have particular economic problems, and neighbouring councils and boards will co-operate on problems which cut across regional boundaries.

Separate economic planning boards will be established in Scotland and Wales, whose chairmen will be officials appointed by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State, who will also appoint the economic planning councils.

In England, there will be the following regions:

Northern, covering Cumberland, Durham, North Riding of Yorkshire, Northumberland, Westmorland.

North West, covering Cheshire, Lancashire, and the High Peak District.

Yorkshire and Humberside, covering the East and West Ridings of Yorkshire, and Lindsey.

East Midlands, covering Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Holland, Kesteven, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, and Rutland.

West Midlands, covering Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire.

South West, covering Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset, and Wiltshire.

No decisions will be taken about regional organisation for the rest of England until we have completed our review of the policies set out in the previous Government's White Paper on South-East England.

A map showing these areas is now available in the Vote Office.

The offices of the English economic planning boards will be in Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bristol. The chairmen of these boards will be officials of the Department of Economic Affairs, and other Departments will make suitable arrangements to enable them to make a full contribution to the work of the boards. Steps will be taken as soon as possible to house in the same building the regional planning staff of the Departments concerned.

The members of the economic planning councils will be appointed as individuals and not as delegates or representatives of particular interests, but they will be widely representative of different types of experience within the region. I and my right hon. Friends propose to discuss the procedure for the selection of members of the councils with the local authority associations and other organisations concerned. I hope to make an announcement about the membership of some of the councils early in the new year.

In some of the planning areas, development councils are in active existence, drawing their finance from local authorities and from industry in the regions. The Government see a continuing place for such councils to complement the work of the economic planning councils. We shall continue, therefore, to contribute financial help towards the valuable publicity work done by the Scottish Council and the North-East Development Council under the arrangements made by the previous Government.

In due course the economic planning councils will take over the responsibilities at present carried by the regional boards for industry. I propose, therefore, to discuss with the T.U.C. and the employers' organisations the best means of ensuring that the new machinery, when it is set up, profits from the valuable experience built up by these boards over a period of years.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

From the right hon. Gentleman's definition of the functions of the planning councils, namely, that they will have no executive powers, he appears to be setting up further advisory bodies to replace the regional boards for industry, and threatening, in the North-East and in Scotland, to overlap the work already being done by the Development Councils. I should like to pay tribute to the work done by the regional boards for industry. The new machinery is really replacing one existing advisory body with another advisory body, and formalising what has been done informally in the North-East by a study group. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that the membership, and particularly the chairmanship, should not be made for political reasons, but on a basis which will secure broad support from the whole of the region?

The planning boards, again because of the remark that this will not affect the existing powers and responsibilities of local authorities or Ministerial responsibility, are only another name for the group which has already been set up in the North-East and is carrying out study group reports on the rest of the country. Will the chairmen work exclusively in the towns and cities which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, or will they operate as at present both in the regions and in Whitehall?

The regions proposed by the right hon. Gentleman appear to be broadly the same regions as those on which we were working hitherto, but it is not a pity that he should apparently have come to a firm decision already that Cumberland and Westmorland should remain in the northern region where, already, there is a north-eastern organisation? Ought not this to await the findings of the study group for the whole of the North West which is working on Cumberland and Westmorland?

Finally, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will carry on with great urgency the review of the South-East England Study, because it is holding up a large number of decisions and, at the same time, some of his colleagues, like the Minister of Housing and Local Government, are already taking independent decisions before a final review has been made, which appear to run across the general trend of that plan. I therefore ask him to act on this with urgency.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I do not think anybody can say that we are not acting with urgency on a whole range of problems left for us. We are doing our best to catch up on the vacuum left behind by the previous Administration.

I think that if the right hon. Gentleman consults opinion in Cumberland he will find that the view which he offered is not the one taken there.

It is not true that this is a similar machine to something which already exists. The right hon. Gentleman knows better than anybody that that is not true. He knows very well that outside the north-east development group nothing existed at all; and even that was not a planning arrangement.

On the question whether we should appoint chairmen because they are good, competent, and capable of doing the job, and not for political reasons, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that our practice will be totally different from that which he and his right hon. Friends employed during the last 13 years.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the chairmen of the boards would operate for the cities in which their offices were located, or for the whole region. They will operate for the whole region.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

Is the right hon. Gentleman denying that such groups have already been working—that there is the North-West plan, the West Midlands plan, and that a joint local authority and study group for the South-West has already been set up and is working? He says that nothing existed. This is completely untrue. I ask him to withdraw that statement.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

The right hon. Gentleman is fighting his little war for the leadership. That, again, was not what I said. If he will listen I will repeat it. The past has been papered with surveys and studies. What did not exist when we came in was some planning machinery, but it will now exist.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

I want to ask the First Secretary two questions concerning the planning boards. First, as their creation will not affect the existing powers of local authorities and Ministerial responsibilities, will they have any executive powers at all? If so, what will they be? Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman previously said that the work of the economic planning board in Scotland will be carried out by the Scottish Development Group. Has he changed his mind about this? Are we to have a separate planning body in Scotland? If so, what is to happen to the Scottish Development Group?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

My right hon. Friend is to make the decision about the planning board in Scotland. As I said in my statement, there will be a separate planning board for Scotland, which my right hon. Friend will be setting up, whose chairman will be regularly meeting the chairmen of the English boards, and who will participate in the policy discussions which will go on for the United Kingdom as a whole.

As for the question of executive powers, since the boards will consist of officials of the Departments—chaired, as is the situation now in Whitehall, by the Department of Economic Affairs—they will have the executive powers which Ministers delegate to them, within the overall policy decision which must be taken nationally—because for those policy decision Minster must be answerable to Parliament—and, within those decisions, all the range of decisions which flow from them will be taken by the boards. We want to get the utmost decentralisation without spoiling good administration, and without derogating from Parliament's ultimate right to control policy decisions.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

In view of the special circumstances that exist on Merseyside, will not my right hon. Friend consider the question of the boundaries of the regional planning boards, and bear in mind the possibility of establishing such a board for the Merseyside area, which is a natural region? If not, can he say whether there will be a special subcommittee of the overall committee which will deal with Merseyside problems? Further, how far will local authorities be drawn into the work of the regional boards, and how far will they have actual representation on them?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that question. I have given a tremendous amount of attention to the question of the regions, but I do not think that I can hold out much hope of being willing to change the number. I must put this to my hon. Friend and to the House, because many other individuals rightly have localised feelings about this matter. We have to get the utmost spread, or delegation, or decentralisation of authority to get real democracy, but if we go too far clown the line we find that we cannot provide the offices, or the planners, or the staffs, and that while such an arrangement may look perfect on paper, in practice it does not work. All decisions would come back to Whitehall, which in my view—as a provincial Member—would be wrong.

We have, therefore, tried to make the best division we can which will be as near to the regions as we can get, while also making them substantial enough for us to be able to staff them and carry the plan through. As for special areas, of which Merseyside is one, in the North-West, as is Sheffield and the surrounding part of Yorkshire, as I said, special attention can be given to those. The councils can meet where they like and the boards can set up such internal organisation, such as sub-boards, as they think are required to make sure that all the problems within their regions are taken care of.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has made an irrevocable, drastic and hasty decision, and that there are many hon. Members in the House and people throughout the country who will regret that he is not putting the arguments in favour of this decision in a White Paper which can be debated in the House and in the country? Is he aware that the decision in respect of Sheffield cuts right across an autonomous region? The Sheffield area is now to be in two regions. What arrangements has he for a situation such as that?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

If the hon. Member thinks that my decision was drastic or hasty he had better see me, and I will show him my diary for the last few weeks. It was not that. It is a decision that I have taken, in the exercise of my responsibilities, after a great deal of consideration. I am well aware that this is my judgment against that of other people. I am very conscious of this fact. If the Opposition wish to put this subject down for debate on a Supply day, I shall be very willing to explain the question as fully as I can, and to give the answers.

Photo of Mr Richard Winterbottom Mr Richard Winterbottom , Sheffield, Brightside

Will my right hon. Friend say whether or not a measure of elasticity is to be allowed within the regions so that that which is a homogeneous whole may be kept intact, that is to say, where the boundaries of the councils cut through an economic whole there can be slight variations to take account of that, and that in those districts sub-committees of the regions can be set up to consider the special circumstances that exist there?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I thought I had made that clear just now. Certainly, I envisage that that may well happen.

Photo of Mr Michael Noble Mr Michael Noble , Argyll

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said about the Scottish Council, and that it will continue to have power and authority to complement, as he says, the work of the new planning board and the authorities.

I have listened to his statement, and I have no doubt that he has read the Question and Answer given yesterday in the House of Commons, but I still do not see a single practical change in what he has suggested now from what was happening under the previous Administration—except that the Scottish Board for Industry is to go. I hope that this is not due to the fact that Mr. George Middleton has made some very outspoken comments—as reported in the Press—about Government economic policy.

Will the right hon. Gentleman now tell us what is the significance of these executive powers? A great deal of comment was made by hon. Members opposite about the lack of executive powers of the Scottish Development Group. As I understand from the right hon. Gentleman, it is in exactly the same position as it was in before. Exactly the same responsibilities could be delegated to the Group by my right hon. Friends and myself.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

The right hon. Gentleman will find that it is quite different, in that there will now be not only a plan for the United Kingdom as a whole but a plan taking account of the advice, help, and involvement of Scotland. There will then be authority in Scotland to implement it. He will find the situation totally different—and if he goes back to Scotland and asks about it he will find many people up there who are pleased that we are to change what he left behind.

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

Will my right hon. Friend take note of the fact that there will be considerable disappointment on Merseyside at his statement? Although note will be taken of the answer which he has given to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), none the less it is seriously and earnestly felt that insufficient attention has been paid to the distinctive character of the problems confronting Merseyside.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I understand that, not only from my hon. and learned Friend but from hon. Members on both sides of the House. There will be some disappointment at the decisions I have had to make. It is difficult, but, being in this position, one has to make decisions, and there it is. I must try to explain them and to carry my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite with me.

On the question of Merseyside the Joint Under-Secretary of State—my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers)—who has played a large part in this matter, and knows a great deal about it, will be in Manchester and Liverpool on Monday afternoon.

Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry

May I ask what is the position with regard to a region which has not yet been mentioned, namely, Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I have already had discussions, as the hon. Gentleman knows, with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and other Ministers at the very beginning of all this business. The officials of my Department and those in Northern Ireland are in close touch. The situation is not quite analogous, but consultations are taking place.

Several Hon. Members:


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

It is impossible not to recognise how wide ranging geographically is this matter, but it is quite impossible that we should seek to debate it without any Question before the House.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would not it be possible to put questions with regard to the particular planning problems which apply to Wales?

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

If I am to go round the United Kingdom, we shall invade time that the House will need for other business.

Photo of Sir Rolf Williams Sir Rolf Williams , Exeter

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand, the right hon. Gentleman the First Secretary of State has made a statement which will result in considerable changes in the way we conduct our affairs. We have asked him for an opportunity for a debate and the right hon. Gentleman will not give us time for a debate. He is to start implementing this new organisation.

May I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that if the House of Commons is to be treated like this it will be unfair not to allow Members of Parliament to put points to the right hon. Gentleman in order to elucidate what is in the rather confused mind of the right hon. Gentleman?

May I request, with great respect, that in view of this we should be allowed to continue with our questions which are of a probing nature, and have some further time to try to find out whether this is a subject where we should put down a Motion of censure. I hope that in these circumstances, Mr. Speaker, you will allow the questions to continue for a little longer.

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

It is traditionally a difficult problem for the Chair while the House maintains its existing procedure and custom about statements. It is a matter about which I have to do my best in my own judgment. I think that the House must find an opportunity to discuss this when—

Hon. Members:

Sit down.

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

Order—when there is a Question before the House.

Photo of Mr John Tilney Mr John Tilney , Liverpool Wavertree

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have accepted two questions on Merseyside from hon. Members opposite. Is it possible to have one from this side of the House?

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

I made a geographical slip. I cannot allow questions to continue. I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, who has made it so clear how necessary it is to be firm.