Orders of the Day — Development Areas

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd August 1966.

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Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock 12:00 am, 2nd August 1966

We can all agree with the second last sentence of the speech of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield)—and I apologise for not being present when he started—in which he referred to the fact that the success or failure of the Government's plans depends not on the legislation that we pass but rather upon the response we evoke from the people. But he is wrong in saying that people in the development areas have been unresponsive in the past to the failures of the party opposite in this respect, and have been ungrateful for the achievements and the speed with which we have set about the task in the development areas since October, 1964. They have heard that sort of speech before.

One would think that the world started for the Tories in 1963, with free depreciation. We went through all this in 1952, 1954, 1958 and 1961. Why is it that only the poor right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) is mentioned? I can understand the anxieties of hon. Members opposite about what happens to development areas in times of economic crisis, because we had that experience in every one of the years to which I have referred. Today, hon. Members opposite are freed from their slavish silence. Are they making today the sort of speeches they should have made in 1952, 1954, 1958 and 1961? Today we have heard again the speeches they made about a year ago.

They cry "Wolf" so often. The Scottish Tories have almost populated the political Highlands with wolves. If anyone should beware of crying "Wolf", it should surely be the sheep farmer. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite need not worry. I will deal with all the important points and they will not put me off. In fact, we have in the last 18 months seen a speedup in interest in the development areas, not only in the number of inquiries but of firm commitments. These have enabled my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to announce the figures which he gave to the Committee earlier. He spoke of 14½ million sq. ft. of factory space having been committed in the last 18 months, as against 9½ million sq. ft. in the previous 18 months. I should have thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite would welcome that improvement. But no. They continue to cry woe and all we get from them is a catalogue of carping criticism.

Are hon. Gentlemen opposite not pleased that my right hon. Friend was able to announce his decision that, within this short period since October, 1964, there will be built in Scotland alone 23 advance factories, remembering that in the whole of the 13 years of Tory rule we got only 27 factories, and that for about 10 years we got none at all? It took my hon. Friends and myself 10 years to convince the Conservatives of the efficacy of building advance factories.

It having taken us so long to convince them of this need, all hon. Gentlemen opposite now want advance factories. The same hon. Members who criticised us because we wanted to spread the benefits of the development areas—they said we wanted to spread them far too wide—are the very hon. Members who now say, "Yes, but attend to my area now and never mind the rest". Indeed, the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) wants them to be extended right to his garden stile. To be frank with the hon. Gentleman, I am rather worried for him and his hon. Friends because of the apoplectic outpourings we are getting from them. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire said, in effect, that we should forget what he said previously and spread these benefits to Perth and that area.

I do not recall the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) telling the people of his constituency during the General Election—in which he narrowly got home, I believe by only a few hundred votes—that if the Tories were returned they would take the benefits of the development area incentives away from Ayr. Nor did he and hon. Gentlemen opposite say that they would be taken away from Kilmarnock, the Borders and other parts of Scotland. Instead, they found a new one; depopulation was the thing that really counted.

The right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) has not been in the House of Commons for all that long. In fact, he did not make very many speeches on this subject before he became Secretary of State in the former Conservative Administration. He and his hon. Friends would not face up to what was happening in the wider areas of Scotland, Wales and the North-East in relation to depopulation. They did not make depopulation one of the criteria for giving help under the Local Government Act. It was the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) who said, in effect, "We cannot do this. It would be like Canute asking the waters to roll back". The right hon. Gentleman said that it was inevitable and that people would leave anyway. Then, with the General Election coming along, the Conservative Party suddenly discovered that it was an ideal matter to raise, and then they could not keep quiet about it.

It is worth remarking that none of the hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent Edinburgh has spoken today. I wonder for what they would have been asking had they taken part in our discussion? Would they have wanted us to spread these benefits even further—into the most prosperous parts of Scotland? They really must justify their claims in relation to natural growth, jobs, unemployment and so on. I do not think that they could justify such claims.

I would not call the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South an enthusiastic supporter of the development area concept. At one point I almost asked the hon. Gentleman to say which side he was on because his speech reminded me of the sort of speeches that prevented the Tory Party from taking action that should have been taken. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have failed to appreciate that before the end of this century Britain will have to cater for a greatly increased population. Where would he put them? In the South-East? Round London? Or would he use the available space? One would think that Britain was thousands of miles long and broad, but it is not all that long distance from London to Inverness. One can get there by aeroplane quite readily.

We have to make the point, and we have to continue to make the point, that if we want these areas to be available we must maintain and build up population there, and to do that we must start with retaining the existing population. We must take powers to give the people there the opportunity to help themselves. Until this year, with the passing of this Act, the people in the Borders have not had the opportunity of doing anything even to help themselves with industrial development and retaining population there.

That is why we decided to return to the development area point of view rather than have development districts. Let us remember that every one of the growth points—which was the new policy suddenly stumbled on and brought forth by the Tory Party—related to central Scotland and the North-East—the policy had nothing to do with Wales or any other part of the United Kingdom.

It is said that in 1963 these places were already in and covered by the Local Employment Acts—but what about Dundee? We are told by the other side that we should concentrate on favourable and naturally growing areas. Is not Dundee a favourable and naturally growing area? Everything shows that it is—that nothing succeeds like success. Was not Kilmarnock itself a favourable and a naturally growing area in the Southwest? It was left out entirely from the development districts. Then, suddenly, we get the new Central Scotland Plan, which, in the middle of 1963—not in the middle, but in November, 1963—plus free depreciation, was to cure all our ills.

Judging from speeches from hon. Members opposite, one would imagine that the industrialists of Britain fell over themselves for free depreciation, but that is not true. The present Leader of the Opposition, when President of the Board of Trade, answering one of my hon. Friends, on, I think, 6th February, 1964, admitted that industry had not realised the benefits of free depreciation; that free depreciation had not proved to be the inducement it was intended to be.

But hon. Members opposite started condemning us before even the ink was dry on the Scottish Plan, before our incentive policy had been properly read and digested, much less understood. I believe that it was the hon. Member for Ayr who, seven days after the Plan was issued, announced, "Now it has failed". The hon. Gentleman might at least have waited until the Scotland Magazine was published. It might not be their bible, but it is the publication of an organisation that hon. Members opposite are very fond of quoting—the Scottish Council (Development and Industry)—[An HON. MEMBER: "That the Government have ignored."]—no, we have not ignored it. It statesd: Initial reaction to the incentives has been favourable from those who are in the industrial attraction business. The Scottish Council were quite sure that the new cash grant with their 20 per cent. advantage over non-development areas, would make Scotland an even easier location to sell. And they liked the revamping of the whole of Scotland as an area offering special inducements. It did not finish there. It went on: What seems to be good for a large section of Scottish industry is that the whole point of the incentives is to encourage investment in new plant and machinery. It should mean an upswing in demand for capital goods. This has been proved true by the inquiries made of the Board of Trade and by the new firms coming to Scotland at present. That will continue.

I do not accept the gloomy forecasts about the economy made by hon. Members opposite. They never once offered help to Scotland at times of economic stress. On the same page of this report we read: Increases which took place in production during the last year have come in the face of ever toughening Government restrictions. In contrast the 7 per cent. Bank rate in 1961 brought Scottish industrial output to a two-year period of stagnation… The report describes what we did last year. It shows how we were able to override this and get increased production and reduce unemployment. It describes this as even tougher than what it calls the "Selwyn Lloyd Squeeze". The right hon. Gentleman may rest assured that we do not take our sheltering of the development areas in the same way as they sheltered those areas by complete neglect. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] Yes, complete neglect.

When the hon. Member talked about the trends being the same as in 1962 or 1963 he was speaking of a time, not when hon. Members opposite had the lowest unemployment for 10 years but the highest unemployment for 10 years. One of their great achievements was that after 12 years of "powerful regard" for development areas unemployment reached a figure of nearly 140,000 in Scotland in the spring. For the whole of that year the monthly average was over 100,000. I can assure the House that the figure today is 54,000.

I do not accept the gloomy forecast of hon. Members opposite about the tourist industry. We have heard all the set speeches and will hear them again. Hon. Members opposite have to appreciate that if there had not been the Budget and S.E.T., in another form taxation would have taken money from the pockets of the people. What the Chancellor did was to spread the base of taxation. What has gone to determine the success of the tourist industry? The success of the tourist industry will depend on the extent to which there is a demand. It is not like shifting an industry up to the High- lands with all the difficulties attached thereto, the difficulties of getting people to go from one area to another. An hotel is in an area where there is a demand for it. If the demand for holidays remains, surely private enterprise will be able to meet that demand. Does anyone suggest that people will stop taking their holidays in Scotland or anywhere else? I was surprised that hon. Members opposite did not raise this in view of the 50 per cent. limitation on foreign holidays. It may mean that we can get half as many more people to go to the Highlands.