South-West (Regional Development)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th August 1966.

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3.26 p.m.

Photo of Dr John Dunwoody Dr John Dunwoody , Falmouth and Camborne

I feel that I am fortunate at this very late stage in this sitting of Parliament to be able to introduce in the final Adjournment debate the subject of regional planning in the South-West. I feel that I am particularly fortunate because this is one of the most important subjects for my constituency and my part of the country.

The sparse attendance in the House today is to a certain extent due to the fact that many of our colleagues are at the moment in the region about which we shall be speaking because one of the most encouraging things in recent years has been the increasing tendency of hon. Members and Ministers to take their holidays in the South-West. I hope that in the next day or two some of them will read reports of this debate and will realise some of the problems which this part of the country is facing—and will also realise that the South-West is not just a holiday area but an area in which people live and work for twelve months of the year.

I have been very fortunate in the last twelve years to have lived and worked in the South-West. I am not a West Country man—I was not born there, and it takes many years truly to become a West Country man—but at least I can claim to be a West Country man by adoption. I am very concerned about the future of this region. I want to talk about the South-West as a region as a whole, and I shall try to avoid the trap that lies waiting for all of us, particularly those from the farther part of the region in being too parochial. It is very easy, because many of us have severe constituency problems, sometimes for us to look more at the local problems in our own constituencies and our own counties than at the region as a whole in the way that we should.

I am very concerned at the present position in the South-West and disturbed that we are not making the sort of progress in the south-western region which I feel we should be making. Indeed, I am particularly concerned at this time of economic crisis that the measures that have been taken by the Government—and I do not intend to discuss them in any detail—should not fall too heavily on regions such as the South-West which, to some extent, are already falling behind the rest of the country. We know from previous economic crises over the years that regions such as the South-West in years gone by have been hit particularly hard. I am very glad that the Government have seen fit in the recent measures introduced in the last few weeks to make allowances for development areas, allowances which I hope will help regions such as ours, but I can assure you Mr. Speaker, that all who represent constituencies in the South-West will be looking very carefully at the local impact of the economic measures introduced in recent weeks.

I am also disturbed about the present position in the South-West because I believe in planning, and particularly in planning on a regional basis. The keystone of progress under any progressive Government, and certainly under a Socialist Government, must be economic planning, and this must include regional planning. Over the last 50, 60 or 70 years political parties in the country and Parliament have concerned themselves with the social and economic inequalities in our society, and particularly with the in-qualities between different groups in our society—between different occupations and between people of different wage levels. This concern has produced dividends. Many of the more glaring inequalities have been ended and we have a fairer and more just society today than in days gone by.

But while we have been going some way toward solving this problem, a different set of inequalities has arisen in our country, of a vertical rather than a horizontal nature—inequalities between different parts of the country.

We have seen the gap widening between the poorer parts of Britain, like the South-West, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the richer parts, like London, the South-East and the Midlands. While the country as a whole has become more affluent, the gap between the richer and poorer areas has become wider. If we are to end this inequality, we must have effective regional planning.

I am disturbed because while we can see worthwhile signs of progress in other regions and while the measures introduced in past years by successive Governments to stimulate regional development are paying off in many areas, including some of the poorer parts of the country—with many dramatic and encouraging developments taking place—I fear that progress is not so rapid in the South-West.

The problem facing us in the South-West region is a problem partly of geography and partly of economics. First, the geographical problem. This is linked to the size of the region. By the size of the south-west region I do not mean just its population, which is not particularly large compared with other regions, or its geographical area in terms of square miles. I refer to its overall dimensions.

One cannot emphasise too frequently that the distance from one end of this region to the other is the same as, for example, the distance from London to the Scottish Border. From London to Carlisle is the sort of distance one must travel to go from one end of the South-West to the other. The distance from Bristol to London is only just over half the distance from Bristol to West Cornwall. In other words, one is only one-third of the way to the far end of the region when one has got to Bristol. People who should know better tend to think of the south-west region as a compact area based on and around Bristol.

We in the South-West are also plagued by the problem of geographical isolation from other centres of population, particularly from the densely populated areas from which we must obtain many of our supplies and to which many of our products go to be sold. We are, therefore, more dependent on transport than most other regions.

Another problem in the South-West is that it includes two different parts, the northern half based on Bristol, an industrialised area which I regard as an extension of the industrial Midlands, and what one might describe as the Far West of the region, the southern half, with its mainly rural counties of Devon, Cornwall and parts of Somerset and Dorset. The difference between the two halves of the region is dramatic. There is a marked difference in the general economic level and in employment opportunities and prospects. One need only look at the unemployment figures for the South-West generally covering the last 10 or 15 years to see the gradation of figures and the fact that the further west one goes the worse the position becomes. Wage and salary levels are not so high in the Far West as in the area in and around Bristol.

This realisation that there are two parts to the South-West and that their problems are different because of the different economic backgrounds and transport difficulties has led to the suggestion that the South-West should be subdivided and that there should be an area based on Plymouth, consisting of Devon, Cornwall and parts of Somerset and Dorset, which would be regarded as an entity. Planners should realise that these two halves have many different problems.

I must issue a word of warning, because a far west area based on Plymouth is not large enough in population, industrial resources and so on to be one viable region. Although we can think in terms of subdividing it to a certain extent, a rigid division of the South-West region would not be helpful.

As I see it, of all the domestic political policies, the keystone to our progress and development in this region is transport. It is a subject about which the regional planning authorities are already deeply concerned, and I hope that they will continue to be so. Our road, rail and air links with the rest of the country really are our lifeline, but it is no exaggeration to say that they are woefully inadequate. That has been said many times, and I have no doubt that we shall go on saying it. We may never be completely satisfied, but the present situation is just deplorable.

Our two main link roads, the A30 and the A38, are congested from the beginning of the year to its end. We are not just facing a dreadful seasonal problem—there are traffic problems on our southwest main roads throughout the year. I know that progress has been made, that improvements have been carried out and bypasses constructed, but not at anything like the rate the economic situation demands.

These two main link roads meet and cross at Exeter, at the infamous Exeter bypass, which is a classic example of Britain's traffic thrombosis. I am certain that at this moment queues are building up on the Exeter bypass, and if any hon. Member has any doubts about the size of the problem I would invite him to accompany me and my family by car to the West Country later today, when I know that I will be able to give him some very practical experience of our problems.

I believe that after a period of considerable doubt and anxiety we are beginning to see the light with our railway services, and that the modernisation programme and the suggestion of increasing integration of the various services holds a hope of effective rail links between the South-West as a region and the remainder of the country.

I am very concerned at the almost total absence of an air link, because I believe that air travel in such an area as this will be of increasing importance. We are a long way from other centres of population. Many of our people live well over 200 miles from London, and at that distance air travel is very competitive with other forms of transport. There is no air service to the South-West. and, outside Bristol we do not have an airport that we could regard as adequate for the needs of the South-West.

Turning to industrial development, we are desperately short of opportunities of work for many of our young people. In the Bristol part of the region there is considerable diversification of industry, and that is true also of much of Somerset and Gloucestershire. There are doubts in Bristol about the future of the aircraft industry, and doubts, as well, about the future of the docks there, but the problems in that part are not of the magnitude of those in the remainder of the region. in the far west part of the region, city and town are dependent on one industry, and it seems to matter little whether one goes to the big city or the small town. I have been fortunate in recent years to have had the opportunity to contest three different divisions in the South-West—Tiverton, Plymouth and my present division of Falmouth and Camborne. They are all very different divisions, but in each of them the same factor is present—town or city utterly and completely dependent on one industry. That is a potentially dangerous state of affairs. We must have more diversification of industry.

Throughout the region, agriculture and the tourist industry are of considerable importance. The tourist industry, in particular, is a very useful foreign currency saver though, unfortunately, not a positive foreign currency earner to the extent that I would like to see. I hope that we shall get more foreign tourists coming to the region. The trouble is that tourism is seasonal, and not an ideal solution for many of our problems. The tourist and hotel trades often explain in considerable detail the various things which they think Ministries should do to improve their prospects. If I might suggest one thing which is needed, it is to start thinking seriously about how to help the tourist industry by spreading school holidays so that we do not get the dreadful seasonal rush which we are experiencing in the South-West at the moment.

In the South-West we need improved communications. I think I am justified in calling, as my hon. Friends and I have called before, for a road of motorway standard throughout the South-West. I know that it would be expensive, but when we think of the future I think we are justified in calling for a really first-class link with the remainder of the country. We also need to give new opportunities for youngsters who are forced out of the region because they cannot find the sort of work they would like to do there.

To do these things we have to start thinking about new and more selective inducements for people to set up industry. Many of the inducements which are offered are very effective in the national sense, but in the development areas themselves there are black spots remaining and some methods of giving inducements favour some development areas at the expense of others. We have to try to introduce more flexibility and a more positive and dynamic approach to regional planning. There has to be even more consultation, and it must be a more continuous process than it has been in years gone by.

There is no doubt that those who represent constituencies in the South-West—I believe I am speaking for hon. Members on both sides of the House-believe in the region's future. We believe it has a very bright and cheery future. Some of us are rather disturbed by some recent statements made by those in positions of considerable power and responsibility in regional planning. We have to remember that from this region has come much of the wealth and prosperity of the nation which we have today. From Bristol the merchant venturers went out in years gone by and brought back much of the wealth which we still retain. From Devon explorers went throughout the world. It was in my constituency, in Camborne, that one of the greatest inventions of all time was made by Richard Trevithick. who invented and operated the first steam locomotive.

These enthusiasms and this inventiveness are still in the South-West. We need this enthusiasm and energy and this belief in our region to be harnessed in the regional planning machinery. To those who may have doubts about the future of the South-West, I say make way for others because there are plenty who believe in its future. The people who live in the South-West certainly do so. Given enthusiastic leadership and effective regional planning, we can share more fully in the prosperity of Britain and contribute more to the progress of our country as well.

3.43 p.m.

Photo of Miss Joan Vickers Miss Joan Vickers , Plymouth, Devonport

We are all indebted to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. Dunwoody) for raising this subject today.

Although I may possibly be out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I ask you to convey to Mr. Speaker our personal thanks? Earlier in the House today he offered to members of the staff his thanks for the extra work they have had to undertake during this rather hard Session. We agree, and I should be grateful, if you would not think me presumptuous, if you would convey to Mr. Speaker, on behalf, I am sure, of all hon. Members our sincere thanks to him for the way in which he has presided during this very difficult period, especially when we know that he has had particular personal grief.

We are very grateful for what Mr. Speaker has done and for helping us during this historic Session. Therefore, I should be grateful if you would be kind enough to convey our thanks to him.

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Miss Joan Vickers Miss Joan Vickers , Plymouth, Devonport

We sincerely thank the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne for raising the points that he has raised. I agree with him that the south-west region should be considered as a whole. I also agree that we are a low-earning area, that we have great potential, and that we are willing to undertake any form of activity which will help to improve the prosperity of the area.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having brought to the notice of the House the transport difficulties in the area. In his comprehensive speech, the hon. Gentleman made the major point that we wanted effective regional planning; and this is a point which I want particularly to stress.

Earlier, when it was decided that we were to have a regional organisation, I had an Adjournment debate which was answered by the Under-Secretary of State, Department of Economic Affairs, who is to reply to this debate. I understood at that time that there was a possibility of a sub-office being set up in Plymouth to deal with the South West. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us something about this.

In amplification of what the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne said, I point out that the average weekly earnings in our region are £3 or £4 below the national average. We have heard much about the Jarrow unemployment march, but there was also one from Plymouth. We do not want to see that happen again. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for the diversification of industry and for an air service.

I draw the Under-Secretary's attention to Motion No. 203, entitled, "Failure to Consult South-West Regional Council". The Motion states: That this House deplores the failure of the Minister of Transport to consult the South-West Economic Planning Council prior to her decision to defer indefinitely the Portbury Port project, a failure that has resulted in the threatened resignation of the Chairman of the Economic Planning Council and the resignation of Mr. Richard Hill, one of the members of the Council, and notes with regret that the Minister, instead of apologising for her failure to consult, excuses her action on the grounds that she was aware"— this is I think unfortunate— that the views of the South-West Economic Planning Council were contrary to her own policy. If we are to have a planning council, surely it should be there to advise the Minister and she should not bypass it merely because she thinks that the views of its members are contrary to her own policy.

I have before me a document which was printed in 1963 and which deals with a joint economy for the South-West. In those days it was a local effort. The Conservative Government of the day made a 50 per cent. grant towards the cost of employing a firm of consultants to help to produce this document. The document expressed the unanimous view that the top priority for the South-West, as the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne said, was the improvement of the road from East Brent to Penzance, and for that purpose £2½ million was allocated with a view to this road being completed by 1975. I understood, when we had the pleasure of a recent visit from the Under-Secretary, that he accepted this view, so perhaps he would confirm this when he replies.

Since then, the Somerset County Council has commissioned the survey of a new road from East Brent to just west of Exeter by a firm of consultants. I understand that the Minister of Transport required that the report be treated as confidential. Therefore, neither the Somerset County Council nor the Devon County Council knows the contents. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to give us some details, because we are anxious to know whether the motorway has been recommended.

We are also very keen to know whether it is possible to have an aerial survey of these roads this autumn, as one was asked for some time ago. It would not cost a great deal of money, if we could have one, plans would be ready for when the economic position has improved.

The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne said that we were a tourist area and that the industry was not confined to certain parts of the year. However, we have a holiday season, and it is only fair to point out that the hotels in the area will contribute £4½ million by means of the Selective Employment Tax. It is only right that some money should be spent on the area concerned. There is shocking traffic congestion there. Only last week we had a very dramatic example of hold-ups for six or seven miles, with particularly bad congestion near Bodmin. This will stop tourists coming to the area. As the travel allowance for overseas will be so limited in future, we want to expand our tourist attractions in the South-West. We are also a very good dollar earning area, and this consideration is particularly important at present.

I want also to refer to the question of the South-West Economic Planning Council. On the 29th July, the Chairman, Professor Ronald Tress, made a statement to the local Press. I want to make clear that I am in no way attacking him, but he has been put in an extremely difficult position. He said that he was in profound disagreement with the Government's economic policy and added: I believe the policy to be profoundly wrong, not only because of the hardship it will bring through unemployment. Unemployment has already started in Plymouth. One firm alone has had to dismiss 80 people as redundant owing to the Government's policy, and to my knowledge about another 10 people are to be made redundant in the City of Plymouth alone. There is also a downward trend in the employment of male employees. The number of insured male employees has gone down by 1,122 since 1963.

Professor Tress added that besides the hardships that would be caused by unemployment there would be the loss for opportunities for social betterment. Discussing the Portbury scheme, he said—this is very important— No one, as far as my council is concerned, has seen the basis of the calculations in the White Paper". He is a very fair man and added that that was not to say that the arguments might not be good, but that we in the West Country did not know what those arguments were. If we are to have a planning council trying to put over the policy of the Government, there should be some consultation between the two.

Will the Minister consider, first, better co-operation between the Government and the Council? The former First Secretary, the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown), was kind enough to see the deputation from the City of Plymouth which I and my previous colleague led, and the Minister himself came in during the last half-hour of our discussions. We were disturbed at that time about the by-passing of the council in regard to the views of the local authority. The local authority had also said that Plymouth was principally an agricultural and tourist area, which we do not consider that we are. I hope that the Minister will see that there is better co-operation between his Ministry and the council.

Second, I hope that he will see that there is better co-operation between the council and the local authority. All too often one hears that something has been considered or decided without any consultation with the local authority. We already had a voluntary regional planning organisation before the Government one was set up, which worked very well. It is essential that we have a real understanding between Government, region and local authority, for otherwise the system will not work.

I wish to say a word or two about Plymouth itself, because it is in a rather different category from the rest of the area. In Plymouth, the unemployment percentage in 1965 was about 2·1. In 1959, it was 4·1 per cent. But then we became a development district, and between 1960 and 1961 a number of factories were established there. In fact, since 1962 28 industrial certificates for Plymouth have been granted, but we are not now in a development area, and as is the area which the hon. Gentleman represents.

When the Minister of State, Board of Trade, came to the conference with the South-West Economic Planning Council in April this year, he stated that he would consider any application sympathetically, and I am glad to say that we have had one application, from the firm of Gleasons, accepted since. However, we do not want sympathy. We want an assurance that there will be quick action if the situation should get worse.

Plymouth is in a difficult position. We are particularly affected by the Selective Employment Tax because 15 per cent. of employees in the city are in the retail trade. Retail trading is the second largest employer after the dockyard, and the dockyard itself may be considerably affected by the proposed cuts by the Minister of Defence. I want the hon. Gentleman to take full note of these points. He may say that at present we cannot have investment incentives because we are not properly a development area, but, being in touch with the major firms in the locality, I know what the dangers of unemployment are. I very much hope that, if I ever have to bring evidence to him that unemployment is increasing rapidly, he will give us not sympathy but action.

Finally, the question of an airport. I understand that the Economic Planning Council is considering an airport west of Torquay and south of the A.38, approximately halfway between Exeter and Plymouth; in other words, about 25 miles from Plymouth. I understand that the local authority council regards this as being in accordance with its wishes, but we would like to know what the intention is. Will there have to be a survey of the area, will the Minister tell us that action is now to be taken, that further consideration will be given to their proposal or will it be bypassed for a number of years?

In supporting the hon. Gentleman and urging that the region be considered as a whole, as we have done in the past, I remind the hon. Gentleman of the Government's policy stated in their pamphlet issued at the time of the conference to which I have referred: The Government's policies for regional planning and national planning are two aspects of a single purpose—getting faster economic growth and more prosperity. Regional and national progress are dependent on each other, and must be planned coherently in the interests of each. This is what we are asking for. We want faster economic growth and we want more prosperity in the area. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne will agree that we have a very good labour force in the area. One cannot find steadier workers, and no firm which comes to the area will want for better workers.

All we are asking for today is an assurance that the Economic Planning Council will be taken into the Government's confidence so that we all know what is planned. The First Secretary of State has given up his job, the chairman of our Economic Council threatened to resign. It must have been an extremely difficult position for him and for some members of the Council when, having been appointed by a Socialist Government to carry out Socialist policies, he then found that he had to disagree with them. This must be particularly disagreeable for many of the Socialist members of the Council, not knowing where they stand in regard to future policy.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give an assurance that, in future, the South-West Economic Planning Council will be consulted before action is taken. Otherwise, that Council, which we all hoped would work for the benefit of the area, will not be a success.

4.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Bristol North West

We are all indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) for introducing this subject. He said that we should look at the problems of our region as a whole. That is right. He somewhat weakened the case by saying that he very often regarded Bristol as part of the industrial Midlands. I should like to disabuse him of that notion. We in Bristol regard ourselves as very much a part of the South-West, and a very important part of it.

I want briefly to touch on one or two subjects. Because of the size and importance of Bristol, what goes on in that city affects very largely the rest of the region. I should like to say a few words about the Portbury scheme and ask the Under-Secretary one specific point on which I should like reassurance.

We in Bristol were very concerned—indeed, the whole of the South-West was—about the decision announced on Portbury. We were very disappointed. Two reasons were adduced for putting off the scheme and the decision on it. The first one was: it has been necessary to reconsider this concept on various grounds. In the first place, the recently completed analyses of port traffic flows and their relationship to port hinterlands show that the great majority of our imports and exports are generated close to the ports through which the traffics flow. We have not yet been able so far to investigate and consider this evidence. We shall be very interested when it becomes available for us to study.

With regard to Bristol and the connections onwards with the South-West, the stage has been reached when we shall shortly complete the M4 and M5. Through the M5 we shall have superb connections with the true industrial Midlands, and with the London complex through the M4. It has been said—I think that it is true—that this part of the region will be very well served indeed. Having regard to the docks facility, I think that it will be a practicable possibility to move goods from the area of the Port of Bristol to the western industrial side of London quicker than can be done through the maze and congestion of London itself. When we study further evidence, I think that we shall find that there is a case on that ground.

The second reason adduced for putting off a decision on the scheme was that studies of ways of handling cargo, such as containerisation, roll on/roll off facilities, meant that berths which formerly could handle only 100,000 tons of cargo a year could now handle one million tons. That may be so. Even considering these arguments, I do not think that we can forget that there was a statement in the White Paper not that Portbury had been put aside for all time, but that the verdict was not proven. The statement was: For all these reasons, the Government believes that the case for allocating a substantial part of the resources available for port investment to the creation of a new major liner terminal, whether at Portbury or elsewhere, has not yet been made out In other words, the case for Portbury or anywhere else has still not yet been proved.

It is, therefore, surprising that when we go on to consider the latter findings ambiguous words should be used. I specifically ask my hon. Friend to enlighten us further on the last part of the statement. It states: The Government is, therefore, inviting the National Ports Council"— referring to containerisation, modifications and dock facilities, etc.— to prepare a phased programme of selective investment in schemes on these lines and to consider alternative proposals for the development of the Port of Bristol. It is the word "alternative" on which argument lately hinges and about which I should like an assurance.

The existing facilities at Bristol—at Avonmouth—must be made the best use of. If it is possible to expand and modernise them—and it is—the work must be done. But I hope that the word "alternative" does not mean that this is an alternative to Portbury, because in that part of the White Paper, it states that the case for Portbury is not proven.

We in Bristol believe that we will prove the case for Portbury and, therefore, that we should also, alongside this, continue to improve the facilities we have. But the use of the word "alternative "could be construed to mean that we get either these improved facilities on Portbury. We believe that there is a case for improving the facilities we have and that, since Bristol is a fast developing place, we shall prove the Portbury case as well. I hope we shall have an assurance that, if this is so, we are putting a correct interpretation on the White Paper.

Unlike many parts of the country, the Bristol area will see unprecedented expansion. When I stand in my constituency and look towards the Severn Bridge and the roadways now opening up, together with the industry already coming there, it is obvious that it is a natural place for unprecedented expansion. I come from the North and with such a background I am convinced that, in the Bristol area, we need a planning council to plan wisely and well for the future.

I am sure that every hon. Member has seen in various parts of our fair country the outrages of the industrial revolution, when fine estuaries such as Tees-side were ruined by complexes of factories. Bristol is a beautiful and clean city—one of the best cities in the country. One looks across the Severn Estuary to Wales. We shall see much development in the area and I would hate to see the whole of the Severn Estuary become a kind of valley filled with industrial fog and haze with factories spread along all over Severn side. To avoid any such danger we must have wise planning so that we can come to grips with all these proposals and great ventures for the future.

The major rôle of air transport in the West has been mentioned. Bristol City authorities have displayed great initiative in planning for the future of Bristol Airport. But in considering schemes for improving it I hope that we shall also consider another airfield—Filton—which is in many ways more naturally accessible to the city. It has magnificent runway facilities and is much closer to Bristol.

For many reasons, therefore, it would be wise, in discussing the future of air transport throughout the West and any improvements that may be thought of, that we should consider whether there is a case for developing this superb airfield, which is now very little used. There could be a direct bus service to Bristol. Filton is within the city invirons and in many ways is a much better airport, more in line with the needs of Bristol, than the one we already have.

I have covered the major issues which I wanted to mention. I hope that when we are considering the South-West, the planning boards and councils will attack our problems with vigour. With the stimulation of the hon. Members representing the area, I think that we shall do a worthwhile job.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) for being brief. I am trying to get in two more speakers if I can before calling the Minister, but I must preserve his time.

4.11 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis), because he was talking about his ideas for Bristol Airport, which is at Lulsgate, in my constituency, which serves Bristol excellently within the opportunity which it gets from the Corporations. I will come to that later.

The hon. Member was very moderate when discussing the rejection of the Portbury scheme, much more moderate than I would be if I had time to develop the subject, but, naturally, he is a supporter of the Government. I welcome the Under-Secretary here today after an enjoyable fortnight bulldozing the Prices and Incomes Bill through the Standing Committee upstairs and through the House, but I hope that he and his Department will not attempt to bulldoze the regional planning council. There is a strong feeling that the planning council was completely ignored before the decision about Portbury was taken, a decision very much regretted by Mr. Hill, who has resigned from the council. He is a very public-spirited and extremely able man, and we in the West Country are very hurt that he should feel it necessary to resign. I certainly sympathise with him.

I hope that the Government and people in other parts of the country are thoroughly aware that the people of the West Country are not yokels with string round their trouser legs, but live in an area of great development potential which has recently suffered a 10 per cent. increase in its taxation as a result of Government activities. There is a deep feeling of sorrow and regret about what has happened in the West Country.

As the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) has rightly said, one of the key issues in the development of the West Country is that of communications. I agree with what he said about the A38 and A30 roads. I hope that we shall hear from the Under-Secretary what the Government are to do about speeding up the improvement of these roads, because a year ago, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a cut-back in road building, the A38 suffered six or seven cutbacks in its development. Because of my feelings about Portbury, I would like to know whether we can be given a date for when the M5 is to come through to Bristol and when it will go further south to end at East Brent, in my constituency. I hope that it is possible for the hon. Gentleman to tell the House something about that.

I do not wish to develop a case about the railways at this point. In the West Country we have recently had very difficult problems with land slips and as the wintry season is not very far away, this is something on which we ought to keep an eye.

I want also to refer to the air communications of the far South-West. As the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne said, this is a widely spread out district. People from other parts of the country think of it as a small area, but when they try to motor down the A38 this weekend, they will realise that it is a huge area, a long sausage.

The Plymouth issue has been raised. It is desplorable that it is impossible to go by a scheduled air route from Bristol to London whereas it is possible to fly from Bristol to Paris. It is easier to get to the capital of France from Bristol than it is to get to the capital of England. This is utterly deplorable, and I hope that the Airways Corporations will do something to improve this situation and to improve the feeder services to Heathrow. It is essential that this should be done.

The Portbury decision is an utterly deplorable one which was arrived at in the face of the recommendation by the Rochdale report that we should have this highly imaginative new port at Port-bury. It is essential for the development of Bristol. As has been said, it is an area of stability and growth, and this growth will increase considerably if we get this port. I do not criticise the decision to proceed with Hull—it is entirely right. But when we have four estuaries in the four corners of England, the Humber and the Mersey, the Thames and the Severn—it would be consistent and sensible if we used those four estuaries fully and relieved the strain of communications on London and Liverpool.

It is also deplorable, at a time of roll-on, roll-off, as well as containerisation, that the hinterland argument is brought in, because as the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West has said, we are having motorway development which will extend the hinterland immensely. That is why I ask for these figures and dates about when M4 and M5 are to go through to Bristol, because one begins to wonder whether we are ever to get these motorways.

The hotel industry is another sufferer. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) has remarked upon how much the hotels earn in foreign currency. Not only that, but they could save foreign currency if their facilities are good enough to keep people from going abroad. I think that we should keep people from going abroad, not by Government decisions to restrict currency, but by increasing competitiveness in hotels.

Our hoteliers, as we who have spoken in this debate know, work very long hours and have the greatest difficulty in obtaining staff. This difficulty has been greatly increased by the burden imposed by the Government. September will be here soon and the House has not yet risen. It is not surprising that we should be beginning to think of winter, because winter is already beginning to reach out its icy fingers in the areas of the West Country, where we are dependent upon seasonal employment, where the hotel industry and the other industries catering for people who have worked for a whole year and who want some respite and a decent holiday, are situated.

People come to the West Country and work part-time during the summer months. They help out in hotels and in these ancillary industries. The moment the first whiff of autumn comes they are put on the scrap heap. The level of unemployment in the South-West will rise very fast indeed after the beginning of the payment date of the S.E.T. We in the South-West are bitterly sorry about what this Government have done. They have slowed down the development of our communications and this wonderful, imaginative Portbury project. This has made it difficult for those who live within the industry to have a balanced life and full employment throughout the year. I predict hardship and frustration in the South-West, and I hope that we shall receive some encouragement from the Under-Secretary.

4.19 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Bessell Mr Peter Bessell , Bodmin

I should like to echo the words of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) in her thanks to you, Mr. Speaker, for your work throughout the whole of this part of the Session. I would also like to echo her in saying that we owe a real debt to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody), for raising the subject of the South West on this, the last Adjournment debate before the Recess.

It brings to my mind an occasion, almost exactly one year ago, when I raised the same subject on the Adjournment for the Summer Recess. I recall very well that the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State who is replying this afternoon, was in the same position then as he is now. I also recall that because a number of people wanted to speak, he was left with very little time in which to reply. I shall keep my remarks very brief indeed this afternoon, so that he may have a chance to reply to all of the many points raised by hon. Members on both sides.

I wish to make one comment on the Government's programme as it affects the South-West. It has been raised, but it cannot be underlined too much. The Selective Employment Tax will hit the tourist trade in the South-West, particularly the far South-West, very badly. The hotel charges made to visitors there are necessarily quite low, and it is important that we should do everything we can to encourage people to come to the South-West, not only because of the economic situation and because visitors to British resorts lessen the burden on our foreign currency, but because of the importance of the tourist industry to the South-West.

There is no doubt that the imposition of the Selective Employment Tax will put a very heavy burden on hoteliers and everyone engaged in the tourist industry in the far South-West. The absence of development grants for hotels will be another serious blow, because if we are to raise the general standard of quality of hotel accommodation in the South-West to such an extent that we can hope to attract foreign visitors a great deal of money will have to be spent on hotel development.

It would, however, be unfair if I did not acknowledge that the Government have made a real contribution to the future of Cornwall by making almost the whole of the county a development area. This will considerably assist us in developing our light industries and in resuscitating tin mining and other indigenous industries. To this extent, progress has been made in the last 12 months and it would be unfair if I did not acknowledge that.

The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne rightly drew attention to the fact that there has been a considerable amount of development in certain other regions in the last few years. This has been the result of policies adopted by previous Governments. But the fact remains that we in the South-West have not enjoyed the same degree of opportunity. The South-West remains, I believe, the most neglected area in the United Kingdom. It is for that reason that I implore the Under-Secretary of State to give serious consideration to the plea made by hon. Members on both sides of the House and to assure us that the South-West will receive priority in the next twelve months.

I should like to draw attention to something which I asked the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown) when he was First Secretary of State. I asked him whether he would consider establishing a sub-regional office at Plymouth to deal with the problems of the extreme South-West. He replied that if it was the wish of the people of the South-West that a sub-regional office should be established he would consider the matter. I raised it again with the right hon. Gentleman in the latter part of last year. Then a change of heart had taken place.

There is no doubt that it is the wish of the people of the South-West, or if the far South-West is to have sound economic planning, that the plea of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne for consideration to be given to the setting up of a sub-regional department must be answered because we cannot hope to have the planning of the economy of the South West carried, out effectively and properly from Bristol. Bristol is as far removed as London to the majority of people living in Cornwall; it is just as remote. It is vitally important that this matter should receive attention in the Minister's future plans.

A great deal has been said about transport. I wish to make one comment only on this matter. The roads and communications by air to the South-West are the key to the future development of Devon and Cornwall. We cannot hope to have anything like the degree of prosperity enjoyed in other regions unless we can have adequate roads and air services.

It is regrettable that during the nearly two years that they have been in office the Government have not produced any additional plan to that which had already been produced and laid down by their predecessors concerning air services and roads to the South-West. There has been no progress of any kind. The plan on which the Government are working is the one which was introduced by their predecessors. We said at that time that it was not good enough. Hon. Members opposite also said that it was not good enough. They have a duty now to produce a revised plan. Allowing for the country's present economic conditions, I hope that they may give consideration to a method of road loans if they cannot produce the money or persuade the Treasury to produce it for them.

In the debate this afternoon, as in the debate 12 months ago, we have cut across all barriers of party. Indeed, it has been a debate in which on almost every point the three parties have been agreed. It is extremely important to stress that hon. Members who have spoken today, as in the past, on the problems of the South-West have been united in their demand that it should receive priority from the Government. The Government cannot continue to ignore the demand which we are making.

I suggested last year that it might be necessary to devise a 10-year plan. I based that on the fact that a large amount of money must be invested in the South West if we are to enjoy the development and prosperity which other parts of the country are having. The Under-Secretary admitted in his reply last year that it might be necessary to have a long-term plan of that kind.

I hope that during the 12 months that has elapsed the hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to consider this carefully. I hope that he will be able to produce a plan this afternoon, because I am disappointed to know that the regional economic planning council, which by January next will have been in existence for two years, does not expect to be able to produce even its draft plan until sometime early next year. That was the reply which the hon. Gentleman gave to a Question of mine a few weeks ago. This is a serious and disappointing state of affairs. We still have not had the plan which we need most desperately.

We in the South-West have never sought charity from the Government or from any other source. We are asking, it is true, for very large sums of money to be invested in roads, in air communications, in the tourist industry, in light industry and in our indigenous industries which require redevelopment, such as tin mining. In asking for that investment, however, we are doing so in the knowledge that given the opportunity the South-West can contribute to the general prosperity of the nation. We regret that our poverty at the moment prevents us from giving to the country, and we want the opportunity to do that. I believe that if the Government will take a realistic attitude to the problems of the far South-West, if they will make the investment that is necessary, it will yield them a dividend far beyond their expectations.

4.28 p.m.

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

I hope that you will not feel it presumptuous or improper, Mr. Speaker, if I use this opportunity to associate all Members of the House, at least those of us who are left behind at this late hour, with the remarks made in your absence by the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and in your presence by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) in saying how greatly we have appreciated the opportunity of being under your guidance during the past very difficult and trying months. If any of us go away somewhat exhausted to our holidays, we shall all remember that however tired we may be, your job has been more continuous and more exacting than that of any of us. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Cambourne (Dr. John Dunwoody) has taken this opportunity of raising the problems of the South-West in what seems to be becoming an annual occasion, because he has already shown in the House, amongst other things, a devotion to his constituency which equals that of his much-loved predecessor, the late Harold Hayman. We were delighted also to hear not mainly a statement of a constituency case, but an eloquent advocacy of the problems of the region as a whole.

I hope that in the time available to me I shall talk primarily about the regions' problems. If in so doing I do not deal with any matters of detail which have been raised, quite properly, by hon. Members on both sides, I hope that they will not feel that I have simply overlooked them and that I shall not pay great attention to them and take action when it may be required.

The first thing which all of us must recognise about the South-West—the point was well made by my hon. Friend—is that it is a region of great diversity. It would be easy to argue from that that instead of having one region in the South-West, we should have two regions. This is the view which has been taken from time to time by some hon. Members and by a number of people outside. We should, however, recognise that although the South-West is unique in a number of respects, particularly in the size of the area—that was another feature which was put dramatically by my hon. Friend—other regions which have been designated for planning purposes by the Government are also diverse, although in different ways.

Anybody who was born, as I was, in Lancashire knows of the sharp differences between the problems of Merseyside and those of North-East Lancashire. Although I was born in Liverpool, only 30 miles from Manchester, for the first 16 years of my life I did not travel that short 30 miles to Manchester, because those were different parts of the region. Again, in Scotland the problems of Clyde-side are very different from those of the Highlands. To take Yorkshire and Humberside, the problems of the West Riding and Sheffield are very different from those of Humberside. In this respect, therefore, the South-West is not unique.

We have decided that it is desirable for planning purposes, where scale is important, to put the whole region together. We shall be judged in the end, not academically whether this was the right division, but by whether the planning machinery which we have set up, acting in full co-operation, as the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport rightly said it should, with both local government and other authorities, produces results. That is the criterion by which our decision, made a year ago, should be judged in due course.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne said, it is easy for those who travel to the South-West on holiday—as I have done for more than 20 years—to overlook the very real problems which we associate mainly with other regions. I confess that it was only a few years ago that I fully appreciated the severe and persistent unemployment problem which has been a characteristic particularly of the Falmouth and Camborne area but also of a very large part of Cornwall. I am glad that the hon. Member for Bodmin pointed out that our decision to extend the development area over a greater part of Cornwall was a step in the right direction; a recognition of a long-standing problem which had often been overlooked. It was right, therefore, for all hon. Members today to emphasise the need for getting more industry, particularly into Devon and Cornwall.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) will concede that although there are real problems in his part of the region, they may now be problems more of congestion. The problem of providing more jobs, including jobs for young people who we do not want to desert the region, is a characteristic of the problems of Devon and Cornwall. Although I could tell hon. Members of the progress which has been made—and draw their attention to the fact that the approval of I.D.Cs in 1965 represented a record year and that additional estimated employment in Cornwall numbers 1,697 jobs and in Devon, 1,419—I am ready to concede that we must continue to be most concerned that these parts of the region are given priority by trying to attract new industry to them.

Reference has been made to the activities of the Economic Planning Council, and I will shortly refer to the rôle of the Council. I do not believe that either the Council or its Chairman are in any way unaware of the problems of the region or that they would become more aware of them if there was a sub-office of the regional organisation in Plymouth. The important thing is that the problems should be understood.

During the last year Professor Tress, the Chairman of the Council, has paid at least a dozen official visits to Devon and Cornwall to meet local authorities, university groups and to have a look at industry there so that he knows at first-hand just what the problems are. In addition to the activities of the Chairman of the Council, the Chairman of the Board has been a frequent visitor to the far extremities of the region, meeting local authorities and others. I would like to see this consultation continuing because—and perhaps this is one of the problems about the nature of the rôle of the Economic Planning Council—the Council has not been set up to usurp the proper functions of local authorities, which retain their statutory power. There are two views about whether it is right or wrong. The hon. Member for Bodmin might think it was wrong that the Council should have no statutory powers. While it is not an elected regional authority, I am sure it will be generally agreed that these consultations should take place. They have taken place, and I am sure that they will continue.

I have been reminded by hon. Members on both sides of the House of the problem of communications in Devon and Cornwall. I am familiar with them and I remember very well a year ago, when travelling to the South-West, being a victim of those problems when I was rash enough to believe that a road built many years ago was of sufficient character to enable me to travel at speeds higher than those which the Minister of Transport thought right. I also suffered the penalties of travelling on the Exeter bypass. While coming to the House this afternoon one of the officials of my Department who had spent long nights working on the Prices and Incomes Bill said that he expected to spend another long night waiting to get through the Exeter bypass. I therefore assure the House that the problem of communications in this area is fully understood.

The Economic Planning Council, speaking clearly on behalf of the region, has made clear its view that the first priority should be the provision of a spur road of an adequate standard from Bristol all the way to Penzance. I do not think I can add much to what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) knows about the intended extension of the M5. The expectation is that the extension will be continued to East Brent by the early 1970s, but on this occasion I am unable to give a more precise date.

I also agree very much with what has been said about the provision of airport facilities. When about one and a half years ago I found myself given certain responsibilities for regional development, I discovered quickly how important airports can be. In the past the argument was that one provided an airport when the traffic was sufficient to justify it. I have sought to argue since, not always with overwhelming success, that airports should sometimes be used as generators for economic growth and that if one could provide adequate air facilities, industrial development might follow. I must be careful not to commit the Government in this matter, but at least I can say that Government expenditure in providing airports could result in economies in other directions by achieving a more rapid rate of economic growth. It is one of the propositions to which we have been trying to give greater definition.

One of the problems in choosing the location of airports is that we have not previously had an adequate technique of judging against the cost, the benefits that might flow from a new airport. I hope that in the course of the coming months it may be possible, under my Department's supervision, to move at least tentatively towards the new methods by which we can do cost-benefit studies of airport location in the way that cost-benefit studies are now very often done for new major highway developments. I say "under my Department's supervision", but this is something that is essentially within the compass of the Ministry of Aviation. I am merely trying to emphasise that we recognise its very great importance to regional development.

Here, we must again see the need not to spread resources too thinly; to look at the matter in regional terms, and not necessarily in terms of the immediate needs of a single town or city. As the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport knows, there was a long discussion about the provision of an airport for Plymouth. She knows also that we tried very hard to find means by which the needs of Plymouth could be met. In the event, when this was not possible, further discussions followed, as a result of which the Economic Planning Council has been carrying out an investigation, during which it has consulted local authorities about the full provision of airport facilities for the whole region's needs. I hope that the report upon which the Government will be able to make decisions will be available very shortly.

Referring to the rôle of the Council and the advice it gives to Government, in the end, for obvious constitutional reasons, Government, whether it be at local or national level, must govern. We must consider any advice we receive, attempt to reconcile it to other advice we may receive, and then decide on the priorities.

I say that in relation to the Portbury problem. It is not the case that the Economic Planning Council did not have the opportunity of tendering advice to us and expressing its view about the wisdom of the Portbury scheme. We were fully aware of, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport took into account the views that had been expressed by the Council but, as I say, in the last resort, once advice has been received and fully considered, it is the job of Government to make a decision in the light of that advice and of the other information that is available.

As hon. Members know, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport points out in paragraph 106 of Command 3057 … recently complete analyses of port traffic flows and their relationship to port hinterlands show that the great majority of our imports and exports are generated close to the ports through which the traffics flow. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that a new major port, to be viable, requires, like London and Liverpool, a very large hinterland in terms of industry and population. The only point I seek to make—as it would not be proper for me to discuss at length the nature of and reasons for the Minister's decision—is that the advice of the Council was not overlooked. It was taken account of but, in the light of all the circumstances and of those investigations which the Minister mentions, she felt it right to make that particular decision.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North West implied, circumstances change, and it would be quite wrong for me to suggest that this matter can be reopened, it is the case that we shall be carrying out a very massive study into the prospects of the major industrial and urban development of Severnside.

My hon. Friend was quite right to say that it is important to have those investigations and to make the plans now so that with any industrial and urban development that takes place we shall not ruin some of the other aspects of that very attractive estuary. By using proper planning methods and making our decisions as a result, this will not be the haphazard development that has destroyed much of the beauty and attraction of other parts. Our study of Severn-side will, we hope, go forward soon, and in its light we hope to draw conclusions about communications for the South West.

I say this about the total context in which we are looking at the South West at the present time. It is not for me today, particularly in view of the events of the last week, to hold out a rosy view of the development in the next few months and to suggest that there are no problems we shall have to face and no hardships to be encountered. Of course that is not the case. We have to recognise, following the Prime Minister's statement on 20th July, that there are some hard problems to be faced and that in the coming months we shall not see the rapid growth of prosperity which once upon a time we hoped would be possible. All our regional planning and all regional development must now take place within that context. That ought to be on record; otherwise I think I would mislead the House and my hon. Friends by suggesting that more could be done than will be done in that time.

The important point, especially for the development areas, is the one which has been very well made during this discussion, that the Government have made it clear that, even during this difficult period, development areas will continue to have priority. This is the great contrast between the period we see immediately ahead and periods in the past which in other respects might have been comparable. We want to use the difficult period from which to gain some advantage.

We can do it in the industrial field, in the whole field of productivity, prices and incomes, but also in the regional field by making sure that during difficult times the structure of the less fortunate parts of the country are strengthened and they receive priority, not only for good economic reasons, but for vitally important social reasons as well. However much we want to see the South-West contribute fully to the prosperity of the country, we must also be concerned with the real human problem of jobs for everyone, including youngsters who might feel that they have to leave the region.

One word about the Economic Planning Council. I fully appreciate the impatience which hon. Members representing the South-West feel. The hon. Member for Bodmin was slightly misleading when he referred to the Council having been set up in January 1965. It has had a slightly shorter life than that but I take his point that of course we want to see the plan for the Southwest as soon as possible. Naturally, while that plan is being formulated, there will be impatience and those who will say, "What is the Economic Planning Council doing?".

We had a choice when we set up the councils. We could have decided that they should operate as forums for public debate making their views known publicly, representing the regions speaking to Whitehall. That was one possible choice, but we decided that it was far better to gather together a group of experienced men who knew the region, who were devoted to its problems, who were prepared to give their time and their knowledge and experience and study and that they would undertake to give the Government advice. If it were confidential and therefore advice to which the public did not have access, if it resulted in intelligent regional planning, this was the important thing.

That is why we elected to have economic planning councils throughout the country working in this way. I think the Economic Planning Council in the Southwest has tackled its problem very well. It has been gathering together the information and carrying out the studies. As I have mentioned, its chairman and the chairman of the Board had been getting about the region. It is too soon to see the fruits of their work, but I believe that those fruits will come and when they are harvested they will be for the good of the region as a whole.

The whole object of regional planning is to look at an area much larger than the areas covered by local authorities. It has to get away from narrow parochial issues. It has to see that tradition should not be the determining factor, but that function is the important thing. It has to provide the people of the South-West with a better standard of living and better prospects than they have known in the past. This is the task to which the Council is dedicated and I hope that the whole House will help, as the Government will help, to enable the Council to do its job.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes to Five o'clock till Tuesday, 18th October, pursuant to the Resolution of the House yesterday.