Orders of the Day — Miscellaneous Financial Provisions Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:14 pm on 14th February 1983.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Opposition Whip (Commons) 11:14 pm, 14th February 1983

My hon. Friend is quite right. Moreover, the reason why the British Labour party and the British people reject the European Community is that it has never developed in ways that would favour this country. It has developed basically as an agriculture protection society—two-thirds of its expenditure is on agriculture—because that suits the needs especially of French but also of German agriculture. It has developed as an industrial free trade organisation because hat suits the needs of Germany, but it has never developed an effective common energy policy, which is what we want because we are energy rich, or an effective regional policy which we need because we face a more acute problem than most other EC countries in terms of regional disparities and regional decline associated with the decline of older basic industries. Until it develops those two policies it will never suit the needs of this country.

The structures with which we are dealing today are less than adequate, as I shall illustrate from my constituency. A body such as the Yorkshire and Humberside development association covers an enormous area which often has little in common with the needs of an area such as Grimsby, which has a very strong local pride, partly the result of isolation, and whose needs and aspirations are limited to the south bank of the Humber, which has been almost tacked on to the Yorkshire and Humberside unit simply because there was nowhere else on the chess board to put it. If we are to develop local pride and involvement and to mobilise the strong local feelings that still exist in Grimsby, though they have disappeared from other parts of the country, we need more local development agencies such as those that the Bill allows the Minister to support—bodies whose principal object appears to the Secretary of State to be the promotion of industrial and commercial development in any area in England. That kind of body, if more limited in area and scope, is needed in Grimsby. We are linked to the north bank by the Humber bridge. However, in fishing, Grimsby and Hull have always been competitors. There is also intense competition for a limited supply of available footloose industry. The problems of Grimsby are the kernel of the problems associated with regional development. An approach on the basis of bigger and wider areas means that it is difficult to meet the specific needs of Grimsby. There is need for more immediate authorities having closer contact with the areas they serve.

Under the Government, unemployment in Grimsby has become extremely serious. It is part of a national crisis. In many respects, we are witnessing the strange death of industrial Britain. The policies of deflation, high interest rates and the deliberate use of depression as a means of disciplining the working class and breaking the power of the trade unions have hit Grimsby especially hard.

Our decline has been the steepest of any country in the advanced industrial world. Whatever the steps taken by the Secretary of State for Employment to conceal the disaster, the real figure of unemployed is between 4 million and 5 million. With the highest fall of industrial production, especially in manufacturing industry, in the advanced industrial world, our depression is the most severe.

It is no use arguing that, phoenix-like from the ashes, there will arise new industry—real jobs, as the Prime Minister has described them—and a dynamic economy, because growth tends to beget growth and decline to beget only decline. We are locked into a spiral of decline that hits particularly an area such as Grimsby—all for the sake of a policy that cannot work. We had a male unemployment rate in Grimsby in May 1979 of 8 per cent.—the overall figure was 6 per cent. That has now become, in January 1983, a rate of 20 per cent.

Grimsby is a hard-working town. It has always been concerned to get on with the job. It possesses a high level of skills and a high degree of involvement in work. Now, in a town that was proud of its traditions, the policies of the Government mean that one man in five is unemployed. That is a horrendous achievement. What is more, the overall unemployment rate is 15 per cent. The vacancies for every 100 unemployed, which in May 1979 were 19, are now 0·97. There is an increase in unemployment of 150 per cent. That is a tragedy, not only for young people but for older men who are strong of arm and back but for whom there is no industrial future.

It has all been so pointless and unnecessary. We are running the economy for money, not for people. It is like Goldsmith's "The Deserted Village". The same can be said of the deserted aluminium plant, the deserted fish dock, the deserted steel plant and the closed down coal mine: Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ills a prey,Where wealth accumulates, and men decay. That is what is happening all over the country, for no reason.

It is heartbreaking especially for a place such as Grimsby, because the essence of regional policy in Grimsby as operated by the local authority has been a consistent, wise and far-sighted attempt since the war to diversify away from the staple, basic industry of fishing into new industries to bring new life to the area and prevent disastrous consequences ensuing from any decline in fishing. After the war, the Grimsby council developed sites on the Humber bank and elsewhere to attract new industries and diversify what had been almost exclusively a fishing port in the period up to the war. That made Grimsby a very diverse industrial society.

The impact of this Government's policies and the failure to redress them by effective regional policies is that that diversification has been steadily and, in the last two years rapidly, undermined. We have seen one of the new industries, Laporte, shedding 330 people in 1980 and 500 people in 1981. We have seen the extremely efficient and competitive Courtaulds plant, employing more than 2,000 people, now reduced to a little over 1,100. We have seen the same pattern of redundancies at Norsk Hydro, Fisons as it was, 240; and at Lloyd Cars, which produced parts for Rolls-Royce, 25. We have seen the slimming-down of the food processing plants: Birdseye, Findus, and the closing down of the Ross No. 1 plant for processing fish. We have seen a long and tragic decline, undermining the wise and far-sighted efforts that the council put into trying to develop the area.

From the point of view of each firm it is not difficult to understand what is happening. To survive, each firm has to make itself more efficient and has to shed labour. That is the state into which the Government's policies have plunged them. There is no alternative for firms but to shed people to survive. The problem is that no one is taking any control or oversight of the overall position. No one is responsible for the jobs and the futures of the people who are shed in this way because no one is developing the new industries and bringing in the new jobs. No one is taking effective control or oversight of the regional consequences of the decline.

Each of the persons shed, for valid reasons, by each firm, costs £5,000 in terms of taxes no longer paid, benefits received and production no longer achieved. It is a crippling cost. It is interesting that people such as Baker and Eltis, who talked about the burden of Government spending and the so called non-productive sector in the mid-1970s, are not talking now about the burden of all those unemployed people on a shrinking productive base. Everything that has been done in that area has been rapidly undermined. Yet, at the same time, the original base—the fishing industry—from which the council tried to diversify in the post-war period, is itself now in decline because of the loss of distant water fishing. It is wholly uncertain about its position. It is no longer possible for firms to continue as they are not producing enough profits. The market prices are not high enough and the catches are not large enough to produce profits to invest in modernising the ageing fleet.

The fishing industry in Grimsby is of a crucial size. It is too small for the scale of facilities, the dock charges, the labour charges, the slipways and the engineering that it must support. The industry is rather like a house of cards. Recently it lost two firms—one in Grimsby and one in Hull. It faces the loss of vessels either through other firms going bankrupt or through vessels deciding to transfer elsewhere. The house of cards is threatened and becomes more precarious. It is impossible for the remaining vessels to carry the burden of charges that press down on the industry. So the base of the structure of diversification—fishing itself—is now threatened.

Industry in Grimsby, like industry throughout the nation, is leaner, trimmer, more competitive and more productive. But it has nothing to stimulate it, nothing to produce for, no incentives and no great drive. That is because the Government obstinately refuse to do the only thing that can now give British industry the go ahead, which is to expand the economy to provide a sense of buoyancy, expansion and an ability to increase and find demands for output to support and to increase profits and investment.

Grimsby is an area with peculiar problems. It has a strong local focus, to which the existing large institutions can offer little. If Grimsby is to develop and recreate that spirit of local incentive and an awareness of the development needs of the area, which it had in the postwar period, it must have a development institution with a more local focus that can attend to the needs of that unique area. Grimsby and South Humberside need more realistic units for development and incentive. Instead, we find a multiplicity of institutions. There is the story of Aneurin Bevan pursuing power from the parish council—when he found that it was not there—to the county council to find that it had moved on to Westminster, only to find that it had gone from this Chamber. In the same way, any local organisation pursuing development must do so throughout the country because there are so many institutions.

Grimsby wants development. It wants to attract new industry. To get it it must, first, approach the EC and plead that it has special needs and a special claim to help because it is dependent on fishing and the treaty of Rome pledged to develop not only agriculture, but fishing. Fishing has had a cruel fate, while agriculture has had a rich and prosperous fate. A community that depends on fishing has a claim to development. It could turn to the social fund. It could turn, as we are doing, to a regional study of the needs of Hull and Grimsby together. It could turn to the national Government. It could turn to the Department of Industry and ask for help under the Industry Act. It gets help through regional policy. It gets help through the Yorkshire and Humberside development association. If we are to attract a factory such as Nissan—we hope to do that, because we are the best site that is available—it will be through the blandishments and the efforts put in by the Yorkshire and Humberside development association and the county council.

We can turn to other Government Departments for specific help for the fishing industry. For that we can also turn to the British Transport Docks Board. We have to turn to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for aid, and to the Common Market for restructing the policy on fish.

The sources of such help are scattered, numerous and confusing for a local authority that has wide responsibilities and for which the task of attracting industry is a tremendous burden. There is a multiplicity of help for local government, but it is often difficult to get. Grimsby is applying for inner urban aid to tackle the problems in the centre of the town, where the social problems are as acute as they are in many of the big city centre areas. Because Grimsby's area is more localised, it finds it more difficult to produce the statistics for aid or to show the scale of the problems. The contrast between the poorer parts and the richer parts of Grimsby is as stark as in many other cities. The need may be more difficult to prove, but it is as great.

We also turn to central Government for help in the Pyewipe reclamation scheme. We are running short of land for industrial development, and there is the possibility of reclaiming up to 1,000 acres. That reclamation will be valuable for the whole region, but it is beyond the resources of a local authority such as Grimsby. It needs wider planning and wider participation.

We want help from central Government for MSC grants and for training facilities. We need the help of Associated British Ports in releasing land from the docks for development in Grimsby.

I have catalogued the directions in which a town such as Grimsby, anxious to build its future and control its own destiny, has to turn. The same is true all over the country. There is a confusing complexity of authorities to which towns that are proud of their area have to turn for help. That multiplicity is beyond the resources of small towns to cope with, but wider bodies such as the Yorkshire and Humberside development association are directly relevant to it.

The result of the inadequacy of regional policy in a time of economic decline, as under this Government is the generation, not only of despair in a place like Grimsby, but of a feeling of inadequacy, even impotence, in coping with the problems that the town desperately wants to solve.

The result of regional policy here, as in so many other places, is not to develp the regions but to generate in those regions a begging-bowl mentality in which the trains to London are full of deputations and delegations going to different Government Departments for different forms of help rather than having the organisations and the framework through which they can help themselves. That is a particularly tragic weakness for a town such as Grimsby which had such a proud tradition of developing its area and which wants to fight back. It does not want to sit down and suffer the kind of decline that is happening. Local pride wants to encourage new industry to the area but does not have the facilities through which to do so.

Regional policy should set areas such as Grimsby free to help themselves. The Bill is inadequate because it does not do that. It does not provide Government backing to areas to help themselves. It does not set them free to build up their strength. That is a particularly tragic gap in the face of all that the Government have done to British industry, to areas such as Grimsby and to the declining parts of Britain. In the light of that, the Government should at least have had the sense of responsibility and the sensitivity to provide areas with the framework, strength and financial backing to fight back and rebuild destinies which the Government have ruined.