My Lords, since the Bill includes some provision for local elections, before I make my brief remarks I should declare that I am an electoral commissioner, the Electoral Commission being the regulator for all elections and referenda in this country, although I am glad to say that it had nothing to do with the way in which the new mayor of Manchester emerged in some sort of puff of smoke from a back room.
That aside, I am speaking in this debate because I am a Lancastrian; I come from proud Lancashire manufacturing stock. During the Second World War, my father and his brothers and sisters—he was one of eight—made planes for the RAF near Preston, in Samlesbury and Warton. After the Second World War, he went to work for British Leyland, which unfortunately became wrapped up with British Motor Holdings and had a sad demise at the end of a long period of reconstruction. After that, a number of my family provided chemicals for the cotton industry. My noble friend the Minister mentioned Cottonopolis in her opening remarks. Perhaps she also took the journey from time to time from Manchester up to Oldham Mumps—a wonderful name—where the chimneys of all the cotton mills had their proud names written in white letters up the side. I do not know whether she remembers them: Rex, Imperator, Providence, Victorious, Cairo, Egypt. They conjure up a world when Lancashire was a supplier of cotton to the world—Cottonopolis. At that time, probably 100 ago, or at least 50, there were more millionaires in Oldham and Bradford per head of population—my noble friend Lady Eaton is nodding—than anywhere else in the country. We should not forget that rich industrial heritage.
After my youth in Lancashire I went across to be schooled in Wakefield in Yorkshire. I ought to be careful, because I am speaking after two noble Lords from Yorkshire, but I noticed that the difference between Lancashire and Yorkshire came across in the speeches today of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer. People in Yorkshire are cautious. They say that Lancashire people joke about everything, while in Yorkshire they only make jokes about death and cricket. That is the sort of gut feeling I got. However, that was a welcome caution—they are right to be cautious. In Wakefield, where I went to school, there was Double TWO textiles, there were wool textiles in Bradford and there was mining—my friend’s father ran a business making pit props for the mining industry, which had the slogan, “We take the dust out of industry”. That was very much the sort of area that I was in.
After that I became the MP for Gateshead West and got to know the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and remained a friend of his despite our different parties these days. There one could find the great engineering works such as Vickers-Armstrongs, Clarke Chapman, Swan ’oonter’s—or Swan Hunter’s, if you pronounce it that way—and others, all of it in a marvellous part of this country, which is rich in industrial history. Of course, since then it has moved on: in the north-east Nissan is doing extraordinarily well, and in Yorkshire a great financial centre in Leeds has been built up, in which we can take great pride. Yorkshire is also a great place for tourism—the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Saltaire and places like that are excellent. I notice more and more people going up there; friends of mine go just to have a look round that great county. Then in Lancashire there is of course the BBC media centre—we are not just about “Coronation Street” but about the BBC and all that, too—the Peel Group, the science in the University of Manchester, and so on. All that shows that Manchester is humming these days.
I was able to play a little bit of a part in that, because I was a Minister for Transport a long time ago and helped to finish the Metro in Tyneside and to allow the building of the M62 between Yorkshire and Lancashire and the M60 around the northern part of Manchester. All that was quite a long time ago and it was of course all done by central government. One forgets that; I was often present in situations where the great leaders of northern cities would come down and had to beg in a humiliating way for money for their cities. I was often in the meetings where that happened and I could see that in a sense they were humiliated by that process; central government was handing out the money and they had to beg for it.
Therefore I welcome enormously the Bill. My noble friend Lord Heseltine played a great role in it, particularly with his inspirational document No Stone Unturned, which galvanised a lot of people into thinking again about that whole area; it was one of the building blocks of the Bill. I am afraid that he has a lot to answer for in the past; as a Lancastrian, I remember the Heath Government dismembering the county palatine. We lost Manchester and Liverpool, and lost Furness to Cumbria—it was a bad time. However, I am sure that he is a sinner repenting and that he has repented in spades.
I will take up one point that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, with whom I profoundly agree on this: the role of the medium-tier towns and cities. I know that she knows Norwich extremely well, having been in local government there, and I am glad that we have the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby here, because that is another town—or is it a city? I am not quite sure—that has a proud history. As both of them said, these are often specialist cities—a particular part of industry or manufacturing is strong in their area—and they are not like the great city regions, so we need a different solution to their issues. As a matter of simple record, they have outperformed many of the city regions in this country in recent years. We should not forget that. That is not an argument against the Bill, because the Bill is saying, “Let’s have different solutions for different situations”. Indeed, one noble Lord said that we may produce a bit of a patchwork, and that is the opposite difficulty that it may have—it may go too far in having different solutions. However, it is better to have different solutions to different circumstances than to have a one-size-fits-all approach. The Government must bear in mind those great, proud citizen towns that stand outside the great metropolitan areas of our country. Therefore, there will be no Procrustean bed; that is the philosophy behind this. I wish the Bill well. Fundamentally it has support from all sides of this House and I hope that it progresses satisfactorily.