HC Deb 16 October 1945 vol 414 cc1050-5

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £2,050,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1946, for services in Development Areas.

Sir S. Cripps

The purpose of this Supplementary Estimate is to provide funds for the anticipated expenditure to 31st March for carrying out the provisions of the Distribution of Industry Act, 1945, which became law in June of this year. Under this Act, as will be recollected, the Board of Trade may, for the purpose of facilitating the provision of premises needed for industrial undertakings in the Development Areas with a view to providing for, and maintaining, a stable rate of employment in those areas, acquire land and erect factories and finance trading and industrial estate companies which do not distribute profits to their members. In addition, powers are given to the Board of Trade to expend money on derelict land in Development Areas and, with the consent of the Treasury, to make grants to local authorities or non-profit-making companies towards the cost of carrying out work on such land.

Under the First Schedule to the Act four areas in Great Britain have been scheduled as Development Areas. The acquisition of land and the erection of factories is, of course, of necessity, a long term policy designed to bring opportunities for employment into those neighbourhoods in which the workers are available and hitherto there have not been the premises available in which they could work. It involves planning over a number of years, and its success depends largely on efforts to induce industrialists to establish new and diverse forms of industry in those Development Areas. An important part of that plan is the formation and development of trading estates on new sites, or, for a similar purpose, the conversion of large Royal Ordnance factories to make them suitable for various types of industry. In addition to that, however, indi- vidual factories are being erected to meet the needs of industries induced to establish or expand their works in areas where unemployment might be severe though very much localised in extent. I am glad to report to the House that considerable progress has already been made, and the Supplementary Estimate provides for expenditure likely to be incurred before the 31st March largely on the acquisition of land and the preliminary costs of work-in-progress on the building of factories and the clearance of sites. As the scheme develops and the building of more factories is begun further estimates, of course, will be necessary, and for considerably larger sums. According to the present estimate a sum of £26,000,000 will be required over the next three years to cover those schemes which have already been approved, or which are in course of preparation, together with such further projects as it is estimated will be necessary if all the labour expected to be available in the Development areas is to be absorbed in regular employment. I hope, therefore, that the House will be prepared to grant us this initial sum to get on with this very vital job.

Mr. A. Edwards

May I take this opportunity to put one or two questions to the President of the Board of Trade? My constituency happens to be in a Development Area, but only after putting up a very stiff fight with his Department did we manage to get it included in the Development Areas. Naturally, once we succeeded in that battle we expected to get some of the benefits which the President has just outlined. Eventually his Department agreed to put up one of these factories—not a very large one, about 50,000 square feet. The President has told the Committee this afternoon that the purpose is to bring further employment and to induce new industries. To our amazement the new factory has been let to a company for temporary purposes, for a business which will continue for about two years. I suggest to him that to erect a factory of that kind and introduce a temporary business for two years is to destroy absolutely the purpose for which he is asking for these funds, which is to relieve unemployment. We used to be known as a Distressed Area. We have had two or three names since, and now it has become a Development Area, yet his Department has done nothing whatever to help bring employment to the district. Not more than about 60 people are employed in this factory and I suggest that that is a complete misuse of the funds as he has described their purpose to-day.

The next question I would like to ask is: Are we to understand from what he has said, that the municipalities will be able to build these factories with moneys which they can get from his Department? If that is the case I am quite sure my municipality will be delighted to build some factories, because we have had to turn down offers for factories which would have employed many thousands of people because we have nowhere to put them, and there were no facilities available for us to provide for them. If we had had this 50,000 square feet, we could have introduced a permanent industry to employ many more people than are at present employed. I hope the President will say something about that.

Another point I would like to raise is the question of the trading estates. The Team Valley Estate was developed on the North-East coast when Jarrow was just a derelict city, as the hon. Lady described it. It was arising out of Jarrow and such towns on the North-East coast that the Team Valley Estate was built. That was entirely the wrong way to help Jarrow, because instead of taking industries to Jarrow or Middlesbrough they were taken away to provide employment at Gateshead. That was a grand thing for Gateshead, but it was not the purpose for which money at that time was being provided from the Distressed Areas Commission. I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend that he should consider carefully whether, in developing some of these factory estates, good as they are, he is not doing a great injustice to some of the districts concerned. Setting up such estates takes employment away from the really distressed parts of the country.

Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)

I would like to intervene for a few moments because, as the Committee knows, this is a subject in which I take the greatest personal interest. I am sure that the best direction in which these funds can be expended is in the way of improving access and facilities to and on sites. I understand that most of this money will be used for that purpose. That is even more important than building factories. If deep water and rail access can be improved industrialists will be willing to undertake the majority of the risk of erecting the actual buildings. If the President directs himself more particularly to that I think some of the other problems which have been mentioned will be avoided.

I think—and I have expressed this view on other occasions—that the distribution problem is one which we shall beat in the next three or four years. I believe, however, that the problem will be substantially solved. I think that the most difficult part which faces the President is to be very sure that he is not drawing into new industries, which to some extent will be exotic, the skilled labour which may be required soon for longer established industries. That is a difficult course for the President to have to pursue, but, generally speaking, such problems will be eased, and some natural selection will take place, if the majority of the funds are used towards improving access and facilities—such as gas—and so far as possible he should avoid building factories which tend to distort some of the local labour conditions that we should like to preserve.

Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)

Before my right hon. and learned Friend replies I should like to know whether these trading estates will be planned in some relationship to new housing estates. If you have a good trading estate and a good housing estate together, and you add all the other community facilities, you have the makings of a very good town.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)

I would like to bring one point to the notice of the Minister, and that is in connection with the sites in these Development Areas. One of the things that must strike anyone who has been to these areas is the very large number of derelict sites which are an offence to the eye, and which cause very appreciable psychological depression not only to those living there but to any employer or manufacturer wishing to set up a new factory. Not only that, but with the modern machinery of which we had a large quantity, through Lend-Lease, for the making of United States aerodromes in this country, the levelling of these sites would be a comparatively simple job and one which could be tackled now in a much cheaper and quicker way than anyone contemplated before the war. I hope some consideration will be given to removing or levelling these derelict sites.

Sir S. Cripps

With regard to the factory mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards), it was one which was allocated as a matter of urgency in connection with the housing programme in order to provide special expansion for a firm that was occupied in building temporary houses. When that work is completed that factory will be taken over for use by other people. That was the only place where we could find space, and we had to use it. With regard to whether municipalities can be financed out of these funds, the answer is "No." This is finance which can be supervised by the Government, and this can be done through trading estate companies. My hon. Friend also raised the question of the danger of drawing labour away from areas where it was surplus through having too few trading estates. We are trying to remedy that situation. One has in mind Jarrow, where we are placing a new estate in order to deal with the people there. As regards clearing these derelict sites, I am fully conscious of the psychological drawback of having derelict surroundings if one wants to get industrialists to occupy factory buildings. One of the worst pieces of derelict land I have ever come across is at Jarrow. I hope we shall be able to clear these sites at the same time as we are developing trading centres.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) made the point that access and services to these sites were of great importance. I entirely agree; it is a matter to which we are giving attention. As to the other question he raised, the danger of drawing from long established industries labour which might be employed by them, that is a very difficult question of balance. We are trying to see that we do not overdo the introduction of new industries so as to upset the labour supply of the longer established industries, but at the same time we are anxious to introduce new industries, despite the feeling sometimes of people connected with older industries that they would rather be left alone. As to the association of the new trading estates with new housing estates, that is one of the matters into which we made careful inquiry as to whether labour will be available in near proximity to the trading estate. Where it is possible to foresee a new housing estate close to a trading estate, that is, of course, an ideal arrangement from the point of view of the workers. All these matters we will keep well in front of us in trying to arrange the greatest convenience of the greatest number of works in the development of this scheme.

Resolved: That a sum, not exceeding £2,050,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1946, for services in Development Areas.