HC Deb 07 June 1946 vol 423 cc2341-50

12.48 p.m.

Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)

I hope the House will show the same interest in the problems of Scotland which it has always manifested in the problems of Burma and many other far flung parts of the Empire and the world. I would like, first of all, to assure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that all his colleagues on this side of the House have the warmest feeling for him, and the greatest admiration for the way he has begun his great task as Secretary of State Nothing I wish to say today should be taken in any way as a personal criticism of him, or even of his administration. I want to refer to the need for an overall plan for Scotland. The Clyde Valley and South-Eastern Planning Committees have, I think, done an excellent job. The report of Sir Patrick Abercrombie and the report prepared by Sir Frederick Mears are great contributions to the future of South-West and South-East Scotland. As there is a South-Eastern Planning Committee and a South-Western Planning Committee I want to ask why there should not be also a Regional Planning Committee for the Highlands of Scotland? This seems an imperative necessity if the regional planning pattern of Scotland is to be made complete.

At the moment the Highlands of Scotland are being planned ineffectively by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. I was not able to take part in the Debate on the most recent scheme of the Board, a scheme which in many ways was excellent, but which, in many other ways, was thoroughly bad. It was a scheme which destroyed a great deal of the amenities, a good deal of the salmon fishing and the possibilities of the very best tourist part of Scotland. For these reasons, it is clear that, however excellent the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board is as an organisation for bringing hydro-electric power to the Highlands, it is not a body that is either charged with the duty, or capable of discharging the duty, of taking an overall view of the planning of the Highlands of Scotland.

Therefore, I urge upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the desirability of completing the Scottish regional planning structure and of creating a planning board or committee for the Highlands that will take an overall view of the Highland picture and will fit one aspect of planning into another. It is no use starting from the point of view of hydro-electricity, or the tourist industry, or persuading, inducing or bribing a few light industries to go to the Highlands that might very well settle elsewhere of their own accord. If we are to provide a future for the Highlands of Scotland we must base that future on the natural activities of these regions. The natural activities of the Highlands are agriculture and fisheries. There never can be a solution to Highland planning until we start with a general, broad, planning picture which in itself is based on the needs of agriculture and the fishing industry. When, as I hope, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has agreed to set up a planning committee, and that committee has been brought into being, we shall have made one great step forward. We shall have completed the regional planning pattern. But there will still remain the absolute necessity for establishing an overall plan for Scotland, so that the regional plans dovetail into one another, and the plan for Scotland dovetails into the plans for the United Kingdom as a whole.

We in Lanarkshire are vastly troubled by the growing figures of unemployment. We have far too bitter memories of unemployment between the wars to take even a figure of 50,000 unemployed lightly or casually. I know that the Secretary of States does not regard this figure in any casual way, but, nevertheless, we have yet to receive from the Government any really constructive, broad plans that will solve the problem of Lanarkshire and the problem of the West of Scotland. I have the greatest admiration for the vigour and energy with which the President of the Board of Trade is tackling this problem. He is doing his best. He has persuaded industries to go to Lanarkshire and the West of Scotland. He is providing work for at least 10,000 people, which is no mean achievement. But again, no policy of special area or distressed area planning can solve the problem of the West of Scotland.

We have to get down to the basic bedrock of the West of Scotland, and that bedrock is, literally, coal. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is not responsible for all this, but the processing of coal, the low temperature carbonisation of coal, the distillation of coal, the securing of the byproducts from coal, will provide the only possible lona-term solution for the industrial West of Scotland. By such a method, and such a policy we can build up many new light industries, ranging from the plastics industry to the manufacture of fine chemicals. From coal it is a natural step to iron and steel. So much was said in the recent Debate on iron and steel that there is no need for me to enlarge on that subject today, except to say that in the West of Scotland we are prepared to accept any scheme which the Government, after full consideration, care to put forward, providing they see that the temporary dislocation is kept to the absolute minimum, and that unemployment is merely in the smallest pockets and, at the worst, entirely transitional.

I want to see the Secretary of State for Scotland establish a committee which will look into the whole broad general picture of the future of Scotland. A few months ago, thanks to the initiative of the Joint Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser), the regional controllers in Scotland met together in one room. I thought that was an excellent thing. I was very astonished to learn that that was the first time all the regional controllers of the Government Departments in Scotland had ever met together in one room. I want my right hon. Friend to establish a council or a committee that will be responsible for the overall planning of Scotland, in an advisory capacity to him, but representative of all the regional controllers of the Gov- ernment Departments, representative of the administrative heads of Government Departments, and representative, too, of every phase of industrial and social life in Scotland. Such a set-up would be of infinite value to my right hon. Friend and to the people of Scotland. It has not been the fashion in this Parliament to quote the Scots national poet, Robert Burns. The former Member for Coatbridge, the Reverend James Barr, made a habit—a very good habit—of quoting Burns, and I am encouraged by the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) to risk at least one quotation.

Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)

My hon. Friend has no need to apologise for quoting Burns.

Mr. McAllister

I was not apologising for quoting Burns; I was merely indicating that my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs is so much more entitled to quote Burns than I am, and by way of courtesy, I was apologising to him for taking over one of his customary duties. Burns, in some of his most passionate lines, in which he expressed his warm heart's desire, said: E'en now, a wish, I mind its power. A wish that to my latest hour Will strongly heave my breast. That I, for puir auld Scotland's sake Some richtfu' plan or bulk could make Or sing a sang at least. I direct the attention of the Secretary of State to the order in which Burns placed his aspirations. He wanted to make some " richtfu' plan or buik " for Scotland, or " sing a sang "; but the " richtfu' plan " came first. That is where all planning should come—first. If we do not plan in the comprehensive way for which I have asked today, we shall be in for a grim time in Scotland, but if we plan boldly and wisely now, the grim times will be entirely behind us.

1 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)

I know there is a timetable, and I shall try to keep to it. I am deeply grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) who has raised this very important question. It gives me, although in a limited time, an opportunity of outlining just the plans that are working in Scotland. It is well known to the House that I am the planning Minister for Scotland. As that Minister I have central responsibility for such major functions as housing, agriculture, education and hydro-electricity. I am not prepared to admit one of the points made by my hon. Friend—that the work of the Hydro-Electricity Board has in any way or in any direction destroyed the real amenities of the Highlands. believe it is possible for it to do its work without interfering with those amenities

After all, we are all proud of Scotland's scenery, but we also want to see Scotland's great natural water resources used for industrial purposes, such as can be possibly only through the successful work of the Hydro-Electricity Board. I am responsible for housing, agriculture, education and hydro-electricity. I am, therefore, better placed than any other Minister in this House to secure the effective coordination of those services. All my Departments are in day to day contact with one another, both on general policy and on specific development projects. They are housed together in one building, St. Andrew's House. The Department of Health, as the Department responsible for Town and Country Planning, is in the closest touch with Scottish representatives of the United Kingdom Department. The machinery of consultation with all those Departments, I can assure my hon. Friend, the House and the people of Scotland, is working smoothly and efficiently.

Let me take one example. All proposals for the development at land for housing by local authorities are scrutinised at a very early stage by the Department of Health. The coordinated observations of all my Departments and of all other Government Departments concerned, are assembled with the minimum or delay so that a proper planning appreciation in relation to our problems can take place very quickly. The same machinery of coordination is applied in relation to the selection of industrial sites and of sites for other types of publicly sponsored development.

The regional planning officers of the Department of Health are in day to day contact with the local planning authorities, about the planning and development within their areas In addition to advising the authorities on general planning work, their advice is at all times available to the local authorities in connection with the selection of housing and industrial sites and they have been doing most valuable work. We do not see, and cannot see, the immediate results, which take time to work out, but I am positive that we shall get very tangible results in Scotland. Not only are the Department taking cognisance of the selection of housing and industrial sites, out they are planning roads and other improvements generally, for the purpose of securing properly balanced development in each local authority area.

In the field of industry we are doing exactly the thing suggested by my hon. Friend. The Regional Board for Industry and the Regional Distribution of Industry Panel meet, as he suggested, regularly. I admit it was not done before, but it is being done now. They meet regularly in Glasgow for the purpose of inter-departmental exchanges of view and to consider specific proposals for industrial development in Scotland The main functions of the Regional Board, which comprises representatives of employers and trade unions, and of all Departments interested in industrial development, is to advise Ministers and their Departments. I am responsible for the many departments. I have already enumerated, but I am not responsible for all the Departments. This Regional Board advises Ministers and Departments upon industrial conditions in Scotland, and they keep in close touch with all the other Government Departments who are operating in Scotland, so far as their work deals with industrial questions or impinges on industrial interests. One of the functions of the Board is to keep local communities advised on Government policy in relation [...]. industry. That means that we can get what is absolutely necessary, the cooperation and the help of the local authorities themselves.

The functions of the Regional Distribution of Industry Panel, which is, as I have already pointed out, an inter-departmental committee of officials, sitting under the chairmanship of the Regional Controller of the Board of Trade, includes representatives of. all my Departments. It meets to consider specific proposals for industrial development and to deal with the allocation of Government surplus factories, and generally to make recommendations on questions affecting the distribution of industry in Scotland. For some time past I have felt that, in addition to the arrangements which already exist for securing the coordination of specific proposals for the carrying out of development in Scotland, there is need for inter-departmental machinery to deal with the whole range of questions involved—this is the very point raised by my hon. Friend—in physical planning in the real sense. I propose, therefore, to make arrangements to this end with representatives of all the Departments concerned with land use in Scotland, namely, the Department of Health, the Scottish Home Department, the Department of Agriculture, the Scottish Education Department, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Transport, and the Ministry of Fuel and Power. They will keep under review, as a matter of long term policy, the fundamental problems of Scotland as they affect the use of land and the settlement of the population, and they will make recommendations to me, the Secretary of State, from time to time. I am sure that that meets the requirement which was suggested by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Kirkwood

Before my right hon. Friend leaves that point will he explain to the House why the Scottish Office have definitely decided against the nationalisation of land?

. Westwood

The Scottish Office have not definitely decided against the nationalisation of the land. The Government of which I am a Member determined that they would not have the time in this Parliament to nationalise the land. That is a Government decision and not a decision of the Scottish Office.

Mr. Kirkwood

The Under-Secretary of State intimated it at that Box only last week.

Mr. Westwood

I do not recall what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary actually said, but I am positive he said we should not have time to nationalise the land, so far as this Parliament was concerned. That decision does not cut across the policy of the party to which we belong. As I have said, I am setting up the machinery to which I have referred, with a view to a long-term policy of fundamental planning in Scotland, affecting the use of land and the settlement of the population. The bodies concerned will make their recommendations to me, the Secretary of State, from time to time. In addition, they would deal with particular development proposals of major importance which affect the interests of different Government Departments. The setting up of this machinery will largely meet the point which has been raised.

In addition to the foregoing arrangements, which secure the fullest possible coordination at the official level of the work of all the Departments concerned, I am looking forward to the benefit of valuable advice on the lines of that which I have previously had from the Scottish Council of Industry. I have been successful in bringing about, with good will, the amalgamation of two bodies. I prefer to see one fine, coordinated body and have been aiming at that, and I have brought about the amalgamation of the Scottish Development Council and the Scottish Council of Industry. That marriage took place last Monday, and, both as Minister and best man, I was at the ceremony. That body represents practically all Scottish interests, including trade unions, the cooperative movement and the local authorities, and is one of the finest representative bodies ever set up in Scotland. I am looking forward to the advice they will be able to give me because they will be able to look at Scotland as a whole. That is its purpose, and that is the idea I had when I endeavoured to bring about this amalgamation. In the past the Council have produced a number of detailed and most valuable reports on various aspects of Scottish economic life, and these are being closely examined by my Department at the present time. I am positive that as a result of the amalgamation I will get even better results in the future than I have had in the past. It is a non-statutory body—it is voluntary—and independent of Whitehall, a fact which will please Scotland. We shall collect our money from Scotland for our own purposes. This body will be able to give me the independent advice that I am so anxious to get, although I have warned them that I am not always going to accept their advice, because I do not know at the moment what their advice is going to be. I have, however, said that I am prepared to give the fullest consideration to their advice.

My hon. Friend suggested an overall planning committee for Scotland. He pointed out that f have three advisory bodies in Scotland and asked, why not have one for the Highlands? The problem of the Highlands and Islands is different from the problem of the lowlands, and the problems associated with our industrial districts. At present there are three regional advisory planning committees in Scotland—one for the Clyde valley area, one for central and south-east Scotland and one for east central Scotland. Their functions are to advise the constituent authorities and myself on the major planning factors affecting the region and to prepare outline plans for the regions into which the plans of the individual authorities will dovetail. I am sure the hon. Member agrees that that is the right policy. The primary reason for the appointment of these committees was that the planning problems in the respective regions are so closely related and so intermixed and have such important repercussions on one another that it was essential that they should be considered on a comprehensive basis. The problem of the Highlands and Islands is different, and I am not sure that exactly the same type of committee will be required and I am considering that problem at the moment. It might be possible to have a sub-committee of the new industrial council which has been set up. The old council had a sub-committee which was collecting facts and evidence and was prepared to give me advice. On the other hand, it may be more advisable—I have not determined it yet—to have a statutory committee set up for the Highlands and Islands because of their peculiar and difficult problems, which sooner or later we shall have to solve, because if the Highlands are not prosperous, Scotland cannot be prosperous. They are part of Scotland. If the islands are not being properly attended to, then Scotland is not being properly attended to. I hope that as a result of our scheming and planning we can bring prosperity to the Islands and Highlands and repopulate the places that have been depopulated. They were not depopulated by my administration. I have got a bad heritage. I have to try to improve things. That is the task before me so far as the Highlands and Islands are concerned. I am considering what will be best. I have only been in office for nine months and I am quite proud of my record. I have no apologies to make whatever. During the term of office of one of my predecessors—Mr. Tom Johnston—we were able to do more for Scotland than any other two have ever done. I claim that I will set up a good record, and I will leave it to the people of Scotland to determine whether or not I have been successful when I leave office.

The planning problems of the Highlands will receive special study from me and by the various coordinating bodies to which I have referred. It is not competent for me today to deal with what was suggested in connection with the utilisation of coal, as that is a problem for the Ministry of Fuel and Power, although the hon. Member, the House and Scotland, can rest assured that, as Scotland's planning Minister, I want to see the fullest utilisation made of the wonderful natural resources Scotland has in its coal supplies. I am positive that under the powers given us by the new scheme of nationalisation we shall be able more wisely to use those wonderful resources than in the past. With that explanation of the things we are doing, I trust the hon. Member will be satisfied.