HC Deb 09 December 1959 vol 615 cc676-81

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Dempsey

Will the right hon. Gentleman look at subsections (1) and (2)? Here we have a suggestion that a co-ordinating committee of some sort should be appointed and that this committee should consist of the three chairmen of the Management Corporations and two other individuals. This committee will discuss matters of common interest to the corporations operating throughout the length and breadth of the country, and these interests are bound to be very deep, in view of the tremendous job they are endeavouring to tackle under the Bill.

I have listened to these debates for four days, and I have heard speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) telling us that there is no road and very little means of communication between one part of his constituency and another, and we have heard of the great problem of depopulation.

We have heard of the great need for redistribution. We have heard the arguments in favour of diversification. We have heard great arguments this evening calling for consultation with established bodies which have been making a notable contribution towards furthering full employment in different parts of the country. Here we have the immensity of the problem which confronts the country as a whole, yet, according to this Clause, five people are to consider all these aspects. I do not think so small a number can do justice to the task.

In addition to considering matters of common interest, they are to give advice on the functions of the corporations. We know that the corporations will have an impossibly difficult task. Circumstances from area to area and constituency to constituency differ in varying degrees. In some parts of the country compared with others the circumstances are poles apart, yet, according to subsections (1) and (2), five people are to co-ordinate, direct and guide in general terms the operations of the Bill, the object of which is to overcome serious unemployment in many parts of the country.

I think the work of this Committee will not be as was stated by the President of the Board of Trade. He argued that it was technical and financial, but it can go much further. Its members are to co-ordinate activity, but a great deal of activity is not determined by financial or technical experts. They have to be satisfied about the cost of projects and the cost of all the services we have been discussing, the water, drainage, roads and other services. In view of that, I think five individuals are not an adequate number to deal with so serious and complicated a problem.

hope the President of the Board of Trade will have another look at that aspect of the problem. There are 400,000 unemployed—that is the immensity of the problem. Governments have been unable to solve this problem year after year, yet we are asking five people to get together and to co-ordinate the activities of the management corporations, get the necessary experience and. as a result, eventually to guide the Board of Trade to deal with the problem once and for all.

The right hon. Gentleman can correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that we are to spend more than £3 million in this great effort to tackle unemployment.

Mr. Ross

It is not enough.

Mr. Dempsey

I do not regard the amount as great; we are only trifling with the problem. For that reason. I submitted an Amendment which would have enhanced the expenditure, but it was unacceptable to the Board of Trade. It is a considerable amount of money, however, for five people to advise on its spending. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to have another look at these two subsections. Some of us have had a long experience serving on committees associated with the Board of Trade. I personally served on one in Scotland for fourteen years, and my experience was that in the ramifications of these bodies one never found small committees of only five members, but rather that they were very representative. This committee, in view of the nature of the problem with which it will deal—something which is really staggering in view of the financial obligations will require more than three chairmen and two co-opted or other persons.

I should like to see a really representative committee of various sections of the British community. Of course. I do not want to see too large a committee which will become unwieldy and bureaucratic. It is dangerous to have a large, unwieldy committee, but it can be equally dangerous to have one so small that it will not be representative of those interests necessary to guide us with the specialised knowledge of the work of these corporations. Perhaps the President is being guided by Parkinson's Law; that the best committee is one which has two members, one of whom fails to turn up.

We shall not have a hundred per cent. attendance at these meetings. Therefore, we can look forward to fewer than five. Having some experience in a more restricted sphere of the operations of Board of Trade committees, I earnestly appeal to the President to have another look at this. I hope that, in the light of such consideration, he will see his way to augment the committees.

Mr. Maudling

I have never thought that committees gain strength from increasing their numbers. The principle should be to keep them as small as one can so long as the interests concerned are not neglected. I think that perhaps the hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted the purpose of this body. It is not to be an operating body, nor is it to be concerned with distribution of industry policy. The concept is different. We have these three Management Corporations which will be doing the same job in three different areas. It seems to be only commonsense to have this committee so that there is some body that can compare experiences and advise the Board of Trade on management problems which arise in the areas for which each corporation is responsible.

Mr. Dempsey

But this committee will not be dealing with the actual problem of site acquisition and the development of industry.

Mr. Maudling

That is exactly right, and that is why we suggest a small committee.

Mr. Jay

The President has spoken of committees gaining strength, but do committees gain strength from having their whole constitution and behaviour written down in a Statute? Is it necessary, for example, to write into the Bill, The Chairman of the Committee shall be such one of the members as the Board may from time to time direct"? There are swarms of committees advising the Board of Trade in one way or another. Is this really necessary?

Mr. Maudling

There is public money involved here. The members will be paid expenses, and that is the reason for it.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. T. Fraser

Can the President of the Board of Trade say why on earth it is necessary to have a co-ordinating committee at all? He is to have these three Management Corporations. I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) was attributing to the corporations functions they were not going to fulfil. What are they going to do? They are going to manage factories. That is all they are going to do.

As I understand it, they are not going to acquire land; they are not going to decide whether an additional place will be put up; they are not going to look for tenants; they are not going to determine rents. They are going to collect rents; they are going to see that the paint work is done from time to time; they are going to see that buildings do not fall into a state of disrepair; they are going to hire and, presumably, occasionally fire, their junior staff who go round and do the errands for them. Are they going to do any more than that? I rather gathered from what the President of the Board of Trade said that that is about the limit of their functions.

If that is to be the limit of the functions of these three corporations, does the right hon. Gentleman have to bring them together in a co-ordinating committee, so that they will get all the paint work done at the same regular intervals in the areas of the management corporations? I can understand his wishing to see the chairmen of the corporations from time to time, but does he not see the chairmen of the five industrial estate companies at present without anything appearing in any Act of Parliament about the President of the Board of Trade co-ordinating the activities of all the five industrial estates companies? There is nothing about this in any Act of Parliament at present.

Why on earth should the President of the Board of Trade want to have a Clause dealing with this when it is sufficient for him to invite the chairmen of the three corporations to meet him in London from time to time and have a talk with him if he has any doubt as to the efficacy with which any of them are carrying through their management duties? After all, a chairman might be advised by consultation with the chairman of another Management Corporation.

But I see the President of the Board of Trade is full of speech and wants to give some justification for having this provision.

Mr. Maudling

I was only going to say that I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point of view. I will make this offer to him, if I may. I will consider whether it is necessary to have this provision in the Bill, if he for his part will consider whether he would like it removed. If he would like it removed and will put down an Amendment on Report to give effect to it, I will see if I can meet him.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.