HC Deb 09 December 1959 vol 615 cc600-14
Mr. T. Fraser

I beg to move, in page 5, line 26, at the end to insert: including, but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, the provision of facilities for transport (whether by road, rail, water, or air) or of power, lighting or heating, and housing, health, and other services in or affecting the locality". It will be obvious that our purpose in moving this Amendment is to define more fully what is intended by the expression, "basic service". The words we have in the Amendment are lifted directly from Section 3 of the 1945 Distribution of Industry Act. I realise, and I think we all realise, that because those words were written into that Act they are not necessarily the right words to adopt at this time. It may be that something slightly different from the words then used would be appropriate today; but we have not understood hitherto that the Government intend drastically to reduce the amount of basic services for which financial assistance will he given under the Bill. We have understood that the Government asserted all along that their intention in the main in repealing existing legislation and putting this Bill in its place was to extend rather than to narrow the powers. In Clause 7, it would appear that the powers have been narrowed, or at least the expression "basic service" as defined in subsection (2) is a great deal narrower than the definition in the 1945 Act.

Speaking on Second Reading on 9th November. the President of the Board of Trade said: But the specific powers in the Bill are intended to refer to such things as local access roads. the strengthening of bridges for heavy loads or possibly the provision of bridges; in other words, the specific provision locally of transport facilities, or the provision of an eleotricity system or other facilities which would be of great use in particular cases."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1959; Vol. 613. c. 43.] I think the words used by the President of the Board of Trade on that occasion would be construed differently by different people. Some might think it a rather wide definition of basic service, but I got the view that he was seeking to convey that he was concerned with purely local services and not proposing wider Clause 7 to give any assistance to any services which were national.

In the 1945 Act, undoubtedly a number of services which were national services with application in the local area were assisted under Section 3, which was the appropriate Section in that Act. In the course of these discussions, we have listened to what has been said from the Government Front Bench about the kind of localities to be listed. We have been told that there will be small localities, but "localities" is an elastic term, and there will be some large areas. What we all want in Clause 7 is provision that the appropriate Minister should be able to give additional financial assistance to a local authority area for the provision of any service which the local authority is obliged to provide.

7.45 p.m.

The original intention of writing Section 3 into the 1945 Act was to take account of the relative poverty of the areas in which there was and had been for some time a high level of unemployment. The intention was to give additional assistance in those areas for the provision of services, but the services could be highways, not only serving a small area but a wider area. We had provision for transport services of all—not only roads and what ran on them—and the definition was wide enough, as it is with our Amendment. to include transport by road, rail, water, or air. Those words were in the 1945 Act and it might not be a bad thing to include them now, especially for the more remote parts of the country.

We have been talking about areas which must be included in the Bill where the provision of facilities for air transport are essential to the well-being of those areas and there has been much talk about the need to provide helicopter services for outlying islands. In 1945, we were not throwing the net too wide by bringing all these things into the definition of services of a local authority which could include: …power, lighting or heating, and housing, health, and other services in or affecting the locality". It seems that even now many areas must be listed under the Bill to receive special help because of need for the improvement of many of the services, not necessarily all of them, but many of the services mentioned in the definition from which I have quoted. There will be a lack of ability locally to meet the cost of providing those services. Then there will be the need for the appropriate Minister to make fuller provision by increased grants to the authority providing the services. In the hope that the President of the Board of Trade will be able to meet us on this, we put forward the Amendment, which I think is a reasonable proposition. We are not tied to these words. We took the words out of the 1945 Act thinking they were the best basis to be used on this occasion. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to meet us.

Mr. Maudling

The purpose of this Amendment is to change the definition of "basic service" and to make it virtually the same as that in Section 3 of the Act of 1945. In principle, I have no objection to an Amendment of this character, and I should be happy to undertake to insert something like this in the Bill, but there are two points on which I should like to vary it.

I think it would be a mistake to include housing, because I am advised by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government that he already has powers under existing legislation. He has powers, for example, to pay subsidies to assist in the provision of housing for the accommodation of persons coming from outside the area of a local authority in order to meet the urgent needs of industry. He also has powers to pay a subsidy to local authorities faced with an urgent need to provide more housing accommodation and unable to do so without charging unreasonably high rents or placing an unreasonable burden on the rates. It is therefore fairly clear that there are already powers in respect of housing.

The second improvement which can be made in the Amendment arises from the fact that it makes no reference to sewerage. I am told that that is often very important in these matters. We want to include that in the Amendment. We should be willing to put down an Amendment on Report omitting housing and inserting sewerage. I have now scored two out of three this afternoon, and I hope that on that undertaking hon. Members opposite will be satisfied.

Mr. J. Griffiths

We are very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. All the time we are discussing the details of the Bill, however, we have not before us the list of localities which will be scheduled. He knows that one of the most important problems in my area, for instance, is that of communications in and out. Let us assume that when localities are specified the South Wales Development Area is split. If it is split and one part is specified and the other is not, is he sure that the provision by which the more remote areas are completely linked with the main roads will not be excluded by any changes which may be made in the list?

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

May I raise the question of water supplies? If we visualised extensive industrial development in the Eastern part of Dunbartonshire over five or six years, the problem of water supplies would be serious. I believe that as the years pass we shall more and more see the need of an integrated national water supply in order to bring about a reasonable distribution of water to developing areas. Many people outside industry do not appreciate what an important factor water is to the majority of industrial enterprises. It is surprising how much frustration arises in laying down industrial plant in an area because of the difficulty of the water supply.

The right hon. Gentleman has already conceded the need for adequate sewerage. I am glad that he has done so. I am sure that the burgh of Kirkintilloch in my constituency, which for five years has been fighting for an adequate grant to develop its sewerage system, will be pleased to hear that under the Bill it will be able to get an increased grant.

I turn, next, to transport. In Dunbartonshire, and I feel sure in Stirling-shire and around Airdrie and Coatbridge, there are many bridges over the Firth of Forth and the Clyde Canal which are of the last century. It is difficult to take a motor car over them, let alone a lorry. This means that people have to make a very big detour. My hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) and the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) know of the little wooden bridge at Twechar. Its inadequacy causes a detour of several miles, because it is impossible to cross it with anything bigger than a motor cycle or a very light car.

There are a dozen bridges in this area, and I hope that the building of new bridges over the canal will be permitted under the Clause. I assume that transport is included in the Clause, and a bridge is a facility for transport. I am sure that the bridges of which I have spoken frustrate efficiency in these areas, which in the next ten years may well become developing industrial areas.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

I want to reinforce what the hon. Member for Dunhartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) said about water supplies. A water supply may be sufficient for the existing size of a town, but if industry is introduced into the town the situation is immediately changed. An industry might be introduced which would use much more water. If we are to have industries in these areas we must see that there is enough water for them. My right hon. Friend has dealt with the provision of sewerage. Sewerage and water supply go together; one cannot have a piped water supply without sewerage.

Another question is that of pollution. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend knows this, but the Firth of Forth is filthy. No salmon can get up it because of the pollution Hon. Members are now talking in terms of industrial effluent. I therefore hope that the reference to sewage will also include a reference to anti-pollution provisions so that if the sewage is eventually taken into the rivers, it will first have been properly treated and will not kill the fish.

Mr. Ede

I am sorry to have to look a gift horse in the mouth, but the Amendment has been on the Order Paper for some days, and if the Government had reached the decision which has been announced by the President of the Board of Trade, why could they not have put down their own Amendment at this stage? That would have saved the necessity for the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser). The Government could straightaway have pointed out that the words were on the Order Paper.

This would have saved a lot of time when we reach Report and would have made the proceedings of the Committee a great deal sweeter than they have been, because, as far as I can see, all the concessions which we have been promised so far have been in the same category; we have to wait until Report before we see them and know whether they are worth while.

Mr. Page

I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider what he said about the omission of housing from his proposed Amendment. He quoted to us the various powers of the Minister of Housing and Local Government to make advances, but all those powers were in respect of advances to local authorities.

The Clause allows a Government Department to make advances in respect of basic services to such persons and in such manner as appear to him"— the Minister concerned— appropriate for the purposes of this Part of this Act. In other words, it need not make advances to local authorities to provide the basic services. It might be better on occasion to make the advance to an industrial undertaking or to some board or company undertaking the work. If housing is to be excluded from the Amendment, then no advance could be made to any concern of that sort to provide housing for the employees of the industrial undertaking which it was developing.

It is appropriate to include housing with all the other basic services, for the powers of the Minister of Housing and Local Government are not sufficient to comply with what is required under the Clause. He can advance only to local authorities under the powers which have been quoted to us and not to such persons and in such manner as appear to him appropriate", using the words in the Clause.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

I should like to support the hope and the comments of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) about housing. The point he made is extremely important.

Before I come to that, may I say that we welcome the Minister's undertaking. But those of us who have been given to feel during the last few days that our areas may not be embraced by the Bill still have misgivings about the application of this concession, when it is made. It is extremely difficult for some of us representing areas of high unemployment in the outlying parts of the country. and who have not been given the undertaking that we will be embraced by the Bill, merely to bless this concession and to say, "That is fine". It is good to know that it will do good somewhere; but at the same time we should like to know where it will apply and we have not been told by the Minister. We have asked over and over again for this information. What the Minister said will be very welcome in my area—if it has application there. If I knew that the area would be included in the list of areas to benefit under the Bill, I would welcome it without any reservations.

8.0 p.m.

Are we to be given no answer by the Minister? Is the area to be included, or is it not? This is vitally important to nearly half of Scotland—the Highlands and Islands—where there are some of the worst pockets of unemployment in the country. Unemployment is to be one of the criteria for the application of provisions of the Bill, when enacted. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot tell us if it will apply to these afflicted areas. what on earth is the good discussing the value of the concession he says that he will make?

I appeal to the Minister to give us an answer. It is directly relevant to ask if this is to be any good to the areas which most of all require the assistance of the Clause. Can we have no reply on that from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland or from the President of the Board of Trade? Is there no word of assurance or comfort to the whole of the Highlands and Islands, or to any part of them? This is startling. Nearly half of Scotland, territorially, is excluded from any prospect of help under the Bill. I have never seen such a thing in my life. This is statutory exclusion from the benefits of legislation by a decision of the Government. Their silence is a policy declaration, They are now leaving out the whole of that area from any definite benefit under the Bill.

This did not happen with the 1958 Act. The Highlands and Islands were listed clearly and definitely. They were mentioned by the Minister. He took some pride last night in having applied the 1958 Act to help to relieve unemployment in that area and to develop it industrially. The right hon. Gentleman did not have much right to take pride. Now he takes no pride at all in the new Bill; and there is no prospect that he will do anything. The Bill will not apply to those areas, as far as I know. It is extraordinary.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) mentioned the importance of sewerage. That is one of the problems facing every Highlands and Island authority at the moment. No part of the country is more backward and in more need of help in that respect than the Highlands and Islands. Are they to be excluded altogether from the prospect of receiving assistance for this vitally important service? It is vitally important from the point of view of water supply, public health, industrial development and every domestic consideration. Are they to be left without any prospect of assistance on this score?

We have no roads into and out of the Hebrides and to the mainland. We have no mainland connection between Orkney and Shetland by road. Thus, the sea transport service is vitally important. The sea routes are the equivalent of what might have been a trunk road had we been geologically a little luckier, or perhaps I should say "unluckier". It depends on one's point of view. If there had been a trunk road to the Western Isles and the Shetlands, it would have been built by the Ministry. It would have been 100 per cent. financed and maintained by the Ministry. However, we depend solely upon air and sea services. The Islands cannot raise a road for industrial and other purposes to the standard of a Government road simply because they are islands and by that definition they cannot have a trunk road.

All these things are already denied to the Highlands and Islands. Now we are told by the silence of the Minister and his refusal to deny the substance of my interpretation, that we are not to have any advantages under one of the few concessions in which he has taken some justifiable pride.

For any industrial development electricity is absolutely essential. Yet the Hydro-Electric Board, partly through the activities of the Government and their directions to economise, etc., says that it is too expensive to supply electricity to islands like the Island of Barra and North Uist. If an enterprising firm wishes to develop and manufacture some raw material in the Western Isles, in the absence of electricity supply from the Hydro-Electric Board can the Board under the Act ask the Government to subsidise supply, if not by the Hydro-Electric Board directly, at least by the Development Project in the area or the firm wishing to go there? I press the Government for an answer. Can they qualify for assistance for the purpose of providing an electric supply, without which jobs will not be created by industrial development in such an area?

I have confined my remarks to important topics and asked only those questions on which I thnk I am absolutely entitled to a reply. I am not killing time. My hon. Friends and I are not merely filibustering. Every one of my questions has worried local authorities in those heavily de-rated areas. The local authorities cannot out of local rateable resources find the means of self help, unless they have some assistance from the central Government. The assistance these areas have so far received towards industrialisation can be measured by the fact that the Islands of Barra and North Uist still have no industrial development, electrification or adequate water supplies. That is the measure of their neglect to date. What is the prospect of them receiving any help under the Bill to make up for the decades of neglect?

The Minister has given no assurance that the Highlands and Islands and certain needy areas in Wales and England will be assisted. The concession cannot mean anything whatsoever to any area which so far has received no assurance from the Minister that it will be included in the list to be drawn up, which we hope will happen as soon as the Bill becomes an Act. Last night we went through all the antics of the financial test. We heard much about the test of prospective financial success, which was the one real test which the Minister applied to any applicant firm coming forward for assistance to go to such an area. It must prove above all else that there was a prospect of it being ultimately a financial and commercial success. That prerequisite—"commercial success"—is not in the Bill, but that is what the Economic Secretary said in interpreting the Bill.

Once again, I remind the President of the Board of Trade of his own words. Is it still as he said on Second Reading. our main purpose … to mitigate, for social and human reasons, some of the industrial consequences …"—[OFFICIAL REPCRT, 9th November, 1459; Vol. 612, c. 33.] of uncontrolled industrial over-concentration? If the Government have abandoned that policy and intention and we are thrown back purely upon the commercial and cash test, heaven help areas like the Highlands and Islands and many parts of rural England, because they will get nothing out of it.

I reapt that I would like some answer from the President of the Board of Trade. He has simply sat back, muttering to some one on his left and some one on his right. A short while ago he actually consulted some one, his P.P.S., behind him—"D'ye ken, John Peel"? Even John Peel didn't ken, however; and so far we have heard nothing further. I thought that, perhaps Ministers were consulting with the experts and even with the Scottish Office on some long shot hope that something might come from them. But we have had no answer to all the speeches and appeals made from both sides about the Highlands and Islands and, indeed, about many parts of England and Wales. May we have some answer from the Minister now? He cannot sit back like a dummy and refuse to answer.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Though not wishing to detain the Committee very long at this stage, I wish to make a short contribution with a view to facilitating business. First, I associate myself with the observations made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). Responsibility for the delay is not all on this side. Something has gone wrong with the link of responsibility between the Board of Trade and other Government Departments. Perhaps the President of the Board of Trade or the Minister of State have been away so that there has been no authoritative person to accept responsibility. As my right hon. Friend said, in previous experiences of this kind when a Minister has been prepared to consider Amendments he has had new words ready and said that if the Amendment is withdrawn he would insert certain words. That has had a very good effect and we have proceeded accordingly. On this occasion it may be that he has dual responsibility. If dual responsibility between different Government Departments is the reason for it, the right hon. Gentleman is not responsible and we absolve him from any blame.

I very much appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's approach to this problem, and I will give him a concrete example to show the correctness of what he said. In Stoke-on-Trent we have large marl holes, about four times the size of this Chamber. Because of mining subsidence the sewerage system completely collapsed and two large industrial estates were affected, and we had great difficulty in getting Government Departments to accept responsibility for financing new sewerage. Industrial areas like ours suffer from that kind of thing, and the fact that the Minister has gone a long way to meet us by saying that he will insert words at a later stage will, I am sure, give great satisfaction. I intervened only to give him that concrete example.

Mr. Maudling

Several important points have emerged from this debate. I can tell the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) that bridges would clearly fall within "facilities for transport," and the same thing would clearly apply—this is in the definition—to the sea transport referred to by the hon. Member for. the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan).

I gather that the Committee generally agrees that sewerage should be included specifically. The point about water is interesting. I would have thought that it was covered by "other services," but it might well be better to specify it in terms. I will consider that, and will also consider the points raised by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). All these seem now to be things that I should study before putting down my Amendment on Report. If I may say so, that seems a very good reason for putting it down at the Report stage, after listening to the advice of the Committee, rather than before.

Mr. T. Fraser

I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I realise that the list of services in this Amendment is not exhaustive. The words are meant to be tacked on to subsection (2), which covers the general field. The Amendment starts by saying: including, but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, the provision of facilities … for services that are then identified. As I have said, we took those words from the 1945 Act.

Water supplies were not particularly mentioned in that Act, but the biggest scheme in Scotland of which I have knowledge, and the biggest scheme to be assisted under Section 3 of the 1945 Act, was the Daer water scheme in the County of Lanark. That scheme was carried through by the county council jointly with a number of the large burghs in the county. We got a 474½ per cent. grant, and as the total cost was between £5 million and £6 million it was a really big water supply scheme. We did that without water supply schemes having been specifically written into that Section of the 1945 Act.

8.15 p.m.

As I say, I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for undertaking to name some of the services, as has been suggested in this discussion. I took his point about excluding housing from the provision. He will probably want to look at that again. However, an interesting point was made from his own side of the Committee about housing and the fact that it is not only local authorities that can be assisted.

I have been trying to recollect what has happened in parts of the country that I know quite well that have been within the Development Area and which have, over the years, had an opportunity of getting assistance under the Section. I cannot remember assistance for housing being sought or granted under the 1945 Act, but. of course, that does not mean that it did not happen, and it certainly does not mean that it did not happen—

Mr. Maudling

It has not happened.

Mr. Fraser

The President of the Board of Trade tells me that it has not happened. I have no doubt, nonetheless, that he will take account of all that has been said in the discussion.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

I very much welcome the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that when it comes to drafting an alternative Amendment we will be met on the subject of water. I speak mainly for North-West Wales and Caernarvonshire, where practically our one hope of new industry coming to the aid of the declining slate industry is some form of water-using industry.

We have an abundance of water in Snowdonia. Unfortunately, local authority resources are very much less than the natural resources of the area governed by the local authorities. Consequently, before we can harness that water to serve new industry we shall certainly need much financial help, either directly to the local government authorities or to an industry that elects to go there. I therefore want to reinforce what has been said on that point, and I wholeheartedly welcome what the President of the Board of Trade has said about it.

Amendment negatived.

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

Mr. Dempsey

In deleting housing from the provision, I want the President of the Board of Trade to make absolutely certain that we shall have the cooperation of the Secretary of State for Scotland in providing housing. I am sorry to intervene to make that point, but there have been times in the past when we have not had the co-operation that we should have had in providing housing as a service for the purpose of industrial development.

I can recall that when one of the largest industrial concerns came to Lanark we had a great deal of trouble in getting the approval of the Secretary of State for the provision of the requisite number of houses. I agree that this Clause should stand part of the Bill, but I should like the right hon. Gentleman to emphasise to the Secretary of State for Scotland that this is his responsibility, and I want to be sure that when we get to the stage when housing becomes an important element we can be assured of the co-operation of the Scottish Office.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

I should like to associate myself with all other hon. Members in welcoming the right hon. Gentleman's acceptance of the spirit of the Amendment. It is a matter that I presumed to mention on Second Reading, and I am delighted to know that the President of the Board of Trade is to strengthen this Clause so that it clearly is on all fours with Section 3 of the 1945 Act.

It is the absence in many areas of these basic services that is the greatest deterrent to firms going where there is high unemployment. In my division—and we are a D.A.T.A.C. area—we have in the past few years approached 200 firms to start up there, but we have not been able to persuade more than one of them to come. Therefore, we attach far greater importance to improving the basic services than to financial inducements to individual firms to go to these areas. I suggest that the improvement of railway facilities, roads, electricity, water and sewerage is far more important to the whole area than are inducements applied to individual firms.

Here I would refer to what was said by the then President of the Board of Trade, Dr. Dalton. Referring to Section 3 (2) of the 1945 Act, as it became, he said: This is a very necessary Clause, because before the war one of the handicaps from which many of those areas suffered in regard to industrial development was that in these basic services they often fell below the national standards of the country as a whole. The purpose of this Clause is to remove that handicap, and to bring their basic services up to the national level, and to do that without imposing additional charges upon the local rates." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 840.] This is possibly not of general application, but in many areas the provision of basic services is far more important than financial inducements being offered to individual firms.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.