HC Deb 28 March 1963 vol 674 cc1649-56

9.1 p.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Location of Offices Bureau Order, 1963 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 21st March. The Location of Offices Bureau which will be set up if this draft Order in Council be approved by the House is part of the general strategy of the Government for decentralising employment from London. Its purpose is threefold, as was announced in the recent White Paper on Employment, Housing and Land.

The first of its purposes is to use every possible means to bring the advantages of decentralising office employment to the notice of firms working in Central London and also of those firms which might contemplate setting up or adding to employment in London.

The second of its purposes is to serve as a centre from which information can be obtained about the implications both of working in Central London and of seeking to move employment out of London. That is to say, it will assemble and make available all the facts that employers will need to know about the availability of land, office space, staff, housing, and the accessibility of transport of all such potential office centres, so that those who are employing office staffs in London or are thinking of doing so will have readily available to them the implications of changing their minds and setting up offices for part or all of their staff outside London.

The third of its purposes will be, of course, to keep in close touch with Government Departments, local authorities, new towns and transport undertakings so as to have all the relevant information available.

To be effective, the Bureau will need to be in close touch with the practical thinking of businessmen, and that is why I am proposing, if this Order be approved, to invite a man with considerable business experience to be the first chairman of the Bureau. I am lucky enough to think that such an invitation will be accepted if offered to Mr. E. J. Sturgess, who has had a long and distinguished career with Shell, first as its chief engineer and latterly as the resident manager of its training college.

The Bureau will consist of a relatively small number of staff—probably between 10 and 20—mostly administrative, though some with publicity functions, and most of them will be seconded from the Civil Service. This small number of people will have to work in Central London since it will be their duty to be in constant touch with employers in that area, and I hope that if the Order is approved the Bureau will be able to start functioning in the very near future.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his skill in finding, tucked away in a not very well-known Act, power enabling him without further legislation to produce this Bureau.

I approach this proposal with cautious interest and qualified optimism. I do not think that it will be a very fundamental contribution to decentralisation, but I hope that it will be. It is not that I do not want it to succeed but that I do not think that these powers, which are entirely persuasive, will be enough. I am not at all sure that some system like that of industrial development certificates would not be more effective.

I understand that this Bureau will not be an estate agency. It will not let any accommodation. But I am not clear about how it is to be linked with the job of securing accommodation. I understand that a firm which wants to set up offices, having started probably by an unhappy encounter with the planning authority over proposals for extension or rebuilding, will be referred to the Bureau, that there will be discussions as to where it might go and that it will be shown a certain number of alternative possibilities.

At what stage does the Bureau, when it looks as if the customer is on the hook, refer him to an estate agent? Will it be in close touch with agencies or will it be quite apart from them in case it may be accused of giving preferences to certain agencies? It would be interesting also to be told a little more about the detailed working of the Bureau. Will the chairman be part-time?

Sir K. Joseph

About half-time.

Mr. MacColl

I notice that there is to be a chairman, deputy chairman and only two other members. That seems to be rather over-weighted. What sort of people will the other members be? Will they be from commerce?

Sir K. Joseph indicated assent.

Mr. MacColl

Will they be drawn from people who are not involved in the sense that they want or are interested in office accommodation but who are experts taking a detached view?

Sir K. Joseph indicated assent.

Mr. MacColl

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman said anything about remuneration. These are part-time jobs. Will the chairman be paid at the same rate as the chairman of a development corporation? I think that should be about the level.

It will be interesting to see whether this kind of informative work produces practical results. I do not want in any way to appear to cavil at this. I hope that it will be successful. But I am cautious and rather doubtful about its success. Its success would certainly be warmly welcome.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I have taken an interest in the question of office development in London for some time. My hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) adopted the method, which we usually adopt on the Scottish Committee, of going through legislation almost line by line and asking questions on each, but there was one question which he did not like to ask and which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman concerning the membership of the Bureau.

There are to be a chairman, a deputy chairman and two members. I suggest that one of the members should be a Scotsman. I do not do this from any nationalistic point of view, but because we should have someone on this Bureau aware of Scotland's need for office development and employment, someone familiar with the circumstances and conditions of Scotland and able to see that Scotland's interests are safeguarded and that it is represented.

It seems to me that there will be pressure from all parts of the United Kingdom for office development in the respective areas. If all the members of the Bureau and the staff who are to be seconded from Government Departments are English—and I say this as an Englishman—they will tend to think in terms of England, of the more salubrious districts of England, and not of Scotland, and that would be deplorable.

It would be a good thing if someone on the Bureau, preferably one of the four members, came from Scotland. He could be a business man, with a knowledge of this type of accommodation and of the problems concerned with office development and with knowledge and experience of the needs and requirements of industry, but at the same time he could have that Scottish background which would enable him to put Scotland's case so that it would stand a chance of obtaining some of this office development.

I appreciate that the Bureau will collect information about various sites which are available, and I have no doubt that Scottish local authorities would keep the Bureau well supplied with information about their respective localities, but I should nevertheless like to think that the overall policy of the Bureau will be one in which the views of Scotland will be represented and will receive the attention which they deserve.

9.16 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

I rise to make a complaint about paragraph 3 (1) of the Schedule to this Statutory Instrument: The Minister may pay to persons holding office as chairman, deputy chairman or member of the Bureau such remuneration in respect of that office as he may with the consent of the Treasury determine … This is not good enough. Here is a Statutory Instrument setting up a Bureau, and yet we are not given the slightest idea of what is to be paid to its members.

I am a member of the Standing Committee which is considering the Contracts of Employment Bill. This morning that Committee debated the terms of employment of people and the presentation of a document showing remuneration and hours of labour. If we are to agree to the appointment of these people to the Bureau, we ought to know what they are to be paid.

I see that their expenses are also to be paid. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) suggested that a Scotsman should be a member of this Bureau. He should not be a Scotsman who left Scotland to go to a public school in England, from there on to a university, and has since lived in London. That would not be good enough. He would be an Anglicised Scot and would apply an English attitude to the problem. What we want is a Scot who is resident in Scotland, whose experience is in Scotland, and who understands the Scottish problem. Perhaps he might be someone connected with the Council for Industrial Development or the Chambers of Commerce, or the Chambers of Trade. He must be someone who is resident in Scotland, whose business is there, and whose investments are in Scotland. He must be someone who is interested in seeing the decentralisation of office accommodation from this metropolis to the metropolis of Scotland, to Edinburgh, and, so that I do not conflict with my hon. Friends on the West Coast, as an alternative to Glasgow.

Merely to decentralise from London is not good enough. The Order says that the Bureau will encourage the decentralisation and diversion of office employment from congested areas in central London to suitable centres elsewhere … The most suitable centres outside London, the South-East and the Midlands, are in the North-East and Scotland. I hope, therefore, that on this Bureau there will be people who understand what is happening in Scotland so that some of the empty spaces there are taken up by this decentralisation. Two railway termini in Glasgow, Buchanan Street and St. Enochs are to be closed. There are tremendous properties there which would provide excellent accommodation. I do not know which railway termini will be closed in other parts of Scotland, but there is bound to be a great deal of accommodation available as a result of railway closures.

There is one aspect of the Order on which I compliment the Minister. The Order says that a member of the Bureau must not be someone who has become bankrupt or made an arrangement with his creditors. This is an excellent proposal, and when any other organisation is being set up by statute I shall look to see whether other Ministers have followed the right hon. Gentleman's example in laying down this provision.

I conclude by supporting the hope expressed by my hon. Friend, that we shall be given some indication of what the phrase "suitable centres elsewhere" means. I hope that priority will be given to the vast open spaces in Scotland and the North-East. We do not want to exclude the North-East, but in view of the heavy unemployment that we have in Scotland and the decline in industrial activity there we hope that the phrase "suitable centres elsewhere" means that priority will be given to Scotland.

9.20 p.m.

Sir K. Joseph

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to the questions which have been asked.

The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), whose qualified welcome I was glad to hear, was right in stressing that this Bureau will not be an estate agency. Its main function will be to direct the attention of employers to certain areas, or to a choice of areas, where they will make contact with the local authority and follow up any opportunities which they see fit to choose.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the pay of the chairman. It is proposed that his pay will be £3,500 per annum. The pay of the other two members, who are yet to be appointed, and who will also probably be part time, has not been fixed since we have not decided whom to invite.

In answer to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), no group of men ever suffered by having a Scot among them, and I shall consider that without committing myself, since I have to find people with vigour and experience and yet able to take on a job which cannot be a career, because I would not have thought that this Bureau would remain in full action for many years. I hope that it will carry out its main function over a few years. Therefore, I am looking for people with energy, experience and part of their lives to devote to this. I shall certainly remember the suggestion.

The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) came to the support of his colleague and urged that attention should be paid to decentralising offices to Scotland. If there is to be such stress on moves of such distance from London, I shall have to put in a word for Wales. We must not exaggerate the prospect of moving firms, that start off by being in or wanting to be in London, very far when it comes to their offices. We shall certainly do our best to get such employment as we can to areas of relatively high need, but we must accept that the bulk of any employment that is decentralised will want to be within relatively easy travelling distance from the London area. I certainly undertake that we shall do our best to serve both Scotland, the North and Wales.

Mr. Willis

The right hon. Gentleman recognises that there are vast offices even at the present time in London, insurance offices and the like, which employ staff who do not need to be employed near London. Provided the executives are in London the staff can quite well be in Wales or in the North-East or Scotland.

Sir K. Joseph

If it were not that it is suggested that employment in this Bureau should disqualify from membership of this House I would ask the hon. Gentleman to give part-time service. He is speaking exactly in the language that is so important. I quite agree that there is plenty of employment in London that need not be here, but we must not exaggerate too much the prospects of moving it 200, 300 or 400 miles away. I undertake that we shall do our best.

Mr. Bence

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is the number of the staff?

Sir K. Joseph

I said that it would have a small staff of ten or twenty in London.

Question put and agreed to.


That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Location of Offices Bureau Order 1963 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 21st March.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.