HC Deb 23 November 1964 vol 702 cc1045-56

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lawson.]

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I rise to draw the attention of the House to the increasing importance of East Anglia of which my constituency is a major part, as one of the growth areas of our nation; secondly, to raise some questions about Government policies on regional planning, and how these will affect East Anglia; thirdly, to urge on the Government a number of modest suggestions which I believe will enable East Anglia to achieve its great potential which is nothing less than the acceptance of change, industrial, technical and social, while civilising this change in the interests of a way of life that is rooted in the beauties and joys of the countryside.

East Anglia is without doubt a natural region. I will not argue its exact limits, but between Essex and the Wash there is a region that is unique in its geography, in its history, and in the character of its people. It is also unique in its political allegiance, though I do not expect the present Government to applaud that.

In the nineteenth century East Anglia lagged behind. But today it is forging ahead, and I wonder how many people realise this. It is, in my opinion, potentially one of this country's new frontiers. East Anglia's growth is based on a healthy balance of agriculture and industry. We have an agriculture which makes a substantial contribution to the nation's balance of payments and which also, with its technology, has made Britain the second largest exporter of agricultural implements in the world. I think we owe very much to East Anglian agriculture for the eminence that we enjoy in that new and important field of exports.

Industry, too, in East Anglia is on the brink of a considerable boom. I think it worth calling to the attention of the House that the supply of electricity to East Anglia is now running at twice the national average. We have a new plastics factory at Beccles, a £1 million wood products factory at Lowestoft, the Pye Group at Haverhill, Newmarket, and elsewhere. One firm in my constituency, in the ancient borough of Bury St. Edmunds, last year exported to the European continent over £4½ million of road-making machinery. This is a considerable achievement for an old town like Bury St. Edmunds.

These economic advances are bringing great social changes. Colchester and Norwich are rebuilding their city centres, Ipswich has grown by 50 per cent. in the last generation and Bury St. Edmunds is now taking large numbers of people over-spilling from London. I believe that this growth will continue and that it will gain momentum much faster than the national growth.

There are three reasons for this. The first is the increased trade through our East Coast ports, and I should like to quote some figures here. Harwich has increased its trade from £46 million in 1953 by more than fivefold, to £200 million in 1963. Ipswich and Felixstowe have increased their trade in the same ten-year period from £3½million, by more than ten-fold, to £35 million. As we face growing congestion of the Port of London, it seems certain that Midlands industrialists will more and more prefer to send their goods to Europe by way of our East Coast ports. There is therefore a great need to connect the Midlands with our East Coast ports by an east-west line of communication instead of the traditional north to south lines of communication we have had in our country for so long. I would commend to the Government the urgent plea that there be built at some future stage an east to west motorway across East Anglia, which may enable these exports from the Midlands to get to the growing ports of East Anglia more quickly.

The second reason why the growth of East Anglia is assured is that expansion there is easier and more profitable than in many other parts of the nation. In particular, we start with a more or less clean slate, because we missed the first impact of the coal and steam revolution of the nineteenth century. Our cities do not first have to clear away the debris of yesterday, and our industries do not suffer from the techniques of yesterday. We can start afresh with new methods and the new techniques of the twentieth century. I believe that this is bound to give a better return on the investment £ than we get in the older parts of the country.

The third reason for future growth is the prospect—one can put it no higher—that oil may be discovered in the North Sea, in which case East Anglia may enjoy, as it has never before enjoyed, cheap fuel, which could help its industries to thrive. These prospects, in my view, make the case for East Anglia to be regarded as one of the natural regions of exciting economic and social growth in our country.

I therefore intend to ask the Minister six specific questions. First, do the Government intend to scrap the South-East Survey, as the First Secretary of State is reported to have said during the election campaign? In East Anglia we are very disturbed by this threat, because many of our plans for the future are contingent upon the assumptions made in the South-East Survey. I hope that the Minister will give us tonight an assurance that the South-East Survey will not be thrown out of the window. This was no party document but a study made by economic experts, technicians and planners, and it would be a sorry day if, after all the work which went into that survey, it were simply cast aside.

Secondly, I ask the Government most carefully to consider designating East Anglia as a major region, thereby recognising its natural economic unity as well as its historical, geographical and social cohesion. I hope that the Government will see fit to designate it such a region.

Thirdly, can the Government give an assurance that in their efforts to direct—I believe that that is their word—more of the nation's investment to the North-East, Scotland and perhaps Wales, East Anglia will not be left out? I wish Wales well. Indeed, I might well do that. But as an expanding region, we in East Anglia want to be sure that we have our fair share, and our people hope that the Government will give them that assurance.

Fourthly, in appointing members to their new regional council and planning boards, will the Government give an assurance that the farming industry and all those who care for preserving the amenities and beauties of our countryside will be given full consideration and representation on these planning boards? So far the Government have said nothing about this, and I believe that we are entitled to an assurance, because in East Anglia we want to be certain that development, which we welcome, will not mean a housing estate on every hill and a pylon in everybody's backyard.

Fifthly, in the event of East Anglia being designated a region, will the Government give consideration to the unique advantages of Bury St. Edmunds as a possible headquarters of its regional planning organisation? It is an old town, and it is a modern town—it could be a capital town.

Sixthly, in the light of the Government's decision to ban office building within 40 miles of London—a decision which I think will be proved unwise—will they nevertheless consider carefully the advantages of the East Anglian region for some of the office buildings which they are anxious to move away from the Metropolis? There is good reason to believe that offices, whether Governmental or private industry, would be welcome in these towns.

In conclusion, I want to return to the point which I made at the beginning. We welcome change in East Anglia, but we want to civilise it, because the purpose of economic expansion, at least as we on this side of the House see it, is not just more; it is better. We want to prosper and advance. We also want to preserve our landscape and the way of life which East Anglia loves. Those two objectives are often thought to be incompatible, but I am more hopeful, because I believe that if we seize hold of the new industrial and technological opportunities, yet civilise them for the benefit of ordinary people living in a calm, pleasant countryside, we can make our mark in East Anglia as a new frontier of this nation.

10.24 p.m.

Mr. Bert Hazell (Norfolk, North)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) has raised this issue of industry for rural areas, in East Anglia in particular, because during recent years I have given a great deal of thought to this subject. particularly since I have been privileged first to be candidate and now to be Member for North Norfolk. We have to face the fact that East Anglia is, as the hon. Gentleman remarked, predominantly an agricultural area, and we who know the area very well indeed are not unmindful of the fact that British agriculture continually uses less and less manpower. All the developments tend towards that direction and, indeed, we must have lost from agriculture in the past 12 or 14 years at least 250,000 of our male population. This trend of a retracting labour force in agriculture will inevitably continue for a few years yet.

If I may refer to my own part of the County of Norfolk, it contains within it the coastal belt from Wells almost down to Great Yarmouth and it takes in a few small towns. One of the difficulties that I have experienced during the past two years when I have been intimately connected with the locality has been the constant plea made to me by parents and young people. The parents have wanted to know what will happen to their youngsters when they leave school, and the young people who are starting work or who nave been employed for a short time want to know what their future is going to be, with little or no industry in the area to enable them to remain in the villages and small townships to which they belong.

As the chairman of a board of industry, I have had a full copy of the South-East Study Report. I went into it carefully, and I found to my surprise that it did not include in its recommendations the whole of the County of Norfolk but it suggested that development might take place in a line from King's Lynn via Norwich to Great Yarmouth and that anything beyond that line across the county was virtually outside development consideration.

Many of the young people in the rural parts of Norfolk have to travel great distances to find employment, and with the continuing retraction of labour on land this problem will become magnified. We are not suggesting that large industrial undertakings should be developed in purely rural areas or in the very small townships, but we should like to see medium and small firms coming into the area in order that they might provide opportunities for work for our younger people. We think this is necessary if our villages are to be kept alive and virile and if they are to become the sort of centres that we want them to be. This is necessary because it would help to improve transport arrangements which at present are very meagre.

I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs who is to reply to the debate will bear in mind that if there is to be a new study, as I hope there will be, the terms of that study will embrace the requirements of the whole area and not just part of the County of Norfolk.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) and to the Joint Under-Secretary for allowing me to make a brief intervention on this important subject. I am sorry that the rules of order allow us to debate it for only 30 minutes, because that may not be appreciated outside the Chamber.

There is a very great difference in pressure and density between London and the Home Counties on the one hand, and East Anglia on the other, which mostly resembles the difference between an evacuation area and a reception area. Already considerable movement is taking place by private and official migration of population and industry from London into the Eastern Counties. We have space for the development and we can take some of the pressure off London. Several East Anglian towns like Thetford in my own constituency are actively engaged in town expansion schemes in co-operation with the Greater London Council.

It is essential that we maintain that momentum. It is most important that Government restrictions on investment and office development should not frustrate desirable growth that is already taking place. It is most important that decisions taken and announced in principle should not now be revoked. In particular, I ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs to confirm that Her Majesty's Stationery Office will still be moved to Norwich.

Whatever form the original reorganisation planning takes, it is likely to be complicated and certain to result in a difficult transition period. I emphasise to the hon. Gentleman that any transitional difficulty must not hold up decisions on details which are urgently needed to fulfil existing plans, for example the authorisation of such capital projects as schools and roads which are indispensable components of town expansion and industrial expansion schemes that are already taking place. Therefore, whether or not East Anglia becomes a separate region, I ask the hon. Gentleman for an assurance that our very different circumstances there will receive separate and distinct treatment and will not be frozen by whatever restrictions the Government place on London and the Metropolitan region.

10.31 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. William Rodgers)

I am glad to have this opportunity to reply to what is a short debate, and one which is to our mutual convenience, on East Anglia. I am grateful both to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) for raising the subject, and to those who have contributed to the debate.

I find myself in agreement with much of what the hon. Member has said. In the first place, we must make sure that East Anglia shares in the prosperity of the nation as a whole. Secondly, as the hon. Member put it, we must be careful to "civilise" change. This particularly matters in those parts of the country which have been successful in preserving much of a character which I think all of us would like to enjoy. To accommodate change while preserving distinctive characteristics is not easy, but I think that it is a common view on both sides of the House that we ought to try to do this—to modernise and yet where there is something worth while to preserve, to preserve it. I have in mind in particular the amenities of the countryside.

This requires foresight, skill and judgment. It also requires sometimes changes of attitudes on the part of the people most concerned. But I can say for the Government that we will certainly play our part in making sure that planning enables change to be accepted in the most convenient and helpful way.

A number of matters mentioned by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds are really the responsibility of local authorities. I want to make it quite clear now that in any steps which the Government may take in setting up new regional machinery we cannot and would not wish to usurp the proper functions of local authorities. There are a number of matters, and the hon. Member mentioned two—housing estates on every hill, and, as he put it, a pylon in every garden—which are primarily and will remain matters for planning authorities, though I am not in any way trying to escape from the Government's proper responsibility in these matters.

Planning involves, first of all, discovering the facts; secondly, distinguishing the trends; thirdly, deciding on the objects which we are trying to seek; and, fourthly, framing policies which meet all those needs. In applying these criteria to East Anglia we should not attempt to isolate it from the nation. It is not in the interest of East Anglia that it should be isolated, nor of the nation that planning should be fragmented in this way.

Six questions were asked, and because of the shortage of time, perhaps it would be best if I deal with them in turn. First, there was the South-East Study. What the Government have done is put in hand a re-examination of the policies and the conclusions upon which the previous Government's White Paper was based. We are reviewing the whole strategy and, as I have said, looking at the problems of East Anglia and the problems of the South-East within a national framework. It is a fresh look, and it would be wrong for me to anticipate the conclusions of a review which is just beginning.

Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)

Does that mean that such a proposal in the South-East plan as that there should be a new town of 100,000 at Stansted will now be re-examined?

Mr. Rodgers

I wanted to say simply that we recognise in relation to the questions of East Anglia and the South-East and the country as a whole that the long term can be the enemy of the short term, and there are very pressing problems particularly in relation to London housing, and we do not intend to postpone any necessary steps which will deal with the immediate problems with which we are faced.

Secondly, I was asked about the designation of East Anglia as a region. I am afraid it is impossible for me to anticipate on this occasion the decisions which will be reached and any further announcement which the First Secretary of State is likely to make following his statement in the debate on the Address.

Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman insisted that we should not leave East Anglia out of any national plans and that in giving priority to the North-East and Scotland we should nevertheless not overlook the very real problems which exist there. Certainly, I can give him that undertaking.

Fourthly, the hon. Member asked about the members of the regional councils which are to be set up in various parts of the country under the terms of my right hon. Friend's statement. I am afraid I must say that I cannot anticipate on this occasion the composition of such councils, but consultations are taking place and it is clear that we want these councils to be fully representative of the regions in which they function.

Fifthly, the hon. Gentleman asked about Bury St. Edmunds as a regional capital. Here again, having said that I cannot indicate yet what the Government's intentions are, it would be equally premature—it follows for once—and wrong to give this undertaking not only to the hon. Member but to any other hon. Member who made the same request.

The sixth question was about office building. I entirely agree with the hon. Member when he speaks of offices as generators of economic growth. This is most important. Not only do I think that the decision announced by my right hon. Friend in the debate on the Address was absolutely right. I think that it will perhaps result in some benefit to the hon. Member's constituency as well as to other farther parts of the country.

Apart from having answered those points, I want to say a word or two about the area. First, East Anglia is fortunate—in fact, it is in an enviable position—in that it has a fair diversity of industry, and although there has been a significant change in the composition of the working population and, in particular, a very sharp decline of employment in agriculture, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazen), it has, despite this, been possible to retain within East Anglia a reasonable balance. The number of people employed in agriculture has declined quite sharply—by nearly 8 per cent. in four years—but at the same time there has been a growth in engineering and electrical goods of 16 per cent. Had I time, I could quote a number of other industries which have proved themselves to be exceedingly buoyant. I hope that it is not necessarily a matter of a see-saw or of swings and roundabouts. But if the number employed in agriculture is to decline, I hope that the other industries there now will accommodate not only those who no longer find jobs in agriculture but also the fast-growing population. As I think the hon. Member implied, population in East Anglia is growing at the present time at about twice the national average.

I have said that I think that East Anglia is fortunate but I emphasise again that there are particular problems in the northern part, particularly in North Norfolk. It is, in a sense, an exception. There are always sub-regions to every region, however one delineates them, and it is true of North Norfolk largely because of the decline in agricultural employment, which is about one-third of the total labour force there, whereas in East Anglia it is down to about 11.5 per cent. Because of this and airfield and railway closures, among other reasons, North Norfolk is in a more difficult position. It has a higher level of unemployment and again I appreciate the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North, about finding jobs for young people.

What do we see as the future for East Anglia? First, we accept the need for roads and improved roads as the sinews of economic growth. This will not be overlooked and they will find their proper place in our national investment programme. Secondly, I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport relieved a number of anxieties in his statement about rail closures. There will be no major rail closures while the regional plans are being prepared.

Thirdly, there are port facilities. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds made a very important point about the growth of these ports. A large part of their trade is still close sea and coastal traffic. We would all rejoice if they are able to develop at an even faster rate than now. He and I are at one in hoping that this trend will continue.

Then there is tourism. East Anglia has been enjoying an increasing percentage of our national tourist industry which is also an increasingly important industry in Britain. I hope it will continue to be so. All these are factors which promise a good future for East Anglia, provided that we do have national prosperity and proper economic growth.

The qualities and character of the area are fully appreciated and the fact that it is now relatively prosperous—something in which we all rejoice—does not mean that we do not recognise that there are problems and anxieties. I can certainly give an undertaking that, in the plans which the Government are making not only for raising standards of living but also for improving the quality of life, we shall have East Anglia's needs very much in mind.

I would be prepared to say that East Anglia, through the growth of diverse industries, will contribute to the rising standard of living and to the maintenance of some of the very qualities which the hon. Member mentioned and of which we are all fully aware. The maintenance of those qualities is also part of the process of preserving what is good of the amenities which exist.

That is an undertaking which I can give and I think that, if we look back on the present term of Government office from the future, it will be seen to be one in which not only did we deal with what we must call the relatively blighted areas of the country—those which went through the first Industrial Revolution and now have all the ugliness and squalor—but also one in which we dealt with those parts which escaped that revolution but which must be protected against the unfortunate consequences which could result from the new, mainly technological revolution through which we are passing.

Nowadays, the Government are aware of these problems and are prepared to deal with them and I am sure that, as our national plan emerges and we set up such new machinery as we may feel to be required, East Anglia will play its part in the future.

I am very glad that the hon. Member took this opportunity to raise the subject. There is much more I might have said about employment, amenities and the housing overspill questions he mentioned, and also about the further need for new office accommodation in particular and about industries which are booming now and which we hope will continue to expand in future. The prospect is bright for East Anglia and certainly we shall give our best attention to it.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at a quarter to Eleven o'clock.