HC Deb 08 April 1965 vol 710 cc637-40
3. Sir H. Studholme

asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs if he will state the estimated cost of the proposed regional headquarters for the South-West at Bristol, the estimated annual cost of running it, the number of extra civil servants required, and the cost of their salaries; and how the cost of this regional organisation will be met as between central and local government.

32. Mr. Peter Mills

asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what is the cost of setting up the new South-West Regional Development Board; and how much it will cost to run per year.

The First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. George Brown)

These costs cannot at present be precisely estimated, but the whole of the expenditure will be borne by the Central Government.

19. Mr. Geoffrey Wilson

asked the First Secretary of State of Secretary of State for Economic Affairs why Bristol was selected as the administrative centre for the South-West Regional Council rather than a location more central to the South-West Region; and if he will make a statement.

20. Mr. Peyton

asked the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what considerations led him to select Bristol as the regional centre for the South-West; and whom he consulted before coming to this decision.

Mr. George Brown

I decided on Bristol as the administrative centre after weighing all the facts and all the views. As I said in the House on 10th December, the Councils are free to meet where they like in their region.

Mr. Wilson

But is not the First Secretary aware of the difficulties that have arisen in connection with the National Health Service which has its regional headquarters in Bristol, much to the inconvenience of the western area?

Mr. Brown

I understand this point, and I took a long time to make up my mind about it. I have a lot of sympathy with people who think that it would be better to have the administrative centre for the South-West somewhere other than Bristol, but when one has taken all that into account, in the end, administratively, economically and practically, one is driven back on Bristol. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I did not decide this lightly.

Mr. Peyton

Is the First Secretary of State aware that we do not take great comfort from being told that it took him a long time to make up his mind? What we would like to know is whom he consulted. Will he consider what is to him the quite novel expedient of consulting the Members of Parliament for the area concerned?

Mr. Brown

I can only say that I did my best.

Mr. Hopkins

Is the Secretary of State aware that this is probably the first sensible decision he has made?

Mr. Hayman

May I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that I agree with the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Hopkins)? I believe that Bristol is by far the best centre in the South-West region, because the region needs a powerful centre.

Mr. Peter Mills

Will the First Secretary of State bear in mind that there is a very real difference between the people of Devon and Cornwall and those nearer Bristol and that it would be a considerable help and encouragement to us in the far South-West to have the centre at Exeter, which would give us a sense of doing something and being something?

Mr. Brown

We are all constituency Members and we all have to consider our constituents, but if the South-West Region is more concerned with regional development and prosperity than with the Members' addresses to their own constituents I think it will decide with me that Bristol is clearly the best centre.

Mr. Thorpe

Disregarding the lecture which the right hon. Gentleman has just given us, is he aware that as a matter of fact it is far easier from most points in Devon and Cornwall to get to London than it is to Bristol? Is he aware that Bristol, in the view of the West Country, is the Near East—a completely different part of the world? If the First Secretary is not prepared to reconsider this decision, will he bear in mind that there is the Severn Basin and then Devon and Cornwall and there may well be a case for two sub-divisions? Further, if one may be optimistic, will the right hon. Gentleman give very serious consideration to Plymouth or Exeter or Taunton, or anywhere but Bristol?

Mr. Brown

The purpose of these regional planning bodies is not to travel. I recognise that if anyone wants to travel it might be better to travel to London than to Bristol from the South-West, though I do not know why anyone in the South-West should want to travel anywhere. But the purpose is not travel. The purpose is to plan the prosperity of the region and, having looked at it all with much sympathy for the views of the hon. Gentleman, Bristol seemed to me to be the best place from which to do that. On the point of sub-regional growth or committees or boards, I can only repeat the reply I have twice given in the House. If that is the view of the people in the region on the council and on the board, I would be very delighted that it should be done.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Is the First Secretary of State aware that the phrase "driven back on Bristol" is somewhat unfortunate? Will he take the question of communications, which is the key to the whole area, most seriously and press on energetically with the plans made by the former Government for improved communications in the South-West?

Mr. Brown

I do not want to press on energetically with anything the former Government did, but we will do our best to improve on it.

Mr. Peyton

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment, when I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be here.

Mr. Speaker

That seems to have got a little extended as a form of notice.