HC Deb 03 August 1965 vol 717 cc1588-605

7.17 a.m.

Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

The House will agree, I think, that the vital and important Report of the North-West Study Group should receive the consideration of hon. Members, even if, because of the pressure of Parliamentary time, our examination this morning will be somewhat cursory. I believe that, behind the terse language and added statistics, packed into the Report lies a problem the dimensions of which should arouse the imagination and command the attention of every thinking person in the nation. The Report is an invaluable commentary on the environmental conditions in which 6½ million decent, industrious people live in Britain in the 20th century.

The point has been made previously that the designation "North-West" is something of a misnomer, since the area referred to is neither at the northern extremity of the British Isles, nor in the extreme west. It is an area of scenic contrast, which encompasses the natural beauty of the English Lakes and includes the highly industrialised complexes of Manchester and Liverpool.

In reading the catalogue of facts, which constitutes, by any standards, a tremendous problem of environmental renewal, ranging over a wide area of the region, one might ask how it arose. An inevitable legacy of the Industrial Revolution, neglect by successive Governments, Conservative and otherwise, the pursuit of private profit—these are all factors, but the great mills and smokestacks, the factories and the limitless rows of decaying homes are only the consequence of a nation's indifference, for which each of us must accept responsibility.

If I tend to concentrate on those sections of the Report which deal with housing, housing land needs and environmental obsolescence and dereliction in south-east Lancashire and the great conurbation of Manchester, it is because I have no wish to impinge on the speeches which I understand some of my hon. Friends wish to make about other parts of the region. The Report does not make recommendations for solving the problems which the group encountered or suggest plans for the future. Rather, it underlines the problems and provides a basis upon which future plans for the area can be drawn up.

In this respect I should like to make reference to three aspects. The first is the need for more homes in the region. Individual unfit houses, dwellings of £30 rateable value or less, slums, call them what you will, I think that the question which we ought to examine is what is the extent of the problem which exists; and this, I think is admirably summarised in paragraph 30 on page 106 of the Report, which states, Of the 2½ million poorest dwellings in the country, about 20 per cent. are in the North-West. In terms of sheer numbers the position is without parallel.

Even with the continued migration from the region, the North-West will be faced with the staggering task of finding 440,000 dwellings to replace homes already unfit to live in or will be unfit to live in by 1981. Table 20, on page 79 of the Report, endeavours to estimate the time it will take to clear these slums by projecting the current rate of clearance. On this basis, in the conurbations it will take four decades. In North Lancashire alone it will take 78 years. I think it is true that one's mind boggles at the fact that there are babes yet unborn who will not live to see the solution to this gigantic problem.

This is against a background of an estimated need of 440,000 dwellings, a figure which takes into account the continued rate of migration from the region. If one ignores migration and includes the clearance of all dwellings of £30 rateable value or less, the total housing need assumes the vast proportions of 942,051, which, at the current clearance rates, will take 100 years to clear in some areas of the region.

I suppose that it is equally true to ask—is it enough merely to indicate the enormity of the task facing the region? Is it sufficient to take solace, as the Report does, from the fact that one or two local authorities are demonstrating what it terms "vigorous action" in meeting the problem? To my mind the central question posed after reading those sections of the Report dealing with housing, housing land needs, urban renewal and environmental obsolescence is, can local government as it is at present organised carry the financial burden inherent in dealing with housing need on this scale? Are ratepayers and housing revenue accounts to shoulder the financial responsibility of all urban renewal to this extent? It may well be that no Whitehall oracle was needed to explain the vast slum clearance programme which will be needed if we are to provide for our people in the North-West the conditions of life which I believe they have a right to expect, but Whitehall must not remain for ever impervious to the financial cost which a solution to this problem will involve.

Secondly, I turn to the question dealt with in the Report concerning housing land needs. Table 22 quite rightly draws attention to the deficiency of dwelling sites and projects the serious situation which will arise in certain areas in the region if these needs are not met by 1981. I have no wish to resurrect the controversies to which I drew attention in my Adjournment debate on 3rd December—those between local authorities over the needs of the major critics such as Manchester for housing sites.

Rather, I invite the House to consider the evident social consequences arising within such cities as Manchester and Liverpool from the pressures to utilise every piece of vacant land within their boundaries for the provision of municipal houses. The social balance reflected in a community containing a wide range of social income groups is fast disappearing in the cities of the North-West. Whereas in the traditional, smaller English community it is accepted that all income groups work and live in reasonable proximity one to the other, sharing a single social environment, in the cities of the North-West the affluent increasingly live in areas socially segregated on the periphery of the city. The only social contact which many employers have with their workers outside working hours is a nod of acknowledgement as the employers drive in their cars through the council house estates on their way to their privileged reservations on the outskirts of the city. Environmental planning should properly take account of these undesirable social developments.

The Report pays tribute to the splendid work of societies such as the Civic Trust for the North-West in focusing attention on and seeking to encourage efforts to improve environment and banish drabness in the area. With the best will in the world these organisations have as yet merely scratched the surface of the problem. If the great task of industrial dereliction is to be tackled, Government agencies must step in to help them in their task.

I hope that the following suggestions which I have to offer will be regarded as constructive. Considering the scale of the problem, I am reminded of the situation which operates in areas such as the North-West in connection with the designation of development districts. We issue industrial development certificates in areas of high unemployment. Against the background of the problem in areas like the North-West, the Minister might consider designating areas such as the North-West as environmental development areas—designating as such areas the sub-regions where the problems of slums, general obsolescence and dereliction are most pressing. This would keep these problems well to the front of the minds of the regional planners.

The appropriate Minister might also consider the establishment of sub-regional planning teams comprised of young architects, planning officers and traffic engineers, located in the conurbations and responsible for the overall co-ordination of environmental planning under the direct authority of the Ministry.

The Government's comments on the Report indicated that they were in no way committed to the Group's findings. We were informed: Any proposals for action which may be made will have to be concluded against the background of the national economic plan and programmes and policies for the country as a whole". When I read the Government's view I felt very much as I do when reading a realistic and lucid book; I invariably come across a paragraph printed in small type saying, "All events, circumstances and characters are fictitious and any relation to actual events is merely coincidental". Naturally, I accept that the Government's view on this matter must be influenced by the emergence of the national economic plan. As one who has lived in the North-West for as long as I can remember, I have faith in the resilience of the people of the area and their ability to adapt themselves to the changing society in which we live.

As my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs has indicated, he is in the process of drawing up a national economy plan. I trust that he will not lose sight of or overlook the tremendous challenge of revitalising the North-West and creating hope for its people.

I want to make only one further point, and that is to thank the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs for being present to deal with this important subject.

7.30 a.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Howe (Bebington)

I should like to express my thanks to the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris) for having raised, and having had the good fortune to have the opportunity of raising, the important subject of the North-West Study. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides are glad that the Study Report has now come forward. It was initiated by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Had the previous Administration remained in office, it was expected that the Report would have been available early this year. It would be churlish of me to complain about the seven-month delay, but we are glad to see it now that it has eventually arrived.

I was interested in the reference that the hon. Member made to the possible impact of the Government's attitude on the national plan. If one looks at the Study Report, one sees the enormously wide variations in what the Report itself describes as highly speculative forecasts about job probabilities in the North-West, and the variation in forecasts as between a surplus on the one hand of more than 200,000 jobs and a shortfall on the other hand of almost the same number. There is the same uncertainty in forecasts about population trends, as well.

These wide variations, which are implicit in any kind of population projection even before one considers industrial trends, show that the Government would be unwise in the extreme to delay basic decisions about basic matters in the North-West on the excuse that they would necessarily have to be fitted into the jigsaw of a national plan. I know that they have that at the back of their mind.

The questions that I should like to ask the Minister on that part of the Report are these. How do the regionally gathered figures of prospective industrial growth, which are gathered on a regional basis, fit, if they fit at all, into the industrially gathered forecasts of labour shortages and surpluses which are, as I understand it, the basis of the national plan? Is any attempt being made to reconcile the regionally gathered figures with the industrially gathered ones? If so, how is it being done? What steps are the Government taking to improve the accuracy and adequacy of the regionally gathered figures which they are getting, because that is Manly an area where much more needs to be done to improve the figures that we get? While all the process of reconciliation is going on, are any important Government decisions affecting the North-West being held up?

I suggest to the House that there are some things about which the Government have a clear and inescapable responsibility for the North-West and about which they have got to be ready to make the important decisions that matter. They have to make those decisions, however imprecise the compass guides may be, upon the best estimates that they can make of the growth of population and the known overcrowding which is already there.

The four points about which I am concerned are these. First, the location of areas for overspill reception and population growth. Secondly, the adequacy of the infrastructure which the Government are planning for the area, particularly in terms of roads for which they have direct responsibility. Thirdly, the point raised by the hon. Member for Openshaw, the adequacy of the machinery for urban renewal. Finally, the clarity of the Government's policy, if indeed they have a policy, for the location and attraction of industry.

First, on the question of the location of overspill in the North-West, I understand that the present Government have taken one major decision by designating the Leyland-Chorley new town area. All the other major decisions on location of new housing and industry were taken by the outgoing Administration. The Study says, in a short sentence, that on matters of that kind in the North-West No key decisions have to be taken in the short-term. The Study affirms, on the basis of decisions already taken, that enough land is now available until, at any rate, the mid-seventies, or even until a little later so far as Manchester is concerned. Do the Government agree with that view? If so, on what assumption about probable net emigration rates from the region is their agreement based, and how do they justify their assumptions?

The Report talks of the "massive investment" in road construction that was put in hand, and which is now in train as a result of decisions taken by the previous Administration. The Report says that these decisions go a long way towards providing the North-West with an adequate regional road system. Do the Government agree with that view? If they do not, in what respects do they disagree with it?

I am particularly interested, and I am sure that hon. Members opposite will be, in the possible impact on the road construction programme in the North-West of the measures announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week. I tabled a Question to the Minister of Transport yesterday on this very point, and it was very disturbing and disconcerting to find that the only answer the right hon. Gentleman could give was that he has not yet completed his review of the schemes due to start in the next few months and decided which should be postponed. Can the Minister give us some idea when we shall know which of these important schemes in the North-West will be postponed?

Looking at the more optimistic side, what improvements or additions, if any, do the Government propose to the very full road construction programme already in hand there? One project that concerns me is dealt with very lightly in the Report of the Study Group, namely, communications between the M6 and Merseyside—whether on the Liverpool side of the Mersey or on the south-western bank in which my constituency is more concerned. The Report says in very guarded terms that an eastward link from the Mersey to the M6 "may be required." Many people on Merseyside regard the improvement of the road link between our great port and the M6 as of first-class importance. I do not want to arouse intra-regional jealousies, but one is concerned by the major improvements proposed for linkage between the M6 and Manchester both northwards and southwards. Do the Government regard as equally important the links between the M6 and Merseyside, or do they adopt the somewhat qualified view of the Study itself?

I agree with what the hon. Member for Openshaw said about urban renewal, which is the most intractable problem of the area as a whole. One of the difficulties which the present Government are likely to perpetuate is the unrealistically low level of rents which many local authorities have been accustomed to charge and which many local authority tenants have been induced to regard as normal. We know that present construction rents have to be higher than the local authorities regard as acceptable, but are the Government satisfied that their rent policy, in both the public and the private sectors, is really making it easy for the local authorities to undertake the construction they should? And what machinery do they propose for doing something about the absence of urban renewal in the very many small local authority areas in the North-West?

The last point I mention is the whole policy of the Government for the attraction of industry. What is the basis of their attitude to this in the light of the conclusions of the Report? Do they accept what I identify as the conclusions about industrial growth in the North-West? The first conclusion in the Report is that there is little reason during the period ahead to suppose that demand for labour will fall short of the supply. The second conclusion—in paragraph 8 of Chapter 16—although not setting it out in express terms, suggests that no further special measures are needed for the attraction of industry to the North-West, that although it would not be a net exporter of industrial growth potential it need not be the recipient of specially induced industrial growth.

Do the Government accept that general view of the industrial prospects of the region—that, broadly speaking, it is all right? Whatever their conclusion, what do they propose to do about the pattern of inducements for industry to go to the area? Hon. Members on this side and, I suspect, hon. Members opposite, were concerned at the impact on the special investment allowances, contained in the Finance Act, 1963, of the changes in the Corporation Tax system. Do the Government propose to take any steps to restore the inducement value of investment allowances as originally created in that respect?

The present development districts were created, in effect, under the Location of Industry Act, 1945, passed by the Conservative "caretaker" Government, and have been developed under the 1958, 1960 and 1963 Acts of the last Administration. Experience suggests that the development districts, especially on Merseyside, are finding it difficult to find sites for industrial development and real growth potential is being found, for example, the other end of the Wirral, at Ellesmere Port, to which people are becoming accustomed to travel to their daily work.

Do the Government accept the idea of narrowly defined development districts? Or do they accept the notion of growth areas that the previous Government established on the North-East Coast and which they themselves are arranging in the Leyland-Chorley area. Are they intending to re-vamp the inducements so that they are available in the region generally and are not so narrowly concentrated in development districts as defined in the old sense?

Finally, there is the point about the adequacy of local government structure in the region. I seem to recollect that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs before the election took a rather unenthusiastic view of the probable outcome of the activities of the Local Government Commission not merely on Merseyside but generally and thought that in the long run the recommendations did not go far enough to secure the reform of local government that we need.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the rather shadowy substance of the North-West Economic Planning Council is only the first tenuous step towards democracy in the sense that we have come to understand it. I believe that, in the long run, if we are to get effective regional development we must think in terms of regional elective bodies with strong executive heads analogous to the State Governments in the United States. It would contribute to the metropolitan health of the regions if we had a Governor Rockefeller on Merseyside or a Governor Adlai Stevenson in the North-East. It would have been better if the Joint Under-Secretary, before arriving in the House to administer all the regions of the country simultaneously, so to speak, had proven himself as a regional administrator with dramatic policies which had revivified the North-West in which he was born or the North-East to which he migrated for Parliamentary purposes.

I should like to think that that was the kind of thing to which we were moving in the fairly near future. That is what is necessary to restore impetus and drive to the regions and to give the country an opportunity of developing different approaches to different problems. The Government will take 20 years be- fore they are persuaded of the wisdom of toll roads. It might not take so long to persuade a north-west regional authority of the wisdom of a toll road from the M6 to the Merseyside ports. If the North-West wanted it, why should it not have an independent opportunity to go ahead with an enterprising government of its own to show the rest of the world how the job should be done?

I should like to think that the Under-Secretary and other hon. Members were in sympathy with this kind of approach and that not this but the next and Conservative Government would set up the machinery for considering this sort of approach to the problems of regional government and that the Under-Secretary, having lost his seat at the next election, would make his way back into politics as regional governor doing a narrow job well instead of spreading himself so thinly over such a wide range as he now has to do.

7.46 a.m.

Mr. Arnold Gregory (Stockport, North)

I join with the hon. and learned Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) in saying how indebted the House is to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris) for introducing this debate on this Report, even in the early morning. I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman's hopes about what will happen as a result of the Report. If the Government take note of the warning in the Report and take early action to introduce the measures which we in the North-West believe should be applied, it will be to their credit and will cement the policies which need to be applied in the North-West and confirm the Government's interest in an area which was so sadly neglected by hon. Members opposite.

The Report has an alarming number of revelations about industry, housing and urban renewal, population trends, employment and land. These are not problems of short standing. They have been with us for a long time, but they were aggravated by the behaviour of the last Government whose inactivity, shortsightedness and lack of recognition of what was happening in the area worsened the situation.

The hon. and learned Member for Bebington did not speak of the part which cotton had played in the development of the North-West. In the last 13 years, there has been no positive Government contribution towards the future of cotton. There was a rescue operation in 1959, but this great industry, whose working force included many people from Lancashire and Cheshire and which had made such great contributions to the country's economic life, was allowed to fall behind in mechanisation and technology. In latter days it has been saved by the attention of large firms which are making heavy investments in it and now seeking the confidence and backing required if the industry is to provide satisfactory employment in the North-West and contribute to the country's economic life.

By virtue of the age, the corosion and erosion of the cotton textile industry, there is a tremendous problem in slum clearance and urban renewal in the North-West. The old industry with its long history and peculiar social and industrial behaviour has resulted in old buildings and old town centres and the kind of conditions which need extensive and early attention. It is unfortunate that this pressure is suddenly realised by hon. Members opposite, for many of these things were recognised long before those who made the Report began their work.

In spite of the lack of foresight of the previous Government, new technologies and industries are being created and efforts are being made to effect adjustments to the whole social life of the North-West by local authorities and industrialists in the area who have made a major contribution to the formation of this Report. All we ask is that the Government should do everything possible to back local authorities, give attention to necessary investment and subscribe to the general well-being and welfare and to the acceleration of policies which will improve the situation in the North-West.

My constituency is probably in the worst position to find remedies as a result of developments in recent years. It is a very small part of the area on the south of Lancashire and north of Cheshire. The town of Stockport overlaps the county borders. It has to give land to meet the overspill needs of Manchester. Land shortage revealed by the Report creates the biggest scare. The Stockport Express, when it considered the Report at the end of last week, immediately dealt with the question of land shortage. It had the banner headline: Home Buyers Face Big Prices Shock Industrial and social problems were ignored, but the newspaper said: Property and land prices in Stockport are expected to soar and privately owned homes may become scarce, according to local builders and estate agents. Their argument is based on facts revealed in the report of the Government's inter-departmental study group which for the last 18 months has been examining the North-West and in which the land-scarcity in Stockport and its surrounding areas figures prominently. Because of this acute land shortage, the prices of parcels of land, already exorbitantly high, may increase further, which will make building of new houses more expensive … This land famine may hit Stockport and its sub-region—Bredbury, Romiley, Cheadle, Gatley, Hazel Grove, Bramhall, Marple and Disley as well as Hyde, New Mills and Whaley Bridge—by the early 1970s if net immigration into the district continues says the Study Group. … The point is made: The town tops in two instances tables of land shortages which will occur in South-East Lancashire and its immediate region before 1981. If current building rates continue, Stockport will be without privately owned housing sites in 1973. It goes on to say that the town itself will starve of land by 1978 if there is no population movement within the area. The point is that this trend will make it more and more difficult first of all, for the local authority to clear away slums, and it will find that newly-married couples, who are taking part in the cross- and transmigration population within the North-West will find it increasingly difficult to buy a home at a reasonable price.

I noticed, in the same report, that a local estate agent is now talking in terms of houses in the £2,500—£3,500 bracket exceeding the £4,000 mark, and probably going up to the £5,000 level within the next few years. This is the kind of thing that demands very quick and positive action. It calls for the closest attention of the Land Commission, and I hope that this will be set up by the Government in the near future. This kind of action is necessary if the North-West is not to stagnate, instead of developing and contributing to the economic and social life of the country in the way it can.

I started off by talking about an industry which has declined in the past 20 years, which has seen the reduction of its manpower to 25 per cent. of what it was 20 years ago. We have also seen mills closing but we can expect new technologies within the Lancashire cotton industry, new techniques in fibres, in spinning and weaving methods. We may find that the shape and form of the cotton industry itself will be transformed and we will see the development of a new textile industry. Instead of the traditional mill girls we will have a white-coated industry, absorbing, I hope, female technicians and operatives within it.

The important point is that inside the North-West, in spite of the shortsightedness of the previous Government, we are seeing new developments in the industry. In my own constituency we have—and I am very proud of the contribution we make—the development of the nuclear power industry. We recently undertook the building of nuclear power plant for Dungeness "B" power station. I could go on with the list of technological achievements in the development of the nuclear power industry. We need to attract additional labour to the town to support it. What we certainly need is faith in the North-West itself to set aright its problems. I call upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and certainly upon the Under-Secretary to make sure that we have Government support to attend to all these needs which are demanded in the Report, and that the trends, which have been so obvious for many years and ignored by the previous Government, should be recognised.

7.57 a.m.

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

May I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris) for not being here when he began his speech? I would only plead, although this may not be a wholly satisfactory excuse, that I was in Manchester and Liverpool yesterday, and that it is owing to this visit to the North-West that I was not in my place when he began his remarks. I think that he was quite right to raise, even at this late hour, the North-West Study, which was published by the Government nine or ten days ago. It is a most important study and I only regret that circumstances do not allow a much fuller debate, because there is every reason to have one.

I was greatly taken by the enthusiasm of the hon. and learned Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) for the Study. I am only surprised, in view of his interest, that we have not had, at an early stage during the Session, a full debate on regional questions. I think that this Report is not the only factor which we could bring into account to demonstrate that in regional questions this Government have been moving forward at a very rapid speed, and a great deal more effectively than the previous Government.

My hon. Friend made a number of very important points in his speech. I ought to say, not only for reasons of time, but for reasons I shall explain in a moment, why I do not propose to go into a great deal of detail. The principal reason is simply that in publishing the North-West Study the Government have made it clear that this is an exercise in democratic planning. We have not published the document and said, "Here is the policy. We have made up our minds and now we intend to implement it." We have gone one stage further and said that we have published the Study and now we want discussion to begin so that the right policies can be formulated.

That is in sharp contrast to the previous Government's behaviour with the South-East Study, when, having prepared the Study, they made their policy without full consultation with the people who would be mainly affected by it. We have put the Study Report to the North-West Economic Planning Council, which will begin to discuss it fully in September. We think that this is by far the best way of making sure that when policy is made, it is in the best interest of all those who live in the region. The Council in the North-West is already functioning effectively. It has got down to its job and by the time it has looked at the Study Report and let us have its conclusions, we should certainly be in a position to make the policy decisions which are urgently required.

To establish, perhaps, my own credentials, may I say that I was born in Liverpool and that for the first 16 years of my life I never went beyond the North-West and North Wales. Perhaps I am one of the few people who are exhilarated when they get north of Crewe, because I feel that I am going home. In turning to the Study Report, I was looking once again at many of the problems which I had seen in daily cycle rides round the North-West at a time which now seems to me to have been many years ago.

It is certainly true that there are some difficult problems which the Report reveals. One which affects the north-east of Lancashire is very well illustrated by the map on page 14 showing the population decline in the north-east corner of Lancashire in the cotton towns, which were established 100 and more years ago because of the availability of water supplies and the ideal humid climate. Again, in the whole Furness area we see a movement of population and a difficult problem of isolation which the best communications in the world cannot wholly overcome.

Then there is the problem of Merseyside, an area in the North-West which has had persistently high unemployment over a long period and shows certain characteristics which I do not think are found in any other part of Britain, never mind any other part of the North-West.

The whole purposes of regional economic planning are twofold: first, to plan for population growth. That is something which we often overlook. We consider the needs of dealing with urban renewal, we consider the housing waiting lists, but often the layman at least overlooks the fact that the population of Britain is increasing at a rapid rate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Openshaw pointed out, one of the things which emerges from the Study is the need for major schemes of urban development to deal with population growth.

Secondly, of course, there is the problem of economic growth, which affects both transport and also, more particularly, industrial location. I do not intend to reply in any detail, and certainly not to the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Bebington, because if this is an exercise in democratic planning he will not expect me now to make the policy statements which we decided deliberately not to make at the time of publication of the Study.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has, however, made clear that in deciding exactly where the burden of the decisions which he announced the other day may fall, he will take particular account of the continuing need to improve the access to our ports and will be looking at the road programme as it affects the North-West in conjunction with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport in the light of the need to continue to improve the access to our ports.

Secondly, the hon. and learned Member for Bebington raised the question of industrial location policy. I think he will know that by 1967 the Local Employment Act comes up for renewal, and I have no doubt at all that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, in the course of reviewing the working of the 1963 Act, will bear in mind the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Bebington about the need to avoid what he called, I think, narrowly defined development districts.

I was very glad that my hon. Friend referred to the Civic Trust, because the Study refers to its work, which has had a most valuable impact on many parts of the country, including the North-West. I would agree with him about the scale of the problem revealed by this Study. All of us who travel through the North-West must be aware of that. The most dismal experience I have known is to travel through the old towns of Lancashire on a wet Sunday morning. It is an experience which confirms the need for massive urban renewal.

It is the case that the Study Report makes quite clear the size of the problem, and that makes one doubt whether the existing local government structure will enable the problem to be tackled efficiently and with speed. I am not, of course, saying that many local authorities have not shown great energy and imagination, but, nevertheless, the nature of the area, fragmented as it is, and the size of the problem lead one at least to wonder whether some advance may be required in this direction to deal with the problems.

I was also very struck by what my hon. Friend said about fragmentation socially—the social segregation within cities, and particularly within the periphery of cities. Here again, there is a sharp contrast, and we all hope that it will be removed as quickly as possible.

I do not think I ought to go on beyond this now. The Study Report has been published. I will certainly talk to my right hon. Friend about the important points which have been made, and I know that other Departments will note the matters which concern them specially. All I would say in conclusion is that in the final paragraph of the Report the authors say, in referring to positive planning, that they think this might enable the North-West to regain in the late twentieth century the same relative position in the country that it enjoyed a hundred years ago. I think all of us who have known the North-West or have been fascinated by its industrial growth or its social characteristics, and know how it is a dynamic and individual area, must hope that over a period—and we must recognise that with the best will in the world it must take a long period—the North-West will regain its vigour.

The hon. and learned Member for Bebington said at one stage that he thought he would be prepared to wait for a Conservative Government to see this problem dealt with. I cannot say that I am prepared to wait as long as that, because it will be a very long time. I am sure that before this Government's time is up we shall see very substantial changes indeed, made on the basis of policy decisions which will be the result of democratic planning on a scale and of a character which we have not hitherto seen in this country.

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