HC Deb 25 February 1965 vol 707 cc609-13

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

69. Mr. MAPP

To ask the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs if he will make a statement about progress in setting up the Government's regional economic planning machinery.

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

May I say how glad I am to see right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite in their places?

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to say, in answer to Question No. 69, that I have set up Economic Planning Councils for the North-West, the West Midlands and the Northern Regions.

I am glad to be able to tell the House that Mr. Charles Carter, the Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University, Mr. J. A. Hunt, a director of Hymatic Engineering Ltd., of Redditch, and Mr. Dan Smith, Leader of Newcastle City Council, have accepted my invitation to serve as chairmen of these three councils.

I am circulating the names of the council members and their terms of reference in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales are announcing the composition of the Scottish and Welsh Economic Planning Councils today.

Mr. Heath

May I express to the First Secretary of State the very warm welcome of the House on his having come back here and also thank him for coming to the House to answer Question No. 69, which is of a non-controversial kind?

As the right hon. Gentleman has announced that he intended to set up some regional councils, naturally we are glad that he is making progress with them and we shall study the formation of the councils with care.

May I reserve my comments on the first two names? As to the third name, may I ask the First Secretary why it was found necessary to appoint such a controversial political figure to be Chairman of the Northern Region Council as Mr. Dan Smith, who declared, as recently as last week, that The democratic vote is no way to get the sort of changes we need in the North. Is this the sort of person to preside over a council such as this?

Mr. Brown

On the right hon. Gentleman's first carefully prepared comment, may I point out that I got it in first? The interesting thing is that the only person who, in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, is controversial is a Labour man.

Mr. Mapp

May I thank my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State for his drive and initiative, such as we have not seen for many years? May I ask him two specific questions? First, when will the initial meeting be held of the North-West Council? Secondly, would he care, through the OFFICIAL REPORT or otherwise, to set out the constitution and basic purposes of the councils?

Mr. Brown

The OFFICIAL REPORT for today will carry the terms of reference. That, added to what I said when we originally debated this matter, shows the whole purpose of the regional councils. I shall also announce today the names of the chairmen of the economic planning boards. My intention and hope is that the councils will meet within a few weeks from now and will thereafter start working in association with the boards. I am certain that the under-used regions of England will be very pleased that this is happening.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

How many of the members of the councils whom the First Secretary of State has appointed have been appointed on the suggestion of the local authorities in the regions concerned?

Mr. Brown

I think that rather more than one-third have been put forward by local authorities. The others are divided between industrialists, trade unionists, universities and people who know about other aspects of regional life. Unless the right hon. Gentleman, like his right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath), is so biased as to believe that one must never be a Labour man, he will find that these councils fully represent life in the regions.

Mr. Popplewell

Is my right hon. Friend aware how much we on this side of the House appreciate the energy he has shown in establishing these regional councils? Is he aware how much we believe that the nation will benefit as a consequence of the devolution of central power, thus allowing regions to develop themselves? If he further aware how much we welcome the fact that he has not yielded to the smear campaign that has been conducted for so long by hon. Members opposite against "Danny" Smith, the Chairman of the new Northern Economic Planning Council? Is my right hon. Friend aware that this man is of outstanding ability, and that we are delighted that my right hon. Friend has made this appointment?

Mr. R. W. Elliott

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the North-East Development Council, in its most recent publication, said that 1964 was the best ever year for industrial development in the north-east of England? Is he aware that this, in the opinion of many people in the area, is due to the energy and the decisions, based on a spirit of co-operation and attraction of the previous Government? Is he aware that in consequence appointment of this new council as completely unnecessary, and certainly in terms of its chairman as completely unsound. many people in the North-East see the

Mr. Brown

The answer to that last point must be, "No, Sir." On the others, let hon. Members wait until they see the results of 1965 and 1966.

Mr. Rhodes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that appreciation of the previous few years' industrial developments in the North-East is shown by the fact that the democratic wishes referred to by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) led last October to practically every Conservative Member of Parliament in the North-East being out of the House—

Dame Irene Ward

What about me?

Mr. Rhodes

—with one or two very noticeable exceptions.

Is my right hon. Friend also aware that the kind of cryptic remarks which have just been made by hon. Members opposite are designed to destroy this machinery before it has started?

Mr. Brown

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. I also am quite clear that there are one or two exceptions to be got rid of next time.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

Why is it proper to make a statement on the regional planning for England in a statement in the House and, at the same time, answer a Question about Wales in the form of a Written Answer? Is Wales thought to be so inferior to England? The right hon. Gentleman seems to be shaking his head. I hope that he takes this matter seriously. What are his responsibilities for regional planning in Wales? Has he executive responsibility, or does that belong to the Secretary of State for Wales?

Mr. Brown

That seems a little pointless. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I am answering, but the great privilege in the House is that one can ask questions one's own way and one can also answer them in one's own way. The answer is that the Secretary of State for Wales is responsible for Wales.

Mr. Gibson-Watt


Mr. Brown

Yes, Sir. He is responsible. I am not responsible in Wales. My right hon. Friend is responsible for the Welsh Planning Council. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] As to why I answer orally and my right hon. Friend by Written Answer, it was not thought that it would be for the convenience of the House to have three oral statements. It was thought that most of the questions could conveniently arise on my statement.

Mr. Speaker

Sir Alec Douglas-Home. Business question.

Dame Irene Ward

On a point of order. Owing to the appointment of Mr. Dan Smith, and the unsatisfactory situation generally, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Following are the terms of reference of the Councils:

  1. (i) To assist in the formulation of a regional plan, having regard to the best use of the region's resources;
  2. (ii) To advise on the steps necessary for implementing the regional plan on the basis of information and assessments provided by the Economic Planning Board;
  3. (iii) To advise on the regional implications of national economic policies.

Following are the members of the Councils: