HC Deb 20 January 1965 vol 705 cc369-74

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

11.57 p.m.

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

After the excitement of the last hour, I make no apology for raising a purely constituency matter on the question of new industries for the City of Carlisle.

Carlisle is a town with a population of about 70,000. It is the capital town of Cumberland and the only county borough in the two counties of Cumberland and Westmorland. It serves as a regional centre for a considerable area, and it is estimated that about 70,000 people come into the city for shopping, business, commerce, professional services, etc., and are catered for by the city's technical college, art college, library, public baths and expanding airport, in which both private enterprise and municipal enterprise is interested. There is also a crematorium.

The development of Carlisle offers an opportunity to reduce the congestion and overcrowding of other areas in the South-East and in the Midlands. We have a large trading estate of 175.5 acres. We have land available both for building council houses and for development by private enterprise. No special difficulties exist to prevent the extension of public services. Carlisle is the centre of a radiatory railway system, and within a few years the trunk roads running north and south will be raised to motorway standards. For newcomers to Carlisle it can be said that the city is within easy reach of some of the most beautiful country in the north of England, and, of course, it is the gateway to Scotland. We provide good education services.

While we never suffered in the depression years of the 1930s, that is not to say that people have pockets bulging with cash. Far from it. In addition to being a railway centre, we have textiles, engineering works and a biscuit manufacturer, and we are also an important administrative centre. Carlisle also depends to some extent upon Government establishments, which include a Royal Air Force maintenance unit and the Spadeadam rocket site, which accounts for the employment of several thousand men. If a change were made in defence policy which meant the abandonment of any or all of these, a very serious unemployment problem would immediately arise in the City of Carlisle and also in the County of Cumberland. If new growing industries could be established now, the problem, if it arose, would be less difficult to meet.

The city is well placed in the matter of all essential services which new and expanded industries will need, such as water, sewerage, gas and electricity. Therefore, it is far better to encourage industries to establish themselves in Carlisle where all these services exist than to spend public money in providing them in under-developed areas.

The figures for employed persons in Carlisle, including some of the rural areas around, are not encouraging. Figures from the Ministry of Labour based on insurance cards show that employment increased from 1958 to 1961 but that thereafter it decreased in 1962 and 1963. The figures for 1964 are, so far as I know, not yet available. In November, 1964, the unemployment rate was 2.4 per cent. compared with the national average at the same date of 1.5, giving a total of unemployed of 951 males and females.

There is certainly a migration away from Carlisle. There are no precise figures to show what it is. Given the average rate of increase in the population, which in a city the size of Carlisle would be about 180 men between the ages of 18 and 64 per annum, it is clear that, with a shrinking or static employment figure and with no noticeable rise in unemployment, there must be a drift of population to other areas.

The industrial development committee of the city carried out a survey of future requirements for land and workers from established employers last autumn. A questionnaire was issued to all businesses employing more than 10 people. Replies were received from employers covering some 41 per cent. of the insured population. On balance, the replies showed that the expectation of employers is for an increase in employment of about 200 per year over the next five years. This certainly reveals a healthy confidence in the future among the existing employers in the city.

To sum up, Carlisle possesses all the necessary physical assets for development—land and sites for prices less than in the congested parts of the country. Its services are up-to-date and can be readily extended. Carlisle provides amenities in its countryside and in the city itself, while Carlisle's unemployment rate, although too low to rank for any Government assistance, offers advantages for further industrial development, which, in the long run, may outweigh immediate financial inducements. The city is capable of absorbing a substantial increase in population, and could contribute to the country's prosperity, if people and industry could be attracted to this area instead of congesting the south-east region.

This is a matter which can only be dealt with satisfactorily by Government action. This part of the country of England has been too long forgotten by Governments in the past, and I hope that the present Government will treat us as a partner and that they will give the whole question of new industries coming to Carlisle some immediate consideration.

12.6 a.m.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. George Darling)

My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Ron Lewis) wants to know what the Board of Trade can do to help Carlisle obtain a greater diversity of industry. I would agree with him that there is a real problem here, but I hope that he will not misunderstand me when I say that it is not peculiar to Carlisle. There are many county administrative towns in England—and, I suppose, in Scotland and Wales, too—where the town, the centre of a fairly wide administrative area, is situated in a thinly populated rural area. Beautiful as it may be, it is thinly populated.

The result, as at Carlisle, is that a big proportion of the citizens are employed, not in industry or commerce, but in the local administrative services of one kind or another. In fact, the latest figures which I have, for a year ago, show that out of 41,000 employed persons in and around Carlisle, about 28,000 were in administrative or industrial service jobs, and only about 11,500 in manufacturing industry—about two-thirds in administration of one kind or another, and only one quarter in industry. I do not suppose that the position has changed much in the past year.

There is, therefore, an unduly small proportion of industrial workers in the population. My hon. Friend has mentioned some of the industries there, but there are only about six major firms of any size—counting British Railways as a firm in this regard—in this city of 71,000 people. That is an unusually small collection of industrial undertakings for a town of this size. I would agree, therefore, with my hon. Friend that to get a better balance of employment in industry and commerce and public administration, Carlisle should have many more industries.

The employment situation at present is that it relies far too heavily on public administration services. It is very difficult for the Board of Trade to help to bring new industries to the town. The criterion on which we have to work in inducing firms to move into new districts is the degree of local unemployment, or the known prospect of future unemployment, where we know that industries will be run down. On this score, Carlisle is relatively fortunate. I suppose that one would expect that in a town which relies so heavily on fairly stable employment in the administrative services.

Of course, the fact that there is so much employment, relatively, in the administrative services which are situated in Carlisle means that the industrial workers who are thrown out of work have fewer opportunities of finding jobs, because there is so little industry there.

We are aware of the facts about Carlisle, but, in present circumstances at any rate, the Board of Trade must continue to give priority to the areas of heavy unemployment in its policy of industrial dispersal. The level of unemployment in Carlisle is too low, fortunately, for the town to be scheduled as a development district. Although it does not qualify for the aid which the Board of Trade offers to firms moving into the development districts, we appreciate the problem of getting more diversity of industry there. We treat an area of this type very sympathetically in any application which may come along for development which stimulates or comes out of stimulation of local industrial development; and we would certainly be very sympathetic to demands for industrial development certificates.

The point is that we ourselves cannot induce firms to move to Carlisle, but we would be very glad to give approval to the local expansion of industry. Any firm which wanted of its own volition to move to Carlisle would also be treated very sympathetically for an industrial development certificate, unless it very clearly ought to move into one of the development districts.

Having said that, I agree with my hon. Friend that the present employment situation is by no means satisfactory. He gave us the figure—in December there were 1,000 men and women without jobs. Although this is a low percentage of the total employment force in Carlisle—2½ per cent., relatively low as compared with the higher level of unemployment in the development districts—we are dealing with men and women and not with statistics, and 1,000 men and women out of work, here or anywhere else, are 1,000 too many.

Apart from the indignity of being without a job and the personal difficulties which fall upon those who are unemployed, the country is losing the value of their labour, and if we can help in any way to find employment for them, we shall certainly do so. But—I was about to say, "Until Carlisle gets such a high level of unemployment that it can be scheduled as a development district", but my hon. Friend appreciates that I do not mean in any sense that I want that to happen—we cannot alter at this stage the criterion on which we have to work, which is that of heavy unemployment.

As to the future, my hon. Friend may know that Carlisle has rejoined the Cumberland Development Council, which will mean that the town will be brought into the wider discussions which will be going on for developments in the whole of the Cumberland area, and out of that it will be possible for some industries by local action to be steered to Carlisle. My hon. Friend was quite right to mention that the continuation of the M.6 motorway will help in this matter. It will make Carlisle a much better centre from the transport point of view and I should think that the extension of the motorway will help to stimulate local industry and improve the town's attractions as a location for new industry. I think that my hon. Friend will also be interested to know that the regional controllers of the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Labour are meeting the town clerk next week to discuss the prospects for industrial development.

We are alive to the problem which my hon. Friend has raised, but I must repeat that we have to give priority to the areas of heavy unemployment in the Board of Trade's part in steering industry to new areas. Nevertheless, I am sure that it will be the business of the new regional economic planning machinery which is being set up to suggest ways and means of improving the economy of the region as a whole.

We hope that from this there will emerge practical proposals which will benefit Carlisle. We also hope that proposals may emerge from the discussions which will start next week—I hope that wider discussions may follow—and from the studies of the regional development needed which, we hope, will soon be undertaken.

I assure my hon. Friend that we are alive to the problems of a town like Carlisle, which is so heavily dependent upon administrative services because it is the administrative centre of a fairly wide area, and where, for the purpose of getting a balanced economy in the town and in the surrounding district, there should be a greater diversity of industry. As the industrial development of the country continues with the greater economic progress that we expect and will certainly get under this Government, I am sure that the needs of Carlisle will be taken into consideration.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes past Twelve o'clock.