HC Deb 03 May 1966 vol 727 cc1586-94

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

11.4 p.m.

Mr. Edward Milne (Blyth)

The subject to which we would draw attention on the Adjournment tonight is the economic and industrial development in South-East Northumberland. It may seem strange to commence a debate of this description by describing the period through which we are moving as one of the most encouraging in the history of the area.

In past Adjournment debates, it has been necessary to utilise the time at our disposal to prod Governments into action. I believe that we are now able to plan progressive industrial and economic development in South-East Northumberland and within my constituency, not only for the next three to four years, but for the next two to three decades.

We are dealing with a part of Britain which saw the dawn of the first Industrial Revolution and made an outstanding contribution to it, and I think that it is permissible, even at this late stage in the proceedings of the House, to refer to the political representation of this area, because it sent to Parliament the first representatives of Labour in Britain. The names of Thomas Burt, Charles Fenwick and Bob Smillie spring to mind as having represented this area in the past, and indeed laid the foundations of the present Government's political success which has made economic and industrial advance in the area a real possibility in the months and years that lie ahead.

Claims have been made that the successes of the last 17 months arose to a large extent from the fact that the Administration which preceded the 1964 Government had, through the medium of the Hailsham Report, laid the foundations of that progress, and indeed made them available. One can only say that the significant factor of that Report was that the date on its front page was November, 1963, some considerable time after the Government of the day came into power, and that they were then trying to do a job which should have been tackled between 1954 and 1957 when the unemployment figures for that area were running at the national average.

At the moment we are facing the loss of about 8,500 job opportunities in the area due to the contraction of the mining industry, and it is therefore necessary to look ahead and to make the plans for which we have asked, despite the fact that the figures for people at work in the area are the best for some considerable time.

I want, briefly, to discuss the problems of a particular age group. I am thinking of the over-50s, and the training facilities which can be accorded to them. We have seen at Felling, and we are looking forward to seeing at Killingworth, the training centres and rehabilitation units which will lay the foundations of this training. I am sure that my hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate will agree with me when I say that the type of labour which is available in the area—which he has visited and seen—is adaptable and ready to fit into any of the newer industries which can be brought to the area. I want to dispel the idea that has been put forward in certain quarters that this age group and this type of labour force should be used in small productive units making pit clothing, footwear, and other articles of this kind. We want to see this age group absorbed into the general industrial pattern and development of the area, not in a secluded section of industry but part of the wider industry of the area, and making a major contribution to it.

We have referred in the past—in fact, we did so in our maiden speech—to the fact that if the employment prospects and the employment position in the area were really to be safeguarded for the period that we mentioned at the outset of our remarks, the question of a major power plant in the area was one that the Department might have to examine.

I want to refer to the success of the advance factories which the Government have sited in the area, and the policy of attraction that has flowed from it. In two parts of the area, in Cramlington and Blyth, we have seen the success of this Measure, and we want to draw attention to the fact that the recently added area of Bedlington—recently added in the sense that it was made a development district—is the one section of our con- stituency which at the moment is not enjoying the benefit of an advance factory.

There are two points which I know are receiving the attention of the Department. The first is the question of increased employment for disabled persons through Remploy. We are hoping to see in the near future the transfer to Blyth and its enlargement there—with more places for disabled men and also the possibility of disabled women being dealt with—a factory of this description, because this does two things. It not only gives us a large area for the type of work being done by Remploy, but it allows one of our local firms based on the electronics industry to expand—and the expansion of that type of industry is something that the North-East is very much looking forward to.

The other question of that of science-based industry. Here we are looking with considerable interest to the Gas Council's Engineering Research Station at Killingworth—a station which will examine the engineering problems of gas and natural gas, which should lead to the proper development of a gas grid and the economic and industrial use of gas and oil finds in the North Sea as a new source of power, and which may be the basis of the new industrial revolution which we have mentioned.

It is not necessary or opportune at this time to talk about the social ownership of the new resources which are being brought from the bed of the North Sea, but this may be another of the methods by which the industrial expansion of the area can really be fitted into the pattern of the modern Britain that we are proceeding to build. I made the suggestion some time ago, not only on the question of industry itself but also on the question of adding to the amenities of the area, that somewhere on our coastline between Blyth and Tynemouth the local authorities, in conjunction with the Department, should look at the question of the siting of a conference hall, which could be used not only for conferences but for lengthening the season, helping the hotel and boarding house trade, boosting the area, and bringing it to the notice of a wider public, and also, in the period when no conferences are being held, using it for the extension of the cultural activities of the area itself.

In the time at my disposal, I have tried to give some idea of the outlook for the future which we feel will provide the pattern for the area of South-East Northumberland to play its part in the second industrial revolution which we are approaching in the same way as it did in the past. We are certain that the political and industrial resources, the manpower and ability of the area with its skills will make this one of the most hopeful and progressive periods in its history.

11.16 p.m.

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) for once again drawing the attention of the House and to Ministers the needs and prospects of South-East Northumberland, a very important development area—I agree with my hon. Friend about that—of which his constituency is a part.

My hon. Friend started by mentioning one of the most difficult problems with which we have to contend in the immediate future in the industrial development of the area. That is the problem of the older miners who will be made redundant when the mine closure policy becomes fully operative. I say this from my experience generally and from particular experience which, as my hon. Friend knows, I have had in dealing with this situation in the North-East, particularly in Northumberland. Any industrialist who is thinking of settling in one of these areas where there are older miners becoming available for work outside the pits and wants to know what kind of labour is available for him and whether it is good, adaptable labour, cannot do better than get these men. They are adaptable.

We have seen in some of the factories which my hon. Friend and I have visited together that they make excellent factory workers. Employers who employ them are very pleased indeed to have them on their payrolls. Provided that training schemes both in the centres for which the Government are responsible, but more particularly in training schemes within industry are satisfactory, because of the adaptability of these excellent workpeople an employer of labour is on a very good thing. He need not worry about a high rate of labour turnover. There will be no high rate of labour turnover so long as working conditions and wages are satisfactory because most of these men do not want to move on to a second job. They have left the pits through no fault of their own, and if they can be provided with factory work, especially in light engineering or anything to do with mechanical operations, they are there to do a job of work and will stick to the firm until they retire. There are tremendous advantages to the employer of labour in getting these ex-miners.

As my hon. Friend probably knows, the situation with regard to the number of men who may be available for work through mine closures can be exaggerated. According to estimates we have, the rundown of miners in the Northumberland coalfield in the next five years will be about 8,500. This compares with 8,400 who left the mines in that coalfield in the previous five years. As my hon. Friend knows, the opportunities that have been provided for increased employment have more or less taken up the men who previously lost their jobs. Nevertheless, this situation disguises a rather serious problem because between 1958 and 1964 there was an actual reduction of 14,000 jobs for men in the Northumberland area, and one of the things that we have got to do is not only to make sure that the redundant coalminers are found work, but to stop this drift away from the area. The loss of job opportunities gives rise to a serious migration problem with all the attendant consequences on social capital invested in the area, unless steps are taken in time to deal with an unemployment situation of this kind.

With regard to training, the Ministry of Labour is planning to set up a new Government training centre offering nearly 200 places, and an industrial rehabilitation unit as well in the new town of Killingworth. That is slightly south of the area covered by my hon. Friend in his definition of South-East Northumberland, but it is well within travelling distance of it.

In this connection, my hon. Friend raised the question of the Remploy factory at Bedlington and he suggested that this might move to a factory on the Kittybrewster industrial estate at Blyth. As he rightly pointed out, if this move took place it would have two consequences, both desirable. It would mean that the electronics firm at Bedlington would have premises, ready made for its own expansion, which would be a very good idea, and the move to Blyth would benefit the disabled men who are concentrated in that area and particularly those associated with the coalfield. All I can tell my hon. Friend is that discussions between the Board of Trade and the parties concerned about the possibility of building a factory for Remploy at Blyth and, therefore, facilitating the move that he has described, are going on and we are hoping that the outcome will be satisfactory within a relatively short space of time. Of course, this will help to provide additional Remploy jobs in addition to those that we have already been considering before this suggestion of a move came along.

My hon. Friend went on to talk about the development of science-based industries. This again is tremendously important because in the past we have been considering development areas, and particularly in the North-East. The main purpose that we have had in mind has been to provide employment, to find jobs, and when we talk about science-based industries, what we seem to be concerned about is getting a great deal of technical progress into our industries which in the nature of things reduces the number of jobs available. So that we do not want to have concentrated in what we now call development districts all the industries that are—to use the economist's term—labour intensive and have all the capital intensive industries in other parts of the country. We have got to have a better balance than that.

Therefore, I agree with my hon. Friend that the setting up of the Gas Council's new Engineering Research Station, also to be sited at Killingworth—Killingworth is going to become one of the most important industrial areas in the country before long—is to be welcomed. It is going to be quite a large mechanical engineering research station and it will be primarily concerned with the distribution of gas, particularly natural gas.

This is another prospect which the North-East faces. To some extent one could argue that this will work to the disadvantage of the basic industry there of coal production, but I am quite sure that if there is a great deal of natural gas in the North Sea and it can be brought out and we can begin development of that gas on a large scale, with associated industry which could use the gas as the basis of their power, everything will work out, and we shall have in that part of England, instead of a group of industries depending on coal, a flourishing new group of industries using natural gas for their power supply.

As the hon. Member probably knows, the Minister of Power, in an answer to a Question in this House on 26th April, said that he was discussing with the gas industry the question of pipelines and equipment for the handling, distribution and use of North Sea gas in the context of their capital development programmes. So things look very hopeful in that part of the world.

The hon. Member also raised the question of advance factories. These are magnets which draw industry into the area. I do not need to explain to hon. Members the advantages of having a well organised programme of advance factories, where factories are placed exactly at the points where one has to deal with unemployment problems. One can use them not only to provide work but as magnets to attract other industrial developments.

Experience over the years in the use of advance factories for this purpose proves that this is a policy we must continue. Therefore, there will be another round shortly of advance factories. Obviously, I cannot at this stage say where they will be, but in view of the Government's promises that advance factories will be used in development areas to deal with mining closures, it is a pretty safe bet and a pretty safe guess that South-East Northumberland will not be left out. That is as far as I can go at the moment. An announcement will be made before very long.

The other point which the hon. Member mentioned was the siting of a suitable conference hall on what I would call the holiday coast of Northumberland. This is a good idea, but there is not much point in having a conference hall unless there is adequate hotel accommodation for the delegates. This is a problem which is intimately associated with the development of tourism in Britain: to make sure that we have in the appropriate parts of the country good hotel accommodation, restaurants and conference halls. There is no earthly reason why the North-East should not become one of the areas to which traditional conferences, cultural associations and so on should come for their meetings, and why it should not become far more important as a holiday centre.

I will not expound on the natural beauties of Northumberland, which tends to be neglected from that point of view of tourism. It deserves far closer attention. Associated with this is the development of cultural activities to which the hon. Member referred. I cannot go into detail on some of the ideas which I know are coming forward through the North-East Development Council, but it is one of the most exciting areas in the United Kingdom.

Developments are coming, as I have said in public up there, which I am confident will in a relatively short time and perhaps during this Parliament get rid of the unemployment the area has suffered from for so long. I hope the unemployment problem will be swept away and that this will become a flourishing area of industrial development, and one which is attracting back to it the people who migrated away because of unemployment in the past.

I assure my hon. Friend that, through the regional development council, through the Board of Trade and through other Ministries, we shall do all we possibly can to keep the progress which has already been made going along at an even faster rate.

11.30 p.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) has raised the whole question of development in the North-East. I was very glad to hear what he said and to listen to what the Minister had to say on the matter. Reverting to what was said about the development of the tourist trade and the need for new hotels, an up-to-date conference hall and the like, I expect that the Minister and the hon. Gentleman will know that those plans are well in hand now in our part of the world and that we have opened and are to open some big new developments of this kind. That ought to help tremendously.

I was very glad to hear what was said about advance factories, and I am delighted to be able to add that that policy was thought out and developed by the Government which I had the honour to support. I am pleased that it has proved such a success, because all of us want to do the best we can for the North-East Coast.

I always note with great interest what is happening in Blyth, because when I first entered politics, Blyth was in my constituency. I fought it twice, unsuccessfully, but, nevertheless, like the Minister, I love the people there. I know their quality. I know that we all want to do the best we can for them, and I am always very proud that, even in the 1930s when we were at our lowest in the depression, it was the Government of the day and my leader Mr. Baldwin who thought out the new ideas on which so many Governments have since built.

I hope that as a result of the efforts of the present Government, in line with what has been done in the past and pursuing all the new ideas coming forward, we shall make of the North-East Coast the kind of place we all know it can become, where happiness, prosperity and a really progressive future will be available for all.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes to Twelve o'clock.