HC Deb 26 March 1968 vol 761 cc1170-254

3.49 p.m.

Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)

The debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill is, by tradition, the opportunity for back benchers to air grievances, and I have been particularly fortunate in that the chance of that strange and unpredictable "Lady Luck" has aided me in being the first to speak this afternoon.

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry to intervene, but it will assist the Chair if hon. Members indicate which debate they wish to take part in, because I shall proceed strictly according to the dictates of fate as decided by the Ballot.

Mr. Emery

One grievance in my constituency is with the weak, vain and stupid reaction to the possibility of expansion in the South-West, which was outlined so well in the Report, "A Draft Strategy for the South-West". This grievance exists in every part of the region, I believe, The Government's reception and handling of, and their reaction to, the Report of the South-West Economic Planning Council, now known by the name of its Chairman, Professor Ronald Tress, as the Tress Report, is something which no other Report has stimulated in the past.

I congratulate Professor Tress and the members of his Council on the workmanlike document which they have produced. They have assimilated a large number of facts and have tried to set out moderately and reasonably certain plans for the area. I think that the grievance which I know will be reinforced by many other hon. Members from the South-West.

After considerable trouble, the Government established the South-West Economic Planning Council and asked it to produce a report on the future of the region. After nearly three years' hard work, the Report was produced. Professor Tress, in the Foreword, said: We have called it a regional strategy, because it sets out the lines along which…the economic and physical planning of the South West should proceed. Having received the Report, which was published in July last year, the Government's first reaction was to call a meeting of M.P.s with Professor Tress, and we then saw the start of the political propaganda in the constituencies of the region about how the Labour Party was fulfilling its pledges to the South-West.

But this was early in the day. The House recessed soon after the publication of the Report and three months elapsed in which discussion took place in many parts of the region. After the Recess, I pressed the Leader of the House for Government time to discuss the Tress Report, but, as Thursday after Thursday slipped by, the answers to my request turned from the mildly assuring, "We will do our best", to, weeks later, the impatient, "Impossible next week."

So it was obvious that the Government had no general desire for a debate, and we doubted whether they wanted the subject fully considered by the House. Thus, it is the Opposition, through the luck of the Ballot, who have forced the Government to listen to Parliament on the subject of the Tress Report. But this is typical of the shoddy approach of this Government. They deny it, but they do not really care what is said in the House. If they did, why did they not demand this debate before finally, and only two weeks ago, announcing their reactions to the Report?

These Government reactions have sparked off some of the bitterest comment ever known in the South-West. Basically, the Government have quietly patted the Planning Council on the head but have seen fit to ignore most of the advice and opinions of the very body which they established to help and guide them. The work of Professor Tress and his Committee, considering the Government's action, need never have been done. Indeed, unless Government policy is altered, it would seem to have been almost a waste of time.

All the help, through new initiatives which the Government intend to give, acting on the Report, seem negligible. The reaction of a member of the Econo- mic Planning Council, who is also Chairman of Devon County Council, and not, incidentally, a Conservative, was: The Government's reply is bitterly disappointing. The door has been shut in our face. The Town Clerk of Plymouth, who is not judged a man with any particular party bias, was reported by the Western Morning News as saying, a week ago today: Nothing of substance in the Economic Planning Report seems to have been adopted. The essence of this Government's comment is that they know better than the Regional Economic Planning Council. So we seem to be back in the days of the man in Whitehall knowing best.

The factual background to the Report is that the region extends from Wiltshire, through Gloucestershire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly. It covers 9,000 square miles and is more than 240 miles across—further, for example, than the distance between Darlington and London or between Birmingham and Edinburgh. The area has a population of 3.6 million people, nearly 7 per cent. of all those living in Great Britain. Nearly three-quarters of a million live in the Bristol-Bath area, and 45 per cent. north of the Mendips. It is terrifying to realise that 64.3 per cent. of all the employed people in this population work in the service or construction industries.

This problem is not a new one. The proportion of the population living in the South-West has declined from about 12 per cent. in 1821 to as little as 6.8 per cent. in 1964. The structure of the population shows that nearly one-third of the people now living there are 65 or over. It would be wrong to consider that the problems of the South-West are new: they are not. But the Labour Party was elected on specific pledges that it would revitalise regional planning and the life of the regions. The hon. Member for Exeter (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody), in her election address, said: For the first time the Regions have been recognised as areas having special needs and problems, requiring specific Government planning and help. Someone connected with her, the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody), said: Only Labour's planning for regional development could produce real prosperity. They seem shallow words today.

The Report is divided into five. It considers the region, its people, its life, its economy and its future. In 560 paragraphs, it sets out fully the specific problems and recommends action. It backs up all of these with a full and lucid statistical analysis and ensures that no aspect of life in the region from agriculture through industry to quarrying, from education through tourism to the Arts, is overlooked. It sets out clearly and distinctly four pages of recommendations.

First, and above all, it states that the strategy for the region must be centred around the improvement in its communications. It reinforces clearly the need for a major spine road and arterial communications. Some of the strongest words in the Report are used about roads. It is clear "— It says— …that the road system over much of the Region is quite unsuited to the needs of the modern economy. It goes on: The great bulk of the present trunk road system in the region consists of single two-lane carriageways which, particularly in the south and west, are of sub-standard width and alignment. In general, these roads are carrying volumes of traffic at peak periods much beyond their capacity… The Committee's recommendation about a spine road was: We undertook to seek the settling of a phased programme for the road to be constructed to an adequate standard by 1975. Two paragraphs later, in paragraph 493, it says: It has not been demonstrated that there are any physical or technical barriers to the completion of a spine road in the terms which we, as a Council, confirmed to the Joint Committee. We therefore urge the Government to ensure its completion by 1975. Other recommendations of major road improvements are made at the same time.

It is obvious to anyone who knows anything about the South-West that our road system is in need of a major overhaul. If industry is to be encouraged to come to the area, this is the first requirement. The Government have only partially accepted this major recommendation, but they refuse to give a promise of a date of completion other than to stipulate that it may be in the mid-70s.

The Report goes on to demand that Plymouth and the adjacent region should be created into a development area. After much consideration, the Government state in their reply: The extension of Plymouth by full development area status would not be justified in the particular circumstances of either Plymouth or the South-West development area as a whole. This is another illustration of the Government knowing much better than the experts of the region whom they appointed to assist them. The Committee recommended the implementation of the new West Docks scheme in Bristol. I gather that initially the Government rejected this recommendation and that members of the council had to travel specially to London to get the Government to think again about it.

The council has demanded adequate recognition of the problems of the grey areas. Like so many aspects of Government action, this matter is still awaiting the report of yet another Committee. In considering these problems, the Confederation of British Industry, dealing with the problems in Bristol, stated: Two factors, however, threaten its continued well-being: unless a major development scheme is approved, its port facilities will prove inadequate to meet future requirements and increased competition… Referring to industrial development certificates, the Confederation stated: …the present I.D.C. system as implemented by the Board of Trade threatens to contain future growth in Bristol too tightly and to repress the natural growth necessary to avoid stagnation. The C.B.I. also …urge that areas with high potential for economic growth are equally deserving of special incentives for development as those containing seriously depressed economic or social conditions. To concentrate on a surplus of manpower as the only important reason for giving an I.D.C. is an absolute nonsense. The movement of workers to jobs, rather than vice versa, must be a factor in any aspect of economic thinking. Although there is this potential, it is difficult to understand why the area should be thought not to provide an environment to which industry may wish to come and operate profitably. But unless the Government will give some specific assistance, skilled labour, of which the South West is extremely short, will tend to contract and management from outside the region will be discouraged from establishing new plant.

When considering the question of i.d.cs. and the grey areas, it is worth noting that Exmouth, in my constituency, is an active town with considerable potential, although its unemployment rate is far higher than the national average. It has been described by the local newspaper, the Exmouth Journal, as one of the "greyer than grey areas". The submission of the South-West Economic Planning Council on this matter is: The South-West Region, as a whole, derives little advantage from the operation of national regional policy. The relatively small population of the present south western development area, together with the small manufacturing industry base and heavy dependency on agriculture and tourism, means that the benefits it receives from the financial advantages available to manufacturing establishments in Development areas compare unfavourably with those received by other Development areas. It is remarkable to note that the South-West development area receives only about £1.7 million per annum from regional employment payment premiums, this out of a total payment under the scheme of nearly £100 million. It is, therefore, less than 2 per cent. At the same time, national regional policy, both through the operation of i.d.c. control and through public expenditure on infrastructure, has tended to inhibit the potential economic growth of the remainder of the region.

A number of recommendations were made about agriculture, but the Government's reply to these gives little or no hope for action. At present there is considerable concern in parts of the area about milk production. The Price Review recommended an increase of 1½d. per gallon on milk, but farmers feel that they are unlikely to benefit to any extent from this increase because of the increase in the importation of milk products. Farmers are rightly furious about this.

Agriculture will also be greatly affected by the Transport Bill. It is expected that the cost of carriage of livestock from the West Country to the centres where they will be sold will increase by between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. Almost all of this livestock must go by road because British Rail have neither the loading points nor the facilities to handle this livestock, apart from the fact that it does not wish to do so.

It is equally important to note that 21 per cent. of people taking their holidays in Britain come to the South West, 80 per cent. by car. This underlines the need for the road improvements which have been recommended. It is estimated that in Devon and Cornwall alone, £65 million, apart from travelling costs, is spent by holidaymakers. This is equal to the industrial output of these two counties. Because the South-West is so much concerned with service industries, S.E.T. is a major burden on its growth. There is little doubt that this year's Budget has accentuated this unfortunate position.

Little has been done to relieve the burden that must be faced by those who employ staff in, for example, hotels and other catering establishments in the region. The same applies to bus operators in the area, particularly following railway closures. It is extremely difficult to provide rural bus transportation in the region. More and more of these services are becoming unremunerative as people increasingly turn to the use of private cars. This exaggerates the difficulty of providing services to those who do not possess automobiles and who live in the rural areas. In the words of the Tress Report, this is a "specialist problem". However, in answer to that, the Government have taken no action and have made no recommendations.

Many people find it immensely irksome to see the South-West administration emanating purely and solely from Bristol. It is half again as far from Bristol to certain parts of Cornwall as it is from Bristol to London. There is a strong feeling that the administration of the region should be based somewhere further west, in Plymouth or Exeter. Some devolution from Bristol is imperative, particularly as areas in the north of the region are more inclined to associate themselves with Coventry and the Midlands than with Bristol, Exeter and the South-West.

I should mention, in conclusion, that the Report stresses the need to provide proper air transportation to the South-West. Like so much else, the Government's reply has been to establish yet another committee to look into the problem. I urged the Government months ago to make a decision on the matter, but all that has happened so far is further delay. The Government seem hell bent on ignoring their own advisory body. An editorial in the Western Morning News put the case clearly when it stated: Opinion in the West Country is strongly critical of the Government's rejection of the planning strategy for the region. Even the South-West Economic Planning Council, which is naturally a body outside political controversy, makes dignified protest about the lack of major response from the Government. That planning council is made up of men who give their help freely, and they have many other tasks of major importance. They do their work purely for the good of the region. It must be immensely discouraging to see all their work done to so little avail. The Western Morning News asks: What is to be done now that we have been turned down? And no amount of official politeness can conceal that harsh truth. We must have lasting political pressure; we must mount a campaign to reverse the Government's decisions. We must ensure that the type of action which has come from some hon. Members from Scotland, Wales and the North-East is evident from Members of Parliament from the South-West. We must ensure that there is condemnation of the decisions taken by the Government which are so short-term and which did not in any way consider the future prospects of the whole region.

I will make 10 immediate demands for Government action.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With due courtesy, I must remind the hon. Member that there are 25 other debates ahead of us.

Mr. Emery

I said that I was coming to my conclusion, and my demands are very small. I hope that because of their smallness I may have co-operation from the Government. The question of the spine road should be immediately dealt with as a crash programme. The completion date should be brought forward to 1973 and not put back to after 1975. There should be immediate granting of development area status to Plymouth. There needs to be immediate overall revision, or abolition, of Selective Employment Tax for specific industries in the area. There needs to be immediate approval of a docks scheme for Bristol. There needs to be a pledge of sympathetic consideration and positive approval by the Board of Trade of i.d.c.s for grey areas to stimulate activity in the smaller towns of the region.

There needs to be movement of the area headquarters from Bristol, or if not some division of the infrastructure so that administration is spread over the area. We need to have designated Exeter Airport as a regional airport. There should be consideration of problems of milk production in the area. This must be taken up by the Government. There must be consideration of all the aspects of the Transport Bill, which will actively discourage industry to move to Devon and Cornwall.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member cannot propose amendments to the Transport Bill in this debate.

Mr. Emery

I want it to be scrapped, not amended.

Mr. Speaker

Nor that it be scrapped.

Mr. Emery

There must be reconsideration of the Government's reply to the whole of the South-West draft strategy so that this can be reissued with support improvements for the region. Professor Tress said: We have given this Report the title, 'A Region with a future'. We have appropriated this title for the South-West because it best sums up the message of this Report. "A Region with a future"? Under the delaying tactics of the Government that future will be a long way off. The immediate future will be dismal. The long term is as indefinite as ever. Increased prosperity or growth for the region has again received a stab, not in the back, but in the chest for all to see. By refusing to act immediately, the Government have slammed the door on any rapid revitalisation of the region. This is a shattering disappointment. It goes to show that, dedicated as indeed Socialists and the Government may be to theoretical planning, when it comes to action or responsibility Socialism is the worst bureaucrat of the lot, weak, vague and stupid.

The South-West is left frustrated with real hopes dashed, condemned again to waste more time before anything is done. More young people will move from the region creating greater social and economic problems. Expansion will be delayed by the refusal of development status for Plymouth and the inability of the Government to accept the growing problems of certain grey areas. The Government have pigeon-holed the Tress Report. They have damned it by faint action. In dealing with the problems of the South-West the Government have been weak, vague and stupid.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

Mr. Speaker, you and I have listened in the course of the years to a great many speeches of the kind we have just heard. The only thing missing from the speech by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) was a tub, which he could thump. Generally what he said was a condemnation of the Government commensurate with the neglect of three Tory Governments to look after the interests of the South-West. That was the measure of the speech he made.

We all welcomed the Tress Report. We could be critical of it because its words were not nearly pungent enough about the needs of the South-West. Often in this House I have dubbed the South-West Region "the Cinderella of Britain". I remind the hon. Member that it is all very well for him and for his hon. Friends now to shout the odds about what is needed to improve our region, but they should have thought of these things when they not only had the opportunity but the power to put into operation the things which they are now saying we should have done in a period of little over three years.

I remember quite well various speeches by the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) when he was Minister of Transport. What did he ever do, other than to order the original survey on the proposition for the spine road into the South-West? All hon. Members representing constituencies in the South-West agree on this overriding need. We are unanimous about it, but it comes ill from the mouths of hon. Members opposite to accuse the present Government of not having done anything in this connection, although I might be a little critical about it. I doubted many times whether the right hon. Member for Wallasey when he was Minister of Transport even understood that the South-West Region existed. We were battling all the time to try to obtain recognition from him of what we agree to be a major necessity. That was ample indication if we are to induce— induce is the word because it will be difficult—industries to come into that part of the country.

This may well be the reason why Cornwall now wants home rule. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) supports that proposition, but the community there believes that it has been isolated. People believe it and there is a considerable element of truth. I would give them home rule—without any cash.

The only real contribution that has been made to the industrial, agricultural and rural needs and amenities in this vast but very beautiful countryside has come from a nationalised industry. The only real contribution that has been made towards economic and social progress in the South-West has been made by the South-Western Electricity Board. This is the truth.

Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt him?

Mr. Wilkins

It is rather early to do so.

Mr. Bessell

I believe that he would agree that there are many companies, including English China Clays, which have made a vast contribution to the South-West.

Mr. Wilkins

If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I shall make some observations and, I hope, some worthy suggestions for perhaps improving the industrial facilities in the South-West; but we cannot have industries if we have not got power. This is what I mean when I say that the only real contribution that has been made so far has been that by a nationalised industry, the electricity industry. I want to quote on that major achievement from the Report on the South-Western Electricity Board for 1966–67, paragraph 45 on page 14: During the year the Board connected 3,592 regional premises, 16 per cent. more than the target for the year. Of these, 627 were farms, and by the end of the year the number of farms with a mains electricity supply had reached 29,239, over 92 per cent. of all farms in the Board's area. The proportion of other rural premises connected to the system has risen to about 97 per cent. I want to make some reference to the economic costs of this which fell very largely on the two industrial conurbations within the region, namely, Bristol and Plymouth, which have rather been under attack by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Honiton. Such progress is only bought at a price and under the present set-up, because of the requirements of the Act, the South-Western Electricity Board, which is essentially a distribution organisation, must pay for its massive extensions—and I use the phraseology of the document—by "a reasonable level of self-financing". This was what I meant when I said such progress is achieved only at truly exorbitant cost to the consumers; because if the distribution industry has to be self-financing then the only source from which to get the money is the consumer. I have disputed this as a matter of policy from time to time in this House because I see no reason at all why we should not achieve our capital developments oat of borrowed money, if we want to borrow it, and spread it over the years.

I speak feelingly about this because I was the last but one chairman of the Bristol municipal electricity undertaking which was probably one of the finest examples of municipal trading in this country, which provided an extremely cheap electricity supply to the people of Bristol. The moment we took the industry into public ownership and devolved the responsibilities to the regional organisations, the very large conurbations had to pay for it. I have always advocated—and I make no complaint about it now—that we ought to take all the amenities and advantages of electricity to the people in the countryside who spend their days there producing the food that is needed for our economy. I have no grouse about it now, but I ask that we should recognise that this is what we have done.

We should be appreciative of the sacrifice that we have had to impose on people who had hitherto been able to enjoy cheap electricity in order that people who hon. Gentlemen opposite like to suggest they alone represent, namely, the farming community and people who live in rural areas, might have 92 per cent. of all the farms and farm dwellings connected. I would remind the House again that that was done by the nationalised industry.

Mr. Emery

The hon. Gentleman has suggested that I was attacking Bristol and Plymouth. All I suggested was that they should have industrial development certificates in those areas for the docks. I do not think that this is an attack.

Mr. Wilkins

I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. I thought he was suggesting, as has been suggested so many times in this House, that certain things which are now based on Bristol should be deployed to other parts of the region. If I was wrong, I apologise, but I believe from what I can hear that I was right. If that were the end of the financial story it might not prove too serious cost-wise to the consumer. But it was in 1962 that the then Tory Minister of Fuel and Power—and this has to be remembered by people in the South-West—required the South-Western Electricity Board to earn an average gross return of 14 per cent. per annum on net assets employed; and this is really where the root of the trouble starts. We do not hear of this when we get complaints from hon. Gentlemen opposite, when we are challenged on not having done this or that. In almost every sphere one may choose to examine it may be almost impossible to do very much in the first two or three years by reason of the state in which they leave the country, in one way or another.

Let me give a further quotation, because I believe this is extremely important to consumers in the region and, in particular those in Bristol and Plymouth. I quote from the same report, paragraphs 5 and 6, on page 1: The year 1966–67 marked the end of the five-year period beginning in April, 1962, during which the Board had agreed a financial objective with the Minister of Power requiring the Board to earn an average gross return of 14 per cent. per annum on net assets employed. In the four years ended March, 1966, the Board had achieved a gross return of 13.4 per cent., which represented a shortfall of £1.3 million on a target return of £30.6 million…The shortfall over the five years is attributable partly to a higher level of capital expenditure than was envisaged at the beginning of the quinquennium; and partly to a general increase in costs, including fuel costs. The report goes on to explain the reasons why a general increase in tariffs to stabilise the Board's financial position was inevitable—and "inevitable" is the word used here—during 1967–68. I have quoted this at some length because I believe that it is relevant to this debate, in that the electricity supply is probably the most vital element in the future development of industry and agriculture in this forgotten, far-flung and remote region of the country.

That brings me to the next point, again a very important one, of which I believe all hon. Members from the South-West are particularly conscious—what we call the "grey areas" and/or a development area. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Honiton say that Plymouth should be a development area. Last week I interrupted the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) in the debate on the Budget Resolutions and said that a Member of the House needs a very long memory. It is without doubt an asset, because it was a Tory Government who, in 1962, dis-established Plymouth, which had been till then a development area.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

That action was taken because unemployment went down. When the Local Employment Act was applied, unemployment was 4.9 per cent. In 1962 it fell to below the national average.

Mr. Wilkins

Immediately that happened the Tories dis-established Plymouth as a development area. Now they ask for it to be redesignated. Why was it disestablished, anyway? I am stating the plain fact that it was a Tory Government who disestablished Plymouth as a development area but the Tories now assert that it should be redesignated.

The truth of the situation in the South West is that we have to pay, and we are paying, for the remoteness of the area. This is the essential feature which discourages industry from going into the area. It is not often that I pay unsolicited testimonials to the C.B.I., but I have studied with considerable interest the Report of its Working Party on the South West Region. I commend this document to the Minister, if he has not already read it. To be brutally frank, I believe that there is more value in this report than there is in the Tress Report. Although the Tress Report may be written in elegant language, the C.B.I. Report gives the bare bones and the bare facts and sets out the difficulties which confront us and which must be faced if we want to stimulate the economy of the area.

On 8th June, 1967, the C.B.I. set up a working party to take part in a national study of the regional problem and to consider the evidence that the Confederation was proposing to put before the Hunt Committee. I want to make one or two quotations from this document, because it will be useful to get these observations on the record. I hope that the Government will take cognisance of the implications of the C.B.I.s notion of possible developments, if they can be achieved. The first page of the report says: Understandably, there is no reserve of industrial skills. The Committee is explaining that this was and is essentially an agricultural area. It is not rich in skilled crafts or professions. Most of the skilled crafts the region used to have have become dying industries. I continue quoting: This, coupled with the obvious geographical disadvantage of remoteness—a condition seriously aggravated by poor communications"— this is where the question of the spine road comes in— has resulted in low infrastructure quality and an almost complete absence of the conditions necessary for spontaneous economic growth… Industrial development, therefore, can best be summarised as dangerously slow in the North and stagnant in the rest of the Region: throughout the region there is a severe shortage of skilled labour…a limited amount of unskilled labour exists in the non-industrial area, together with a degree of hidden unemployment, particularly of women. I accept that this is a problem of almost insoluble magnitude. If it is to be overcome, drastic remedies—or drastic treatment—is required. Strong arguments, arguments which are difficult to refute, have been advanced for not making Plymouth a development area. This argument is made also in the report of the C.B.I. Committee. Some say that Plymouth's being a development area would have a seriously adverse effect on Cornwall. I can well understand that that may be so. The answer seems to me that the whole area around Plymouth should be declared a growth area. Full use should be made of the Industrial Expansion Bill when enacted. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Board of Trade will be generous with industrial development certificates, if people can be induced to apply for them. The expansion of existing industries should be encouraged.

This by itself will not be enough. The Government must devise a scheme designed to offer financial encouragement to industries to expand or to go to the region. In other words, if we are to persuade or encourage industries to come to the far South-West, there must be a carrot. Business exists to make profits. Business wants to make profits economically and it must have good communications and docks, if that pleases the hon. Member for Honiton.

I come now to the question of good communications. We have heard much in the past and more today about the spine road. I have already said that the Tories' shouting on this point is the measure of and is commensurate with the Tory Government's abject failure to provide this vital need. At long last it is a first priority—or is it? All hon. Members, apart from Bristol Members—so I am going contrary to what I believe to be the view of my colleagues in Bristol—must have been bitterly disappointed when they read in their newspapers last week that the remainder of the M5 to Birmingham is to be completed before the Bristol to Edithmead section is commenced.

I would not deny that, from a purely parochial and insular point of view, the completion of the M5 to Birmingham would obviously be to the tremendous advantage of Bristol. Bristol would expect that the use of its docks would increase as a result of good road communications from Birmingham. But it is terribly bad news for the people who earn their living there—and I am thinking particularly of those people who cater for the tourist industry in the South-West. Only a few days ago I read that between 4 million and 5 million people went to the South-West for holidays last year. I marvel that they did so. Only to get through the city of Bristol is a task—my goodness it is—during at least nine weeks of the summer months, and I have had an awful lot of trouble about this. Some of my constituents are just driven crazy with the traffic noise caused by this travel, which goes on incessantly not simply by day but right throughout the night. There are many simple ways, from the point of view of the engineering requirements, in which this could be overcome.

May I repeat something I have said here at least two or three times. There was a time when I used to advocate as vociferously as anyone else our having an arterial road, a spine road, or whatever you may call it, from Bristol to the South-West. I still believe that is a high priority, but I am sure that we could relieve an enormous amount of this traffic congestion immediately at not too great a cost if we were only to think more in terms of getting our traffic through by means of either underpasses or flyovers, or around by means of bypasses, which is the way usually we try to overcome traffic problems within cities. If we were to give this absolutely top priority we could get a far freer flow of traffic from Bristol to the South-West than is possible at the moment.

I am only suggesting this as a palliative, a temporary expedient. I should like to see the experiment started first of all on the Exeter by-pass. I think the Exeter by-pass is a failure, or not very far from a failure, because all the bottlenecks start at one of the roundabouts. I do not know if the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) can tell me how many roundabouts there are on the bypass, but every time you approach one you are in another jam.

Mr. Bessell


Mr. Wilkins

There are five, and if we could only have flyovers instead of those roundabouts we should be doing a tremendous amount towards relieving the congestion on the A38.

Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I just want to be quite clear that I am understanding his argument, which I am following with considerable interest. Is he saying, in fact, that the bypasses and so on should have a higher priority than the spine road? Is he putting these above the spine road in spite of the recommendations of the Tress Report and the C.B.I.?

Mr. Wilkins

I am saying that this is something that might be tried; I am trying to suggest something that will speed up the traffic. I do not want to impede it. If I thought my suggestion would cause an impediment, I would not make it. The A38 is not too bad until you meet the bottlenecks at Highbridge, Bridgwater, Taunton and Exeter; and this goes on all the way, even at Launceston and Okehampton. This is exactly the point that I am trying to make. If, as a first priority, we had a programme that sought to overcome these bottlenecks in the first instance and let the other part of the proposal for the spine road follow on, I think that would offer a temporary alleviation of the situation.

Why does the South-West Region always have to wait? This is my last question. I have been trying to discover the answer, and have failed to do so, but the reason it has always been so in the past is that almost invariably it has been represented by Tories, who have not cared a cuss about it. This is so: Until recently, I was the lone member representing the Labour party from Bristol right down to the toe of Cornwall. All in between, all over the years, it has always had Conservative representation, and it is paying the price for that.

Mr. Dean

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but is he not missing the main point—that during the 13 years of Tory Government there was prosperity in this country, and the South-West shared in that? Now, suddenly, through the economic policies of this Government, it has been hit harder than any other area.

Mr. Wilkins

If the hon. Gentleman believes that, I can only say that it is a pipe dream. That is not the experience of those of us who know the South-West very well. Let me get back to my point after that diversion.

Why does this region always have to wait? I have been trying to discover what the user per annum of the Forth Bridge is. Unfortunately I have not been able to discover that, but we waited 33 years for the Severn Bridge, and very few Members of this House know that. I have in my hand the Report of a panel of engineers who were charged in 1933 with the responsibility or the duty of putting a bridge across the River Severn which would also be a hydro-electric dam. They produced their Report in 1935 and I was a member of the Committee that con sidered it in 1936 and 1937. Thirty-three years ago we were asking for a bridge across the Severn, but almost every other claim that was put forward in this country was accepted as being of greater priority than the needs of the South-West.

I beg the Minister to understand that you cannot just dismiss out of hand the intense feeling—whether the people are right or wrong, and I think they are right—in the South-West that it is a deliberately neglected area, and this goes for all the Governments because I am indicting them even from after the First World War. There has never been any progress, whoever has been in power. My indictment is a sweeping one, but the feeling is there, and unless something is done—first of all either to stimulate the expansion of existing industries or to encourage other industries to go there—then that feeling will continue.

Therefore I conclude with one or two suggestions. The first concerns one of the dying industries in the South-West—in fact, it is almost dead—the fishing industry. I remember when St. Ives was renowned for its fishing harbour. Now all the fishing has gone round to Newlyn. At Brixham there is some progress because there is some sort of co-operative organisation there which helps fishing to keep going. But why not do something to try to revive the fishing industry? Is it not possible to revive it?

What about the possibility of exploiting the region for coal? I do not know whether the people of the South-West would like it—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There we are. They want it all ways. They want to have the beauty of the countryside and they want a sound economy to go with it, but they do not want any exploitation of the mineral resources of the land. I make this suggestion because I agree with something which I heard the late Aneurin Bevan say in the House some years ago, when in opposition—I cannot remember the date. He said that, if he were able to do it, he would give an instruction for test borings and other forms of exploration with a view to exploiting the resources of Cornwall. He believed that there must be untapped mineral resources in Cornwall of enormous value to this country. Today, the report of the C.B.I. makes the point—I paraphrase it—that, if Britain were suddenly to have its tin resources cut off, money would cascade into Cornwall in an effort to discover whether there was still tin there which could be exploited.

Mr. Bessell

Would not a simple way to deal with the problem be the sort of tax holiday which was advocated by the Prime Minister when in opposition but which he has consistently rejected when in office?

Mr. Wilkins

I have as much as I can do to answer for my own sins, without answering for the sins of others. I am making a serious point. We have neglected the possibilities of exploiting the resources of the South-West, particularly of Cornwall. The strata there are such as to lead one to believe that there are probably immense mineral resources under the land. If we want industry to develop there, if we want to make Cornwall a prosperous economic unit within the country, there seems no reason why the Government should not offer some sort of encouragement to people who are prepared to try their luck at exploiting the natural and mineral resources of the area.

I hope that I have not wearied the House, but I felt that this was probably the one opportunity which we should have for quite a long time to impress upon the Government the feeling that the South-West is a neglected area. However, I dare not sit down without mentioning one other matter, the question of the Bristol docks. We seem to have an awful lot of kite-flying nowadays. In our local evening paper last Saturday I saw it said that, Midas may come to the West with a golden touch. On reading the article, one soon found that Midas was not coming to the West with a golden touch, and it all seemed to be so much kite-flying.

The Bristol Port Authority in its initial report forecast the possibility of having the Portbury dock scheme. It was extremely well received. It received the blessing of the National Ports Council, and Bristol was encouraged to go on to produce another massive document in two volumes, at enormous expense, I imagine, setting out the potential attributes of the Portbury scheme. But Port-bury was turned down by the Minister— not without some justification, I am inclined to think. I do not know, but I have a feeling that we might, in the end, have been landed with something which could well have been a white elephant. I am not sure. However, the scheme was to be self-financed within Bristol.

What I complain about is that, having turned down that scheme, the Minister then invited Bristol to produce an alternative scheme for a west dock. Again, a massive report, which must have cost an enormous amount in time and money, was produced; but now, judging by the straws in the wind, it seems that this is also likely to be turned down.

The damage done is to the people who work in the industry. They are the ones who suffer. They are frightened that Bristol will not be able to compete, especially with the port which they regard as their biggest rival, namely, Rotterdam, unless they can have their deep-water berth. I know that my hon. Friend will convey to the Minister the tenor of the appeals which we are making, and I want him to impress upon his right hon. Friend that Bristol really believes that it needs this dock if the port is to survive. If he can persuade her to agree that we may have it, he will earn the gratitude not only of the Members of Parliament for Bristol but of all the people they represent—and even of some Conservatives who will, perhaps more grudgingly, approve it and, of course, claim that they are in the van of progress and they are the ones who really spurred the scheme on.

4.57 p.m.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

I am glad to be able to share in the luck of the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery). We seem to have come top of the Ballot together, though I am not sure whether it was his luck or mine. Last Thursday, I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on the Government's reply to the Tress Report, and I urged that we have it before Easter. He turned my request down forcibly. We had waited to debate the Tress Report for several months, and it was evident that we should have to wait as many months, if not for ever, to debate the Government's reply. It is excellent, therefore, that we have an opportunity to raise the matter on this occasion as a result of our luck in the Ballot.

I shall not discuss all the details of the Tress Report. I am concerned primarily with the Government's reply and its inadequacy. When the Tress Council was originally formed, I expressed grave reservations about its membership and about the report which it would be likely to produce. My main reservations have been confirmed by the Government's attitude to the outcome of its endeavours. First, I considered that the Council was unrepresentative and undemocratic and that it would, therefore, have no moral authority to fight for its recommendations. We see now that, because of its unrepresentative character, it cannot really fight for the recommendations it has made.

The Report itself is a valuable analysis of the problems of the South-West. The Tress Council has presented its case, but it has wasted its effort and the Government's money because no real results will come of it. I have reservations about certain aspects of the Report, particularly its attitude to farming. The Council seemed to believe that bigness was the be-all and end-all of the farming business, and that, so long as one amalgamated several small farms, the whole thing would somehow or other lead to more production and more efficiency.

I have reservations about the recommendations regard to the A30 and the A38. I have reservations about the whole area which the Report discussed, and they have been confirmed by the setting up of the Severn study, because the Government have shown clearly, as the Council was forced to say, that Bristol turns in its industrial development and commerce primarily towards the Midlands and Severn complex and not to the South-West.

Nevertheless, the Report made certain recommendations which received widespread support throughout the whole of the West Country from all political parties and from other bodies. It received support from many local authorities, some of which may have had reservations about certain aspects of the Report. But the West Country waited for real Government initiative to put the recommendations into action.

What we have had is a slap in the face. I am not forecasting who will become Chairman of the Economic Plan ning Council, but I should like to quote a remark that is quite extraordinary in the light of all that has happened in the past two or three weeks. In the Western Daily Press of 20th February last year Professor Victor Wiseman, a member of the Council, said of it: Our advice is being acted on on an increasing number of occasions. We even managed to get some railway closures postponed. Bully for him! We must ensure that whoever becomes Chairman of the Council does not suffer self-delusion quite so easily.

The reaction of the Government has been a bitter disappointment. The hon. Member for Honiton stated some of the Press reactions. My experience in the further west part of the peninsula is that it is a very widespread reaction. The Government are living in cloud cuckoo land. Almost unbelievable complacency is shown in page 5 of their reply. The first paragraph talks of …the benefits of the massive programme of assistance to development areas… What massive programme? I hope that we shall hear from the Minister the exact definition of those words, because I have not seen evidence of the massive programme as yet.

The Council has made some comments on the Government's reaction. The first is that it welcomes the fact that the Government accepted its general principle. That is very decent and good of the Government. If they had not accepted them the Minister would not even have dared to come into the Chamber today. Certainly, he would not have got out again.

The first point the Government turned down is the recommendation on the spine road. The Council placed tremendous emphasis on this. In the summary of its conclusions on page 123, paragraph 562 states: In particular, there is urgent need for the early construction of a 'spine road' of adequate standard running from the end of the M5 in Somerset to Plymouth and Penzance. In paragraph 563 it is stated: We believe that the economic and social return to be expected from a spine road justifies priority for the allocation of funds for it. We therefore urge the Government to ensure the completion of an adequate spine road by 1975: we are aware of no physical or technical barriers to this. I entirely agree. I can see no physical or technical barriers either.

Addressing a meeting of local council representatives in Bideford town hall on 3rd January, Professor Tress said that the A38 spine road would be completed to Penzance by 1975. It is only just over two months ago that he issued that forecast and he presumably must have had some indication from the Government to give him confidence that they would bear him out. Now the Government say, on page 2 of their reply: Subject to decisions about the level of the road programme in the early 1970s, this would mean that the spine road as far as Plymouth could be completed, or under construction, by the mid-1970s. We are to get only to Plymouth by the time that two months ago Professor Tress said he hoped that we should be in Penzance. Even on the promise of the road's reaching Plymouth there has been no definite announcement, and the Government are hedging their bets on that.

I believe that it is perhaps natural for economists to settle for the development of the A38, but the A30 is of vital significance to the northern part of the far South West peninsula. I hope that the Minister can give us a date for the Launceston and Okehampton improvement schemes mentioned in the Government's reply to the Tress Report.

Certain of the Government's reasons for the spine road decision primarily come down to lack of cash for public expenditure and that it is too far ahead. I cannot see anything wrong with being too far ahead. I should have thought that a Government which believe in long-term economic planning would welcome the chance to make decisions for a decade ahead. I realise the strength of the point about public expenditure, but I believe that the spine road requires a very high priority for Government expenditure. Nevertheless, why do not the Government consider doing it by private expenditure instead?

I could well understand the Government's case if there were genuinely a lack of the physical resources for building the road in the area, but there is no such lack. There is plenty of stone available, particularly in Cornwall, and to my knowledge the necessary plant is lying idle in many road contractors' yards all over Devon and Cornwall and in parts of Somerset. There is plenty of manpower, as the unemployment figures and low activity rates indicate, and the only resource missing is money. Will the Minister tell us that the Government will undertake a feasibility study and how much it will cost to build a limited access dual carriageway road from Edithmead to Penzance?

The second major point the Government have turned down in the Report is the recommendation that Plymouth should have all the benefits of a development area. I believe that this is absolutely essential to the whole concept of the development of the West Country, which cannot be planned or developed economically without Plymouth as an essential part of it. Plymouth provides the only hope of urban, social and cultural facilities without which we can never attract the young people in particular and keep them in the area.

The Government's reasons for turning down Plymouth are extraordinary. First they say there is a danger for other parts of the South-West, particularly the development areas. There is the idea that Plymouth would siphon in industry that wanted to move to the South-West and might well go down into Cornwall or North Devon but would stop short in Plymouth. I represent one of the areas that the Government are so solicitous about in their Report and I am convinced that we in Cornwall, particularly North Cornwall, need Plymouth's growth potential to develop a firm industrial and economic base. Do the Government really suppose that the Council would have made that recommendation, based as it is on a whole host of facts and research, without considering that objection? Professor Tress has dismissed the Government's arguments on this as entirely irrelevant and quite wrong.

The second major reason for the Government's turning down the suggestion of Plymouth's becoming a development area—

Mr. Bessell

Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, would he agree that the nonsense of the Government's answer is shown by the fact that in the Gunnislake area in my constituency we have the highest rate of unemployment in Comwall—13.1 per cent.? If the labour exchange area in Liskeard, for example, included Gunnislake, Saltash, Torpoint and areas like that, including those of my hon. Friend's constituency, the whole problem of development area status could be overcome, because it is the fact that Plymouth is the labour exchange area that prevents those areas from getting development area status.

Mr. Pardoe

I entirely agree. One must regard in economic planning for such a region both the conurbation and the rest of the area. Gunnislake and Saltash and other areas around Plymouth would have to be brought into this and I would also include Okehampton, as the Council suggested.

The second reason which the Government have produced for turning down the Plymouth recommendation is its danger to other areas. They fear that giving Plymouth the sort of priorities we want it to have would syphon off industries from other development areas. But we are concerned with the development area of the South-West, of which Plymouth is an essential part. The Government really cannot say to hon. Members from the South-West that they are not particularly concerned with our problems, because they are interested in the problems of the North-East, the North-West and elsewhere. Plymouth and the rest of the West Country hang together in this sense, and if they do not hang together they will hang separately.

I do not want to steal the thunder of hon. Members from Plymouth but Plymouth depends largely on the Dockyard and defence contracts for its labour. It has tremendous reserves of skilled manpower and these are available for new industries going to the West Country. We are told that we have to wait for the Report of the Hunt Committee. When are we to get that Report? The Committee was set up in October and it is rumoured that we shall not get the Report until next year.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. Alan Williams)

In reply to a debate last Monday I made it clear that the Report will be made this autumn.

Mr. Pardoe

I read the debate and I do not think that any such clear indication had been given.

Mr. Williams

I even quoted Sir Joseph Hunt. I had spoken to him only a few days before and asked him what his information was. I made it clear to the House.

Mr. Pardoe

I am glad that at least we now have a date. [HON. MEMBERS: "Be generous."] Very well. I have withdrawn my criticism on that score. I am glad that it has been explained and that we now have a clear and definite date. But I see no reason why Plymouth should have to wait for the Report. Plymouth need not get those industries which are more appropriate to other parts of the region. It would be possible to guide larger industries to Plymouth. Professor Tress has indicated those which would be suitable.

It is difficult to know what to do with a concern which wants to employ several hundred people and to move to a development area in the West Country. I have recently had an approach from a concern in the London area which wants to employ 800 people in the West Country. It wants to move there lock, stock and barrel. It is difficult to know exactly where in my constituency to direct a company which wishes to employ that number of people. It is difficult to know where to direct it in the whole of the South-West development area.

But Plymouth is the kind of place which can pick up concerns of this sort, and when it does the branch factories and ancillary trades will begin to develop in the other parts of the area such as Cornwall and North Devon. We look to Plymouth as the catalyst for this kind of industry.

The Government are willing to grant industrial development certificates for Plymouth but that is a negative attitude because the need is to sell the West Country and induce people to go there. Both this Government and their predecessors have been wrong in defining development area status purely by reference to unemployment. It is much more important now to think in terms of income per head and general prosperity if we are to get our development area philosophy correct.

I turn now to the problem of industries already in thearea. The Report made certain recommendations about the development of agriculture, which is the obvious staple industry of the South-West rural areas. I have made it clear that I have reservations about the Government's attitude to this. They cannot have it both ways. They say that they are relying on the Agriculture Act, 1967, to increase the momentum towards the amalgamation of small farms but at the same time, in the next paragraph, they say that there is tremendous scope for intensification of agriculture on small farms. They are trying to have their cake and eat it. Perhaps they will tell farmers, mystified about the general philosophy towards agriculture shown by the Government, whether they want them to accept grants and pensions and get out or intensify and try to get more from every acre.

What methods of informing the farmers have the Government adopted for the provisions introduced in the 1967 Act? Perhaps we can be told how many farmers in the South-West have taken up the offers under the Act. My experience is that very few have. Indeed, very few of them even know in any detail that the provisions exist. The Government have mentioned horticulture but it is no good relying on the horticultural industry to set up new marketing methods if, at the same time, the Government are ruining its contact with its major markets as a result of their transport policies.

The same problems emerge with fishing. The effects of the Government's transport policies on fishing in the South-West will be disastrous. On page 9 of the Report, the. Government mention that they will send to the Council a full report on the fishing industry of the South-West. Will that be made available to hon. Members for the area? When will it be ready?

There has now been some help for tourism generally, particularly in the rural areas, and I welcome it. Many of my constituents welcome it but it is no good the Government placing emphasis on the great advantages which part exemption of elderly people and part-time workers from Selective Employment Tax will bring to the tourist industry. The Government have already imposed the tax and now, in taking it off, say they are doing these people a tremendous favour. Apparently, the idea is that one is doing people a favour by exempting people from a tax one has already imposed. It is not a clever bit of economic planning and the Government should be ashamed to put it in print.

Tin mining is immensely important to Cornwall and could be far more important if the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) were taken up. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister promised specifically and clearly when in Opposition that a Labour Government would make this tax concession to the mining industry. He has now turned turtle on that promise as with all the others.

Dr. John Dunwoody (Falmouth and Camborne)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say something about this, because it is in my constituency that most of the tin mining takes place. Very complex factors have to be taken into consideration. For example, how would the hon. Gentleman solve the difficulty which tin mining is having in attracting workers in an area of high unemployment? At the moment, the industry finds extreme difficulty in attracting sufficient workers for those mines operating today. How would the hon. Gentleman envisage that aspect of the problem being solved?

Mr. Pardoe

The pay scales offered are low compared with mining wages elsewhere. This is inevitable. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister would have taken this into account when he made the promise to develop tin mining. I am sure that he gave careful consideration to these points, and I hope that the hon. Member will ask him why he made the promise.

I want to make a brief comment about the development of offices and office employment in the area, a subject raised by the Report, and the reply to it from the Government. This brings into consideration the whole subject of S.E.T. and service industries. The complaint which we have made on this side of the House, along with some hon. Members opposite, about S.E.T. is that it is absolutely useless to try to impose a tax on service industries that will bring people out of them into manufacturing until one has the manufacturing industries for people to enter. This applies to shop-keeping as much as to offices. Since the Council has said that there is scope for extension of office employment in the area, particularly to give young people wider employment opportunities, I hope that the Government will look at the possibilities of making S.E.T. concessions in respect of office work in the area.

The Location of Offices Bureau should take the South-West into account in its endeavours. It has been successful in a positive sense in encouraging firms to remove from London and in organising that removal. I hope that it will take account of the great advantage which Plymouth and the rest of the South-West offers to firms and Government Departments.

There are very special difficulties for the South-West as compared with other development areas. We are far from markets and supplies. We have some considerable advantages, mostly social and cultural. We cannot be sold to industry in the Midlands or London, or wherever these firms may be, by blanket advertising over the whole lot of development areas. Whenever I see those advertisements showing the coloured spots on the map in the newspapers and the caption saying: "Move to a Development Area", I am conscious that the South-West is probably very much further removed from the main centres of population, from the areas to which such firms contemplating a removal are likely to go, than any other development area, particularly so when one takes into account the time involved in getting there and not just the distance.

In an extremely interesting article in Lloyd's Bank Review of January, 1967, Mr. B. J. Loasby made it Quite clear that the initial reaction of any company wanting to move from Birmingham or London was to look at the nearest development area. Unfortunately, very few of these companies find that the South-West is the nearest area. We need special incentives. We need an agency which will sell the South-West to industry. We need men in it who know how to market ideas and we need a survey of the potential market.

Successive governments have been concentrating on the character of the parts, not very adequately, rather than looking at the other end, from which the industrialists are to move and discovering what motivates them. What is it that makes them decide to move? What are the stimuli that set this process in action? We need a survey of firms, in order to establish those which are likely to move when the economy starts to expand, to identify those which will be in difficulties in expanding in their present location, and those which could use the natural resources of the South-West.

I think particularly of the china clay industry and the potteries. It may be that the potteries have reached the point where they would prefer to move nearer to their clay and further from the coal, since they no longer use coal in their heating. Some potteries with which I have discussed this recently were not aware of any of the development area incentives offered by the Government. We need this agency working, from the South-West, and of the South-West to go out and survey the market and sell it to these firms.

In the South-West, we do not have very much confidence that this Government or any Whitehall-based administration will be able to provide the solution. This Report of the Council was headed: "A Region with a Future". I still believe that it is a region with a great future, but we shall undoubtedly have to build it for ourselves, and the message of this document which the Government have thrown at us is "Put not your trust in princes, at least not in those who live in Whitehall".

5.25 p.m.

Mr. R. H. F. Dobson (Bristol, North-East)

There will be a great deal of agreement in the debate between the two sides of the House, but there will be one chasm which we can never properly get over, and that is the chasm between hon. Gentlemen opposite who always insist that during the Conservative Administration everything that needed to be done was done and those of us on this side of the House who know from personal and practical experience that this is far from the case. I have lived in the area for 15 years, and other people who have lived there for similar periods were conscious that there was a need for Government action and for some thought to be given to the South-West. None of this could happen overnight, not until a Government came along, as did the Labour Government, in 1964, designed specifically to draw attention to the economic problems of the South-West.

This is why I welcomed the setting up of the South-West Regional Economic Planning Council and hoped that it would come out with some creditable, factual information which will persuade the Government to take action in this very difficult area. I do not share the views of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) or the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) when they say that the Tress document is a wasted effort or a waste of time. It is not. It is a very valuable document, which can be talked about and argued about and used by Members of Parliament and members of local authorities to see that the South-West gets its fair share of development, as rapidly as possible. That is the real value of this fine document.

Of course, I was disappointed at some of the things that the Government said in their Reply. Hon. Members opposite had said as much. The point that I insist on making is that before we had no document about which to argue. Arguments were local and largely sterile, with no opportunity for public ventilation. It is only since this document became available a few months ago that we have had any opportunity of putting forward a collective view about this area.

Mr. Pardoe

The hon. Gentleman is factually wrong. We had the A.I.C. Report.

Mr. Dobson

The hon. Gentleman knows that that was not, in the same sense of the word, an economic planning document. This is the first document that any of us can remember of any depth studies and it is now available, for us to talk about the economics of the South-West.

Dame Joan Vickers

There was a document used just before the election, presented to my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), which had precisely the same point in it. It was not such a large document, but there is nothing new in this Report at all.

Mr. Dobson

The hon. Lady has lived in the area and represented it for a very long time and has great knowledge of it, but she is confirming what I am saying, that there was a great deal of information, well known locally. The object of the exercise was to get a document of depth which could be discussed locally, and this is what the Tress Report represents. I pay tribute to it because it is a very fine Report, which grapples with the three problems about which I want to talk.

First it said that there was a need for a spine road to the South-West. No one seriously disputes this. What we are talking about is whether the Government have given the O.K. to their priorities in the right way. My hon. Friend on the Front Bench will obviously make this point as well, but it should be known that the area required to be dealt with first, from Bristol to Exeter, will be so dealt with. Exeter to Plymouth will be the next stage of development, followed by Plymouth onwards. This is what the Government propose. This is precisely the priority which the Council asks to be given to the South-West.

Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

Does the hon. Gentleman think that Dorset merits no consideration at all under a Labour Government?

Mr. Dobson

The hon. Gentleman can make his case for Dorset as he wishes. I am talking about the South-West, which I know very well, and the spine road development through the South-West. I know that the A30 is involved in this matter. There are some points mentioned in the Report concerning that road. But I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree that, now that the Honiton bypass has been completed, it is the A30 from Exeter which causes the worst bottlenecks, and not in its more northern aspects.

The Government have said with some feeling that they accept the need for a spine road through the South-West. I would make a plea that they get ahead with it as quickly as possible, and 1975, as is envisaged, would be adequate for the purposes I am talking about.

Mr. Emery


Mr. Dobson

The hon. Gentleman disagrees. The hon. Members for Honiton and Cornwall, North said that various officers or members of the South-West Economic Planning Council had pointed out how terrible it was that the spine road would not be completed before 1975. I draw their attention to what the Council actually said about the spine road: Nevertheless…in the circumstances of the day, the programme as it now stands—including those additional schemes shortly to be announced as being in the preparation pool—is as much as can be achieved by 1975". That comes from the Economic Planning Council Press notice dated 12th March, 1968. The other quotations which the hon. Members made obviously missed the essential point. The Council is convinced that by 1975 the road is possible, but that if we try to bring it forward to 1973, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) suggested, it could not be done with the facilities available.

Mr. Emery

Would the hon. Gentleman bear two things in mind? First, the Government have said nothing definite even about 1975. They refer to the road being under construction by the mid-1970s. It might even be 1978. Secondly, although I lent my document to an hon. Gentleman, I know it fairly well. If he looks at the front page of it, he will see three points of regret expressed by the Council. It refers to its disappointment that more is not being done about the spine road. That comes before the quotation which the hon. Gentleman has made.

Mr. Dobson

I listened very carefully to the hon. Gentleman. I have not misquoted him, and I do not wish to do so. His point is absolutely fair. What I am saying is that hon. Members have failed to quote the qualifying statement in paragraph 4 of the Press notice to the effect that the Council recognises that the spine road could be completed by 1975, but not before then, for the reasons set out.

Mr. Pardoe


Mr. Dobson

Paragraph 4 on page 2 of the Press notice reads: The Council adhere to their view that the spine road to Penzance should be constructed to an adequate standard by as early a date as possible". That is my view. It goes on: 'Nevertheless, they have concluded that, in the circumstances of the day, the programme as it now stands—including those additional schemes shortly to be announced as being in the preparation pool—is as much as can be achieved by 1975. That is an exact quotation, and I do not think that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North would dispute one word of it. The Press notice also says: What matters for the future is getting more schemes out of the preparation pool, and put out to contract. The Council is satisfied that if the road is prepared by 1975—and it has no reason to doubt it—it will meet its requirements.

The Government have had regard to the priorities requested by the Council in relation to the road complex of the area, including some of the by-pass and improvement schemes in various places—for instance, Bridgwater, and further down at Liskeard and Camborne.

The second part of the Report which particularly interested those of us from the Bristol area concerns the Bristol dock scheme. The Report says that the Bristol dock scheme is essential to the area. This is generally accepted by hon. Members. It is a little difficult to understand how it will affect some ports in South Cornwall or along the South Dorset coast, but people recognised that there was a need for a growth port in the Bristol area, and Bristol was the only port which could be satisfactorily and adequately developed in the way required.

There have been many remarks, sometimes stupid remarks, in Bristol about the dock scheme and various dock schemes which have been proposed. It became reasonably obvious some time ago that the Portbury dock scheme was not "on" as an economic unit. Although that was of great regret to many of us, I gave as much support to the Economic Planning Council, I hope, as anybody else in the area. I recognised that there was a need for development of the dock scheme, but the economics were such that it could be said to be a bit of a pie-in-the-sky effort.

Then we had what was known as the "mini-Portbury scheme", which was of a different character. It was not really a mini-Portbury scheme, but an extension of the present dock complex. It is important that we should recognise that there is a difference between the two schemes, not only in scale, but in the way in which they would affect the area. I was disappointed to learn that the Government have not made a firm decision on the extension or the Bristol west dock scheme, but I was pleased to hear that they were at least thinking about it from the point of view of the possible economics which flow from the Severn-side study. It is imperative that the Severnside study should be taken into account before a final decision is made on this scheme. But I would go even further and say that they should recognise that we cannot have a satisfactory region unless we have a thriving and expanding port in Bristol. This is what the Economic Planning Council says. Certainly the National Ports Council has said it. I do not believe it possible to proceed unless we start from that base.

I have been concerned about the difference between the Economic Development Council's thinking and the Government's thinking on the Bristol west dock scheme. Towards the middle of this month, I wrote a letter to my hon. Friend which I hope he will deal with tonight. I have had an acknowledgement of it. It asks some important questions about this scheme to which my hon. Friend might be able to reply.

In the first place, if there was a clash of economic thinking in relation to the scheme between the Government and the Economic Development Council, or the P.B.A., who prepared most of the report, we should be told the area of conflict and the elements of dispute in the figures which are being discussed. Clearly, it is no good the P.B.A. trumpeting that its economics are right if at the same time the Government are trumpeting that theirs are right. No member of the population knows the area of dispute. If, for instance, we are discussing a 1½ per cent. difference in the economic returns, we ought to know about it. On the other hand, if it is a 5 per cent. difference, presumably the scheme is doomed from the word "go". I hope that my hon. Friend will say something about this.

The second point is the direct clash in the Bristol area, where members of the public are saying that they are prepared to back the local financing of the scheme if the Government will not do it. The Government feel that they cannot even allow this if it means a poor return on the capital invested. I accept that as being Government thinking and a matter which makes economic sense in the long term. However, the major portion of the cost of the Bristol west dock scheme is in the lock gates and the entrance. They account for roughly two-thirds of the total, and I ask my hon. Friend what there is to stop the Government allowing local private sources to supply the finance for that portion and for the Government to supply the rest.

This immediately changes the whole complex of the amount of return on the capital employed because, while there may be a low return on the locks and entrance side, there will be a much higher return on the main dock and the engagements carried on inside. I hope that this proposition will be considered against the background of the clear statements of people in Bristol who are prepared to back the west dock scheme.

Then, could we know when the Severn-side Development Study is to be concluded? Can we be told if the decision of the west dock scheme hinges upon it and by what date we can expect a firm decision? We have to have some dock development in the Bristol area if we are not to stagnate. I know that current thinking indicates that dock development should take place at Liverpool, Glasgow or London, and perhaps even Southampton. But I would plead with my hon. Friend not to concentrate on points which are in themselves congested and which are, in the main, still subjected to locking-in and locking-out and still subjected to extremely difficult approach conditions by road and rail. He ought to be thinking of the new combination of road and rail facilities available to the Bristol area.

There is one further point in relation to the dock scheme. The charge is made in Bristol that other ports have been given more facilities for enlargement and development than has Bristol. It should be clearly stated that that is not so and that we have had our fair share of development. I have given my hon. Friend notice of these questions in a letter, and I hope that he will be able to answer them when he comes to reply to the debate.

The third aspect of the Tress Report is the growth point of development in the region. I have no doubt that this is the way in which we should develop our region, but what has horrified me in the past is that we have tended to leave it completely to local initiative to make sure that we get this growth point development. That is why I was dissatisfied with the Government's reply in paragraph 8, where they say again that they wish to have some local initiative.

I am not for stifling local initiative in that sense, but I know how inadequate it has been in the past when small local authorities have tried to persuade industries to come to their areas. When the Government took office, I hoped that they would do far more in the way of positive steps to get industries into these areas. I know that a great deal has been achieved by means of i.d.c.s and the setting up of development factories in the South-West Region, but I hoped that they would do far more.

Perhaps I might refer to one matter which bothered me particularly about the South-West. Barnstaple had an opportunity of growth development that would have been within the terms of the Council's reference. However, such pressure was brought to bear by people in the area that finally, to the dismay of people outside it, the decision was taken by a majority of two to one against development in the area. Anyone who has lived there will know that such development was the answer for the area, and some of the surrounding rural districts would have benefited enormously.

When my hon. Friend talks about initiative by local authorities, he should remember that this has not worked in the past. It has even failed in the fairly recent past. It will only work if we have farsighted local authorities in the South-West, which is not always the case. We could have development if we went about it in the right way. When I say that, I do not mean the type of mining development about which hon. Members throw up their hands in horror. We could have small compact factories which would make an enormous difference to an area's potential.

I want to make a plea about the Okehampton area. When the Government's reply sets out the reasons for not making Plymouth part of the development area, there are some of the arguments which I accept. Some of the points in paragraph 13 are without dispute, although the hon. Member for Cornwall, North disputes a number of them. However, paragraph 14 says: Many places in them have high rates of unemployment, over-riding and immediate problems of declining industries, large-scale urban decay, and severe outward net migration. One thinks immediately of Okehampton. It cannot have easy access to Plymouth, because it is isolated from it by Dartmoor. The only thing to do to help it would be to call it part of the development area and hope to start industry there. I hope that the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) will not object to my making that point on behalf of his constituency.

Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)

Not at all. I am delighted.

Mr. Dobson

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I know the area extremely well. I do not claim that Plymouth should go into the development area, but I would ask my hon. Friend to consider making the Okehampton sub-district part of the development area, because that would do a great deal towards achieving growth point developments in the South-West.

I do not think that we have anything like a region without a future in the South-West. It is a region with a future. It will be made a more prosperous one if we can have more direct Government action than has been taken already, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will do just that as time goes on.

5.50 p.m.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson), but the future of the region appears rather dim from what he has been saying.

I want to deal with the question of the spine road through the region. The Tress Report says: Most of the spine road through the region can be completed or under construction by 1975, but not all, and the finance is not guaranteed. The worrying factor is that the finance is not guaranteed.

I support the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East in his partial interest in the Portbury scheme. I have had an opportunity of seeing it. I have been flown over the territory in a helicopter. It would be a great advantage to the city and if the hon. Gentleman wants any further help in pressing his claims I would support him.

I want to talk about the city of Plymouth. I want to know why Plymouth has offended the Government, because almost daily it receives another hit. This city was highly blitzed during the war and it has literally risen from the ashes by its own efforts, and now it would seem to be penalised for doing this. This is where I take issue with the Government. It is blitzed now on almost all occasions by the Government.

To attract industry we have appointed a special officer, and we had an office in New York. This is an officer of the Council who travels round not only this country, but Europe and America to try to attract other industry. So it is not for lack of the Council taking a real interest that we have failed to get the necessary industry.

When one thinks of the various Ministries which have hit at Plymouth during the last year or so, one can see how badly the city has been treated. For instance, the Chancellor of the Exchequer imposed the Selective Employment Tax. The first time was bad enough, but now that it is to go up by 50 per cent. it will be even worse. It particularly hits Plymouth because the second largest trade is the retail trade which employs 18 per cent. of the population. An increase in the Selective Employment Tax of this size will hit a great many firms.

Plymouth is also a good tourist centre. We now have on our envelopes a little stamp saying, "Top touring centre—Plymouth—in the West". This goes out all over the country. However, our tourist industry will be interfered with by the new Transport Bill, because we shall be limited in the areas to which we can go by the time allowed to drivers. One company alone has 222 tours arranged and it tells me that it will have to modify a great many. Tours to Penzance, St. Ives and Lands End have to start at 8.30 in the morning and they will have to be back by 7.30 or they may be transgressing the law.

The Board of Trade's refusal to recognise the need for Plymouth becoming a development area is another instance of a Ministry which has been against Plymouth for some unknown reason. The Ministry of Education has cut our school buildings, and last week the Ministry of Defence cut its expenditure. Plymouth has lived on a Devonport dockyard now for over 300 years and this will be a big additional blow.

We have been extremely active. I have a document here called "Development Area Studies for Plymouth and District". We set up a special committee, under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce, with a special office, to take an active interest in what could be done to help ourselves. There have been three major meetings. The Council of Churches also called a meeting which was extremely well attended by over 300 people. A petition was sent to the Government on 12th September, 1967, pointing out the various difficulties to which Plymouth would be subjected if it did not become a development area.

At page 121, paragraph 533, the Tress Report says: We consider that such effort must start from Plymouth, the one town large enough to stand comparison with urban centres elsewhere which serve as foci for the economic and social life of the communities around them, with inherent potentialities for sound economic growth, and already an attractive location for industry despite its remoteness. The Tress Report says that despite its remoteness, about which we have heard several times, it is an attractive area.

It goes on to say: There should be a clear programme for phasing in new and expanding industries with a phasing out of Plymouth's present dependence on Devonport Dockyard. Some special measures to bring in new workers may be needed initially to stimulate this process, and Plymouth City Council's study of the feasibility of a London overspill scheme would have this objective. This has been acted upon. Plymouth has been in touch with the G.L.C. and Birmingham concerning overspill. It is perfectly willing to do this if it can get sufficient backing.

It also says: We recommend that the Government should investigate the possibility of establishing a Board of Trade sub-regional office in Exeter or Plymouth to facilitate the Board's task of encouraging employers to locate new factories in the far South-West. Regrettably nothing of this has happened.

Air travel has not been mentioned today. Despite the many surveys, we are still without any form of airport in the South-West. Someone mentioned Exeter as being the regional centre. That is all very well if one happens to live in Honiton, but it is hardly helpful to the far South-West. We feel that we need a real survey to know what is happening concerning this matter as we need an airport or a heliport as soon as possible.

One of the difficulties in the South-West, particularly in the Plymouth area, is that by 1981 every person working will have to support one extra. In other words, the burden of supporting the retired population will fall heavily on the working population.

The wage level for men and women is very low. Manual workers have a level which is about 14 per cent. below the rest of the country and this is an additional reason for bringing further industry. Incomes in Devon and Cornwall, and particularly the area around Plymouth, show considerable differences. The Report states: The differences within the region itself, however, are much more marked than the differences that are marked between the different regions and the national position. Taking what is known as the lower activity rates in the far West, an agricultural worker will get 258s. and a manual worker will get 378s. This is 27 per cent. below the national average. The Family Expenditure Survey in regard to women showed at least that they were 14 per cent. below the national average.

We read in this Press hand-out: The Plymouth area is promised some of the advantages of a Development Area status Immediately, but the decisions on the remainder must wait for the Hunt Committee. We are told that the Hunt Committee will be reporting in the autumn, but we have no idea whether it will be favourable. I would put in a special plea not to wait until the autumn for the Hunt Report, particularly as we have had the defence debates and we know there are to be considerable cuts. There will also be considerable cuts in the services in the area. The Tress Report, at page 17, paragraph 58, says: The region contains many H.M. Forces' training areas and airfields particularly in Wiltshire and Dorset, as well as Naval dockyards at Plymouth and Portland. The run down of the armed forces in recent years has considerably reduced their regional importance…". This will be another loss to the area, because the Services spend a considerable amount of money there. If there are fewer Servicemen, there will be less money available to be spent on the retail trade.

Instead of continually giving us a knock, the Government might perhaps give us a pat on the back and say that the city has done well in the past by recovering from the blitz and reinstating itself. The Government should say that the city has done well by appointing a special officer, by having the special committee to which I have referred, and by taking the action which it has. The Government should say that instead of waiting for the Hunt Committee, they will give the city development status now. This would be the biggest lift for the city for many years to come.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers). I want to refer to a question on which she touched, as did the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), and that is the development status of Plymouth. Looking at the Report and the area that it covers, I think we must realise that in the South-West we are dealing with a region which is totally different from any other. It consists of small towns, long distances between towns, varied industries, and a wide variety of circumstances.

I challenge the statement made by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North—I hope that he will not mind my doing this—that we in the South-West accept the case for Plymouth to be given development status, and that if we do not hang together we shall all hang separately. I do not think that that is a correct statement, because I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) will agree with me when I say that if development status had been given to Plymouth it would have had a deleterious effect on the development area further to the West.

I do not accept the view that industries would have established themselves in Plymouth, and that spin-off subsidiary factories would have been set up further west in the Falmouth and Camborne area. It is 80 miles from Plymouth to the furthest part of the region, and I suggest that the Government have made it clear, by the policies they have adopted, that they intend to be liberal in the granting of certificates to Plymouth.

It is only natural for the Opposition to wallop the Government as hard as they can, but if one wants to move the Front Bench one has to use reasonable and objective arguments, and I do not think that a case has been made out for the granting of development status to Plymouth.

The South-West has a wide variety of local communities and local industries. It has a variety of geographical problems. I do not think that it is a question of us all hanging together, because I consider that we have a wide variety of needs, and there must therefore be a wide variety of solutions. The further west one goes, the greater the incentives have to be to attract people there. It is not just a question of development status. I consider that lighter or darker shadings of the aid must be made available.

I expect that my next remark will be rather controversial. I have always believed in the S.E.T.

Mr. Emery

We on this side of the House did not want to read out and rehearse all the arguments in paragraphs 418 to 425 of the Tress Report which set out in full the reasons why Plymouth should be made a development area. Our criticism is that the Government have rejected these proposals and given no reason for doing so.

Mr. Ellis

The hon. Gentleman has his point of view, and I take note of what he says. The real point that I am seeking to make is that if we establish Plymouth as a development area, this will have consequential deleterious effects on other areas. This can be argued both ways, but I am saying that, bearing in mind that aid is provided, the instruments available to the Government to provide it are rather blunt, and I should like to see a refinement in techniques.

The S.E.T. is a valuable aid which should be used in the South-West. It could prove to be a great incentive. I do not propose to get involved in an argument about whether the tax is too high, or too low. All I am saying that in an area such as this, with its vastly different needs, this is precisely the kind of tool that could be used to good effect, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne who has been pressing this view on the Government.

We are all aware of the recent provisions for helping the hotel industry in the more rural areas of development districts. This is a welcome step, but whether it goes far enough is another matter. I should like to see this kind of judgment being made increasingly to provide the aid that is needed to this area. Okehampton, Bideford, and the other places which have been mentioned during the debate can be fitted into the general context of special needs. I urge hon. Members to accept that in the South-West we have unique problems. As I said earlier, long distances are involved, and there is a great variety of industry. We therefore need a whole armoury of aid to meet our needs.

Having said that, I move on to paragraph 527 of the Report. Many glowing things have been said about the Report, and I do not want to detract from anything that has been said.

This is a comprehensive and invaluable Report, but I was disappointed that, in paragraph 527 referring to the Severnside Study, the council was unable to go into the future of the northern sub-region, which includes Bristol, as they did for other areas. It said that the study would operate in the 1970s and asked what would happen in the meanwhile: We doubt whether the development policies of the local authorities concerned will be adequate for expansion of the order we foresee without risk to the amenities of the area. I foresee a considerable expansion in the Bristol area, with the Severn project, the M5 extension down to the dock area at Avonmouth, which is nearing completion, and the proposed excellent communications on the M4. Any appraisal of natural growth must await the Severnside Study, and in the meantime we must rely on local authority development policies. Consultations are going on.

I am concerned about this. Bristol, unlike the industrial areas of Liverpool and the Midlands, escaped the worst excesses of the Industrial Revolution. Even during the height of the depression, it escaped the worst unemployment. Its development was not as fast as elsewhere. It is a beautiful city, in one of our few remaining unspoiled estuaries, and we must be careful about development between now and the publication of the Severnside Study.

Of course, there will be population moves from South Wales, and this will hinge on the size of the Severnside project. There will also be natural development, and local authorities should find out people's views about whether more expansion of Bristol is desirable, and what number of people the Severnside project should take, as well as whether they would prefer more natural and gradual growth of smaller towns. We should have much more public debate, and local authorities could help here.

Some references today to Bristol's west docks scheme have not been very helpful. The objections to the scheme are largely financial, relating to the rate of return on the capital. We are trying to convince the Government that an important factor is also development in the whole region. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) was not particularly helpful here. He regarded Bristol not as part of the South-West but as part of the industrial Midlands, and in saying that he was hammering another nail into the coffin of this proposal.

The west docks proposal is desirable for the area, and I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary had to hear that speech by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North. If we are part of the Midlands conurbation, this throws up the question of the docks provision in Liverpool and elsewhere. I assure the hon. Member that it is not the narrow financial grounds which are important but the question of how much this will help the region's development. There is great pressure from Bristol, and I think that we have tried to do what we can to get the scheme through.

I was saddened, in the middle of important negotiations, to read in my local evening paper for Tuesday, 12th March: The Port of Bristol's maritime trade lifeline with the Continent is to be challenged by a daily container service—by road. Bristol shipping agents, James and Hodder, are to send cargoes destined for Europe by road to Ipswich, where they will be shipped in special container ships to Rotterdam… The move presents an obvious threat to the traditional traffic of Bristol City Docks—the short-sea haul to Continental ports… The container service from Bristol to Rotterdam, via Ipswich, is a joint venture of James and Hodder and Geest Industries, who are major European cargo handlers. James and Hodder are a local stevedore firm. James and Hodder said today that they did not feel they were being disloyal to the Port of Bristol by introducing the rival route. The newspaper then quoted the company's freight manager as saying: The Port of Bristol's short-sea trade to the Continent must have a time limit on it, purely because of the geographical position on the West Coast, away from the main European ports. This is precisely the kind of argument which I and my hon. Friends have been trying to contest to the Minister, and this paper came out during these important negotiations. I hope that some of the shipping and stevedoring interests will realise, if the decision goes against us, that some of their past conduct has not helped.

The debate has been an opportunity for hon. Members to be seen by their constituents to sound the trumpet of their behalf. It was in a speech in 1774 that a Member for Bristol, Edmund Burke, said: Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests…but Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest. The interest here is the wealth of the whole country. When we have these debates on the North-East, the South-West, Scotland or any other region, it is a pity how the House empties, leaving largely hon. Members representing that particular area. That is not in the best interests of Parliament or the country's economic future. We should argue about the good of the whole nation and how the region can fit into that pattern. I believe that this region can fit into that pattern, and I hope that the Minister has taken note of my comments.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)

I am glad of this opportunity to speak following the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) because I agree with much of what he said, particularly about the Severnside area. I also thoroughly approve of his quoting some words of that great Conservative statesman who once represented Bristol, Edmund Burke. However, I was astonished to hear him say, without qualification, "I am in favour of S.E.T.". His memorial in Bristol will be, "Mr. Ellis was the M.P. who favoured S.E.T.". I cannot think of any financial measure introduced by the present Government which has done more damage to the West Country than S.E.T.

I will be brief because a number of hon. Members still wish to speak in this opening debate and because I do not wish to repeat the arguments that have been adduced. There is little doubt that, when the Government came to power in 1964 and spoke of the importance of regional policies and the need to prevent the less prosperous parts of the country from feeling the harsh effects of deflation, many people in the West Country and elsewhere were prepared to give them a chance and accept their words as a prelude to action. While people were prepared to judge by events, as time has gone on—and above all in view of the disappointingly negative Government reply to the Tress Report—that feeling of hope has turned to disillusionment and anger. That applies not only to Conservatives in the West Country but to people generally.

One wonders what value there can be in Government-appointed bodies such as economic development councils when, their reports having been produced, the Government take so little notice of them. By their appallingly negative reply to the Tress Report the Government are not only failing to recognise the needs of the South-West but are calling in question their own experiment; namely, the regional development council concept.

I wish to make only two main points. The first is that in so much of what they do the Government make more difficult the things for which we in the South-West have a natural advantage. We are essentially—and certainly in the foreseeable future will continue to be—an area which depends predominantly on the service industries. Whatever one does, that character of the South-West will not be changed. Tourism, the holiday industry, is a natural because of our climate and environment, and agriculture is a natural because of the richness of the soil and other advantages. However, if one considers S.E.T., the withdrawal of investment allowances from the hotel industry and the inadequate expansion programme allowed for agriculture in the original National Plan produced by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown), one sees that far from the Government assisting by strengthening our natural advantages, they have done the opposite. The last in a long line of blows are the S.E.T. proposals in the Budget.

The Minister will no doubt say that the Government are now introducing some help for the hotel industry, and that is to be welcomed. But what a pity that the damage was done in the first place and that confidence has been so undermined in the last two or three years. Although some help may be given—and, considering the effects of S.E.T. on the West Country, it is vital that it should be given—it is incredible that the Government allowed this damage to be done at the very time when they were asking people to take their holidays at home and save scarce sterling abroad.

My second point is that the Government have done little, if anything, to help us to overcome the natural weaknesses which exist in the South-West. Indeed, in many cases those weaknesses have been accentuated. The Government's new transport policy will have a damaging effect on those who, of necessity, must move goods long distances. The unemployment figures provide evidence of whether or not the regional policy for the South-West is working. A glance at the unemployment figures for the last two years, and particularly for last winter, reveals that as the months have gone by the percentage of people unemployed in the South-West has been higher than in any equivalent month of any year since the war. This must be one of the most acid tests of whether the Government's regional policies are working.

Like virtually every responsible organisation that has studied the problems of the South-West, the Economic Development Council reported that the highest priority should be given to the building of a spine road. While I do not like the word "infrastructure", the South-West development area will not operate effectively unless adequate spine roads, housing and industrial training are provided. Unless these essential elements of infrastructure are provided, any amount of money channelled into the area will be wasted. The C.B.I. summarised the matter clearly in its excellent Report when, dealing with industrial development, it stated: Industrial development can best be summarised as dangerously slow in the north and stagnant in the rest of the region". That is a poor prospect after the promise of the Government to give a high priority to regional policies.

Although it is right that hon. Members should concentrate on the far West, we should not forget the north of the region, which has equal problems. Dealing with the area which is generally called Severnside—the Bristol complex—the C.B.I. stated: Two factors threaten its continued wellbeing: first, unless a major development scheme is approved, its port facilities will prove inadequate to meet future requirements and increased competition; secondly, the present I.D.C. system, as implemented by the Board of Trade, threatens to contain future growth in Bristol too tightly and to repress the natural growth necessary to avoid stagnation. Those are two very significant points dealing with the north of the region put forward by the regional C.B.I.

The Bristol docks scheme has been mentioned on a number of occasions. In delaying this decision the Government are doing damage not only to Bristol docks, but to the economic prospects of a much wider region. If all port development in the country and abroad were to be stopped this would not matter so much. One could then say to the Government, "All right, wait for the Severnside Study before making a final decision on Bristol docks." The galling thing for this area is that other schemes are going ahead at home and, even more important, abroad. The longer that the Government delay with this decision the less chance will there be for their other regional policies to have an effect on some of the problems faced in the South-West.

There is a danger that under present policies the natural growth potential which the area has as a whole will be too narrowly confined. We could get the problems of congestion which we know so much in the Midlands and in the South-East. I hope that the Government will look carefully at the point made by the C.B.I. in relation to Severnside as a whole. The development which will take place in this area is bound to come sooner or later. It will be an uncomfortable process for many, including some of my constituents. Many of them are wondering what will happen to the value of their properties and to the glorious views that they have. One can understand their fears. I share them because I live very close to where this development will take place, but it is bound to come. What we want more than anything from the Government is encouragement to the natural development which is possible in the area rather than holding it up by lack of decision. These regional policies for the South-West have always been important. They have always been necessary, but they are becoming more so as time goes by. The pull now is eastwards. The pull of Europe, the Common Market and the Seven, is eastwards. With North Sea gas the pull is eastwards. If before the European forces really got under way and if before we discovered North Sea gas the problems of the South-West were great, they are far greater today because the natural pull will be away from the South-West rather than towards it. So it is even more necessary than in earlier years for the Government to pursue policies which deliberately encourage the natural potential of the South-West and recognise the strong economic forces which will tend to take development away from it in relation to all these new factors.

I hope that in making their decision the Government will bear in mind these new factors, which we in the South-West can do nothing about. It is not our fault that these things have happened. We welcome them because of the prosperity they can bring to the country, but we consider that we are making a reasonable plea when we say that these forces taking development from the South-West can create much greater problems for the future unless the Government make a conscious effort to help us to deal with them and to make the contribution which we can make, given encouragement, to the prosperity of the country as a whole.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) for making a reasonably brief speech. I must point out again that there are 25 other debates to come and, apart from the last speech, the average length of speeches so far has been 25 minutes.

6.35 p.m.

Dr. John Dunwoody (Falmouth and Camborne)

I fully anticipate, Mr. Speaker, that I shall bring that average down very considerably. I hope that my speech will be even briefer than that of the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean).

I always listen to his contributions on policies for the South-West with interest because he underlines that these problems are quite divorced from party political politics. They rather represent conflicts between different regions, conflicts between the periphery and the centre of Britain.

I want to concentrate my remarks on the problems of the South-West Development Area in a region which I think is the cinderella of the regions. Included in the South-West Development Area is an area where probably industrial and economic and social problems are more difficult to solve than almost anywhere else in Britain.

The Report, "A Region with a Future", is a useful document. I do not think any of the suggestions in it are world shattering or surprising, but it is a useful document and many of the suggestions are well worth while. Frankly, the Government reply has been disappointing. In some ways it has been a schizophrenic reply because, while accepting the general strategy put forward, the Government have gone on to reject or to accept only in a half-hearted way the specific proposals made. Unless the Government are prepared to do more than is suggested in their reply we shall not solve the very difficult problems of the area.

It is an area which is more geographically isolated than any other development area. It has a smaller population and the proportion of the working population in manufacturing industry is much less than elsewhere. It is an area where the emphasis on agriculture and tourism is greater than in other development areas. We want to see these industries thrive and prosper, but there is a declining labour force and it may continue to decline in future. We want to see tourism develop, but it is an inherent disadvantage of that industry that it is a seasonal industry and the greater its development the greater are its seasonal problems. The further west one goes the higher are the unemployment figures. All too often, I am afraid, the unemployment figures are masked by emigration from the area, so the real situation is still worse than the figures suggest.

The development area suffers from lack of a big centre. This is why I am so disturbed by the negative attitude shown towards development in the reply to the Council's Report. One cannot expect Plymouth to be given all the advantages of a development area overnight. In terms of the South-West one has to consider all the proposals put together. I say to hon. Members who have expressed anxiety about the recommendation for additional assistance to be given to Plymouth that that recommendation has to be taken in conjunction with the other recommendations affecting West Cornwall. The Committee has inquired into the proposal of the Falmouth-Truro-Camborne triangle being extended westwards towards Penzance, which would produce a much wider economic situation for the area as a whole.

I turn to Selective Employment Tax. We should welcome the Budget proposals, which go further even than the recommendation made by the council in its Report. I am thinking particularly of proposals to alleviate S.E.T. on part-time and elderly workers and proposals to help the hotel industries in certain rural parts of the development areas. But we welcome this not because of the proposal itself, although we think it is helpful, but because a precedent has been created here.

For the first time we have an indication of Government willingness to consider the particular problems of particular areas as regards the classification of industries into different categories for Selective Employment Tax purposes; and we have here an acceptance of the fact that what might be a perfectly logical classification for S.E.T. in London or the Midlands is not a logical classification in Cornwall, Scotland or Wales. I would like to see us build on this, because one could give many other examples of industries that deserve special consideration with regard to this form of taxation. That is but one of the ways in which I want to see a great deal more selectivity and flexibility brought into the means by which we help development areas.

The geographical isolation of the far South-West means that it is always at a disadvantage as compared with other development areas, and it is the very success of the Government's policy for development areas that puts the far South-West at a still greater disadvantage; because the greater the incentives are to go to a development area, then the more likely the industrialists in Birmingham are to go to development areas; and the greater the proportion who go to Wales or to those parts of the North of England which are nearer, the greater the contrast will be between the South-West and the remainder of the country.

I turn to the vitally important point of communications. The general concept of a spine road is accepted, but accepted in a rather grudging way. I do not particularly want to belittle the fact that expenditure of more than £50 million is accepted by the Government in their reply to the council's report. In the economic climate of today that is something we must welcome, but I must say two things about the spine road. A spine road that does not go into the far west of the peninsula is not truly a spine road as I understand it, and it has to get into the far west of Cornwall to provide the real lifeline that West Cornwall, in particular, needs. The other point I question is whether we should not look to a greater extent than we have so far in the Government reply to the possibility of spine road development taking place along the centre of the peninsula rather than being diverted to go through Plymouth. I accept the need for worth-while communications from Plymouth to the rest of the country, but there is considerable anxiety in most of Cornwall about whether it is right that in future all the major transport to the county should go through Plymouth.

I have spoken of these two particular aspects of the Report because I believe that it is a worth while and viable one. It is fortunate that we have an opportunity to debate it here this afternoon at some length. The South-West has achieved a great deal in the past and has con tributed a great deal to the building up of our country, in industrial terms as well as in many other ways. The South-West now wants to play a worth while part in the development of the economy of Britain. We do not want to remain a depressed area, with high unemployment rates and high emigration rates, and I believe we cannot have a prosperous Britain if we have not got a prosperous South-West because we cannot be a prosperous country if there are to be poverty-stricken areas in it.

In the same way, we in the South-West cannot have prosperity until the whole economy of the country is soundly based. The Government have accepted the basic strategy. I ask them to look again at the detailed proposals. There is much that is good and worth while in the Report. I ask them not to condemn it to dusty Library shelves but to give it continued consideration. If they do so the South-West can continue to share in the increasing prosperity that I believe will be ours in Britain in years to come.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

The dusty shelves of the Library are just where this Report has been referred to. Not until three minutes before this debate was due to begin were copies available, the Department of Economic Affairs having neglected to get them there before. My copy has "Mr. Lever" written on it at the moment.

Mr. Alan Williams

There was no discourtesy. Every single hon. Member from the South-West, as I believe they will all agree, was sent a copy of the Report.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I am perfectly ready to agree that seven months ago hon. Members there each received a copy but it is usual for Members, when they have a copy, to keep it in their constituencies where they make use of it; and it is normal for Papers of this kind to be made available for debates and it is extremely—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must never prevent either side of the House from attacking the other side but I must protect the Vote Office. The duty of the Vote Office is to keep stocks of Parliamentary Papers published during the last two Sessions. It is willing to obtain other Papers such as this Report if application is made for them.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I am not implying any criticism of the Vote Office, but the Vote Office was unable to get hold of copies because, apparently, the Department of Economic Affairs did not think it worth getting any before the debate. It is symptomatic of the importance the Government attach to the Report, that not for one moment in this debate has any Minister from the Board of Trade thought it worth while to appear on the Government Front Bench. This explains why the Government have so completely ignored the recommendations of the Report and makes one wonder how much longer people of considerable ability and public spirit will continue to feel it worth while to serve on bodies of this kind when the recommendations made in their reports are, so totally ignored by the Government and treated with what borders on and what is nothing less than contempt.

When one looks' at specific recommendations of the Report, which are both negative and positive, one cannot see what is the object of producing a report at all if its recommendations are to be treated with such contempt. The Selective Employment Tax, for instance, gets a caning several times in the course of the Report but what do the Government do? They increase that tax by 50 per cent. in the Budget; and if anyone cares to look at page 19 they will see that, except for London and the South-East, there is no area in the United Kingdom which has a higher percentage of its population—over 55 per cent.—engaged in service industries. Therefore, S.E.T. falls particularly heavily on this area, as the Report points out, and to increase it by 50 per cent. adds terribly to the economic burden on this particular area.

There is nothing any Government can do about the fact that we are remote from centres of population and large markets. What can be done, however, is to accelerate the spine road programme, as the Tress Report specifically seeks, and keep transport costs to a minimum. The Government have replied that at some unspecified date in the mid1970s—and perhaps the Minister will tell us in winding up what is the latest date he considers compatible with the statement "the mid-1970s"—the programme will be in course of construction. We want to know when it is going to be finished.

It is also true, of course, that the more fuel costs are put up by taxation the greater is the comparative disadvantage of those areas which are remote from centres of population and large markets. That is another way in which the major contentions of this Report have been vitiated by the action taken by the Government since this Report was published, since it was in their hands, since they have had the specific recommendations of Professor Tress and his Committee. So I must protest at the cavalier manner in which both the Committee and the Council which drew up the Report have been treated, from which the West Country as a whole will suffer very badly.

Before I sit down, I must mention two other fairly small matters. The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) talked about rural electrification, and I am glad that he did. I have a matter to raise which has a direct bearing on the question of rural electrification. There are certain small hamlets which the electricity board regards as uneconomic propositions for the supply of electricity unless a few more, buildings are put up to make it worth while. One would have thought, in these circumstances, that the Minister of Housing would lean over backwards to allow planning appeals so that these hamlets could be brought up to the minimum economic size in order that the people already living there, in this year of our Lord 1968, could have mains electricity.

I find it most distressing that such planning appeals originating in my constituency are refused, thereby condemning various hamlets to go without mains electricity for all eternity. It is certain that, as costs rise over the years, the minimum economic size of a hamlet for the supply of electricity will grow larger rather than diminish. I find this profoundly distressing.

The Government recently announced proposals to prohibit the export of scrap steel from the United Kingdom. The port of Teignmouth in my constituency gives valuable service to the export trade because hundreds of thousands of tons of ball clay go out from that port each year. Teignmouth needs all the trade it can get. We have heard about Bristol's problems, but the prohibition on the export of scrap steel will have a material effect on the port of Teignmouth. I ask that this matter be brought to the attention of the appropriate Ministry, even if it be not the Department of Economic Affairs.

I have been as brief as I can, realising that other hon. Members wish to speak. Most of the points which I wished to make have already been made by others, with considerable ability.

6.51 p.m.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)

No Member of Parliament representing an area in the South-West can take part in this debate without a sense of disappointment. When the Tress Report came out, it was universally acclaimed—by Members of Parliament, by local authorities in the region, by national newspapers and by economic journals—as offering a sensible strategy for an area which has long had considerable difficulties.

It is easy to use words like "cavalier treatment" and "contempt" which the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) used. I think that he exaggerates the case. There is no evidence of such treatment. This is a sensible Report. Its major recommendations have not been entirely accepted, but this does not mean that we should then despise and decry the regional planning machinery. It means merely that we live to fight another day. We shall continue as we have done in the past, to a great extent on an all-party basis, to push the case of the South-West.

We in this House must recognise that the Government have to make up their mind in a national context, and we have to justify our claims according to national priorities. We do our own case a disservice if we exaggerate it or use vitriolic language about the regional planning machinery. I ask hon. Members to consider what the position would have been if, for instance, a local authority on its own were arguing the case for the tourist trade in Cornwall or if the City of Plymouth were arguing its case for development area status prior to the setting up of the Regional Economic Planning Council. It is easy to decry the Council, but its voice is far more powerful in Whitehall than ever the voice of Plymouth City Council alone or a Cornish local authority alone could be. It may not be strong enough. It may not have presented our case so that we can have everything we want. But, over the past few years, we have developed a regional feeling in the South-West, and I for one am profoundly grateful for it.

For far too long, local authorities, county boroughs and counties have fought one another. It was noteworhty that, when the Tress Report came out, its proposals generated wide acceptance on the part of people who, in the old days, might well have argued in an insular way. For instance, it was remarkable how Cornwall realised that, if Plymouth became a development area, Cornwall itself might gain considerably. Cornish people were prepared to take a much wider view of the possibility of establishing a real growth centre in Plymouth. It was remarkable also, when the other growth areas were discussed, how people in Devon and parts of Somerset appreciated the need to concentrate resources on certain areas, accepting that their own claims might be overridden.

These are substantial gains which the Regional Economic Planning Council has achieved, and we in this House do the Council's future and its membership a great disservice if we decry the machinery through which it has been working. I wish that it had an elected basis. Moreover, as many of us have said in the past, we wish that it were centred more firmly in the peninsula, right down in the far South-West. But what we have today is something far better than anything we had a few years ago.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

At no time did I decry the Regional Economic Planning Council. I decried the Government for their persistent ignoring of its recommendations and, worse than that, for going directly contrary to them.

Dr. Owen

I am well aware of what the hon. Gentleman said. In fact, the Government are not going directly contrary to the recommendations. They have tried as far as possible to take account of the Council's major recommendations. Judging from some of the Press comment in the West Country, one would almost imagine that the Budget had singled out the West Country. In fact, we have some considerable concessions from this Budget, concessions for which many of us on both sides have pressed for some time. For example, at last we have it accepted that the tourist trade has a real contribution to make to the country's economy, and is of particular importance to our own West Country. The rebate of the Regional Employment Premium for rural development areas—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate the Budget on this occasion.

Dr. Owen

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I shall not discuss the measures which, in my view, show some recognition of what has been pressed in the Tress Report. I realise that time is short, so I shall concentrate on my constituency interest.

It is a great disappointment to many of us in Plymouth that the Department of Economic Affairs has not found itself able to accept the recommendation that Plymouth should become a development area. What is at stake here is something far greater than Plymouth alone. What is at stake is the Government's development area policy and, more particularly, their attitude to growth centres. It is easy, when one comes from a city which has a natural claim to be a growth centre, to think that this must be the basis of development area policy, but, in my view, while embracing wider regions and designating large development areas, one can still isolate within those areas certain growth centres, not completely giving up the old idea of concentrating resources and trying to pinpoint growth centres. Many real criticisms could be made of the previous policy, but it had great advantages, and we should not brush them completely aside. There has been little real discussion about the fundamental issue of growth centres.

I hope that the Minister will explain why the growth centre concept is so disparaged at present. It has many real advantages. First, a city such as Plymouth, with a population of 250,000 and a firm industrial base founded on a dockyard, can attract complete firms, not just branches, from other areas. This is an important matter because, at times of deflation, it is the branch of a firm which is often most susceptible to closure. This has been shown in a number of studies, notably by Loasby. What development areas badly need is factories which will stay and thrive during periods of deflation. All too often in the past, this has not happened. Such factories have been vulnerable, as has been shown by the number of advance factories which have not been occupied.

Second, the grouping of firms together in a growth centre is of great value. It increases the industrial efficiency of the complex. There are many historical examples which show how this has happened. Where four or five major industries come together, a nexus of efficiency is built up and from it a good influence can spread. This is an important point which the Ministry would do well to remember.

The other point is that in setting in motion a cumulative process of expansion also generates around major cities, and in fact new towns, the atmosphere that one is fighting against an adverse trend towards decline, decay and old industries and replacing this with favourable trade expansion. This is particularly the case if one can attract the newer science-based industries, which are often the most mobile—although they are also the most labour-intensive, which is a snag—and, which is more important, can also use female labour, which in development areas is a point of considerable value.

I also think that those firms which are very marginal about expanding and thinking of moving, refused an i.d.c. in their present area, are likely to be much more open-minded about the prospect of moving if the area they are offered is an attractive one in which they are guaranteed a supply of trained industrial manpower. This is important and we want to know how many firms, having had an i.d.c. rejected in the prosperous Midlands, for instance, and which were open-minded about moving into a development area rejected this because they were not offered an attractive enough area.

The other problem, which is often mentioned by Members on the opposite side of the House but which is one that we cannot disparage, is that managers themselves are often most reluctant to go to unattractive areas and, whether we like it or not, this too is a major factor in deciding the location of industry and of factories. Again there is a tremendous tendancy for managers, and perhaps particularly their wives, to want to go to a major centre of population with all the facilities it offers.

Perhaps the last point is that local authorities which are dealing with the problems of a firm transferring into a development area develop a certain expertise. Numerous mistakes are made, it is a difficult enterprise, particularly if they are also bringing in skilled labour, offering them houses, and so on. If this expertise is spread out the experience of local authorities with one or two local factories is often lost. That is a small point perhaps, but it strongly favours growth centres within development areas where there are many local authorities with very little expertise in the problems associated with the attraction of industry.

These are general points—not points which are just related to Plymouth—but Plymouth offers all these facilities. I have always acknowledged that, purely on the basis of unemployment figures, Plymouth should not be designated a development area. In comparison with the very high unemployment figures in other parts of the country our case would fall if it rested entirely on this. But it rests on the fact that this is a major city of a quarter of a million people totally dependent on one major industry—the Royal Naval Dockyard in Devonport—and for the past three months this city has waited in anticipation of the possibility of the postponement of the refit of H.M.S. "Ark Royal ", with the certain knowledge that the only way that real economies could flow from the cancellation of that refit would be to have a very large, deliberate creation of unemployment in that city involving probably over 2,000 men.

That would mean putting on to the labour market people with very considerable skills in what is, in effect, heavy industry—skilled shipwrights, boilermakers, and so on—with no possibility whatever of finding another job either in Plymouth or in the surrounding area. This is a very serious problem which this city has lived with and is going to live with for many years. We all look forward to the results of the review of the three South Coast dockyards, and I realise the prob lems connected with that and we want to hear the results. But one cannot expect a city to have its industrial future and whole economic survival so precariously balanced as this, and it is the job of the Government to anticipate this and to make contingency plans. Frankly, it is not enough for them to say, as they are saying at the moment, that they will be generous with i.d.cs.

Between April, 1960, when the decision was taken to remove Plymouth from the list of development districts under the Local Employment Act, and April, 1966, only one i.d.c. was granted for a new factory in Plymouth, and that was one which was already organised following a visit from one of the city council's officials to America.

In April, 1966, an i.d.c. was granted to Gleason Works Ltd. and in July, 1966, one was granted for a factory for Barden Corporation (U.K.) Ltd. That is only three i.d.c.s in a period of nearly eight years.

If we are going to attract enough industry—and often these employ only 150 to 200 men—to provide industrial diversification for this major city, we must start doing it now, if any possible rundown of the dockyard is anticipated even in five years' time. It is no good the Government of the day, be it my own or the Opposition, going to the West Country and saying they are going to make a major change in defence policy which is going to affect H.M. dockyard and they are not going to make it a development area. That will not be sufficient because for three or four years until the industry has been diversified there will be unemployment in the area. The Government must face the necessity for contingency planning and it is fallacious to say that, if one exception is made, others must be made. We concede that on the basis of unemployment figures this is not justified, but, because of the nature of the industry, which is bound to be precarious, the present situation cannot go on.

It has been argued both by the Confederation of British Industry and the local authorities in the area and has largely been accepted in Cornwall that a prosperous Plymouth will help the surrounding area of Devon and Cornwall and Plymouth City Council has carried out studies which have shown that the amount of sub-contracting work which goes out from industry in Plymouth to the surrounding areas is considerable. These figures were made available to the Department of Economic Affairs before this decision was made.

We now turn to our only hope—the Hunt Committee—and the possibility that Plymouth will be made an intermediate area. I fervently hope it is and I think that by any criteria which may be decided upon for identifying intermediate areas we shall certainly come in this category. We would certainly have a decline of the area's hitherto dominant industry, which presumably is a major factor, and an environment in which industry has difficulty in operating profitably because of long travel and other geographical factors, but in this city there is an industry base, a college of technology soon to become a polytechnic, very considerable skills vested in the dockyards and naval establishments and a strong tradition of industrial work, and it seems to me to be tragic that this should not be funnelled into newer industries so as to diversify the industrial basis of the city.

Therefore, I ask the Government to look at this very urgently when the Hunt Committee is sitting and when it makes its proposals, because the problem has to be faced now in order to prevent a disastrous situation. I shudder to think what would have been the results in Plymouth if the "Ark Royal" refit had been cancelled. It is that sort of contingency for which we, as a Government, and this House have a responsibility to plan and it is this sort of anticipation which I believe is a real contribution to regional planning.

The Department of Economic Affairs deserves great credit for establishing these economic planning councils and for listening, at least, to our case, but what we want now is action. What we want in the West Country is the right to contribute to the economic recovery of this country and to feel that we are no longer contributing to the economy by the emigration of our skilled labour force to other areas. The unemployment figures in the West Country are always masked by the very large and persistent depopulation which goes on all the time. I ask the Minister to look again at the concept of growth centres and to remember some of the things he wrote before he occupied the Front Bench on the question of growth centres and the location of industry policy.

However, I would not wish to end without paying tribute to the Regional Economic Planning Council which produced this Report and I would say to the members that I hope they will not listen to those siren voices saying they should resign. Very rarely in politics do resignations get one anywhere, and I would ask them to stick it out and continue to fight and put pressure on Whitehall for the West Country.

7.10 p.m.

Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)

We are very glad that fate in the ballot and my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) have decreed that we should have a debate on the South West this evening. Many of us were hoping that the Government would have provided time to debate the Tress Report. At least we now have an opportunity of doing so tonight.

I have no desire to score points off the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), except to say that his speech about growth points was the best plaudit that I have heard yet in the House of Conservative Party policy at the last election for regional development. I can remember arguing this very point at the last election. The policy of the Labour Government at the last election was blanket growth areas. It was our policy at the last election to have growth points. Indeed, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that our policy used to be development districts concentrated at particular growth points, whereas the Government abolished that and introduced global areas.

I would like to go further than the hon. Gentleman and say that I do not think that there is any object in having growth points within growth areas. This does not meet the case. What we want is to abolish development areas and go back to development districts or growth points, because we cannot have it both ways. As to the South-West and in particular the far West, in a few moments I will come to my proposals for those parts of the country the hon. Gentleman discussed.

When the Economic Development Council for the South-West was set up, many of us had grave doubts about whether it would succeed, first because it was at Bristol which is, as hon. Members on both sides recognised, a thoroughly unsuitable place for it to be. We had endless debates in which we suggested that the Council should be moved from Bristol, but the Government over three years have taken no notice. Again, we have had debates in the House in which it has been suggested on both sides that the Council in Bristol, if it was to be there at all, should have a decent representation from all parts of the region. However, the Government took no notice of this, and predominantly the membership of the Council has come from the Bristol area.

I can remember endless debates taking place in the House in which it was suggested that there should be some representatives on the Council of West Country agriculture. There was only one representative of agriculture on the South-West Regional Economic Development Council; and he, I believe, farmed several hundred acres, whereas what we are concerned about in the West country is small farming, mainly milk. There was no one on the Council representing this type of interest. This is clearly the biggest industry in the South-West and will always remain so, whether a Government of whatever party are successful in bringing more industry there or not.

In this debate on the Tress Report it is regrettable to recall that these very excellent and worthy people having spent nearly three years since the Council was set up producing the Report and having given up their spare time at the request of the Government, the Government have not now taken any action whatsoever requiring any change in policy. They have indicated that there might be a spine road by the mid-1970s to Plymouth. When are we to get a road to my constituency? In the 1980s, perhaps. It is no use hon. Members talking about priorities. Priorities are not much help to my constituents, who are not to get a good road until 1980.

The second major recommendation of the Tress Report was that Plymouth should become a development area. I think that it is most regrettable that the Government have taken certain complaints from Cornwall, a county part of which I represent, as being a reason for not granting development area status to Plymouth. I have discussed this issue at great length with people in my constituency, and I can say that the majority of thinking people in Cornwall—so long as there was a growth point in the far West in the Redruth /Camborne/ Hayle/ Penzance area which was given priorities comparable to Plymouth—would have been quite happy to have had Plymouth as a growth point as well. The Government cannot back out of Plymouth's claims to be a development point by saying that Cornwall would not have liked it. As the hon. Member for Sutton said, as long as we knew that we would get a full growth point in the far West as well, we should have been perfectly happy to have had a growth point in Plymouth. All we are concerned about is that there should not be an even greater withdrawal of activity, such as it is, out of Cornwall to Plymouth. As long as there was a growth point in the far West as well, we would have been perfectly happy for that recommendation to have been implemented.

Lastly, the Government have very charitably agreed that this growth point in the far West can be shifted 10 miles to the west. This did not require any action or change of policy on the part of the Government. This was an easy concession for them to make, because it required them to do nothing at all. The whole place is a development area, anyhow.

I regard the Government's attitude to the Tress Report as being utterly negative. It has not got us forward one iota. The Council was set up in mid-1965. We are now nearly three years on. The result of the whole of this procedure has been to take us no further forward. There have been stalling and delaying tactics throughout.

The hon. Member for Sutton said that he thought that before the formation of the South-West Economic Development Council, the South-West's problems had not been sufficiently strongly upheld. If asked for my preference, I would abolish the South-West Region Economic Development Council altogether and go back to what we had before, namely a committee of six local authorities in the South-West, because the Committee of Six which was set up by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he was at the Board of Trade did at least have a balanced, fair representation of the elected members of the area.

Therefore, I do not believe that the Economic Development Council has done as much as the Committee of Six did between 1962 and 1964. It is just not true to say that the Council has had the great successes which are claimed for it. I believe that the Committee of Six would be a far better organisation to promote the development of the South-West.

The real problem is that the Council is situated in Bristol, which is nearly 200 miles from my constituency. Can anyone conceive of what Dover would have to say if its regional economic development council were at Bristol? Everyone would laugh. In fact, Dover is just as close to Bristol as my constituency. Bristol bears not the slightest resemblance to the economy of Devon and Cornwall. Bristol is an industrial city with no unemployment. Unemployment in part of my constituency rises to 15 per cent. in the winter months. How can a Council which is drawn predominantly from the Bristol area—mainly industrialists—understand an economy whose principal industries are agriculture, seasonal tourism, fishing and tin mining? All along, we have pleaded with the Government to have the Council somewhere near to the centre of the region, but they have always neglected this advice.

Although the Government have made certain concessions, they have not even restored the position to what it was. I am prepared to admit that the Government have built one or two additional advance factories. I am delighted that they propose to abolish S.E.T. for certain parts of the tourist industry. The hon. Member for Sutton seemed to forget that it was this Government who imposed S.E.T. in the first place. We are delighted now to have some grants for the tourist industry, but these will only in part recompense us for the abolition of investment allowances on the tourist industry by the Government. It is frightfully good of the Government to give these concessions which we heard about in the Budget speech, but in fact they take us only half way back to where we were before 1964.

Agriculture will always remain our principal industry. It is no use bringing out a Price Review which only reim burses farmers for a proportion of their costs, and then saying that the Budget did a great deal for the South West. Although we want more industry, in the far South West, in Devon and Cornwall, extra industry can only be of marginal importance. We shall never have prosperity until agriculture, tourism, tin-mining and other mineral extraction, and fishing are assisted. Those industries have suffered worst of all since the Labour Party came to power. I can understand this, because the rural areas are predominantly represented by Conservative Members. The fact is that the principal industries of the West Country are those which have suffered worst since the Government came to power, and no amount of R.E.P. will help.

Many hon. Members wish to speak and, therefore, I shall close by saying concisely how I should like to see regional development policy reorganised. This is relevant to the Report, which made certain recommendations that I think in some respects are wrong. First, I should abolish the South-West Economic Planning Council and return to the Committee of Six. That should be the planning authority for the South-West because all the counties and boroughs have planning officers, and the planning officers of Plymouth City Council, Devon County Council and Cornwall County Council know far more of the problems of the South-West and what the area needs than 20 civil servants sitting in Bristol will ever know. Everyone in the South West recognises this, but not the Government.

Secondly, I should like to abolish the development areas altogether and return to the growth points policy we had before 1964. I feel that the Government are moving in that direction again, and it would be a big improvement. There has been enough of the business of dribbling subsidies to the private sector to encourage industrialists to bring in small factories employing 100 people here and there. If money is to be made available, it must be to develop the area's infrastructure. Let us have the money and spend it where we in the South-West know it is needed. I do not see what Whitehall or even Bristol can do to help that we cannot do ourselves. Give us the money in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, and we know how to spend it much better than the Government. We would spend it on a decent road, and if we had any money left over—[Interruption.] I am delighted to see that we have been joined by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker).

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman can be delighted only when his hon. Friend is actually in the Chamber.

Mr. Nott

I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend has now joined us.

If the Government gave us the money instead of deciding from Westminster how it was to be spent, we should spend it on infrastructure and roads. If necessary, we should have a subsidy which would ensure that our power costs—the cost of electricity, gas and coal—which are some of the basic costs of industry, were not greater than they are in other parts of the country. Industry comes to the South-West and finds that its fuel and electricity costs are far greater than they are elsewhere. If we are to have any subsidies, let us have them so that we can bring our transport costs more into line with those in the rest of the country. The Government have done far more harm to the far South-West by increasing the costs of transportation than they could have dreamt of doing by anything else. I think particularly of the increased costs of petrol and of vehicle and lorry licences. They form our lifeline. We cannot get our tourists in and our goods out if the taxes on transportation are going up and up and up.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That cannot be amended in this debate.

Mr. Nott

I shall draw to a close by saying that I very much hope, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) is here, that we in the Conservative Party will completely and radically change the existing regional development policies, because the present ones have failed.

I am delighted that in our debates we have not had a great deal of party controversy on the needs of the South West. Probably hon. Members on both sides of the House representing Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and the far outlying areas all feel that the present regional development policies are not working as they should. They need to be radically changed to make any difference to our part of the country. They may be geared to the declining industrial areas of the North-East, but they are not geared in any way to the South-West. I hope that a change will be made under this Government if possible, but certainly under a Conservative Administration in the future.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)

Professor Tress's Report had a fine and bold title, "A Region with a Future". I hope that that will be true. But after reading the Government's reply, one tends to be slightly cynical. I do not think that there is very much future for this type of Council if the Government ignore all its suggestions, as has happened in this case, and it must be a very frustrating business to be on it. There will be a very difficult future for the South-West if the Government do not alter their attitude to the region. Though in a sense that depresses and sickens me, it does not weaken my resolve to go on and redouble our efforts to see that the region has a future. All Members for the South-West must combine to see that that is so. We must go on until we get the results we want.

The Government talk about the Report as a valuable guide to future planning. That is not enough. Certain problems demand immediate action. I do not need to repeat all that has been said on roads, which are absolutely vital. It is no good talking about planning. We want action now. If all the money spent on planning and so on had been spent on providing a rather better road system, it would have been a help.

The grey areas must be dealt with. The problem of S.E.T. is very real, and I do not think that the Government realise the damage it has done to the region. That problem must be dealt with now.

I warmly welcome the suggestions that Plymouth and, in a smaller way, Okehampton, should become growth areas. That is Conservative policy, and it would have a very real effect throughout the region. I know from experience that when a large firm is set up in Plymouth we have smaller servicing firms in Bideford, 30 or 40 miles away. If Plymouth really enlarged and big firms came there, other parts of the region would benefit. But time is running out, and there must be action now.

The Government must start to deal with the problems. That is why I find their reply so frustrating. I wish that they could have at least said something that they would do immediately. It is true that in the present economic situation they must probably say "No" to many of the things recommended, but at least they could have stated some things on which they could go ahead straight away.

We have had a long debate and most of the points have been covered. Therefore, I shall say something about agriculture and then sit down. It is the most important industry in the South-West and needs encouragement. I do not believe that present Government policies on agriculture will make the region's agriculture prosperous. Unless we have import controls and so on, we shall get nowhere. Our agriculture is based on dairy farming, which desperately needs control of imports so that the price the farmers get is not diluted time and again. We have many small farms in the South-West. It is true that the need to amalgamate is there, but small farms can be viable and every encouragement must be made to them to become so.

The family farm is the basis and backbone of our farming enterprises in the South-West. That is why I deplore some of the remarks made by Mr. Beresford, the Chairman of the Agricultural Committee of the Council, that the family farm is out. That is not so. These farms must be encouraged. Indeed, this is the only way to farm in the South-West. Admittedly, they must be brought up to date, encouraged and made viable and large enough to operate. But nevertheless the basis of agriculture in the South-West must be family farms.

I hope that we shall have on the Council an agricultural representative who reflects the needs of the South-West's agriculture and is in touch with the position, and not a farmer who farms 600 acres in Wiltshire and literally knows nothing of the needs and problems of the South-West. I hope the point will be taken. A modern, intensive and large enough family farm is, I believe, one of the answers to our agricultural problems in the South-West, coupled with a Government policy which will encourage agriculture. I do not see such a policy at present.

I hope that, once again, the Minister will bear in mind that it is agriculture, tourism and other things which we can do in the South-West and which are the only way to make the region really prosperous.

7.32 p.m.

Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)

The House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) and to the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) who initiated this debate following their luck in the Ballot. We have been discussing a beautiful part of the country with a great store of character and enterprise and, as many hon. Members have said, totally different problems from those of many of the other regions. But let us count our blessings. If the South-West has its problems it is not overwhelmed by industrial decay, by the urban absolescence which afflicts, for example, the North-West.

The South-West's principal problem is that, with all its beauty, it is relatively remote. The region, as hon. Members have made plain, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) emphasised, has great variety of conditions and needs. I myself have had a number of long discussions in the South-West, although I am a little conscious today that many of them were in Bristol, which does not seem to be applauded as the right centre for discussions, and I have listened to many of the excellent speeches in the debate. I shall not go over any of the arguments arising from the Tress Report or the Government's reply. I want to bring out one or two general factors behind the debate.

The Government have the job of creating in the country a balance between the different regions and a balance within each region of its different needs. There is a sharp difference between Government and Opposition policies. I spelled out the Conservative policy for the grey areas and the development areas on Monday last week. At the centre of our grey area policy is a return to the growth centre concept.

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) made a particularly effective, diplomatic but biting speech. He came out wholeheartedly in favour of the growth centre concept. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) made a trenchant restatement of the case for the growth centre. We believe that the best interests of the country, of the development areas and of the grey areas, will be served by a return to growth centres—a concentration on urban renewal and infrastructure and communications—and it is this aspect which differentiates our policy from the Governments indiscriminate global policies, which we believe to be expensive and ineffective.

The South-West has its own special interests. It is largely a service area. Agriculture is at the heart of it. I may say in passing that if industry in this country had done as well as agriculture, admittedly with help from chemists and engineers, since the war, we would have no balance of payments problem. But the area depends largely on services which have been so disadvantaged by S.E.T., while the Transport Bill, because of the region's relative remoteness, has hit it equally badly.

The Government with a certain amount of general enthusiasm, created a spokesman for each part of the country in the Regional Economic Planning Councils. Now the reports have begun to come in—and the resignations as well. The chickens are coming home to roost. The Government must recognise their responsibility. They must recognise that their response to the Tress Report has created an explosion of disappointment in the South-West, echoed in the debate. To some extent, this disappointment reflects the perhaps excessive hopes which the Government's own eloquence created during the election campaigns. My hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and Plymouth, Devon-port (Dame Joan Vickers) were just two of the speakers representing different aspects of the disappointment caused by the Government's response to the Report.

Hon. Members opposite have softened their criticism of the Government by suggesting that the South-West Region was badly treated by the Conservatives during their 13 years of office. I remind them that this view was not supported by local opinion, at least for the first ten years. I have here the regional voting record for the 1951, 1955 and 1959 elections. In each of them, the Conservative representation increased and the Labour representation declined.

Mr. Pardoe

What happened to the Liberals?

Sir K. Joseph

I have not looked up the Liberal record.

It is true that, in the last period of Conservative office, perhaps from 1962 to 1964, there was a growing disappointment. But these were the very years in which Conservative Ministers conceived and set in hand many of the developments—roads, bridges and the like—for which the Government are now taking credit. Every hon. Member can give examples. The fact is that, while the South-West has its needs, only a return of growth and confidence in the whole economy will bring about conditions in which regional development can take place at the sort of pace we all want.

I have deliberately kept my remarks short. The Department of Economic Affairs is a shaky Department with a shaky Minister. The shaky Minister did not think it necessary to turn up for our debate on grey areas last week, which many of us thought discourteous and disproportionate. He has not turned up today. He is, therefore, putting on his Joint Under-Secretary of State—against whom we have no complaint whatever personally—an added responsibility. The whole House will, therefore, listen with great attention to the hon. Gentleman's reply to what has been one long chorus of complaint.

7.40 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. Alan Williams)

This debate has been rather extended. I see the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls), waiting with considerable patience to churn forth his complaint against the Government. I also have the pleasure of winding-up in that debate, and I hope that he will not think me rude if I excuse myself for about 20 minutes after he has spoken in order to get some food. I am sure that he appreciates that even Ministers have to eat on occasions.

We would all join with the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery), regardless of how we judge the Tress Report, in congratulating the Members of the Council on the work that they have put in and on the project that they have produced. Before dealing with the Government reply and the criticism levelled against it, I will rehearse what seems to be becoming a common dialogue between the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) and myself about the relative merits and demerits of Conservative Party regional policy as opposed to that of the Labour Party. I listened carefully to his points. He said that it was the Government's job to secure balance in regional development. I would again draw his attention to the abysmal failure of the policy followed stubbornly by the Conservative Party when in office.

If by his own criterion, the objective of regional policy is to get an even balance, then he would be the first, because he is an honest man, to admit that they did not achieve this during their period of office. The range of disparity, as I pointed out last week, was so great that whereas in the development areas there were increases in the working population of only 6 per cent. in the more prosperous areas of the South-East and so on there was expansion at the rate of over 15 per cent. If only they had not persisted in this policy for the 13 years in which they were in power, we would not need a development area policy or a "grey" or "intermediate" area policy.

I derive no political pleasure in finding that after all this, with the obviousness of the lessons, this is the policy to which he would like us to return. Since he is one of the more reasonable and—I do not mean this in any patronising sense because he has much more Parliamentary experience than I—he is one of the more constructive Members of the party opposite, it horrifies me to think that this is the best that he can come out with.

We must first of all establish the point that the South-West Economic Planning Council is an advisory body, not a decision-making body. It obviously would not be right. constitutionally for it to be so. Hon. Gentleman would not pretend that during their 13 years of Government they never rejected any ideas put forward by an advisory body. I can remember when the right hon. Gentleman had, in addition to his housing responsibility, a responsibility for Wales, that part of the country which I represent, nothing ever came of a recommendation put to the Government about the reorganisation of local Government in Wales.

There are many other examples. We all know quite well that no Government can say that they will accept every recommendation that any advisory body puts forward. The gloom which has been quite manifest on the Opposition benches was hardly shared in the Press Notice issued by the South-West Economic Planning Council when it received the Government's reply. Its opening words were: The Government have accepted the general principles of the Council's strategy for the South-West. I will gladly let hon. Members have a copy of this later. This has not been a story of absolute rejection of everything that has come forward, nor anything like it. That is the most important element.

We have approved the spine road development as far as Plymouth. As to Plymouth, we have said that we cannot accept full development area status, but we have said that we want Plymouth to be judged as similar areas will be judged, against the Hunt criteria. As I have pointed out in an interjection, the Hunt Report will be out in the autumn. In the meantime, we are willing to give assistance to the locality under the existing criteria.

There has been no absolute rejection of the West Dock proposal for Bristol. Although the economic arguments based on return and investment—and I know hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are always keen to see that there is an objective assessment of investment—

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

We want to know when we are to get a decision of any kind.

Mr. Williams

In a few weeks. It is not a matter of months, years or anything of that sort. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this is not a long, delaying exercise. It will only be a matter of weeks. We wanted to reply to this document before Professor Tress left his chairmanship. Hon. Gentlemen would agree that this was a matter of courtesy which both sides of the House would have observed. We felt that if we could reply without completing our considerations on one issue, it was better to do this rather than allow Professor Tress to fade away from the scene without a response. That is why the one issue was held over.

As has been pointed out, we have given further thought to the study of the Truro—Camborne—Redruth triangle as a growth area in the South-West and we have accepted the idea put forward by certain local authorities that we should extend the study to include the area to Penzance, and we have asked the appropriate council to co-operate.

Mr. Nott

I am delighted to hear this. Penzance is the centre of my constituency. Could he explain precisely what this growth triangle will do that the present development area does not? I am not quite clear what the Government are doing.

Mr. Williams

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has read the Report, which put forward the concept of certain local points having more rapid expansion than the rest of the region. We were quite happy to accept the basic strategy. We want to examine a little further the feasibility of this locality being such a growth centre. That is the study asked for and we have met the request.

Mr. Nott

This is a growth point now. It gets a 45 per cent. cash grant. Are the Government considering giving it even more than the development area now has? Could the hon. Gentleman quantify the precise additional help that he will give to this particular geographical area which will mark it out from the rest of Cornwall and the rest of the development areas in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Williams

If the hon. Gentleman is expecting me to announce a special rate of assistance for this particular triangle, I am sorry to have to disappoint him. My point is that it could be that there will be greater benefits in concentrating, for example, certain infrastructure developments to help encourage more industries in one or two particular points on a growth basis rather than spreading them more thinly throughout the whole sector. We shall not basically disagree on that.

I come to the point about an airport for South Devon. The hon. Member for Honiton said that he had one particular locality in mind. We have suggested that there should be a study on a choice of sites. The reaction of the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport made it clear that there is not exactly unanimity in the South-West about the siting of a sub-regional airport.

The Severnside study is continuing. It will be completed next year. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North must recognise that when we have to draw boundaries, as we must with local authorities or regional boundaries, inevitably occasions arise when there is an overlap of interest at the margin. In those cases, it would be silly to treat one's line—and all lines have an element of arbitrariness in them—as a six-foot high wall and say that there can never be any community of interest between the two sides of it. The idea of a Severnside study is to analyse in depth the prospects of growth for a particular strip which falls partially in the Welsh Region and partially in the South-West.

I come to the question of tourism. One hon. Member made a point about research. A two-year research project on tourism in the South-West is being financed at Exeter University. In addition, to help tourism, there are loans of up to 75 per cent., with a maximum of £25,000, for hotels in rural parts of development areas. We have announced and discussed development grants for hotels—20 per cent. outside development areas and 25 per cent. within development areas. While there was political criticism of the fact that we had taken off the S.E.T., no one suggested that it should be put back. I therefore assume that hon. Members welcome the concessions which have been made which will help the hotel industry. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Peterborough wants to make his speech now and to forgo raising the next subject for debate, I shall be only too happy because I can then get some supper.

I should like to analyse the three issues on which there is considerable dispute. First, we have not precluded some form of assistance for Plymouth. What we have said is that full development area status is not justified, for a range of reasons. Perhaps not one of them in itself would be enough to say that, but all of them taken together are enough. Unemployment there is substantially below the level of unemployment in the development areas. It is sufficiently below to make it very difficult to include this area in an objective comparison with other parts of the development areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) made a quotation which implied that we are not warring factions in the House, but we know very well that a Minister who makes a concession in one area, around which a specific line cannot easily be drawn, soon has to defend it against Members of Parliament representing other areas who want their interests equally regarded. To have made this concession to Plymouth in the present circumstances would inevitably have led to repercussions outside the development areas and to a quite considerable extension of development areas which is, I think, the last thing that hon. Members opposite want. Therefore, I assume that the Opposition are completely with us in this matter. Rather than see an extension of total development areas, I am sure that they would sooner not see Plymouth accorded full development area status.

Thirdly, in our opinion, damage to the South-West Development Area would result if Plymouth, with its environmental and urban advantages, were to receive full development area status. Our assessment is that this would make it more difficult to bring firms to areas slightly further away. We obviously have a genuine difference of value judgment. This is our value judgment. We stand by it, and we think it right.

Dr. Owen

My hon. Friend admits that this is a value judgment, but an objective assessment has been made by the Plymouth City Council showing that the effects of a thriving industry in Plymouth reflect on the rest of the South-West. He always talks about this matter in terms of Plymouth. This is a problem of the South-West. It is the only development area with no growth point.

Mr. Williams

What is not shown is how far the area would lose other types of work. It might get a certain spin-off or certain contracting work. It might get minor off-shoots from Plymouth. But we believe that, with the same incentives, the locality beyond Plymouth would lose many new projects which would otherwise have gone there.

Mr. Nott


Mr. Williams

I have given way on many occasions. I have a fair way to go, and I am trying to cover as many points as I can.

Since the Treasury Report was published, extra incentives have been given to help the development area in the form of the Regional Employment Premium, which was introduced some months after the Tress Report, in respect of which, with S.E.T. premium, an extra 37s. 6d. premium is paid. These incentives will more than offset any losses which may be suffered from not having the so-called spin-off from Plymouth.

Plymouth has a pilot overspill scheme with the G.L.C. I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) said about a firm of 800 potential employees. Did he say that it was a London firm? If so, if he would like to give me the information about it, I will gladly look into it. At first sight, it would seem to be the type of project which might be covered. If he would drop me a note after the debate, I will gladly examine the matter to see whether we could do anything about it.

Mr. Pardoe

I may have made a mistake about the Departments, but I gather that the Board of Trade already has the matter in hand.

Mr. Williams

Therefore, the hon. Gentleman was not making a complaint; he was merely making an observation. That is a relief.

Instead of according full development area status to Plymouth, we are making more liberal use of industrial development certificates. We are willing to consider issuing certificates to firms particularly suited to the area and its resources. The Government have steered a Land Registry Office to Plymouth which will help to provide work in the town.

Ultimately, this matter must be considered against the Hunt Committee criteria. We cannot consider interim action simply because this would mean pre-judging the Hunt Report in terms, not only of appropriate action, but of the definition of areas.

One of my hon. Friends referred to the descheduling of Plymouth. The hon. Lady the Member for Devonport said that we could make it a development area but that after about 12 months we could deschedule it because it would have attracted all the extra work it needed. Against the background of the type of incentive being given in the development area at the moment, where, for example, there is the long-term commitment on R.E.P., and even that does not finish when an area is descheduled, I think that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House feel that it would be inappropriate to use such a big economic weapon on what may be only a "topping-up" job in the locality.

I come to the second of the controversial elements, which is the West Dock at Bristol. Here is a project costing nearly £15 million. As all hon. Gentlemen know, the threshold rate of return on this type of investment—and it is the criterion for all port investment—is 8 per cent. Hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot complain about that because they required various standards of return on investments when they were in office.

The Ministry of Transport's assessment is that the project would not reach the rate of return of 8 per cent. which would be required from it. The Government's objective must be to achieve the maximum economic use of all resources. Therefore, the ports must be developed not on a piecemeal plan but according to national need. That does not mean that we have rejected the project completely. In our reply, we have indicated that, although it does not measure up to the strict financial criteria, we are willing to consider the position of the port in relation to employment in Bristol, in relation to its impact on the Avon Estuary, and in view of its possible importance to the Severnside development, should that take place.

Mr. Wilkins

I hope my hon. Friend understands that that view is challenged.

Mr. Williams

Of course. I have noted all my hon. Friends' points, and I will ensure that they are brought to the attention of the appropriate Ministry.

Finally, I come to the spine road. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson) quoted from the Press notice, and it is worth reminding hon. Members on both sides, before we get the issue out of proportion, of what was said by the Planning Council when it was told that the spine road project was to be accepted as far as Plymouth. It said in paragraph 4: The Council adhere to their view that the spine road to Penzance should be constructed to an adequate standard by as early a date as possible. Nevertheless, they have concluded that in the circumstances of the day, the programme as it now stands—including those additional schemes shortly to be announced as being in the preparation pool—is as much as can be achieved by 1975. The Government have accepted the strategic importance of the road and they have agreed to complete it as far as Plymouth. They have agreed to certain selective improvements in Cornwall, including five by-passes. May I say that the Edithmead to Exeter section alone amounts to £50 million of investment.

In carrying out our programme, we asked the Planning Council to put forward its ideas of the appropriate priorities. Its order of priority was Bristol to Exeter, Exeter to Plymouth, and Plymouth to Penzance. It also stated that it is obviously better to get on with bypasses before considering open stretches of road. There will be further consultation with the Planning Council on the details of the programme as it is developed. Understandably, I have been asked for a firm date for the completion of the work. Unfortunately, I cannot give one for the reason that the road programme preparation pool for the 1970s for the whole country is due to be announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport in the near future. At that time, I hope that most of the points which have been raised in this respect will be answered.

We have undertaken improvements on other roads. On the A30 between Exeter and Bodmin, for example, there are to be improvements at Launceston and Okehampton.

The total cost of the new projects as a result of our analysis of the Report comes to £70 million, which is a very considerable investment of public funds. I think that answers the criticism that there has been no regard for the needs of transport in the area.

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North, asked what the development area incentives were. Obviously he knows the details of them. The gross sum comes to £250 million—

Mr. Emery

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his replies, but he has thrown out the figure of £70 million as the investment on new roads. Without extra information, that could be misleading. Over what period will that £70 million be spent, and what proportion against the overall road programme does it represent? It is only when we know those facts that we can make a positive judgment about it.

Mr. Williams

The £70 million represents the cost of the new projects which were announced in the scheme. The name of schemes and costs will be announced with the preparation pool, and it will be seen at that stage in the context of the national programme. At present, I am not in a position to give that detailed information, but the hon. Gentleman will get it in the near future.

I was coming on to deal with industrial development in the South-West, again in relation to i.d.c.s issued for the South-West in terms of million square footage since we came into office. Our first full three years as a Government have seen an increase of 33 per cent. in the square footage of factory space over the last full three years of Conservative Government. If we take 1964, which was a split year, and give the whole of that to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, and take those three years as against the next three years, the increase would still be just over 11 per cent.

Sir K. Joseph

Do not the present Government include canteens and office space in their measurement of industrial square footage? If those are taken off, is the comparison the same?

Mr. Williams

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have no intention of deceiving him with a statistic of that sort, though, if I may say so, it is one which was found useful by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, who applied it in the development areas and not to non-development areas, so that they could always show a very high proportion in development areas when they were in office. I have subtracted that already.

Within the South-Western Development Area itself, we have also approved eight Board of Trade advance factories in the last three years. Four of them have already been completed and are occupied. That compares with one in the period from 1960 to when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite left office. It is clear that, on i.d.c. square footage and in terms of Government factories, this area is doing far better under the Labour Government than it did under the Conservatives.

I apologise for the length of my reply, but it has been a long debate and a great many points have been raised. I have tried the patience of hon. Members, but I have also tried to answer their points. I have tried, too, to show that the allegation that we have rejected the Tress Report is unfounded, that we have confidence in the area and that we are willing to back it with Government money and Government investment.