HC Deb 20 February 1969 vol 778 cc740-2
2. Mr. Will Owen

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs if he will now make a progress report on the over-all planning progress of the Northern Region.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Frederick Lee)

The Northern Economic Planning Council will shortly be publishing its proposals for an economic development strategy for the Northern Region. It also intends to publish a survey of the Region's ports and is working on a similar survey of educational facilities. An indication of current economic progress was given in my reply to my hon. Friend's Question of 19th December.—[Vol. 775, c. 429.]

Mr. Owen

The whole of the North-East will welcome the opportunity to examine proposals which may emerge in the suggested plan. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the experience of effective planning over recent years has not been too encouraging? Is he further aware that in South-East Northumberland, particularly in the Ashington-New-biggin-Broomhill area, there is urgent need for recognition that growth industry is the essential answer to our growing problem of unemployment? I hope that this will be taken into consideration in the plan.

Mr. Speaker

Supplementary questions must be reasonably brief.

Mr. Lee

I agree with my hon. Friend about the need for growth industry. But I remind him that the amount of factory space approved in 1968 was about 12 million square feet for the Northern Region and was the largest amount in any one year since the I.D.C. system was introduced in 1948. I know that he will welcome, as I do, the figures produced today, which show that unemployment in the region fell by 2,175 between last month and this.

Mr. Richard Wainwright

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider making resources available to the Economic Planning Council to enable it to sample public opinion on those aspects of planning proposals which intimately affect people's lives?

Mr. Lee

The Council is composed of people intimately acquainted with the lives of the people. Many of the members are also connected with the local authorities, and I am sure that they all bring their knowledge of people's lives to bear in their deliberations.

Mr. Milne

In his capacity as Minister responsible for the region, will my right hon. Friend undertake to pay an extended visit there in order to co-ordinate the activities of the various Government Departments concerned with employment? While we pay tribute to them, particularly the Board of Trade, we feel that the oversight of regional planning from his Department is essential.

Mr. Lee

I visit the area frequently. I am happy at the progress which members of the D.E.A. staff in Newcastle are able to make with their colleagues in other Departments. If my hon. Friend has any particular problems in mind I will communicate them to our people in Newcastle. I have the greatest confidence in the way they handle the problems.

Sir K. Joseph

Within the context of the Government's strategy, has the right hon. Gentleman any idea of increasing the number of special development areas to cover cases like Sunderland, which is suffering very heavy unemployment?

Mr. Lee

I agree about the problems of Sunderland, but at this stage it would be wrong, with the Hunt Report due, to look at the special development area status. But we are not unmindful of the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman.