HC Deb 08 May 1969 vol 783 cc629-32
Mr. Speaker

Dr. Gray—Question No. 1.

Mr. Hall-Davis

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the fact that copies of the Hunt Report are not available in the Vote Office? Would it be in order if Members fortunate enough to have a copy with them would indicate this to colleagues, so that others may refer to it if necessary?

Mr. Speaker

That is a helpful suggestion by the hon. Gentleman. I have just been made aware of this difficulty. We endeavoured to obtain all the copies we could of documents that were useful for today. This may be part of the general problem that we have.

Mr. Higgins


Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that we shall not pursue this.

Mr. Higgins

May I point out also that another document referred to in Questions, "The Task Ahead", is not available in the Vote Office? Would it be possible for Ministers in framing their replies not to refer to specific paragraphs without pointing out to the House what their content is?

Mr. Speaker

Those are very helpful suggestions by both hon. Gentlemen.

1. Dr. Gray

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs if he will make a statement of Government policy on the recommendations contained in the Hunt Committee Report.

3. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs when he expects to announce the Government's decisions on the recommendations of the Hunt Committee Report; and if he will make a statement.

7 and 8. Mr. J. H. Osborn

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (1) what over-all changes he proposes in regional development policy in the light of the recommendations of the Hunt Committee;

(2) what changes in the distribution of aid to the development areas and the intermediate or grey areas, respectively, Her Majesty's Government propose to make following the Report of the Hunt Committee.

9. Mr. Waddington

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what action the Government propose to take in the light of the Report of the Hunt Committee.

15. Mr. Boston

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs if he will now give an exact date for the publication of the Hunt Committee Report.

The Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. Peter Shore)

I have nothing to add to my statement on the Hunt Report on 24th April.—[Vol. 782, c. 668–72.]

Dr. Gray

Now that my right hon. Friend has had the opportunity of considering the anti-agriculture bias of the Report and the complacency with which it treats the flight of agricultural workers from the country to towns, and in consideration of the fact that agriculture is our largest industry and contributes so much to import saving, will he think again and make a fresh statement?

Mr. Shore

I am aware of the long-term and continuing movement of people from the land into the towns and cities. This trend was taken into account by the Hunt Committee in the evidence it received and the conclusions it reached. I have nothing further to add on this matter.

Mr. Blaker

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the Committee recommended that there should be a comprehensive review of the impact of existing development area policies? Is it not rather regrettable that he is not prepared to accept this recommendation, especially as there seems to be no evidence of what value for money the Government are receiving from their policies? Should not that be investigated?

Mr. Shore

We have not yet had sufficient experience of the effects of development area measures on the problems in the development areas. There has not been time. I do not want to embark on a premature review.

Mr. Osborn

Is it not a fact that although the Report has been welcomed by the Yorkshire and Humberside Region and other regional bodies the Minister's statement has come as a complete disappointment to them? What negotiations are taking place with the regional boards on the impact of his statement, and what progress is being made on delineating the various areas of the development areas that have been outlined already?

Mr. Shore

It would be wrong to say that the Government's statement was greeted with disappointment in that region. The truth is that as is perhaps inevitable, there has been a somewhat mixed reception in different parts of the country according to whether or not they benefited by the Government's statement or thought that they would have benefited more by the Hunt Committee's Report. As to the follow-up action, I have already seen and discussed with the economic planning council chairmen both my statement and the Hunt Committee's Report. I am now embarking on a more serious and more prolonged consultation with each council.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Long answers mean fewer Questions.

Mr. Waddington

Is the Minister aware that there is certainly no great rejoicing in North-East Lancashire as a result of his reactions to the Report? Is he aware that £20 million spread between seven different problem areas is peanuts when considering the very special problems of North-East Lancashire as a result of the run-down of the textile industry, as forecast by the Textile Council's Report, and the probable impact of the new town?

Mr. Shore

The reaction in North-East Lancashire has been much more favourable than the hon. Gentleman indicated. It is wrong to measure the assistance that the Government can give to different regions and sub-regions simply in terms of financial aid to industry.

Mr. Boston

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are certain parts of the South-East which need an extra boost because they do not enjoy the prosperity of the region as a whole? Will he confirm that he will be giving continuing attention to the development needs of these areas, especially the new town development schemes where these are agreed?

Mr. Shore

I assure my hon. Friend that, although the South-East Region is certainly prosperous judged as a whole, we are aware that there are different conditions within it. We shall be watching the situation and doing our best to assist each part to be as prosperous as the rest of the area.

Sir K. Joseph

In the light of the Government's regrettable rejection of the Hunt recommendations for a comprehensive inquiry into the effectiveness of development area policy, will the right hon. Gentleman at least undertake to publish the results of the Government's own inquiries into the investment grants system?

Mr. Shore

I will consider that suggestion. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have initiated a number of inquiries into the response of firms to development area incentives and I will discuss this matter further with my colleagues.

Mr. George Jeger

I am glad that my right hon. Friend recognises that the attitude of Yorkshire and Humberside towards the Hunt Report is very mixed, but will he give special consideration to one item omitted from the Report—the plight of the smaller shipyard areas in the non-development areas which are certainly grey in colour and black in tendency?

Mr. Shore

I am willing to look at any evidence that my hon. Friend would like to put to me but what we are concerned with here is aid to areas rather than aid to particular industries.