HC Deb 04 March 1971 vol 812 cc2078-86

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

12 midnight

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)

This Adjournment debate is of great moment to my constituents in the new town of Livingston and the western part of Midlothian, for the answers I get tonight will determine their immediate economic and social well being. I speak with the willing authority and co-operation of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) who has a part responsibility for the new town, part of which is in his constituency.

The new town is the child of a previous Conservative Government, and the reasons for setting it up can be found in the Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Scotland on the Draft New Town (Livingston) Designation Order, 1962. It conceived an area of 6,700 acres with its boundaries spreading into Midlothian and West Lothian. The designated area was to provide for a population of 70,000, with the necessary services, and it was to be part of The Lothians Regional Survey and Plan, which anticipated a planned growth of population based on natural growth and immigration of 200,000 by 1986. This total was made up of 70,000 in the new town and 130,000 in the build up of selected settlements. The labour force target was 87,000 employees, 29,000 of whom would be in the new town and 58,000 outwith.

The Secretary of State set out in his memorandum that one of his reasons for designating the new town of Livingston was the dilemma of the 100,000 families in Glasgow who were living in bad housing conditions and who would be displaced by comprehensive redevelopment schemes in the city. Because it would be undesirable to build to the same density, no more than 40,000 of these 100,000 families could be rehoused in the city. The Glasgow redevelopment programme would, therefore, displace 60,000 families, who would have to be found homes outside the city.

The Secretary of State argued that a fourth new town at Livingston was needed to help in this rehousing. His memorandum set out the reasons for the geographical choice of Livingston. Its communications with Glasgow were good, and it was desirable that location of a new town in the already congested Clyde Valley should be avoided.

In a severely edited statement I have outlined the then Conservative Government's case for Livingston. My constituents in this area want to know whether, by excluding Livingston from the new area incentive development scheme announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 18th February, the Government have ditched their plan for Livingston and have lured people to Livingston on false promises. The population growth is behind that envisaged in the plan, but there are 13,500 people in the new town, some of whom came there on the Government's prospectus. They were prepared to invest their lives in the Conservative Government's promise, and when one considers the tremendous capital spent and earmarked, it would be economic and financial lunacy to contract out, even partly, now.

I want to give some financial examples. Government spending in the new town to date has been £28 million and—I men- tion it because the Cameron Iron Works has been in the news recently—the investment there is about £12 million, of which £8 million is Government money. Midlothian County Council has supplied me with figures of projects under way or completed to date which it has carried out. There are: education, £1¾ million; drainage, £3½ million; roads, £1.4 million; lighting, £0.1 million; water, over £3 million. The estimated totals for the new town are: water, £7.1 million; drainage £13.3 million; refuse disposal, £0.2 million—a total of £20.6 million. This does not include the final totals for education and roads.

The choice of Livingston by the then Secretary of State was motivated by another consideration. Western Midlothian and parts of West Lothian had been severely hit by the contraction of the shale and coal mining industries. The designation of the new town gave new hope and aspirations in employment prospects for work people in the surrounding area. To amend that conception flings many of the people in the surrounding areas back into the depressing atmosphere of the early 1960s.

The existing population of the new town deserves encouragement, not setbacks, for they have been a willing choice as an area for the ecumenical experiment. The Churches believed the Government. Two new churches have been built and one is being built. Others are planned. It is not without significance that all religious denominations in the town have sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister protesting against the exclusion of Livingston from the new special incentives area.

The hon. Gentleman is perhaps aware that I tabled 16 Questions when I heard of Livingston's exclusion from the new special incentives area. In reply to one of them, he was far from clear about Livingston, which might be considered for special incentives for incoming industry. The reply was not considered satisfactory enough. Eighteen per cent. of the male population are unemployed. How could a Minister, in such a situation, reply with such ambiguity?

To deal with a situation which could surely develop into a crisis of morale, the Government need to announce quickly, first, the commencement of construction of the Livingston Road and Calder section of the M.72; secondly, the inclusion of Livingston New Town in the special incentive development area. The announcement of the latter would stop the poaching of likely new industries which had almost been earmarked for Livingston.

This is one of the most disgraceful aspects of the Government's announcement of 18th February, and it is in the interests of my constituents that I lay these bare facts before the House. I believe that my constituents have a powerful case, one that was backed by a previous Conservative Government. Failure to listen to and to meet the case means that the Government declare what was, after all, their own child, an orphan and thus place the families of the working population in a position in which they are continually teetering on the brink of uncertainty. I trust that the hon. Gentleman's reply will be favourable to my constituents.

12.10 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I would first apologise to the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) for having to take the place of my hon. Friend the other Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry who has lost his voice. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would prefer someone who is not quite so familiar with the topic as is my hon. Friend to an Under-Secretary who had no voice with which to reply to this very important matter. However, I visited Livingston in, I think, October, and I was most impressed with the town I saw. I therefore share the hon. Gentleman's great concern that it should develop into a great success story.

The hon. Member based his case on two main arguments. The first was that this new town was the child of a previous Conservative Administration and that we were abandoning it. The second was that it needed special development area status. I agree that this was the child of a previous Conservative Administration, and I think that the hon. Gentleman and everyone would agree that it was right to designate Livingston a new town. The prospects there are very favourable. It does not have the inheritance of older industries and the older social problems of some of the big industrial conurbations. It is a highly attractive location for industry, providing as it does, a new infrastructure specially designed to exploit its growth potential. Land and factories are available in a high amenity area, with ready access to both East and West Scotland.

At the moment, about 2,400 jobs are reported to be in prospect in the next four years from approved industrial projects, and 1,500 of these are for men. This figure takes no account of other jobs which could be expected to arise in the service sector or jobs of which we do not have knowledge. So in the present climate of industrial activity, that can only be described as a success story. There is also very good management in the new town, to which I should like to pay tribute.

I therefore suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should not use terms like "a crisis of morale". I do not believe that the prospects for Livingston are as bad as he has painted them. But I do agree, and very much sympathise, with those who think that Livingston at present has problems. We should get them into perspective, because the problems of this part of Scotland are nothing like as serious as those of West Central Scotland and those of the Clyde Valley, in particular.

There are in West Central Scotland 57,000 unemployed, of whom 47,000 are men. That is an average of 8.2 per cent. Although the average unemployment in the Bathgate exchange area is also in the same region—8 per cent.—it amounts to only 2,400 people and that includes a high number of men who are temporarily stopped, in particular due to the Post Office strike and other temporary causes. But even if one accepts the figures—and the percentages are very similar—in terms of the total, 2,400 unemployed in Bath-gate is a very different matter from the 47,000 unemployed in West Central Scotland. One must get and keep the problem in perspective.

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Gentleman is talking about Bathgate. Livingston has an exchange of its own. I gave the figures for the new town as 18 per cent. of the male population. Does he dispute that?

Mr. Ridley

I was coming to that. It is true that there may be a higher unemployment percentage in the new town itself, but our figures are computed in terms of travel-to-work areas and the group of local employment exchange areas is, of course, the Bathgate group, where the figure is 8 per cent. I do not know whether the 18 per cent. is true, because there are no official statistics for Livingston New Town. The hon. Gentleman and the Ecumenical Council must accept that in this matter we have to take account of a wider area, because a lot of the people who work in the factories do not live in the town. The only figure which I should give the House is the 8 per cent. which we are certain is right for the group of employment exchange areas as a whole.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that this part of Scotland should be made a special development area. I challenge his expression that Livingston has been ditched by not being made a special development area. We must look at the philosophy underlying the recent creation of extra special development areas in the statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 18th February.

We ought to look at the scale of the problem. West Central Scotland has 57,000 unemployed and Tyneside has 34,000 unemployed. We are here dealing with 2,400 unemployed. Moreover, those areas have the heritage of the Industrial Revolution. They were the first areas to be developed. As a result, they have old housing, dereliction, poor infrastructure, and old and declining industries in many cases which make their prospects very much more difficult than those of an area like Livingston where there are new communications, new factories, new houses, and very little of the declining industry which makes the problem so intractable in the older areas.

Therefore, when the hon. Gentleman talks of the poaching of incoming industry, I cannot help feeling that we must accord priority to those areas because there the problem is not only much bigger but is probably going to be more difficult in future. I think that it is right to concentrate the aid on areas like West Central, Scotland, where clearly the prospects are not as good as for Livingston. After all, the jobs in prospect in Livingston are not far away from the present total of the unemployed. I wish I could say that that were true of Glasgow but it is not.

Mr. Eadie

I hope that I have not misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. Is he suggesting that it is right and proper that jobs almost earmarked for Livingston should, as a result of the new special development area incentive, be poached away from Livingston?

Mr. Ridley

I did not quite say that. I said that it is right and proper that priority should be given to those firms which are going to relieve the problem in the worst affected areas. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to a particular case of which both he and I might have knowledge. If so, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that no decision has been made in that case. From the viewpoint of the strategy of the Government, I believe that it is right to concentrate the advantages on places like Clydeside, where the problem is much more intractable.

That brings me to ask: what contribution can Livingston make to solving the problems of West Central Scotland? I believe that this is part of the reason that the new town was set up and was given the special advantages which new towns have. Glasgow's problems cannot be solved entirely within its own city boundaries. Everybody has accepted that to solve the problems of the Clyde Valley there must be new towns and that they must take the overspill from Glasgow. I look at the problem of Livingston in that light.

When it was set up, it was expected to take 80 per cent of its new population from West Central Scotland or, indeed, from Glasgow, as the hon. Gentleman said. But, so far, only 592 families have come from Glasgow out of a total of 4,326 new families who have moved in. That means that under 15 per cent of them have come from Glasgow, whereas the target is 80 per cent, which is a long way off the mark. It has reached a population of approximately 14,000 out of the 70,000 which it is expected finally to take.

It will not have escaped the hon. Gentleman's notice that the satellite new towns on Merseyside have received the same treatment as Merseyside itself because, and only because, they are busily and actively engaged in taking overspill from Liverpool and Merseyside. If Livingston could make a contribution to the same tune, it could attract the same status as West Central Scotland. But I emphasise that, if Livingston is to enjoy the benefits of special development area status, it will have to make a very substantial contribution to helping with the Glasgow overspill problem. At present, and on the figures that I have quoted, I do not believe that it has the same claim for priority of Government assistance as has the Clyde Valley.

I think also that it has great advantages under the present system of incentives. Not only is it a new town with all that that means in the way of new town status, but it is still in a development area. I firmly believe that free depreciation over the years will produce great advantages which are not shared by large areas of the country as a whole. This free depreciation is extended over a wider range of assets than before. The Government have increased Local Employment Act assistance, and they have, moreover, increased the building grant considerably to 35 and 45 per cent, which will be a great attraction to firms wishing to move to Livingston. The cost of the Government's measures are the same, as, and in some parts of the country possibly higher than, the costs of the previous Government's measures. I am confident that this new package will be attractive to industry and will bear closely and more effectively on the needs of the development areas as a whole.

In short, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman needs to take such a pessimistic view of the situation in Livingston. I have undertaken to consider whether the new town could make a sufficient contribution to relieving the problems of West Central Scotland to justify the provision of special development area incentives available there. But, even if Livingston's contribution is insufficient to allow the extension of S.D.A. incen- tives, its prospects are by no means unfavourable. Since its designation in 1962, it has successfully attracted a diversity of new industry, mostly from outside Scotland. Some firms have already expanded, and further development, including the introduction of a number of projects already in the pipeline, is continuing. Some firms suffer setbacks, and I know that the Rolls-Royce affair has taken its toll in Livingston as in other places. I am sorry that that is so. But, on the whole, the area can offer very substantial incentives to new projects and to foster existing local enterprise.

Differentiation between areas in need of new employment involves some painful decisions, but in Livingston its diverse industrial structure and its many natural advantages combine to make its prospects more promising than those of the worst-hit areas. While I appreciate concern about current levels of unemployment, the hard facts of the case are that the supply of mobile projects is limited and must be concentrated where it is most urgently needed. However, we are determined to keep the coverage of assisted areas under close review to ensure that it fully reflects changing circumstances, so that areas no longer in need of assistance can be downgraded and those whose position is seriously deteriorating may be given additional assistance.

The hon. Gentleman may be assured that the position in Livingston will be closely watched, and I thank him for doing the House the service of drawing attention to the problems of the area, although I believe that he will not be too pessimistic about them in the light of what I have just said.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Twelve o'clock.