HC Deb 26 June 1972 vol 839 cc997-1000
26. Mr. Tugendhat

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will give general directions to the National Coal Board and the British Steel Corporation to move their headquarters out of the City of Westminster and into the development areas.

Mr. Tom Boardman

No, Sir, this is essentially a matter for the corporations themselves, but I have recently written to their chairmen asking them to bear the Government's dispersal policy in mind when considering the location of their offices.

Mr. Tugendhat

Is my hon. Friend aware that that is an encouraging answer, but that we hope for much more? Is he aware, further, that my constituency is literally being choked to death by excessive demands for office accommodation in central London, whereas the development areas in which the coal and steel industries are primarily located are being starved to death by the shortage of service industries and would welcome these head offices? Is not it unjustified that these corporations should occupy vast and expensive premises in my constituency when they would be better sited in development areas and we should be better off without them?

Mr. Boardman

I am sure that the chairmen of the nationalised industries will note with care what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Harper

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the course of last Monday's debate this point was adduced by a number of hon. Members on this side of the House? Is he aware, further, that if the Coal Board's headquarters was shifted from Hobart House to Yorkshire it would give renewed confidence and an added boost to the coalfield and would reverse the ever-increasing spiral towards higher unemployment and start it on a downward trend?

Mr. Boardman

I am not sure that I entirely followed the hon. Gentleman's argument. But there is common ground that the more offices that can be moved out of central London without detracting from the efficiency of the organisation, the better it will be for everyone concerned.

Mr. Blaker

Would my hon. Friend agree that Blackpool and the Fylde coast are very suitable areas for further office development?

Mr. Boardman

Yes, indeed. They are areas in which I should welcome the opportunity of visiting the chairmen in their new offices.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the Minister reconsider the evidence on this matter, bearing in mind that many of us who were members of the Standing Committee on the nationalisation of steel put forward the point of view that has been put forward in the Question? Will he also ask the British Steel Corporation to give serious consideration to the announcement made last week, bearing in mind not only redundancies, which in Scotland we cannot afford to carry, but also social consequences? Will he ask the British Steel Corporation to give this matter some serious thought?

Mr. Boardman

Yes. I think that the hon. Gentleman's question goes into a wider matter than the Question on the Order Paper. The point about dispersal is well known and is noted by the chairmen concerned.

Mr. Millan

Will the Minister ask the National Coal Board, the British Steel Corporation and other nationalised industries to undertake feasibility studies about this matter and to present their reports publicly, so that we can see what can be done? Second, should not the Government do something about office development permits in Central London which have more than doubled in the last two years, which is quite scandalous?

Mr. Boardman

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that there should be any direction of labour or industry in peace-time, and I hope that he is not suggesting that the chairmen of these industries are unaware of the advantages there may be in getting out of London. Had it been considered necessary to require them to be out of London, that is a matter which hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches could have had in mind when they passed the necessary legislation.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Does my hon. Friend recall that it was a Conservative Opposition Amendment to, the Iron and Steel Bill which placed a statutory obligation on the British Steel Corporation to spread its administrative offices around the country? Despite that, the Tubes Division Offices in Glasgow have been transferred and the General Steel Division Headquarters has been downgraded. Will my hon. Friend press upon the British Steel Corporation that it is utter commercial nonsense to spend the fortune that it spends on maintaining headquarters in London when they should be near to where the steel is produced?

Mr. Boardman

I am not sure that I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that headquarters must be near the point of production. There may be counter advantages in headquarters being nearer to other centres. On my hon. Friend's point about the need to locate offices in the area, particularly Scotland, I know that he has brought this point to the attention of the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation and that it will be noted.