HC Deb 31 January 1973 vol 849 cc1536-56

12.41 a.m.

Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)

The object in raising this subject is to extract from the Minister a progress report on the environmental and employment improvements in Yorkshire and Humberside. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the debate will try to deal with it from a Yorkshire regional viewpoint. I shall try not to digress, but that may be necessary for the purposes of analogy or to emphasise a point.

The House will see that there is a collection of Supplementary Estimates—Class VI, Vote 5, Subheads C, D and E; Vote 12, Subheads B and E; and Vote 16. Subhead A.6—all of which are in the province of the Department of the Environment dealing with rents of unforeseen hirings, which according to the Vote necessitate an increase of £1,350,000; increased costs and additional requirements of building and engineering services, showing another increase of £2 million; payments to river authorities for water abstraction, an increase of £180,000—the total is now over £16 million; infrastructure grants, which have increased by over £4 million and now total £25 million; and transportation studies, the cost of which has nearly doubled and is now £476,899, an increase of £203,899. With such a large percentage increase, the policy may have changed and, therefore, this item of the Supplementary Estimates might be more widely debated.

Within these sums of money I am particularly concerned with the Yorkshire and Humberside share. I should like to know from the Minister what is in it for Yorkshire. First, unforeseen hirings: where are they to be and for whom? The sum of £1,350,000 for unforeseen hirings is almost like a blind request—cash in hand just in case. Looming large in my mind is the Hardman Report and the possibility of its proposals being carried out, involving the dispersal from London and Whitehall of 60,000 civil servants to the regions. I am particularly concerned that if that is accepted Yorkshire and Humberside should not be overlooked. The increase in hirings might be explained by the fact that many more civil servants might have to be catered for in hirings outside London in the year ahead. There is an urgent need for more Whitehall Departments to be dispersed into the regions and Yorkshire makes its claim to be recognised. I hope that in explaining the reasons for this increase in the estimate the Minister can indicate the extent to which Yorkshire will benefit. The region is already starved of service employment and any switch from Whitehall to Yorkshire of Civil Service Departments could provide a fillip to employment and a regeneration of activity in our region.

I raise a similar query with regard to the increased costs and additional requirements of building and engineering services. Some £32,800,000 is being asked for, an increase of £2 million. I ask, therefore, for what buildings, and where, is the £2 million increase in the Estimates to be spent on additional requirements?

I hope that this might be allied with the estimate of unforeseen hirings, movements of Civil Service Departments out of London into the regions and provision being made for new buildings to accommodate them. If this is so, I ask that Yorkshire must be recognised as this Whitehall shake-out begins. The Estimates to which I have referred may bear no relevance to the point I have made, but the Minister at least has been given notice that Yorkshire and Humberside intends to fight for its share of movable service industry once it begins to accelerate northwards.

I turn to Class VI, Vote 5, Subhead E, and particularly to the payments to river authorities for water abstraction, now totalling more than £16 million. I should like to know to what extent within Yorkshire and Humberside industries, whether nationalised or private, or other bodies or Government Departments are abstracting water from the rivers for industrial use and which rivers are involved.

More particularly, I should like to know what requirements or understandings are sought from those users of the Yorkshire rivers and waterways that, having taken the water from what was initially a clean, pollution-free river, their final discharge after industrial use is not contributing to increased pollution and to our dirty rivers with poisonous chemicals and so on. These rivers and waterways are becoming more precious with the increasing sport of angling, the developing stretches of cruiseways and the greater realisation of their potential for commercial traffic and trade.

It would be helpful, therefore, to know which industries or Government Departments and rivers in Yorkshire and Humberside are involved in this estimate of about £16½ million. It would also provide us with a guide so that we can periodically check whether any of these industries or Government Departments are Yorkshire's river poisoners.

An interesting estimate is Vote 12, Subhead B. A figure of £25 million is being sought for infrastructure grants, an increase of over £4 million, and the Vote says that this is due to the increased cost of several major schemes. The Minister ought to tell us what are those schemes, but, above all, whether any of them are in Yorkshire.

I am concerned about the rundown in our textile towns, our old coal-mining villages and our outdated and closed steel plants, leaving behind an appalling legacy of the old industrial infrastructures which necessitates much finance and rapid redevelopment to stop them from becoming shocking permanent monuments of grime and industrial dereliction.

I hope that within these Estimates the Under-Secretary can give me an example of how the infrastructure grants are helping to obliterate those industrial scars. Particularly he might say whether any studies are taking place to help Yorkshire in its desire to clean up its industrial sectors.

In the Vote on transportation studies it is stated that new studies are being commissioned more rapidly than was foreseen. The cost is £476,899—an increase of £203,899. Such a large percentage increase might indicate a change of policy. That should be explained.

What transportation studies are being or have been commissioned in Yorkshire and Humberside? I ask the Minister, first, whether one of the studies covers the problem that might flow from the building of the Humber Bridge, which is going ahead and is due to open in 1976. I question whether any studies are being made relating to the growing road networks opening up the Humberside area as a result of the building of the new bridge. What estimates are being made of the likely impact on the region of the increase in communications, in terms of its effect on trade and jobs? Is one of the transportation studies to be commissioned concerned with the possible growth in trade and employment prospects as a result of the British Waterways proposals now before the Minister to widen and deepen the Sheffield-South Yorkshire waterway. The Minister must be aware of the fact that if this were one it could cause many industries along the waterway to flourish right through the heartland of Yorkshire and Humberside, but particularly it opens up a vast sector of the county with a direct waterway link to the Continent and the Common Market.

Thirdly, I have been perturbed and concerned for some time about the movement of people from the county because of the lack of good road communications. Within the transportation studies, what study is taking place of good road communications, linking the old mining villages with a view to speeding up travel in the defined travel-to-work areas? The Yorkshire coalfield is not really one employment area; it is 50 miles across from east to west and 50 miles from north to south. The east-west connections are not so good and are slow. The area portrays a picture of a series of intermittently connected mining villages. If the people in this area have to travel, travel becomes a burden. They then consider moving, but instead of moving within their own area, having taken the decision to uproot themselves they decide to emigrate from the county altogether, usually to the south. This is the single most important factor in our emigration problem, and it is increasing. I hope that we shall have a transportation study of this problem.

Finally, I question Vote 16, Subhead A6, which deal with grants for reclamation of derelict land—a total of £14,862,000, which represents a requested increase of £10,800,000. First, I concede to the Government that Operation Eyesore—land reclamation schemes and the clearance of dereliction—is succeeding, with pleasing environmental results, but I ask where all the money is being spent. How much is being spent in Yorkshire and Humberside? What schemes of note have been tackled? To what extent are local authorities and national industries co-operating? How are we really comparing with the other regions in the drive for a cleaner and healthier Britain, and what sort of impact is this environmental drive having on employment prospects in our region?

I ask whether, within this Estimate, any money is being earmarked to hold the West Riding County Council Land Reclamation Unit together and use it as a team, with its expertise, to plan the clean-up of the county. It consists of 15 specialists with support staffs, who did magnificent work in Yorkshire even before the increased grants were available.

I ask what the Minister is doing to shatter the complacency of British Railways. They are not playing their part, with disused stations left derelict and abandoned—eyesores pitting the countryside. Local authorities have great difficulties getting decisions from them on planning and land clearance. British Railways headquarters is not responding fast enough, in keeping with the urgency of the problem. I hope that the Minister in his drive to clean up the county and the nation is urging British Railways in particular—and other nationalised industries—to co-operate more readily with the local authorities.

The National Coal Board is better, but only a little. A substantial number of spoil heaps—muck stacks we call them in Yorkshire—are not subject to planning controls. The board is deemed to have planning control over them. This is slowing down muck stack clearance. The board even holds to ransom those who wish to erase these eyesores by asking ridiculous prices for the muck stack content. I am also perturbed that in some areas the board is tending to hog land around the perimeter of these spoil heaps, thus hindering the local authorities in spreading the stack properly and making it blend more amenably into the landscape. The grants for reclamation of derelict land can be jeopardised if this sort of action continues.

Turning to derelict land grants, in my own town of Barnsley the derelict land reclamation programme looks good. The projects are listed up to 1975. Nearly all involve major expenditure on muck stacks, naturally enough in a coal-mining area. The aim is that 224 acres should be cleared by 1980. Under Operation Eyesore in Barnsley and district 100 projects are in the pipeline, many of them small items such as cleaning buildings. A sum of £193,000 has been earmarked, so that the town is indeed having a facelift.

I hope that the Minister can reveal how the Yorkshire industrial towns are taking advantage of the £14,800,000 in Government grants. Yorkshire and Humberside is keen to solve its environmental and unemployment problems. Within this catalogue of Votes dealing with infrastructure grants, transportation studies and moneys earmarked for reclamation of derelict land, some scope is being provided to deal with both. I only hope that the Minister can tell us that Yorkshire and Humberside are taking advantage of these offers, that they are forging ahead to enliven and brighten the country and that the prospects for a clean, healthy and full-employment environment are now a distinct possibility.

12.58 a.m.

Mr. Joseph Harper (Pontefract)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) has covered the problems of the Yorkshire and Humberside region on a broad canvas in a comprehensive fashion. In contrast, I want to base my speech on constituency problems, under the subheads of the respective Votes in the Supplementary Estimates.

The first is subhead D of Class VI, Vote 5, in which there is an addition of £2 million to the sum of £32,880,000 for building and engineering services and increased costs and additional requirements. It has passed through my mind that the Government might give some thought to transferring the offices of the National Coal Board from Hobart House in the south-west of London to Doncaster and the heart of the coalfield. I asked about this in the Yorkshire debate on 19th June last year. If this were done it would contribute to the efficiency of the administration of the board and would give the people working in the industry the feeling that the board was part of them. I make this plea again and wonder whether it has crossed the Minister's mind.

My right hon. Friend has drawn attention to subhead E dealing with gas, electricity and certain telecommunications and the abstraction of water We know that water is taken from the rivers and that, after use, it is put back. In the case of power stations, I am advised that the water is cleaner when it is put back into the rivers than it is when it is taken out. Rigid rules of procedure must be followed. Unfortunately, the same rules are not imposed on manufacturing industries.

My constituency point in this regard is one which the Minister personally has dealt with on previous occasions in debate and in answer to Parliamentary Questions. It concerns the detergents which are poured into the river upstream of my constituency. They cause a great deal of foaming on the river with which the borough of Castleford has to try to deal. This matter has become a pretty hardy annual.

Before we approve this Supplementary Estimate of £180,000, part of which might go to helping to deal with the problem, I hope that the Minister will answer two questions, since this subhead deals with payments to river authorities for water abstraction.

First, has the Minister considered whether the £180,000, in addition to the original Supply Estimate, is enough to enable the river authority to deal comprehensively with this problem? Alternatively, within this Estimate is the appropriate river authority able to give financial assistance to the Castleford borough council so that it can deal with the problem? The burden falls upon local people, and it is not of Castleford's making. Someone else has created it, but Castleford has to bear most of the financial responsibility for clearing the foam. The borough council has never been able to understand why local ratepayers should have to shoulder the cost indefinitely, despite numerous meetings with those responsible and with Ministry officials. I hope that the Minister will have something new to say in reply, and I trust that a positive approach is to be made to solving the problem.

Subhead B of Vote 12 deals with infrastructure. The Supplementary Estimate in this case is £4,050,000, making a total of £25,050,000. What is Yorkshire likely to get out of it? What major schemes are planned? What are the employment prospects, which depend to a large extent on infrastructure? What will be the effect on travel in the area, bearing in mind that many men and women have to travel inordinate distances to get to work and earn a living?

What of transport studies, where a Supplementary Estimate of £203,899 brings the total to £476,849? The question is a difficult one, and perhaps it is not fair to ask the Minister, but I must ask it because it is a constituency point. Does he know whether the West Riding County Council has made a recent study of the transport situation as it affects my constituency of Pontefract and Castleford?

What effect will the M62 have when it is opened, which is expected to be in 12 months, on the Wakefield-Snaith Road? For example, will the proposed road on the Featherstone urban district council's town map be needed? In this day and age when hon. Members on both sides of the House ask Ministers for more and more roads, it is unusual for anyone to ask for a road to be taken out. It may be that such a proposal would receive loud cheers if the debate were better attended than it is. However, we cannot get the Featherstone council or the West Riding County Council to move on this one. We want the road taken out because when the M62 ploughs through to Ferrybridge and eventually right through to Hull there will be no need for the proposed new road. The proposal is sterilising valuable industrial land and preventing industry from coming to Featherstone. It also prevents us from cleaning up properly and thereby giving a much-needed boost for the environment of that town.

Several industries have made inquiries about going there, and have learned that a road is to go through. This has earned the nickname of "the ghost road". The Press was full of it some years ago, saying that it was a ghost road about which no one knew anything. Were I a betting man, I would bet that the road will never be built. However, in order to get on with cleaning up and attracting industry to this spot, we want the road removed from the town map or at least built.

My final point is about dereliction, under Vote 16, Subhead A6. Here there has also been a vast increase of nearly £11 million. The figure has risen from £4 million to about £14 million. Along with the North-West, in Lancashire, on the wrong side of the Pennines, this has affected our counties more than anywhere else.

Reference has been made to dirt tips. As the Under-Secretary knows, we call them muck stacks. One of the best ways of treating this kind of dereliction and reclamation is to put the stuff in the motorways and the other suitable places we can find. There are 450 tips in the Yorkshire coalfield. Some are as high as the Andes. Of those tips, 185 are closed tips, so nothing would prevent us from dealing with them immediately, and another 90 tips are being dealt with. The other 200 tips are live tips on to which dirt is still being tipped. They present a more difficult problem.

The Minister can do something to help in the disposal of these muck stacks by stopping borrow pit working. A borrow pit is a little pit near a road, be it the M1, M62 or A1, from which material is transported out of a field 200 or 300 yards to the road being built. This results in double dereliction. It poses the question why we create dereliction and try at the same time to solve it. It is like spitting in the wind; one gets it back. It is like treading a moving staircase in the opposite direction.

One of the reasons why these muck stacks are not being moved fast enough is these borrow pits. The Minister may ask how it is that the muck stacks are not being moved at the required rate, and why they cannot compete. The short answer is that they cannot compete because it is unfair competition. The borrow pits are dug out of little fields at the side of the road being built.

There is also the advantage of using unlicensed vehicles. They are not taxed or rated. That used to be the case with the muck stacks until someone had the bright idea that these tips should be rated in order to provide some revenue for the local authorities. The matter went as far as the House of Lords, and the decision in the other place was that rates had to be paid on tips. This made some tips uncompetitive. But if we stopped borrow pit working, the dirt from the muck stacks would be used in a much better fashion.

The National Coal Board is doing research into lightweight aggregates. There is a great shortage of these in Yorkshire, because the tips cannot provide every sort of filling, although there has been quite a lot of research into this. Dereliction and the general untidiness of some of the areas of the county discourage industry from coming to the place. It is only when we pay more attention and give more help to the infrastructure, dereliction, transportation and other subjects covered by these Supplementary Estimates that the full potential of the region will at last be realised.

1.10 a.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

No civilised back bencher at this hour of the morning makes a long speech. On the other hand, one seizes one's chances as a constituency Member unashamedly to represent one's constituency's interests, and I am sure the Minister will listen carefully.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) is a Yorkshire-man, and he spoke of Yorkshire often, but also of Humberside. I would plead with the Minister to bear Humberside in mind and to remember that it also is a part of Yorkshire. As a visitor there he will well know exactly where are the docks that I shall mention, and the other matters involved in the transportation studies mentioned in Class VI of the Votes.

Before I come to that context I want to echo what has been said already and commend to the Minister what he knows well, that in East Yorkshire we should have some of the 60,000 civil servants going north. On the west side of the country, Bootle has been nicknamed the Whitehall of the North, and I do not see why we should not have two White-halls in the north, one in Lancashire, as there is, and another in Yorkshire.

So Hull makes a plea for having civil servants from more Departments living on Humberside. It has a delightful climate. East Yorkshire bears comparison with East Anglia. The Minister, as a farmer, will know that East Yorkshire bears comparison with any part of East Anglia, and has the same type of climate and the same type of farming. So we have a claim to having some Departments there. We can attract people out of London to the East Yorkshire coast. It is important because emigration from our part of the world is a serious matter; we are losing our young people.

Mention has also been made of coordination between British Rail and the local authorities. The Minister knows that we have been scared time and time again by statements by colleagues of his about certain contingency planning and about our rail network being cut down—as we have been told, to some 8,000 or 9,000 miles. I hope the Minister will pay attention to this and heed the feelings of people in East Yorkshire and on Humberside and the need to safeguard our railways, particularly from Hull to Scarborough.

I come now specifically to Class VI, Vote 12, and transportation studies, about which we are told that New studies are being commissioned more rapidly than was foreseen. The notes speak of Advances in respect of contributions towards the cost of transportation studies undertaken by local authorities …". In Hull we have done a number of these studies, and I am wondering whether any of them have been conidered for inclusion under that heading.

I have here the annual report for 1972 of the deputy chief executive officer for community planning in Kingston upon Hull, who states what we all know, that the Government have shown some imagination in matters like the Humber Bridge and the M18 and M62, without which we would be, as it were, almost eyeless in Gaza, because no port can for long exist, let alone wax larger, without adequate communications. I hope that our entry into the EEC will in no way delay the signing of the contracts. The Minister knows that entry means widening our scope in the United Kingdom and on the Continent, so I hope there will he no delay in building the bridge.

Road proposals within the city are of vital importance to us. The commercial docks are on the east side of the city, and goods have to be carried to the A1 and the M1 on the west side. On the west side there are the fish docks, and on the east side there are the cargo docks. We vitally need a docks road parallel to the fish docks running to the big cargo docks in the east. The city engineer has done studies on such a road. Will the Minister convey to his colleagues the need for a decision on this matter?

Until a decision is made many firms with well-known names—Birdseye and Findus—and small family firms like Glenton cannot plan ahead for extension. They need to know if and when certain buildings will be demolished and exactly the line of the new docks road. I ask the Minister to pay special attention to this. It is vital to be able to move goods from East Hull to West Hull without going through the centre of the city. Goods that are unloaded in the cargo docks on the east side have to go through the centre of the city to get to the freight terminal on the west side.

Whether the transportation studies are undertaken by the city or by the Department of the Environment, they must be speedily implemented for the sake of Hull, the third port of the United Kingdom.

A point of less importance concerns the working party study on commercial vehicle parking. We know the findings, but we do not know how they affect Hull. Each night about 600 commercial vehicles are parked in Hull. We need a secure parking place and adequate overnight accommodation for the drivers. We should like to know what is happening about commercial vehicle parking in Hull and whether there will be a network of secure parks throughout the United Kingdom.

I ask the Minister to pay particular attention to the vital importance of the docks road on which the city has made a study. Proposals have been made to him, and I hope that he will get on with them and let us know what is happening.

1.20 a.m.

Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)

I support what has been said so far in this debate, and I wish to emphasise the points which have been made about dereliction. The emphasis has been on the Yorkshire Ridings and the rural mining areas. I appreciate the problems in those areas, but we should also recognise the serious difficulties in conurbation areas, such as Leeds, particularly in my constituency, where dereliction can take several forms. One of the major problems facing local authorities is in clearing old commercial and business properties which are now empty, or in trying to make them safe. Many of these old properties attract vandals, itinerants and vermin, and life can be made impossible for those who reside in such areas. Many of these problems are rife in my constituency, and the local authorities are doing their utmost to give assistance and encouragement in clearance matters, and they in turn would welcome Government help.

I regret that my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) singled out British Rail for criticism. Although some of his criticisms were justified, the difficulties which he outlined should not all be laid at the door of British Rail. I know from my experience in working in the estates department of British Rail that many difficulties and delays arose because local authorities were hesitant in completing sale transactions largely because of their inability to provide finance at the right time. But British Rail were only acting under instructions from this House that in the sale of British Rail property and land first options should be given to local authorities. Therefore, the railways were compelled to negotiate with local authorities and often ran into difficulties.

Mr. James Johnson

We have difficulty in building new houses in West Hull because we have so little land. British Rail often has land available formerly used for sidings, and so on, but local authorities sometimes take a great deal of time to deal with these matters. They may meet one day and then not meet again for another six months.

Mr. Cohen

I agree with my hon. Friend that in seeking to dispose of derelict land British Rail is often handicapped by delays in trying to obtain planning permission from the local authority. However, we must keep the matter in perspective since a number of factors are involved.

I am delighted that attempts are being made to commission transport studies more rapidly. At certain places in my constituency inner ring roads pass within yards of people's homes. Those same people have now been informed that the next phase will bring other roads close to their homes from the other side of the development. This is giving some cause for concern. The more rapidly we can deal with this situation and carefully analyse the problems which arise from the new developments that are required the better.

I hope that in the course of these transportation studies careful thought will be given to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) about British Rail. One of the greatest difficulties confronting Yorkshire—I do not mean Leeds particularly, but the West Riding—is the tremendous increase in the volume of traffic now passing through that area. Arising from this is the question whether there should be a Pudsey/Dishforth motorway link. I am sure that the Minister will be reasonably, if not fully, aware of this situation. This problem occurs in many areas because of the closure of the British Rail system. The stations and lines have completely disappeared. I am pleased to advise my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley that there is no dereliction. In fact, it is difficult to appreciate that stations existed in some places. We are now feeling the long-term effects of the removal of the railway system. I am sure that in the years ahead, with the tremendous increase in the volume of motorised traffic, we shall regret even more that many stations have been closed. In the transportation studies we should try to plan ahead. We should anticipate the developments which will occur with a view not to reducing but to increasing the railways system.

In view of the points which have been made in the speeches by my right hon. and hon. Friends and the lateness of the hour I shall not keep the House any longer. I hope that the Minister will take serious note of what has been said. I am sure that he will.

1.27 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)

With the leave of the House I will attempt to reply to this very wide-ranging debate. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) and his hon. Friends on having been able to insinuate, under the rather narrow headings before us, an extremely wide-ranging and interesting debate about the environment, in the widest sense of the word, in South Yorkshire. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it has been a debate about Yorkshire mainly by Yorkshire men. He suggested that it would allow me in reply to give a progress report on developments in the environmental and economic sphere which are broadly touched upon, as I must agree, in the Votes to which he referred.

My Department, having a measure of responsibility for regional policy, has been pleased to see the progress that has begun and is accelerating since the whole region was declared an intermediate area. Before 1972 only the Yorkshire coalfield, including the right hon. Gentleman's constituency, had intermediate area status. But from March 1972 the whole region has had this status, from which many additional benefits have flowed: training courses, grants under the Industry Act, loans, interest relief grants, tax allowances on machinery, plant and industrial buildings, advance factories, removal grants, free fares for key workers, and specifically on the environmental front intermediate area status has brought substantial improvement under the derelict land clearance programme of Operation Eyesore.

On the employment front, the programme recently announced by my right hon. Friend includes eight advance factories for the Yorkshire and Humberside region with a total of 100,000 sq. ft. Of the five advance factories which had previously been authorised for the Yorkshire coalfield area, four have already been built, two of which have been let, and the fifth is in an advanced stage of construction.

I think that more needs to be done. There is a large legacy from the past of industrial obsolescence. Nevertheless, it is instructive that the unemployment figures are now coming down quite quickly, and I sense when I go to that area that the economic momentum is accelerating.

There is an intimate connection, as the right hon. Gentleman implied, between improved environment and the attraction to industry to go there. It used to be that industry destroyed the environment. Now we have reached a stage when only if there is an improving environment for people to live in can one attract industry to establish itself in an area such as South Yorkshire.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the proposed increase of £1.35 million for rents for Government accommodation. I must tell him that that represents less than an additional 3 per cent. to the original provision. It covers a number of unforeseen additional requirements of a perfectly normal kind during the remainder of the financial year. It covers about a dozen fairly small hirings for various clients of central Government—the higher courts and the Professional and Executive Registry at the Department of Employment. The House will be interested to learn that this rent provision includes slightly more money for the rent assessment panel. That is the area which is covered by this particular increase. It is, I think, perfectly normal.

The right hon. Gentleman rather ingeniously related the dispersal of civil servants and additional hirings with the fact that Sir Henry Hardman had completed his report and that Yorkshire might get a lot more Government offices. The report by Sir Henry Hardman will, I understand, shortly be received, and decisions will be announced about it in the early summer. I cannot give any assurance at this stage. That is a matter for the Civil Service Department. I cannot give any assurance about how many civil servants will be dispersed or precisely where they will go. However, the claims of Yorkshire and Humberside, which have been put forward eloquently tonight, will he considered along with the other regions' claims.

Several hon. Members have indicated that the nationalised industries might also remove some of their staff from the London and South-Eastern area to the North. It was suggested that Hobart Place was not necessarily the most natural environment for the National Coal Board. Of course, that is a matter for the coal board. The Government cannot, and would not wish to, instruct the chairman of the coal board to do anything other than he felt was right within his managerial competence. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will expect all the nationalised industries to have regard to the wish of the Government and of the House that there should be a dispersal of both civil servants and at least any clerical employees of the nationalised industries to the regions.

I am aware, as no doubt is the right hon. Gentleman, of the letter recently sent to my right hon. Friend by the Chairman of the Yorkshire and Humberside Economic Planning Council, in which he eloquently argued the point in respect of the nationalised industries. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will take note of what has been said by both the chairman and hon. Members here tonight.

On Class VI, 5, the right hon. Gentleman and a number of his hon. Friends managed to get in the question of river pollution under the listing of additional expenditure for fuel and other items for Government premises. This subhead has nothing to do with abstractions for industrial purposes. The purpose of this estimate, which increases by only 1 per cent. the current estimate, is to cover the normal fuel requirements of Government premises; that is to say, gas, oil, solid fuel and electricity. It makes provision for any payment that may be made for water which river authorities may draw from a river for the domestic purposes of those premises.

I understand that the amount of water that is used for domestic purposes in these Government offices is insignificant. Indeed, I suppose it to be used only for making tea or for the staff to wash their hands. I must, therefore, ask the House to excuse me if under this heading I do not deal with the whole issue of cleaning the Yorkshire rivers.

The right hon. Gentleman was concerned about whether any polluting discharges might be going into the Yorkshire rivers from Government offices. My right hon. Friend and I would be most disturbed if that were to be the case. The right hon. Gentleman may wish to know that the Government have said that they expect all those who administer Crown property to observe the conditions required by river and sewerage authorities of similar premises occupied by local authorities or industry. If there is any evidence that Crown property is not observing these conditions the Secretary of State will take action to see that the requirements are met. If the right hon. Gentleman has any evidence of Yorkshire rivers being poisoned by Government Departments, I wish that he would provide it. I do not believe that there is any evidence of that.

The hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) and I have on a number of occasions debated the problem of foam in Castleford. I can only say that I cannot deal with that problem under this subhead which provides the ability to pay for water used to wash people's hands in a few Government offices in the rest of the country.

On Class VI, 12, transport studies, again these are primarily studies of the problem of urban transportation, a problem which I believe needs increasing attention. They do not include studies for the Humber Bridge and the associated road network. That is covered elsewhere, but the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) is right when he says that access to the port of Hull needs to be improved, if only to benefit the increasing trade with Europe.

I understand that priority is being given to the improvement of access roads, and some of the programmes which have been accelerated—and which I believe will help the hon. Gentleman—include access to Hull via the M62-A63 from Merseyside and the M18 from the Midlands. Work is proceeding on the new M180 to connect with the Humber Bridge, and when all this work is completed—and I hope that it will be on schedule—Yorkshire and Humberside will have one of the finest road networks in any region.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Pontefract about what he regards as the surplus road proposal in the Featherstone area which, he said, was sterilising industrial land. I do not believe that this is for my Department. In the first instance it is for the county council. It does not come under this subhead, but I am sure that the new metropolitan county, when it comes to consider all its road schemes, will, if it is wise, have regard to what the hon. Gentleman has said tonight.

Mr. James Johnson

I thank the Minister for his helpful and cogent words about the future network to the west of the city of Hull. But is he saying that I might well have been gainfully employed in discussing under the subhead pedestrian precincts in the centre of the city?

Mr. Griffiths

No. The urban studies touched upon here mainly concern, in the Yorkshire area, the Sheffield-Rotherham transportation study, to which I have paid a great deal of attention since I have become involved in the urban studies that we are pursuing. This is a large-scale study of the whole Sheffield-Rotherham transportation pattern. The estimated cost is £515,000 over three years, of which my Department is meeting half.

The reason for the substantial increase that the right hon. Gentleman noticed is that we are now completing the structure plans of many of the regions, and this of itself has given a much greater impetus to transportation studies generally. It has meant that we have been able to start additional studies, which generate in turn the need for the additional expenditure under the subhead.

I should say something about derelict land. I was delighted to hear the right hon. Gentleman's generous tribute to his local authorities, in that they are now in the Yorkshire area making rapid and very pleasing progress in the reclamation of derelict land. At the end of 1971 the region had just under 14,000 acres of derelict land, of which 10,500 were considered to justify reclamation. In 1970 850 acres were reclaimed, which was four times as much as in the previous year. There was a slight fall in the number of completed schemes in 1971, but a great deal of new work is now in the pipeline, and I am advised that in 1972—the figures are not yet all to hand—the authorities expect that more than a thousand acres will have been reclaimed by all the agencies. The figures show that there is gathering momentum.

There is no better way of improving the living environment for people than to get rid of some of the unsightly areas of derelict land. I and Labour Members know, from having grown up among it, that it not only depresses those who must live in it but deters industry from going to a region.

On Operation Eyesore there is a success story to tell. It was announced in February 1972 as a supplementary short-term boost to the assisted areas, aimed at the more local pieces of dereliction not covered by the main derelict land clearance programme. It was also designed to give a short, sharp boost to help alleviate unemployment in the assisted areas. The scheme has been immensely popular. It has been widely welcomed and taken up by the local authorities. Up to the end of last December more than 10,000 Eyesore projects had been approved for grant in England, at a total cost of more than £23 million. In Yorkshire and Humberside no fewer than 2,800 separate Eyesore projects have been approved at a cost of over £6 million. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has seen all this progress in Barnsley. Sometimes the schemes are quite small, but they add to the environment.

I have seen what has been done in the Rotherham area. It certainly helps to produce a cleaner, brighter Yorkshire to have the cleaning of buildings, landscaping, planting of trees and the general tidying up of sites and buildings.

I take note of the points made about the nationalised industries and their part in both derelict land and Eyesore programmes. The right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to comment on his rather vivid phrase about British Rail showing on occasion a degree of shattering complacency. I noticed that his hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) rose to the defence of British Rail. But I hope that the Railways Board will take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

The same goes for the National Coal Board. I derived much benefit from the description given by the hon. Member for Pontefract of the muck heaps, the 150 or more tips which could be more rapidly improved, and I noted also his observation that, very often, some of the land adjoining the tips at the bottom is not dealt with as rapidly as it might be. I shall bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries what the hon. Gentleman said about the use of borrow pits for material for road construction. I think that this is a matter on which the technical experts might well be able to answer better than I can.

We have had a wide-ranging debate within the limited ambit of the Supplementary Estimates. I hope that the House will accept that the provisions of this additional money is sensible in the circumstances.