HC Deb 05 December 1974 vol 882 cc1933-8
Q2. Mr. Trotter

asked the Prime Minister whether he will pay an official visit to Whitley Bay before the end of the year.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so, Sir.

Mr. Trotter

Is the Prime Minister aware that if he were to visit Tyneside now he would find grave concern about the effect on industry of the naval cuts and that the unemployment is being moved from the dockyards in the South to the North? What does he propose to do to maintain employment in the seven yards which will suffer as a result of the cuts, particularly in the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence answered questions on these matters when he made his defence statement the other day. It is the intention that the House should debate these matters during, I think, the week after next. It is too early at this stage to make forecasts of employment in particular localities—for example, in the case of the naval expenditure programme—because the overall decisions which my right hon. Friend announced the other day have to be translated into terms of particular types of naval vessels, and this has not yet been done.

Mr. Lipton

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that December is not a very good time of year to visit Whitley Bay?

The Prime Minister

That may be true. When I have visited Whitley Bay I have have always been extremely fortunate in the weather there, and I have no reason to think that it would be otherwise, even in December. But I have no plans to go to Whitley Bay before the end of this month.

Q3. Mr. Radice

asked the Prime Minister what plans he has to visit the Northern Region.

The Prime Minister

I hope to visit the Northern Region soon, Sir.

Mr. Radice

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is always welcome in the Northern Region? Is he also aware, however, that despite all that the Government have done, the unemployment level in that region remains the highest in the United Kingdom, outside Northern Ireland? Is it not now time that the Government embarked upon a comprehensive review of all of their regional policies, particularly in relation to the Northern Region?

The Prime Minister

These matters are under continual review. Successive Governments ever since the war have been improving the incentives for helping development areas. I spent a lot of time on this many years ago, and more recently. Indeed, in our discussions with Common Market countries we are very concerned to maintain as much freedom as we can have under the rules negotiated to be able to introduce new State aids on the part of the United Kingdom to help these areas.

I agree that the anxieties in the Northern Region—they are shared by the area I represent in the House, Merseyside —are serious. My hon. Friend will know that in recent months we have doubled the rate of regional employment premium, tightened the industrial development certificate control in the non-assisted areas, and announced three new programmes of advance factories, including no fewer than 16 in the Northern Region.

Sir W. Elliott

Will the Prime Minister accept that while one appreciates everything that is being done in the development areas, the continuing problem in the Northern Region is lack of skill, and that our high unemployment figure has always masked the shortage of skill? Will he take due note of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement in his Budget speech about the need for a review of the need for skills in the development areas, and will he take action forthwith?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about this matter. This has been a problem that we have faced not only in the Northern Region but in others for many years. That is one reason why it is important to have employment in the region to enable young people who can acquire skill to stay there. But it is a fact, and it has been a fact ever since the war, that in the Northern Region, which I know very well indeed, and in other areas one has to run very fast to stay in the same place. I agree that what we need is not merely new factories but a real chance of employment and training for those who leave schools in such areas.

Mr. Thorpe

When the right hon. Gentleman goes to the North, will he bear in mind that there are some excellent local newspapers in the North, which I think he and I would agree are of the same standard of excellence as those on Merseyside and in the West Country? Is he aware that in the North there are many editors—some of whom I met last night —who are profoundly worried about the effect of the proposed closed shop in the newspaper industry? Is he aware that they are concerned not only about the independence of editors but about the fact that now contributors who are not members of the NUJ have, we are told, been able to submit articles to newspapers only twice a year? Not only would such a situation have prevented the nation from reading the right hon. Gentleman's own memoirs, as he is not a member of the NUJ, but it profoundly interferes with the freedom of the Press. Would he have anything comforting to say to these editors if he visited them?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman was present when these matters were debated in the House the other evening. I was not present myself because I was in France. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment dealt with some of these questions. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has had a chance to develop his knowledge by reading HANSARD. I think that he will already have seen the very full letter sent by my right hon. Friend to Mr. Denis Hamilton, which was published in yesterday's Press.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman and others who have raised this matter in the House that this is a very important question. It is a fact that one cannot— [An HON. MEMBER: "Answer."] This is a very important question. I get a little nauseated, perhaps, when I hear the phrase "freedom of the Press" used as freely as it is, knowing that a large part of our proprietorial Press is not free at all —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—in the sense that no one could have written a pro-Market article in the Daily Express before October 1971 and no one could have written an anti-Market article in it afterwards.

However, regarding the right hon. Gentleman's question, I think that these anxieties have been exaggerated. This has been dealt with by my right hon. Friend. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to study his statement.

Mr. Ron Lewis

When my right hon. Friend visits the Northern Region, should he want a little relaxation may I invite him to my constituency, which is in that region? I can assure him that he will be greatly entertained by one of the finest teams still struggling in the First Division.

The Prime Minister

It will be a change for me to take an interest in a team in the First Division. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, I have visited Carlisle many times. Indeed, I married a girl from the area.

Q4. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Prime Minister whether he will pay an official visit to Bottesford.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so, Sir.

Mr. Latham

Would not such a visit allow the Prime Minister to assure my local ratepayers that their rates increase next year, as a percentage, will not be allowed to exceed the annual rate of inflation, whatever that might be?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the problem of rating, which will be debated in the House in the very near future, has arisen both from the rate of inflation which the country has faced over the last year or two and from the fact that local government services have expanded very considerably in recent years, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in his Budget Statement. The hon. Gentleman will also know that there has been a. very big boost to local authority expenditure because of the precise form, and everything that has happened under it, of the local government reorganisation introduced by the previous Government, which has greatly proliferated staffs. But he will know that we are giving local government in rate support grant £2,000 million more next year than the original figure for the year 1974–75, and we are also increasing this year's grant by £1,100 million, of which £350 million is a special allowance to tide local authorities over their present expenditure difficulties.

Mr. Tomlinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why ratepayers such as those in the constituency of the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) are outraged is that they were encouraged to believe that there would be only a 9 per cent. increase in rates by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) when he had responsibility for these matters in January this year?

The Prime Minister

I think that impression was propagated fairly generally by the inaccurate statements and forecasts by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in question on the eve of the February election, but I have no information about whether these advices reached the citizens and burghers of Bottesford.

Mr. Peyton

I think we all understand that the Prime Minister must be terribly torn in choosing between the alluring invitations that he receives. Will he decide at a fairly early date to accept one of them and to take the opportunity afforded by it to explain what the Government are going to do about inflation, rising prices and runaway wages?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that any matter has been more greatly debated in the House since the General Election as well as at both the General Elections, but I shall certainly consider what the right hon. Gentleman said. I have not yet decided whether the right medium for such a discussion would be Bottesford.