HC Deb 14 June 1974 vol 874 cc1991-2034

11.6 a.m.

Mr. David Waddington (Nelson and Colne)

I beg to move, That this House draws the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the serious problems still facing North-East Lancashire; and urges the Government to pursue policies which will help to stop any further drift of population away from the area and will encourage industry, widen educational and employment opportunities, improve the environment and communications and give every possible help to those living in North-East Lancashire in their resolve to make the area a great place in which to live and work. One or two of my colleagues suggested that I should have made the motion four times as long as it is and then have gone home, thereby giving them more opportunity to speak. I understand that that might not have been in accordance with the rules of order of the House, but I feel rather more virtuous than usual because by choosing this subject for debate not only have I afforded myself an opportunity of speaking on a matter which is very dear to my heart but I have given my colleagues who are Members of Parliament in North-East Lancashire the opportunity of stating their views on the problems facing the area and their suggestions for the solution of them.

I make it plain that when I refer to my colleagues I am talking across the House, because we in North-East Lancashire can take pride in the fact that when dealing with our regional affairs we have tried to cross party barriers and to work together to do what we believed to be right in the interests of our part of the country. It is inevitable that now and again someone will put forward a suggestion which is not acceptable to someone else, but, by and large, we have tried to work together and I believe that by so doing we have achieved quite a deal over the years.

I do not approve of spreading alarm and despondency about the situation in North-East Lancashire. I have no time for people who go around emitting low moans from morning to night, because it is entirely counter-productive and is likely to damage our chances of, for instance, attaining the level of industrial investment which we want in North-East Lancashire. Also, it is not warranted by the facts, because great improvements have taken place in recent years in, for instance, the structure of industry and in the environment.

It is interesting to reflect that not many years ago no less than 80 per cent. of employed people in the Nelson and Colne Division were employed in the textile industry. Now there is a wide range of industry and great diversification of jobs available in the area. We can congratulate the workpeople on their adaptability and loyalty and on the fact that ours has been a remarkably trouble-free and strike-free area. We must congratulate organisations such as the North-East Lancashire Development Association, formerly the North-East Lancashire Development Committee, which has worked day after day to try to persuade new industry to come into the area and help existing industry. We must also congratulate the local authorites, which have done marvellous work over the years.

All I propose to do is to point out that the area still faces immense problems in the respects mentioned in the motion and to indicate matters on which I believe Government action is essential and on which it is possible for them to take action without the expenditure of vast sums of public money. So often in regional debates hon. Members try to thieve all the money from other areas. Although they are in their way trying to do their best for their own areas, they can be pretty sure that nothing will come out of the debate because the Government will say "In the existing economic circumstances it is not possible to do anything." That will not be the position today. I shall make some modest demands which I do not believe the Government can refuse. Like the Godfather, I shall make a proposition which they simply cannot refuse, or, rather, three or four propositions.

I appreciate that more than one Department is involved in the matters which I shall mention. I had to tell the Government only the other day that that was the position. I could not ask for the Government to provide three or four Ministers and I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment for having come to reply. I know that when I mention matters not strictly within the province of his Department he will ensure that not only the words that are spoken are conveyed to the Department concerned but the feeling that is behind them. There is a great deal of feeling behind some of the matters which I shall mention.

I shall deal first with the industrial situation. There has over the years been an immense diversification of industry. One of the reasons why we were able to attract industry into North-East Lancashire was that there were a number of old factories which were empty in which previously cotton goods had been manufactured. However, we suffer from a real problem of obsolescence. Many of the old factories are not suitable bases for expansion of the industries which are now carried on within them.

Even more important, there is still in North-East Lancashire nothing like a sufficient range of job opportunities available to our young people. The consequence is that the young people leave the area. Over the years the population of North-East Lancashire has continued to fall. Mercifully, in the past five or so years the rate of decline has not been as great, but the decline continues. We must so order events that people do not leave. We must ensure that people are encouraged to come into the area from outside. We will not accept that continued migration is inevitable.

We cannot accept that North-East Lancashire is an area in which decline is inevitable. We do not accept for one moment the pessimism of the strategic plan for the North-West, which seems to suggest that further decline is inevitable. Further, we cannot accept the suggestion that was made in the strategic plan that future development should be concentrated in the so-called Mersey belt. I have not time now to talk at length about the strategic plan but there will be other opportunities for doing so. The plan is of the utmost significance to the whole of Lancashire. We say that justice demands that the Government should help prevent any further decline in North-East Lancashire.

We ask the Government to continue to afford to us the benefits of intermediate area status. That is a good start because we are not asking for any more money but merely suggesting that our status should remain as it is. I am asking that our status should not be diluted by the granting of special development area status to Merseyside. That would have a serious and deleterious effect on our part of the world. The granting of such status to Merseyside would put many obstacles in the way of our obtaining the new industries which we still require.

I do not believe that I can be accused of adopting a dog in the manger attitude towards Merseyside. This is a matter firstly of justice and secondly of the wise use of resources. We cannot close our eyes to the fact that over the years hundreds of millions of pounds have been poured into Merseyside with few noticeable results. There are now demands for more and more hundreds of millions of pounds. Let us contrast that with North-East Lancashire, in which, by comparison almost insignificantly tiny sums have been spent but they have produced real value for money in getting down the rate of unemployment and changing the whole appearance of the area's towns. I invite the Government to back success and not failure and not to listen too readily to the vociferous Merseysiders. Unfortunately, some of them are members of this Government. I dread to think of the influence that they may now be exercising. I have tried not to be personal but I know where the Minister comes from and I know that in his previous incarnation he lived a little nearer North-East Lancashire. He is, therefore, in a better position than some to appreciate the problems which the area faces.

I hope that I shall not be accused of trying to place on the Government an intolerable burden which it would be ridiculous to expect them to bear at a time of financial stringency. I am saying—my gosh, this is unusual in this Chamber—that the Government should save money and not spend it. I am saying that it would be foolish for them to pour further hundreds of millions of pounds into Merseyside. That would not be a wise use of resources, and it would be grossly unfair to North-East Lancashire as the area would find its status as an intermediate area greatly diminished.

We ask the Government to allow local authorities to get on with the job of developing industrial estates. As the Minister knows, money for the provision of service roads into industrial estates and money for the provision of sewerage facilities and the like all comes out of the locally determined sector and there is not enough to go round. The absurd situation has arisen in North-East Lancashire that the Government's own policies stemming from the Industry Act are being frustrated by the inability of the local authorities to find the resources to service the industrial estates. The authorities are, therefore, disqualifying themselves from the benefits which would be available to them under the Industry Act.

Comparatively small sums are involved. I do not know whether it is an open or a closed secret but I am told that an interdepartmental committee is now studying the position. If there is such a committee, I hope that it gets on with the job quickly and comes to a speedy conclusion. It is ridiculous that the area's efforts to provide new sites for factories should be frustrated because the Government will not make minor changes to the present system and make special allocations for the servicing of industrial estates instead of requiring local authorities to find the money from the locally determined sector.

My first point is that North-East Lancashire should keep intermediate status and that the Government should not squander money by giving special development area status to Merseyside. Second, I ask the Government to help with the area's industrial development. Third, I ask for help regarding derelict sites, which raise great problems. It is possible to receive a grant to deal with a derelict factory but not for an obsolescent factory which has outlived its usefulness and cannot be the scene of any great expansion of industry. Fourth— this is one of the most important matters of all—we want the Government to help widen job opportunities by the provision of more Government offices.

The figures show that Lancashire as a whole has not done too badly in terms of the creation of new office jobs. However, North-East Lancashire has done appallingly badly. I think that two small tax offices have been the only new creations offering new office jobs in the past few years. If the number of office jobs in the North-West as a whole are related to the office jobs in the rest of the country it will be seen that the North-West is almost at the top of the list. I think that there is only one region that comes out higher—namely, the South-East. The position regarding office jobs in North-East Lancashire is entirely different, the area being at the bottom of the league. It would be putting it mildly to say that we are dissatisfied with the general level of Government investment in North-East Lancashire. We expect that when decisions of investment have to be taken we shall not be ignored to the extent that we have been ignored in the past.

That brings me to the Hardman Report. I will not deal at length with the report, which we debated in the House. It is a matter that is very dear to the heart of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones), who dealt with it at length in the debate.

The more one reads the report the more extraordinary it is. One would have to be a civil servant who had never moved out of London in his life to believe that the dispersal of civil servants to Bletchley—or Milton Keynes, as it now is —would contribute towards regional development. One would have to be living in a dream world to think that by sending civil servants to Swindon one would be contributing towards regional development. Those places are not regions. Neither Swindon nor Bletchley is the capital of a region. We expect the Government to reject the Hardman Report and recognise our claims for help.

When considering our industrial future one must bear in mind the question of communications. Without a great improvement in communications we shall not continue to get the industrial development which we have been getting recently. We all know the history of the Calder Valley road, now the M65, and I need not rehearse it at length. Suffice to say that when the Labour Government of 1966–70 decided to go ahead with a new town in Central Lancashire they were so worried by the reaction of people in North-East Lancashire to that proposal and about the possible impact on the economy of North-East Lancashire of a new town in Central Lancashire that they appointed a firm of consultants to consider the proposal. The report issued by that firm of consultants in 1969 said firmly that if North-East Lancashire had a real improvement in its communications there was no great reason for North-East Lancashire to fear but that if North-East Lancashire remained isolated there would be a great deal to fear. As a consequence of that, the Labour Government of 1966–70 and the Conservative Government of 1970–74 committed themselves to the project, not to enable people to enjoy more leisure motoring but because successive Governments recognised that the project was essential to the industrial development of North-East Lancashire. An inquiry is now taking place in Burnley, the matter is in the hands of the Secretary of State and we ask him to make as speedy a decision as possible.

We originally hoped for a start in 1974 but the scheme has already been set back a year or two by economic difficulties and the redesigning of the road to meet the requirements of the Conservative Government to reduce the Burnley-Colne stretch to two carriageways each way instead of three carriageways each way. Time is of the essence. Work on the new town is beginning and we want to make sure that the project is completed so that we can get the benefit of it before substantial investment finds its way into the new town area. We ask the Government to treat the matter urgently.

I was dissatisfied with the reply I had from the Government on 1st April when I asked about their plans for the road. They said that the matter was in the hands of the Lancashire County Council, which had to make up its mind on the order of priorities. In effect, the Government said "It is nothing to do with us; it is a principal road from Burnley. Please shut up and do not bother us." That was a load of rubbish. The Government knew perfectly well that there was no possibility of the new county council, which consisted of the same members and had the same Conservative majority as the old county council, altering the old county council's priorities.

The fact remains that the new county council has said that there is no question about it and top of the list is the M65. I want the Government to say that when the Secretary of State deals finally with the inquiry he will make plain that if there is a go-ahead for the road the money will be made available.

I turn briefly to the railway. I will not speak at length because I spoke about it at length in October. A fat lot of good it did me. An undertaking having been extracted from the Government of the day that there would be no question of the closure of the line between Preston and Colne for the next 10 years, the Liberal Party in my constituency spent the whole election campaign saying that the Government would close the line. That is one of the misfortunes of politics. Now we have the new Railways Bill, which I do not understand because, on the one hand, the Minister will have more power over the investment plans of British Rail but, on the other hand, British Rail will be given a block sum to cover loss-making lines rather than sums on individual lines. That makes me a little worried. We must have a new undertaking from the Government that there will be no closure of the line.

The line is appalling. It takes just over two-and-a-half hours to get from London to Preston, and it takes half that time to travel 22 miles from Preston to Nelson. One has to go on a rattly, smelly diesel, which is pretty deplorable but better than nothing. I invite the Government at the earliest opportunity to make plain that there will be no question of the closure of the line.

I also urge the Government to examine the quality of the line and its appearance. Some of the stations have been removed. The line is a pay-as-you-go line and now has little shelters, but the dereliction which surrounds the new shelters is appalling. Anyone who comes up from the South must have a fit when he gets off the train at Preston and changes into this ramshackle affair.

I come to housing. The area has two silent characteristics. First, there is a high incidence of owner-occupation, and, secondly, it has been said in a recent report that one-third of the houses are in need of improvement or replacement.

We are disappointed that the Government have not gone further in the extension of the 75 per cent. improvements grants. Certainly, it is some help that people who received approval for their applications before the end of September 1973 will still get the 75 per cent., but there are many people in my constituency who applied long before September 1973 but, because of pressure of work on the local authority, had still not had a decision by the end of September. It is extremely hard that they should not be helped.

Some people in the South imagine that the 75 per cent. improvement grants are a magnificent bonanza. They are nothing of the sort. With the increase in costs which occurs between the time when an application is made and when the grant is approved and the work completed, they do not amount to very much. But they are of great help and work wonders. One can go through whole parts of Nelson and see how much brighter and more cheerful it is than it was a few years ago and how much the houses have been improved.

It is extraordinary that in every part of the Pendle district, of which Nelson and Colne forms part, housing development is held up because of insufficient sewerage facilities. That is happening in Colne, and in Brierfield, where a scheme for the building of 120 houses has had to be turned down because of the lack of adequate sewerage facilities. That is something the Government can do, and I invite the Minister to bear it in mind. Vast sums of money are not involved—indeed, quite small sums.

At present the regional water authority is not handing out money to allow improvements to take place. I am sure that ultimately a few hundred thousand pounds might be involved, but immediately the figure will probably amount to only tens of thousands. Work should go ahead right away, and I hope that the Minister will make plain to the regional water authority that this should be done at once.

There is much I could say about improving the quality of life. We in North-East Lancashire have lovely countryside, if not lovely weather—and even the weather might be put right by the present occupant of No. 10 Downing Street. However, when one goes round the towns in the area some of them are still very drab. We want to see a reintroduction of Operation Eyesore. The cleaning of a few public buildings makes a great difference to the appearance of towns. We also want to see higher derelict land grants. We want more encouragement for the arts and for the valiant work done by organisations such as the Mid-Pennine Association for the Arts.

I turn to education facilities. We have a fine college in Nelson, but we should have got the polytechnic which went to Preston. As for schools, there is a long list of primary schools urgently needing improvement, but the Government have just made the most drastic cuts in money available for minor works in the new county of Lancashire. I have a letter from the Chairman of Lancashire County Council informing me that in the year 1974–75 only £900,000 has been allocated for minor works. He says: The present stringent financial circumstances are well understood here, but particular feeling bordering on indignation was caused to members when it was understood that allocations for counties in comparable areas were approximately double that allocated to Lancashire. This is at a time when Lancashire has a large number of urgently needed improvements.

I think it can be said that I have been moderate in my requests. The total of all these matters would not cost one-hundreth of the cost of granting special development area status to Merseyside.

Let me try to sum my proposals. I should like to see the maintenance of the present status of North-East Lancashire. I want no obstruction of local authorities' efforts to service industrial sites. I want greater availability of derelict site grants and help in the provision of more office jobs. On the question of communications, I want no more delay on the M65 and the improvement of rail services. In housing I should like to see 75 per cent. grants, and money allocated for the improvement of sewerage systems. In education I should like to see an increase in the allocation for minor works. Finally, I should like to see Operation Eyesore brought back.

We believe that many of these things could be done, and should be done, in weeks rather than months. I urge the Government to "get cracking". I urge the Government to make sure that the people who have done so much to help themselves do not lack support in their determination to make North-East Lancashire an even better place in which to live and work.

11.35 a.m.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

I wish to congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) on his good luck in the Ballot and also on his bipartisan approach to this topic. I hope that this attitude will be characteristic of the whole debate. I have for years advocated the idea that there are issues in North-East Lancashire on which we are all agreed and in relation to which we should not introduce an undue amount of political prejudice. For that reason the hon. Gentleman's contribution was the more welcome. I assure the House that I will follow his good example.

I shall be a little more demanding in my remarks than was the hon. Gentleman. I should like the Minister to pay particular attention to the point that we are seeking for our area not privilege but parity. Throughout the 15 years that I have been connected with the area we have not received anything approaching parity.

The hon. Gentleman said that money had been poured into Merseyside. That is quite true, and the hon. Gentleman might also have added the Manchester area. I can prove beyond doubt that preference has been given to Manchaster and Merseyside in almost every conceivable realm of activity, particularly in economic terms. They have secured a remarkable preference compared with North-East Lancashire.

I contributed an article on this topic to a magazine called "Industry Northwest". In that article I made four points on which I invited criticism and debate on the question of the preference given to other areas in the country. The first point I made was: North-East Lancashire is the only major industrial area in the North-West which does not have ready access to a motorway. Our communications are virtually as they were prewar when they were quite insufficient. The second point I made was: We are the only area in the North-West that has not benefited from office development (administrative personnel) from the central Government. Manchester and Merseyside have been reasonably treated with benefits. In 1970 there was a competition for the best secretary in the country and North-East Lancashire won hands down. I mix a good deal with secretaries in London—and I say in passing that I have a healthy respect for administrative work for if that falls, the executive falls with it—but I think the practical approach of Lancashire people is to be admired. I cannot understand why there has been so large a dispersal of work away from the capital and yet North-East Lancashire has not had a single job allocated to it under this process. We are highly qualified to take such work.

The third point I made in the article was: Notwithstanding the recommendations of the North-West Regional Advisory Committee for Further Education, neither Burnley nor North-East Lancashire has been successful in obtaining a college for higher level education. I could speak on this topic until 6 o'clock tonight. I see you shaking your head, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I assure you that I shall not speak for that long. I have the material before me, and I feel very strongly on these matters. I believe that the people in my area are as education conscious as are people in the South Wales valleys which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I know so well. We spend a great deal of money in seeking to give children far better opportunities than their parents had, but we are losing good people, and I must come to the conclusion that we are subsidising the rest of the country. We are spending ratepayers' money, ordinary people's money, to send their sons and daughters down South and to the Midlands to make a contribution there. That is creating an unbalanced population.

I do not know whether successive Governments think that North-East Lancashire is an old textile area—I shall disprove that—and that second best or even third best will do for it. It will not do for me. I am here not because of my personality or ability but because of the people of North-East Lancashire. Come hell or high water, those are the people who will receive my prior attention. That is why I rejoice at the subject of the debate introduced by the hon. Gentleman.

My fourth point concerned intermediate area status, which gave us a little benefit for a short time until the previous Government made the whole of Lancashire an intermediate area and the value was lost.

The hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned communications. There is no doubt that we are suffering in this respect. I read a splendid article in The Guardian by Anthony Pearson, headed: Meeting of the motorways attracts industry". That is a splendid example of the value of communications to an area. I shall read enough extracts from the article to justify my contention that the absence of communications in North-East Lancashire has been a serious detriment and liability. Mr. Pearson wrote: To date negotiations have been concluded with about 20 firms who are moving into new premises and bringing 3,000 of the new jobs to Warrington. Other firms who are in advanced stages of negotiation for premises will bring in a further 3,000 jobs by 1976 … Since Warrington has intermediate area status projected development is entitled to incentive grants including 20 per cent. of the cost of building new factories. But the development corporation believes that the other advantages of labour availability, good industrial relations, excellent communications, and top-grade sites are so great in themselves that the grants represent only a marginal attraction and are not the first thing industrialists are looking for. The House should notice the priorities there. Availability of labour would put us in some difficulty, because people are leaving the area, even now. I could produce figures showing the extent to which they are leaving. On industrial relations, we would hold our own with any part of the country. But the hon. Gentleman and I have been members for some years of the North-East Lancashire Development Committee, now the North-East Lancashire Development Association, and we know from the reports we receive how industrialists are chary about moving into an area where communications leave so much to be desired. Who can blame them, transport costs being what they are?

Let us look at the example of Warrington. The hon. Gentleman spoke about depopulation, on which Warrington is trying to achieve something. For the coming years there is a project designed to generate a population increase of 86,000 people. I suppose that, as the crow flies, the distance from North-East Lancashire is 15 or 18 miles, or perhaps a little more. To achieve that target it will be necessary to create more than 20,000 new jobs. The article says where they will be centred.

On the question of depopulation, I do not understand the morality of successive Governments. At one time Burnley had a population of almost 120,000. Today our population is just over 70,000, a drop of almost 50 per cent. If it had not been for the initiative of the local authority representatives, who sometimes told the central Government "Go to blazes. We shall do it, with or without your per- mission", it would have been a pitiable area to be in.

I was with the Ministry of Aircraft Production during the war. It is not realised that the area produced the first jet engine constructed by Frank Whittle. At that time, like so many other people, I believed that North-East Lancashire was exclusively a textile area. That is very wrong. From that date to this we in Burnley have produced every gas turbine engine for every major aircraft, including our contribution to Concorde and an exclusive contribution to the Tri-Star. That showed the industrial potential of the area. The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to say that spending in the area would be more in the nature of investment than expenditure.

I have nothing against Merseyside or Manchester as such, or against the other areas in that direction. But we cannot be blamed for wanting parity with them. That is not an outrageous demand; it is perfectly reasonable. Despite our pleadings, that is demonstrably what we do not receive.

Let me deal with the question of communications in greater detail. Since the days of the late Sydney Silverman I have been constantly seeking treatment that is comparable with the treatment of the rest of the country. On 10th June I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment: what is the likely commencing date for the construction of the Calder Valley highway. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary replied: I have nothing to add to the answer 1 gave on 3rd April in reply to a Question from the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington)."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th June 1974; Vol. 874, c. 441.] That reply was very sparse. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary had said on that date: Joint public inquiries into the Department's proposals for the trunk road section of the route between Hyndburn and Burnley and into Lancashire County Council's proposals for the principal road route between Burnley and Colne closed on 29th March. Progress on the trunk road section depends upon the outcome of the inquiry, the completion of the remaining statutory procedures and the availability of funds. At the present time it would be premature to estimate a starting date. Progress on the much longer principal road route between Burney and Colne depends not only upon the outcome of this inquiry, but also upon the decisions which the new Lancashire County Council may take about its priority within the overall transportation policy of the new county. This is a matter for the new authority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April 1974; Vol. 871, c. 371.] That is as diplomatic a way as any of saying that the Government are going round in circles. That is absolutely so.

I asked a Question, too, about another road that means a good deal to North-East Lancashire, the Bury bypass. I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment

what are the prospects in the near future for the Bury easterly bypass. There is a frightening bottleneck on the way to North-East Lancashire and into Manchester and the South. The reply from the Department stated Construction of the southern section of the M66 between the M62 and the A58 at Bury is well under way and is expected to be open to traffic in the spring of 1975. The northern section between the A58 and the Edenfield-Raw-tenstall bypass will be considered, together with other schemes, for start of work next year, subject to the availability of funds".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th June 1974; Vol. 874, c. 441-2.] I know this country reasonably well. The hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne made a brief reference to Milton Keynes. I know Milton Keynes. If the money advanced to Milton Keynes—leaving aside Manchester and Mersey-side—had been invested in North-East Lancashire, we should not be complaining today. Indeed, we would probably be coming to the House—I hope, whatever Government were in power—and singing hallelujahs. But the truth is that Milton Keynes is in the South. It is an hour's run from London. Let us consider the amount of new roads that are being built there now. The Government are finding the money for that. They are good roads superseding roads that were tolerable previously. It is being done at Milton Keynes at this moment. I have been there recently. I have walked there with thoroughly mixed up feelings. I have asked myself what the hell these people have got that we have not got in North-East Lancashire. Why is this obvious preference being given to the Milton Keynes area? I cannot give an answer.

There was a time in our own party, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when we had very serious difficulties. I said at one meeting that if it was necessary for me to sweep Westminster Bridge for the sake of my party, all that my party would have to do would be to provide me with the brush, and I would sweep the bridge. I meant that. That is my degree of loyalty to the Labour Party—without which I am nothing at all, I recognise. But, together with a loyalty to the Labour Party, I have a loyalty to the people who have authorised my presence here, also without whom I am nothing. As a consequence, whenever I witness these occurrences they make a powerful impact upon me. Why in this "one nation" should we in North-East Lancashire be treated in the manner that I have described?

I should like the Government to undertake an exercise. They have the facilities for doing it, which I have not. If they do not do it, however, I shall certainly try. The exercise is to find out how much money over the last decade has been spent in the Milton Keynes area and for what purpose, and then to find out how many Milton Keynes's there are in this country. Let us have an estimation of what is really being spent in the manner I have described.

The hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne referred to a recent report. Let me tell the House what my researches in that direction have brought about. This, too, nauseates me. During the post-war years there have been no fewer than seven different reports on the economic development of North-East Lancashire. From those seven reports it is doubtful whether we have gained as much as a caravan. There were reports in 1946, 1949, 1959, 1965, 1966, 1968 and 1974; and now we are to have another report. It is an amazing situation.

I hope that it will be realised by the Government that the production of these reports is engaging the time and intelligence of responsible people. The cost of the reports to date has been £2,080,757. I repeat: it is doubtful whether in that time we have had as much as a caravan out of them. Those seven reports have dealt with the basic problems of North-East Lancashire. I wish that the £2,080,757 had been spent in North-East Lancashire. If the Government want the facts—and it almost amounts to a confession that they do—and from the publication of these reports between 1946 and 1974, 18 years, they have not got them now, they will never have them. Yet another study is envisaged. Bless my soul, what are we doing? I say with genuine regret that it seems that what we are doing is using public money with less than the wisdom that should be applied to that.

I must come to the conclusion of my speech, although there is so much more that could be said in the interests not so much of North-East Lancashire but of the people in North-East Lancashire. To apply a geographical term without associating it with a human factor seems to be wrong. There are more than 400,000 people in that area.

My last point was touched upon by the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne and is about the arts. I received a telegram yesterday which stated: Do not neglect the important role of the arts in maintaining and promoting a vital and healthy community. Government money is needed urgently to provide theatres and arts centres so that the area can realise its full artistic potential. That was signed by Jennifer Wilson, the director of the Mid-Pennine Arts Association. I know that association rather well. Having been involved in the arts myself, I have a good deal of sympathy with the point made. When one sees how much money has been distributed around the country by the Arts Council, one begins to wonder why this association of people is not endowed similarly.

The Government ought to realise that when Sadler's Wells found it necessary to move during the war years, the place to which the company chose to go was Burnley. I have had a very personal association with Sadler's Wells and I know what I am talking about. In the first place, Sadler's Wells had relative safety in Burnley, and, second, it knew that there was a population there who could be responsive to opera and the arts.

No Government have the right to write off an area such as this as simply a collection of philistines. That would be totally wrong. So I echo the appeal briefly made by the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne that encouragement should be given.

Although a little longer than is sometimes possible, this will be but a short debate, and we owe a debt of thanks to the hon. and learned Gentleman for using his good fortune in the Ballot to make such an excellent choice of subject.

I conclude with this note of warning to the Government, not in any spirit of bravado or aggressive intent. I serve notice on them that I intend to be relentless in pursuit of the issues which we are discussing today until such time as some recognisable parity is afforded to an area which, from the turn of the century, has made a handsome contribution to the economic life and solvency of this country.

12.1 p.m.

Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend— my constituent—the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) on his motion. I agree with what he said at the outset that, despite our party differences, we combine and co-operate very well to put the case for the area we represent. Especially in your presence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I could not hope to match the eloquence of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones). I think that the word is hwyl. You will be able to pronounce it, and doubtless the Official Reporters will be able to spell it, far better than I could do either.

It is fairly easy to come to the House and paint a black picture of North-East Lancashire and then join the queue, to whichever Government may be in power, saying "Please give us aid. Please give us money". But that would be an inaccurate approach to the way we look at our problems and, what is more, I do not believe that it is necessarily very productive. In North-East Lancashire we have suffered a good deal from our past history. There is still a tendency to regard us as primarily a textile-producing area. We are not. In my constituency there are factories still called mills, but they certainly do not produce cotton goods. But, as I say, there is a tendency for people outside the area to say "Lancashire equals textiles, and that is that".

Inevitably also, in our part of the country, we regard the Central Lancashire new town—Preston, Chorley and Leyland, which was tentatively and rather sickening christened "Red Rose" by a previous Secretary of State in an earlier Labour administration—with some suspicion, in much the same way as my hon. and learned Friend regarded the strategic plan for the North-West and the money which will undoubtedly be spent on Merseyside.

We tend to regard the new town with suspicion because our fear is that successive Governments will concentrate upon it and in the process neglect the small towns in other constituencies. In my own case I think of Clitheroe, Longridge, Padiham and Great Harwood. Undoubtedly the priority is communications first. Then let us think about what I hope will be the steady development of the Central Lancashire new town rather than concentrate entirely on that as the solution to all our economic problems.

My constituency is just outside the boundary of the Central Lancashire new town. I notice that hon. Members who represent Preston are not here, but I have no doubt that in absentia, as it were, they will excuse my talking about the area which they represent since it undoubtedly exercises a great influence on the whole of North-East Lancashire.

I regard that new town with suspicion, and I must do so in the interests of those whom I represent in the House. We do not know what effect it will have in the future. It is difficult to predict. Obviously it will have an effect on those parts of my constituency which are at present pleasantly semi-rural or rural. To say that one can draw a line on the map, create an enormous new town and think of it, so to speak, in a vacuum is unrealistic.

My constituents are not fond—I often wonder who is—of bureaucrats and planners, and there are fears in my part of Lancashire that that new town may in time become a sort of monster which will devour the interest of Governments, which will devour money coming into the area, which will devour—how shall I put it?—the Burnleys, the Clitheroes, the Nelsons and Colnes and the Accringtons. I do not care how long the planners talk on this subject. They cannot remove that suspicion, and I think it right that we should exercise and express that suspicion on behalf of those we represent.

I suppose that it is correct to regard my constituency as to some extent a lung for the rest of the area. It contains a considerable stretch of very attractive country. It is right and proper that we should exercise that function, and so we do at present. We attract many visitors from the nearby towns. However, there is a tendency for some people—some of them serve on local authorities—to say that the Ribble Valley Authority area must be a great tourist area and that we must use all the means in our power, seeking money and assistance from the Government, to turn it into a tourist area.

That is a false approach. On the one hand we are not Blackpool, and on the other hand we are not the Highlands of Scotland. If we had to turn ourselves into a tourist reception area, many of my constituents and those of other hon. Members present this morning would have to change their way of life. Perhaps they would have to cease to be farmers and become guides to some form of nature reserve. Many engaged in industry and shopkeeping would have to think in terms of selling curios on stalls for the benefits of tourists.

I do not really like the word "tourist". "Visitor" I accept, and we undoubtedly welcome in our part of Lancashire visitors from the Lancashire towns which surround us. But the arguments advanced by those who seek the great possibilities of a tourist industry— to be fair, many of them would make profits, and one cannot ignore that entirely—are false, for I do not believe that those whom I represent would want their part of the country changed in that radical way.

Inevitably one must take a bitty approach to this debate as one deals with matters of concern to the area. I said at the outset that we suffer from our history. I am sure that this is true. There is the feeling that successive Governments, and the civil servants who advise them, find a certain difficulty in raising their sights above Watford, which they regard as the furthest North. That may be a slightly humorous observation but there is a great deal of truth in it. We feel that we suffer from governmental neglect. The hon. Member for Burnley set out chapter and verse for that, and I agree.

I turn, then, to the subject of school buildings. I realise that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has no direct responsibility here, but I have no doubt that he will pass what I say back to his ministerial colleagues. Successive Governments—my own as well—have been at fault. In my part of Lancashire we have old-fashioned school buildings, some of them dating back to the nineteenth century. We have devoted teaching staff, and the quality of many of those schools in the sense of the education provided is excellent. But for many years those devoted teachers have been working in conditions which are old-fashioned, and, what is more, old-fashioned compared with the rest of the country.

One problem here is that Governments and education authorities, looking at our old-fashioned schools, say that they will be phased out in time and in their place will be put modern and larger schools. But at once in an area such as mine one comes up against the difficulty of public transport. We are very badly served by public transport. To give one example, the village in which my hon. and learned Friend lives is almost entirely—or is it entirely—without any form of public transport.

Mr. Waddington

Yes, we get some.

Mr. Walder

There is some, but it is certainly not enough. This is a vital question in relation to the transport of schoolchildren. The blame for this is not a party matter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) took some steps in this direction, but they were not enough.

I merely underline what my hon. and learned Friend said about the Lancashire County Council's representations to the Government about spending on education. Although officials and, on occasion, Ministers come and look at our schools, we still feel badly served, that we are not getting our fair share and that there are other parts of the country which seem for some reason or other to attract priority over us in this matter.

There is a further point I wish to make and which perhaps distinguishes me slightly from my colleagues in this matter. I think it fair to say that I have the largest farming population of all the constituencies of the area. The difficulties and the plight of farmers are well known. I shall not take up time reiterating their arguments, except to say that I fully support them. Almost all my local farmers are milk producers. But again we suffer a little from our history. It seems to have come as a surprise to Ministers of Agriculture from both parties that there is a considerable agriculture industry in Lancashire. I think that there is a tendency for them to think of Lancashire as being entirely composed of belching factory chimneys and cobblestones. We have a considerable agriculture industry in the area. It is suffering at the moment, as all milk producers are suffering.

But those farmers also have another part to play when one thinks in terms, as some so-called progressives do, of turning the rural parts of my constituency into a tourists' paradise. To me, about the best and most attractive method of environmental preservation is good farming of the land we possess. My farmers play a considerable part in that and they would not wish to see the area changed.

I had the pleasure, and perhaps also at the same time slightly the misfortune, of living in and representing at one time a constituency which contained a large area of national park. Perhaps it was a depressing observation, but I recall that one farmer told me "I do not like being a sort of Red Indian on a reservation." His feeling was that in some way he was there to preserve the land and to be observed by tourists. He expressed a pessimistic view, but there is that feeling in my area of Lancashire now. We do not wish to see our status decline in that way.

I turn now to the question of regional development. We have reached a stage, I believe, again under successive Governments, in which, hon. Members having urged particular status for the areas they represent, almost every area, save possibly a very small circle centred round South Kensington underground station, has attracted some sort of assistance or status of one sort or another. One can go too far in this matter.

My hon. and learned Friend made the point that priorities would seem to be going elsewhere. Naturally we regret this in our part of Lancashire. We are not seeking more than our due. We are not saying "Our case is special and we are suffering enormously. Therefore, give us more money"—not at all. We are quite able to rely on the ingenuity and energy of our own people. They have proved themselves in the past. We are only seeking fairness and comparable treatment with the rest of the country. We have certain special problems. We do not seek to exaggerate them in any way, but they exist.

I again congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on taking the opportunity to bring these matters before the House today.

12.19 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)

I, too, congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) on raising this subject. I myself have raised it on other occasions. I do not claim to be unique in that respect. I mention it only because many of the problems which he has highlighted I highlighted earlier this year, and I think he would agree with the things I then said. This means that, no doubt to the delight of the House, I can make a brief speech. It is fair to say that all the main points have been covered in the debate. The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder) covered a wide range of topics very near to the hearts of the people of North-East Lancashire.

The motion refers to the drifting away of population. That is and always has been—as long as I have been in this House, and a great deal longer than that—the main problem facing North-East Lancashire. Most of its problems in a sense stem from that one. How to deal with it has occupied the minds of successive Governments but none of them appears to have come up with exactly the right solution.

I do not want to indulge in a battle with Liverpool. Indeed, I was born and brought up there. Liverpool has many important problems, including the problem of slum clearance, which are, happily, nowhere near as severe in North-East Lancashire. I do not want to enter into competition with Liverpool or any other area, because that would not be very productive. If it is suggested that if the Government did not give money to projects in other areas North-East Lancashire could get more, my reply would be that if we stopped spending money on some of the prestigious projects like Concorde, Maplin and the Channel Tunnel most of the help for which we are asking for North-East Lancashire could be given to it. I pass that hardly novel suggestion to the Government.

Most people in Lancashire agree, and Members representing North-East Lancashire agree, that it appears to us in North-East Lancashire that we have to shout twice as hard in order to get half as much as other people. This seems to have been true over the years.

The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the need for more Government office jobs to go to North-East Lancashire. With other hon. Members from the area, he and I were in a deputation to the previous Minister for the Civil Service, when we made this point strongly. We made it clear that North-East Lancashire was in a position to provide space for these jobs in suitable offices. But there is more to it than just that because, as has been said over and over again, there is a thinking among civil servants and what I call the establishment that everything ought to be centred round the South-East, and that the North is a place one visits only under sufferance, usually on those terrible trains to which the hon. and learned Gentleman rightly referred.

If more office jobs, particularly Government office jobs, were provided in North-East Lancashire, that psychology could be broken down very much more quickly. For that reason, as well as for the simple job reason, it is very important that the Government should think very deeply about the Hardman Report and do something to provide more office jobs in North-East Lancashire.

I, too, want to speak about the M65 motorway. I shall not go over the facts again. They have been rehearsed many times and we should all know them by now. I want to ask my hon. Friend some specific questions. First, how badly had this project been affected by the expenditure cuts announced last December in what has become known as the Barber Budget, and has that Budget had any effect on the likelihood of construction of the M65 proceeding?

Secondly—and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is in the best position to answer this question, being in the Department of the Environment—has there been any rethinking about the project as a whole? Like other hon. Members I have argued over and over again, and it is certainly the view of the North-East Lancashire Development Committee, that this motorway is essential for the economic health and prosperity of the region, but it is fair to say—other hon. Members will have had the same correspondence and the same protests—that on environmental grounds there has been increased opposition to the project as a whole.

Certainly the opposition is understandable from those who have houses and other properties on the routes and who have been messed about unmercifully. One month the project is on, the next month it is off; one month it is this route, the next month it is another. The lives of those in the areas affected are made intolerable, and they are entitled to an early decision. Has there been any rethinking of the project and how valid are the objections from the environment groups, which we all respect, and what are the immediate and future prospects for the commencement of work on the road?

The hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne mentioned communications. I do not need to go into that subject, because in the debate which I initiated at the beginning of this year I dealt with some of the problems and the hon. and learned Member has dealt with others, so that between us we have dealt with the problems of communications. However, I should like to say that bad communications are a pattern throughout North-East Lancashire. It is not just a matter of bad communications on the railways. The bus services are deplorable, and I agree with the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder) that they are deplorable not only in country areas but in industrial areas.

I should like much greater unification of concessionary fares for pensioners. We hear complaints that in certain areas concessions are given while in other areas they are not. Pensioners would be assisted if there were much greater cooperation among the authorities in that respect.

The hon. and learned Member mentioned education and the hon. Member for Clitheroe made the point that I intend to make. My constituency has suffered from the public expenditure cuts announced in December. Three major projects are to be shelved. However, the hon. Member for Clitheroe is quite right when he says that the proportion of old schools in North-East Lancashire is very high, which means that a lot of money has to be spent on what are called minor project works.

At the same time the grant of £900,000 is inadequate for this purpose. I ask my hon. Friend to pass on that view to the Department of Education and Science. Lancashire County Council's needs should be assessed not on the projected statistics applying to 1st April 1974, prior to reorganisation, but as a completely new education authority and particularly on the basis that Lancashire contains a large number of older urban areas with schools of corresponding age. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science asking for an increased allocation and I understand that he has been asked to receive a deputation from Lancashire, and no doubt he will take note of what I have said.

The problem of sewerage has been rightly mentioned. One of the absurdities of North-East Lancashire is that the water supply is inadequate, antiquated and farcical. Many houses that have benefited from improvement grants and where people have been encouraged to build indoor toilets or bathrooms or something of the sort are still inadequate because the water supply is inadequate or non-existent. People still sometimes have to go to a neighbour to ask for a kettle to be filled, and that ought not to be the case in 1974.

People also have to pay substantial sums out of their own pockets for a water supply or for new pipes to premises. I know that in certain instances they can get a grant from the county council, but they still often have to pay large sums. That is absurd in 1974, and these are by no means isolated instances. There are whole streets where people are living in conditions which would be regarded as the minimum sanitary requirements even though they have improved their houses.

Improvement grants are a burning problem throughout North-East Lancashire. The reason is that the area has a high proportion of older owner-occupied houses. They are the very places and these are the very people whom we meant to have benefited from improvement grants. What has happened—this is the only partisan note I shall introduce—is that the last Government were wrong to allow improvement grants to go to builders and others who would improve houses and then sell them. I know that that provided accommodation at the time, but there was then a strain on builders and when building costs were high owner-occupiers who wanted to modernise their own houses were unable to get builders to do the work, mainly because speculative builders and others gobbled up available building workers.

Mr. Waddington

I do not dissent, but what I found extraordinary was how local authorities in my part of the world dealt with improvement grants. If I had been responsible, I would have put the speculative builder last and dealt with the owner-occupier first. The method adopted has always amazed me.

Mr. Davidson

That is a valid comment and I do not disagree. I am not saying that owner-occupiers did not benefit, but they did not benefit as much as they should have done.

As there was a time limit, 22nd June, for payment of the 75 per cent. grant, many owner-occupiers are now in great difficulties. I congratulate my hon. Friend's Department on extending the grant to those who got approval before 30th September, but he will understand that those who got approval on 1st October or 2nd October, let alone those who received it in December or January, are not very happy. I appreciate that there must be a date, but I ask him even at this late hour to see whether the limit can be extended.

We are pleased that the new improvement grants are to go only to those who seek to improve their own houses while those who sell them within a certain time will have to pay back the grant. Many people in North-East Lancashire are worried because they may be outside the date that will get them the 75 per cent. grant, so that they will get only the 50 per cent. grant, because many of them just cannot afford to meet the difference. I should like my hon. Friend to consider that as a matter of urgency.

Finally I come to a subject which has become an issue in my constituency over the years. It is the building of a new maternity unit in Accrington. On 17th April 1970 there was a public meeting, certainly the largest I have attended. In January 1971, as a result of that public meeting, organised by the former medical officer of health, Dr. Webster—he was subsequently my opponent at an election, but I pay tribute to him because he was the medical officer of health who drew the attention of the public to this scheme—the Department of Health and Social Services confirmed the decision to have a new unit at Victoria Hospital with up to a maximum of 22 beds. That was less than we had asked, but we were pleased to get it.

In June 1973 we were told by the Manchester Regional Hospital Board that due to a change of plan the number of beds would be cut to 17, including two admission-delivery beds. We were not at all pleased about that, but we were fortified by the fact that it was said that the scheme would start in 1974 or 1975. In April this year the North-West Regional Authority, the new authority, said that the scheme would be delayed because of the public expenditure cuts announced last year. At the time I drew attention to how damaging those cuts would be in areas such as mine.

I have of course already written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, who knows North-East Lancashire as well as any of us, to say just how pressing a problem this is in the region. People in my constituency have campaigned over and over again for a larger unit. I pay tribute to the work of the Rough Lea Maternity Hospital, but it is inadequate. We badly need a maternity hospital and I ask my hon. Friend to pass on our views to the appropriate quarter.

There is another matter of a local nature. I do not expect my hon. Friend to deal with it now and it does not affect his Department. However, he will know that the Home Office is concerned to open probation hostels in various areas. Most of us would agree that on balance they are a good thing. There has been opposition from many of my constituents to the projected opening of a probation hostel in Highfield House. I know that this is not the time to raise this matter. I have been in touch with the Minister of State dealing with it today. He can find no reason, he says, to depart from the decision made in this respect by his predecessor to accept the decision of the county council. The action committee in this area is very concerned about the opening of the hostel.

1 agree about the need to increase Government grants to the arts and I pay tribute to the work of the Mid-Pennine Arts Association and of the many other arts groups, theatrical and choral, of which there are a high number in Lancashire. At a time when the professional theatre seems to be centred even more firmly around London, it is important that help should be given to that adventurous Association which maintains a high standard of cultural activity in the area.

1 commend the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne for raising this subject and for the manner in which he has presented his case. I am grateful to him for the opportunity he has given us to raise some of the urgent matters affecting a region which has done more than any other region to increase our industrial prosperity.

12.40 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bray (Rossendale)

1 congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) not only on selecting this subject but on giving us such a fair and logical assessment of the needs of the area. He has without doubt pin-pointed the critical issues facing us in North-East Lancashire. Other hon. Members have added their words to his assessment of our needs. It is necessary to make this statement. North-East Lancashire does not ask for charity. All that it requires is the opportunity to give of its best. All that it asks is that it should receive the same national investment per capita as other parts of the country.

The last Government did much to secure this and North-East Lancashire is definitely faring far better than it has done for decades. We have much better homes than ever before, a better environment, more modern factories and excellent labour relations. Long may they continue. We have good schools but unfortunately they are still in the minority. The North-West Region generally has an excellent communications network. The communications of North-East Lancashire are deplorable. I suspect that someone with a horse and pair in the old days would have done better than anyone using public transport today.

My hon. and learned Friend mentioned the Calder Valley road and the inability of the Government to give a starting date for it. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones) referred to the extension of the Bury easterly bypass into Rossendale, my constituency, and on to Edenfield. Neither he nor I have been able to obtain any information about when this scheme is to come forward. On 31st January 1974 I was given the following Written Answer by the Department of the Environment on this subject: Subject to the satisfactory completion of the outstanding statutory procedures and the availability of funds, construction of the northern section between the A58 and the Edenfield-Rawtenstall bypass could start in autumn this year for completion in late 1976."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January 1974; Vol. 868, c. 152-3.] It is now mid-1974 and we have yet to see any possibility of this scheme going ahead. That section of road, however, is not much use to us until we know about the Calder Valley.

Additionally there is the Haslingden bypass in the borough of Rossendale, which is an integral part of North-East Lancashire. This bypass has been on the stocks for the best part of 20 years. That is a very long time and it is trying the patience of the people of Haslingden. I have endeavoured, by tabling Questions and collecting sheaves of correspondence, to find out what is happening. First it was in the pipeline, then it was out. Now I understand that, in conformity with modern policy, it is open for consultation with local residents and so on.

I applaud that, but surely it would have been preferable to put these plans forward for consultation some time ago. As things are, the people in Haslingden are suffering absolute hell, to put it in plain English, as a result of traffic rumbling through the narrow main road day and night. This is not a major development involving major capital expenditure. It could have been done years ago. Waffling by successive Governments about whose role it was and who should ultimately build it has brought the central Government to a low level of esteem in the minds of the people of Rossendale.

We have excellent house-building opportunities in Rossendale and North-East Lancashire generally but our sewerage facilities are poor. Our principal communications with the rest of Lancashire are pathetic.

I have to couple education with the previous point I raised on the Bury easterly bypass. I have voluminous correspondence with the Departments of Education and the Environment about this bypass. There is one primary school, Peel Brow County Primary School, right in the middle of the line of this bypass. By pestering the Under-Secretary at the Department of Education I was able to find out that the school, scheduled for the coming year, was no longer in the pipeline but would be replaced when necessary.

That gave me the clue to the fact that the bypass has obviously been put back and the school delayed even more. That shows that investment in Lancashire is in no way equitable. In the constituency of Rossendale I have one primary school that is over 140 years old. I admit that it has a new classroom. That was built in 1893. It has had no additions of any consequence since then.

In common with my hon. Friends representing this area I have received strong representations from Lancashire County Council about the minor capital works building programme. Only £900,000 is allotted to Lancashire for such works. The proportion which North-East Lancashire or Rossendale in particular will receive is plainly minimal. I suggest that the Government have got their priorities totally wrong on this and on other issues. They are quite prepared to spend three and a half times as much on the issue of free contraceptives as they are on this category of education in Lancashire. They are prepared to repay 11 times as much to the trade unions to keep them quiet. I ask that the Government get their facts and priorities right.

Mention has also been made of industry in North-East Lancashire. The area has excellent industry, and the textile image has disappeared to a large extent. We now have modern and sophisticated industry, but is its future safeguarded, bearing in mind the large proportion of industry focused on Rolls-Royce, which the hon. Member for Burnley emphasised? At Rolls-Royce there has been great development in aero-engines, but it must not be forgotten that Rolls-Royce at Barnoldswick—"Barlick", as it is locally known—is a subsidiary factory to the main engine plant and if there is a major cut in the requirement for the manufacturing or servicing of Rolls-Royce engines it is not illogical to assume that the main plant will get the lion's share of work while the subsidiary plants will take the knock.

In this respect I make specific reference to the posturings recently over the request by certain militant members of society that we should discontinue to supply engines to certain Powers with which we may not at the moment have a political affinity, or even that we should discontinue the overhauling of engines. What sort of reputation does that give this country? It makes us look like a country which will supply engines today but not tomorrow, or a country which will supply capital equipment but not parts. Our competitors throughout the world would crucify us on this point, and I believe that North-East Lancashire would be the area most likely to suffer.

Another similar point concerns the footwear industry. In the last Parliament we fought tooth and nail—I almost said boot and sole—for the footwear industry in North-East Lancashire. I think that that industry today compares in employment terms with the textile industry. We are already finding that the importing of footwear from the COMECON countries is again on the increase and I have received representations from the footwear manufacturers to this effect.

We want stable employment in North-East Lancashire. This has been achieved over recent years but there is no reason why it should not continue. It is absolutely pitiful that employment opportunities should be prejudiced by a political viewpoint and dogma which is of no interest to North-East Lancashire, at least so far as work is concerned. The interest in the area is in producing goods and in selling them to the rest of the country— and North-East Lancashire does that well.

Reference has also been made to the decline in population, particularly among young technicians, the younger married people and similar categories, but I am happy to say that in my constituency that trend has been reversed and the population is on the increase. However, the trend will remain only if job opportunities and development remain. There must be development by local authorities, perhaps with Government support, and there must be more industrial estates. This can be done by a minor amendment to the Industry Act so that local authorities may lay out estates and can, if required, let private enterprise do the development.

If we had good communications in the area we would get new, fresh people and keen workers coming to North-East Lancashire, but they will not come if a satisfactory environment is not provided.

We have heard in the debate about the strategic plan for the North-West. As the hon. Member for Burnley rightly said, we have seen many reports, many of which have been vulgarly referred to as bumf, and much of that report must be within that category. But there is one point in the report which gives me much pleasure, although it has been derided in my constituency; namely, that there should be much more afforestation and amenity tree planting in the area. I must at this point declare an interest in the afforestation aspect of the matter.

I regard the North-West of England, and in particular North-East Lancashire, as an ideal place in which this country can become much more self-sufficient in forestry. Many of our barren hillsides, some left badly scarred by indiscriminate quarrying and similar operations, could be beautifully landscaped either by the local authority or perhaps in participation with private enterprise. Such work may appear to scar the land for perhaps five or six years but after that there would be beautiful green growth of trees—not all conifers but hardwoods as well. Indeed, there could be a good selection of trees. This could be done at small proportionate cost to the nation.

My local authority is exceedingly anxious to see this happen. We have in the pipeline—heaven knows what amount of money will be coming forth in this regard—plans for two country parks, one of which has been partly developed around Haslingden. This would improve the appearance of the area and would get away from the image of "dark Satanic mills", which is what we all want.

We must ask the Government to ensure that opportunities for a satisfactory way of life in Lancashire are the same as for the rest of the country. We want to improve the environment in the area, and afforestation would be one way to do it. Nationally, the cost of such work would not proportionately be that great, and we must stress that there is a greater need for 75 per cent. grants, particularly to remove the scars of the Industrial Revolution. We are not asking for millions upon millions of pounds, but we want to ensure that the per capitanational investment is the same in North-East Lancashire as it is in the rest of the country.

12.58 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Gordon Oakes)

I join hon. Members who have spoken in the debate in paying tribute to the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) for introducing the motion. The debate has been characterised by a lack of party polemic. There has been a reaching across the Floor of the House by hon. Members who represent constituencies in the area. They have joined together in making representations to the present Government, and no doubt in the past engaged in a hands-across-the-Floor approach to make representations to previous Governments.

It is a good thing that the House sometimes gets an opportunity of debating matters in such a way, particularly where there are problems relating to specific areas. Almost every hon. Member who represents the area which we have been discussing has been present for the debate. I saw my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), immediately before the debate, and she wishes to talk to me afterwards about the content of the debate. She is constantly in touch with my Department on matters affecting her constituency. Therefore, the level of concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House about the area is very great.

As a former Lancashireman whose birthright was taken away by local government reorganisation so that I now live in Cheshire but still echo the words "The Duke of Lancaster" after the Loyal Toast, I wonder why we continue to call it North-East Lancashire. The new county of Lancashire is East Lancashire or, if one looks at the term geographically and, no doubt hon. Members would say, socially, Higher Lancashire. It is no longer North-East Lancashire in the old sense of the term.

That might well be not a bad thing because sometimes a change of name creates a change in people's psychological attitudes to an area so that they think that it is no longer an area with the "dark Satanic mills" to which the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Bray) referred but an area which contains some of the greenest and most pleasant of England's "green and pleasant land".

North-East Lancashire has many problems which have been highlighted today. Hon. Members have said that they are not asking for charity but are making modest demands for the area. They do not come to the House or the Government with a begging bowl on behalf of the part of the country which they represent.

I appreciate the force of the arguments deployed, particularly by the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne, on the industrial situation. On the figures, it does not look too bad. Unemployment in the area is consistently below the regional and national averages. In May this year there were 2,915 unemployed people, or 1.5 per cent. of the lavour force, whereas in the North-West Region the percentage was 3.2 and in Great Britain as a whole 1.4. Vacancies numbered 3,103.

Hon. Members have made it clear that one of the problems is not simply jobs but job opportunities. As a North-West Member, I appreciate the force of the argument that there needs to be diversification and particularly the attraction of more white-collar office work to the area. The Government are keenly aware of that need, and I have no doubt that when we have been in office for a sufficient time we shall be able to do something positive about it rather than merely be aware of the problem.

Mr. Dan Jones

I should not like the Minister to look at the figures except in depth. If the population drifts away there will always be the situation described by my hon. Friend. There are two factors to be borne in mind: the variety of jobs, but also the creation of more environmental benefits so that the population does not drift away. The people who are drifting away are the young people whom the area desperately needs.

Mr. Oakes

The drift of population is, I am glad to say, a thing more of the past than of the present. Between 1971 and 1973 the population in the area declined from 518,400 to 517,900—a decline of 500 people. But I appreciate that in the 1960s, and particularly the early 1960s, there was a large drift of population from the area. However, it seems that the rate of decline is falling.

Mr. Dan Jones

I am sorry to persist, but I know what I am talking about. I ask my hon. Friend to find out how many of our young people who go to the colleges, both technical and nontechnical, and to the universities return to North-East Lancashire. Then we shall know the true situation.

Mr. Oakes

That relates to the question of job opportunities.

Mention has been made of the strategic plan and the question of special development area status for Merseyside and how it would affect, if in being, North-East Lancashire. The Government have made no decision on SDAs for Merseyside or anywhere else, but I should like the House to realise some of the problems which the Government must face in making SDA decisions. Although there may be problems in North-East Lancashire, I remind hon. Members that the area has only one-tenth of Merseyside's unemployment and one-third of its rate. There are 41,900 people unemployed in the Merseyside area. These factors must be taken into account when considering the status of North-East or East Lancashire, whatever one likes to call it.

Several hon. Members referred to the question of letting local authorities get on with the job of attracting industry to their areas. They have pointed out that they are in great difficulties in the locally determined sector and some of the policies are frustrated by the lack of resources to put in the infrastructure of industry when it comes to the area. We are aware of that problem. The Department of Industry is currently considering what should be the future role of local authorities in giving assistance to industry. The proposals made by the North-East Lancashire Development Association are being considered in that context. However, as far as we are aware, it is not possible to introduce those proposals under present powers. It is likely that legislation will be needed for that purpose. However, the Department of Industry is actively considering this matter.

The subject of derelict sites and obsolescent mills has been mentioned. Knowing the area, I appreciate that this is a problem. A considerable improvement in this part of the country has been effected under successive Governments. The Department of the Environment recognises the problems of North-East Lancashire, and local authorities in the area have been quick to take advantage of the dereliction and clearance provisions. There are 116 schemes, costing £964,000 and covering 230 acres, which have been approved for grants. Much of the money has been spent on disused industrial buildings which involve an expensive type of reclamation. However, it has been possible to agree costs on most schemes, and the authorities concerned, particularly Burnley, appear to be satisfied with the assistance provided under existing legislation.

The special environmental assistance scheme introduced in 1972 for works to clean up neglected or unsightly land and buildings, to be completed by 30th September 1973, also resulted in a good response from North-East Lancashire. There were 818 projects, costing £2.1 million, approved for grant in the area.

I appreciate the effects of Operation Eyesore. Much of the property in this part of the country was built with very attractive stone which when cleaned to its former pristine glory makes a tremendous difference to the environment of the area. Many of the houses, mills and churches are constructed of this type of stone. The Government will consider, as far as resources permit, allowing the carrying out of work of this type because of the considerable environmental effect which results from the expenditure of a comparatively small sum of money. I cannot make any promise about the introduction of a scheme, but we are impressed with the effects of Operation Eyesore.

Hon. Members have referred to the Hardman Report. When I was in opposition, this was a matter which concerned me as a Member for a North-West constituency. The Government have made no decision on the report, but I assure hon. Members that they will look to the needs of areas such as North-East Lancashire when considering the dispersal of Civil Service work. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) is Minister responsible for the Civil Service. Indeed, most Ministers dealing with this question have constituencies in areas well away from London. That is a healthy trend. Of course, Ministers know at first hand some of the problems of diversification and of attracting this kind of employment. It is the sort of employment which would keep the bright young people in the area and attract bright young people from other areas.

Mr. Dan Jones


Mr. Oakes

I am delighted to hear my hon. Friend's comment.

Mr. Waddington

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the Hardman Report, will he give an assurance that the Government will maintain the closest contact with the local authorities on this matter? I gather that only the other day it came to the ears of the local authority that a most important site might become available. I think that the details of the site have already been sent to the Government. Can I rest assured that the Government will be kept up to date? The Government should know when these sites become available because quick decisions may have to be made.

Mr. Oakes

I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that, as this is part of the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, we shall keep the closest liaison with local authorities. We appreciate the importance of the matter. However, any lack of liaison does not prevent useful and necessary development taking place in the way in which the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests.

The key factor is communications. The M65 is the most important road in the area. I can make no statement today because, as hon. Members will be aware, there was a public inquiry at the end of February and the decision of that inquiry is not yet known. I am in some difficulty in making any announcement, the matter still being under consideration.

One point that I must make is in response to the idea of the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne that Lancashire is the same now as in the past. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that there is the same Conservative control and that we do not need to ask the new county council about its road proposals. I think that he will agree that he is being a little facile because it is, in fact, a very different Lancashire. It is a much smaller area and it is different in composition from the old county borough. Included are the county borough, for example, of Blackburn, Preston and Blackpool. I think that in fairness we must ask the new county council about its proposals for roads in the area. That complies with the terms of the reply that was made by my hon. Friend the other Under-Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment.

I now turn to the railways. It has been said that we should concentrate on the cleaning up of railway land, including derelict buildings such as signal boxes, which may be unsightly. That is a matter which I shall ask my hon. Friend the other Under-Secretary of State for the Environment to take into account. Hon. Members will be aware of the Bill that was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport. That will prevent a great many railway closures taking place. That will be a matter that will have to be decided in future, but help is being given by the Government to the railways.

Improvement grants represent a national problem. All hon. Members say, and perhaps with some justification, that we are not going the whole hog. It is said that when a person puts in his application he has no control over the time when the decision of approval is made. That is a matter that is controlled by the machinery of local government and not by the applicant. I cannot give any encouragement to the House regarding the present system, except to say that under the Housing Bill that is now before the House provision is made for a much more precise form of help in certain areas. Some people who may have missed out under the present proposals will, if and when the Bill is enacted, be able to benefit from its provisions, in a very similar way.

Education and the allocation of capital buildings was mentioned by the hon. Members for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder) and Rossendale, by my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson) and by many other hon. Members. Without wishing to depart from the nonparty structure which we have had so far, I remind the House that the present allocation results from the cuts in public expenditure which were announced by the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer in December last year. We have said that once the present economic situation has been overcome and when the cuts can be restored and when the economy gets going, the needs of areas such as North-East Lancashire will receive the highest possible priority. We are concerned with the development areas and intermediate areas, and special attention will be given to them when it comes to restoring public expenditure which had to be restricted because of the cuts in December 1973.

Mr. Waddington

This is not just a question of cuts in expenditure but the amount that will be made available to Lancashire compared with the amount which will be made available to similar counties by way of allocation for minor works. Will the Minister consider that? The impression that the county council has at present is that it will receive far less, relatively speaking, than other authorities.

Mr. Oakes

I appreciate the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. I understand that a deputation is coming from Lancashire to see the Department of Education and Science. I have no responsibility in that Department, so I cannot make any comment except to say that the views expressed by hon. Members in this debate will be sent to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science before the delegation is seen.

Tourism within the area has been mentioned. The point was made with some justification that the sort of tourism which is now wanted in and around the area must receive consideration. Steps have been taken regarding country parks and national parks and the opening of the footpath that has recently been proposed to attract people to the area.

I tend to agree with what the hon. Member for Clitheroe said about agriculture and farming within the area. We often forget that Lancashire is one of the most highly productive and best farmed areas of the United Kingdom. Agriculture plays a significant part in the whole of the North-East of Lancashire and the areas economy.

Many matters have been raised in this debate and it is too early for the Government to be able to make any specific pronouncements because of the time factor. I can assure hon. Members that we are well aware of the problems of this part of the country. It is a beautiful area which has great historic traditions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones) pointed out, it was the area which had the foremost part in the Industrial Revolution. There is now taking place in the area some of the most important and advanced engineering in the world. I can assure the House that the Government will ensure that the area has a future as great as its past.

1.19 p.m.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

"Higher Lancashire" is a very good phrase which implies both geographically and in moral terms a superiority. The Minister is right to say that we have always conducted our debates in a constructive and non-partisan spirit. When I look back over 23 years and think of the debates that have taken place about the area of Higher Lancashire I wonder whether I listened to them in the same Chamber as the debates which have taken place on other kingdoms, provinces and regions of the United Kingdom. We show a fine example, although the repretation in this Chamber is almost exactly split and always has been.

The keynote of the requirements of Higher Lancashire was struck by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) and by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones). Our claim is for parity and not privilege. Although that may sound modest, it means that the privilege of others and the growing privilege of other nearby regions is in danger of attacking the parity that we require. We must watch all the time the case for a special development area in Merseyside, the proposal for the Mersey belt, the existence of the Central Lancashire new town, the privileges of Skelmersdale and the absence, until the matter was somewhat rectified by the Conservative administration, of intermediate area status.

The Central Lancashire new town was attacked by my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder), who described it as being in danger of becoming a monster. I do not see much sign of that yet, but I ask the Minister how it is getting on and what are the arrangements concerning the proportion of home ownership. If the Minister cannot reply now, he might think about it and let us know the answer. This week the Minister for Planning and Local Government announced an alteration in the proportions of houses to be built for letting and houses to be built for ownership in new towns generally. He said that the fifty-fifty ratio was to be altered and that 75 per cent. of houses were to be for tenancy and only 25 per cent. for home ownership.

Does that proposal apply to the Central Lancashire new town? If so, it will meet fierce opposition. The Central Lancashire new town was sold to Higher Lancashire on the ground that it would be considerably different from other new towns and on the ground of the Calder Valley road. On those two grounds the fierce opposition of many parts of Higher Lancashire was to some extent mitigated. If there is to be a change to bring the Central Lancashire new town into line with other new towns, a new situation will be created.

In pursuance of the policy of parity and not privilege, we have always emphasised that we require an improvement in the quality of life rather than the dishing out of subsidies and the holding out of the begging bowl. That has paid a good dividend. As the Minister said, the stone has been cleaned with remarkable success. In my constituency in what was the non-county borough of Darwen, the appearance of the streets has been transformed. The Minister for Housing and Construction came to inspect them a few weeks ago and we were privileged that he should do so. They are an example to the whole of the North-West.

It is good news that there is a chance of Operation Eyesore being revived. I gather that the Government are considering an extension of the operation, and we welcome that prospect. I hope that the railway line can be improved. There is no reason why it should not be improved. That does not require much money. It requires thought to improve its appearance, to clean it up and perhaps to speed it up.

The Minister has given us no news about the M65. There has been an inquiry into the central section of the motorway but nothing has happened about the connection of the M65 to the motorway system. It must be three years now since my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said that an announcement of the route between Blackburn and Preston was imminent. Nothing has happened except a promise that some time in the autumn, or perhaps next spring, there is likely to be an experiment in the gathering of public opinion in Blackburn, Pleasington, Feniscowles and round that area concerning the route the population would prefer. That is slow work. It is not quick enough. These people have been awaiting year after year in trepidation an announcement about the proposed route. Now, there is not even to be a proposal put forward by authority. There is merely to be an exercise in local politics in the form of gathering the community's view on the best route. That will take further months.

It is time that leadership was displayed, much as one appreciates, and indeed demands, that local opinion should be consulted. I hope that the Minister will ensure that information is given soon to Blackburn and points west. The situation is becoming a scandal. The lives of hundreds of people, particularly old people, have been blighted. They cannot sell their houses because of the potential blight that has been cast upon them. It is in communications and the quality of life that we ask for action and help. We are not asking for money, except in so far as money is necessary, and not very much money is necessary for these purposes.

Included in those purposes I must mention the hospitals. The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson) mentioned the maternity unit in Accrington. I must mention the casualty department in the infirmary at Blackburn. It is of immense age. It would not be tolerated, even in conditions of financial stringency, either in the London area or in any other parts of England that are more under the microscope.

The casualty department consists of one small room in which children who are brought there as a matter of urgency have to sit while the bleeding wrecks of motor accidents are brought in. That cannot do the children much good. The inadequacy of this arrangement is appalling. I ask the Minister, who has been so helpful in our debates, although it is perhaps not necessary for him to do so, to remind his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services—who knows as much about this matter as I do, if not more—that this system is a scandal and must be put right as a matter of priority, even though other things may have to suffer.

Parity, not privilege, was the cry made in this debate by the hon. Member for Burnley. It was also the cry of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne in regard to the minor works programme in the schools. We understand that the new Lancashire county is being discriminated against vis-a-vis other areas because it is a new county as the base date was taken before the new Lancashire county came into existence. Therefore, its allocation is based on the old Lancashire county, excluding the old county boroughs of Burnley, Blackburn and Blackpoll. This appears to have been the method of computation. If it is, it is an unfair way of proceeding.

With those few remarks, I should like to say how much I enjoyed this debate and how grateful I was to hear a Minister who was so receptive to our ideas.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House draws the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the serious problems still facing North-East Lancashire; and urges the Government to pursue policies which will help to stop any further drift of population away from the area and will encourage industry, widen educational and employment opportunities, improve the environment and communications and give every possible help to those living in North-East Lancashire in their resolve to make the area a great place in which to live and work.