HC Deb 19 December 1983 vol 51 cc109-47 10.15 pm
Sir Peter Mills (Torridge and Devon, West)

I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss the problems experienced in the south-west of England. I am glad that so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends as well as Opposition Members are present to take part in this debate. I am also pleased to see that the Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), is here to reply to this regional debate as none is more qualified than he to do so.

When I say that the south-west has urgent problems, I in no way seek to belittle the area or to suggest that it is desperate in any way. Nevertheless, serious difficulties need to be highlighted and dealt with by the Government. That is the reason for this debate. No doubt my right hon. and hon. Friends and other hon. Members will fill in many of the details that I omit.

As a west country man, I am proud of the south-west. It is a grand place to live in and to represent. In this context, I am reminded of the old joke about the candidate addressing a big meeting who said, "I was born in Devon, brought up in Devon and educated in Devon. My children were raised in Devon. I have worked in Devon all my life" —at which point a voice from the back of the hall said, "Have you no ambition?" We certainly have ambition in Devon—to overcome the problems and difficulties that we now face.

First and foremost, I wish to highlight the problems faced by local councils. The Government's expenditure cuts are causing great problems and dismay. Whatever my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may argue, there is a real feeling of injustice. Although I am right behind my right hon. Friend in curbing public expenditure, especially in some councils and areas, I believe that local authorities which have played their part and have tried to cut back and to put their houses in order should not be further penalised and that some formula must be found to assist such councils. There is a definite sense of injustice and grievance about a real problem which will not go away unless something is done.

Devon county council states in its excellent brief: Devon's services suffer from under-financing in the past and from present expenditure targets being based directly on those past low levels. A wide gap exists between the target for 1984–85 and Grant-Related Expenditure for that year; the first is about £301 million and the second £316 million. RSG penalties exist of course for spending above target, and as a result service expenditure is 'squeezed'. Devon is having to reduce its budget for 1984–85 by £4 million to remain within even 1 per cent. above target, as the new high levels of penalty cannot be afforded. The County is therefore being penalised for expenditure at a level below which even the Government considers necessary by the GRE formula. Even that formula fails to take adequate account of the sparsity factor which features so prominently in the brief that the council has provided. I understand Devon county council's problem and hope that my right hon. Friend can reassure us in that regard. I must warn him and the Government that many of us are considering carefully what will happen in the future and how we support the Government in these matters. The issue should be clarified far more.

Communications in the south-west, especially roads, are extremely important. If there is one Member of Parliament who has suffered from roads and the problems of bypasses, it must be the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West. We believe that, if the A30 from Whid.don Down to Launceston and then on to Penzance were completed quickly, it would have a major impact in the region. If one thing would transform circumstances in the south-west, it would be the completion of that road. If I were given a choice between that road and any other Government initiative or action, I should go for the road every time. I am sure that I carry many of my right hon. and hon. Friends in that.

We need the A30 to be made a dual carriageway throughout its length. It is a bit of nonsense for it to be dual carriageway to Okehampton bypass, then suddenly become single carriageway to Launceston and then to become dual carriageway again. We must speed the building up. Thank goodness that tomorrow it will be announced that the Whiddon Down, the Okehampton or the Sticklepath part will be done. We need it to be completed as quickly as possible.

I also agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) and for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) in that we should get the spur road to north Devon built as quickly as possible. If that road and the A30 were built, the scene in the south west would be transformed. As a railway enthusiast, I naturally want the railways, especially branch lines, to continue. I hope for a proper solution. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North would also want Chivenor to he made an air link to north Devon from London. Plans for such an air link exist. I hope that they come to fruition and that the Ministry of Defence will not sabotage such small efforts to bring an airline to north Devon.

I am sure that the House will be glad to learn that I shall not speak for long on agriculture. One of the problems with what has recently happened in Athens and Brussels is that uncertainty has been created for the agricultural industry. Some politicians, and certainly urban people, believe that it is possible to turn food production on and off like a tap. They believe that it is possible to achieve production just when it is wanted and then stop it again. That is not so. I remind such right hon. and hon. Members and other politicians that it takes nine months to produce a calf. That is only the start. Any delay in knowing where farmers stand creates uncertainty for British agriculture, especially for the south west. If there are to be cuts we must know about them so that we can adjust accordingly. That is only fair.

With regard to industry, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry's announcement that there might be changes to the boundaries of improvement areas is a golden opportunity. I am sure that it is worth re-examining those boundaries so that we can be more flexible. There are some areas that do not need full status, while others desperately do. I quote again from the brief from Devon county council, which highlights an important point. It says: Both the UK Government's and the EEC's regional policy is of crucial importance to the region … and the very recent White Paper on regional policy will encourage vigorous and well-founded local responses—hopefully successful responses. The counties' current assisted area status is also very important to them in attracting EEC, especially Regional Development Fund, grants. ERDF grants to Devon and Cornwall have totalled £36 million to date, and the future relationship between the new UK regional map and access to EEC funds requires urgent clarification. This is a point that the Minister will have to clarify tonight. the future relationship between the new UK regional map and access to EEC funds. is an important point.

I shall not delay the House much longer because I am delighted to know that there are so many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House from the southwest who wish to speak, but I shall highlight two points. One is that of retired people in the south-west. We welcome them, but there is no doubt that they create many problems—the problems of our social services, of our hospitals and the whole business of care. While we welcome them, we need the funds to be able to look after them.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) will probably accept that the most important responsibility that we can have is the looking after of the elderly. With that in mind, and bearing in mind that the figures for Devon show that over the next 10 years there will be a 16 per cent. increase of those who are 75 plus, and that in my constituency an average of 27 per cent. of the population is of retired age rather than the national average of 18 per cent., does my hon. Friend agree that such responsibilities carry with them a regional element? One cannot provide proper care for such elderly people simply by equalising us with other areas. Is there not a regional dimension?

Sir Peter Mills

I agree with what my hon. Friend has said, and he has expressed it far better than I did. That is the point, and this is the problem, with which we hope that the Minister will be able to help us. These elderly people are not a problem to us, in the sense that we welcome them in the south-west, but their presence there is expensive and we have to have sufficient funds to deal with this.

There is also the problem of our rural scene. This is a delicate subject because there is bound to be a clash of interest in the south-west. There is tourism, agriculture, industry and retired people, and those who want to live on fresh air and a view. It is a difficult business to get the balance right. There is a clash, as there is over Dartmoor and other areas. While this is hardly a problem with which the Government can deal, I hope that those of us who live in the south-west can be patient and take a balanced view. We all have to live in the south-west, and that means that we cannot always get our own way over certain matters —a balance has to be struck between those who want industry, agriculture or tourism, and those who want to leave it just as it is.

I am grateful for this opportunity to highlight a few of the problems of the south-west. If I had the powers of a dictator I should choose the one thing that would transform the whole of the south-west in so many ways—to get the communications right, particularly the spine road right the way through and to north Devon. If the Minister can promise me that tonight, I shall go away a happy man.

10.29 pm
Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

This is a welcome opportunity to discuss the problems of the south-west. I was pleased to co-operate with the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) in achieving the luck of the draw, in the way these matters are arranged in the House.

This is bound to be an itsy-bitsy debate. I suspect that a number of issues will be raised, and that when the Minister replies he will have to put on the cap of the all-knowing Minister tonight to cover them all. Not the least of the problems is the sheer size of the south-western economic planning area, which I take to be the definition for our debate. I am always upset to realise that, if one is at the very north of that planning area, one is 10 miles nearer the Scottish border than to Land's End.

Looking at the area from my part of the world, we are somewhat disenchanted with it. The statistics for Cornwall —and, indeed, Devon—are often lost in what is, after all, the relative prosperity of the Bristol, Gloucester, Cheltenham area. It is tempting to take advantage of this debate to make a general criticism of the Government's economic strategy, but I shall not do so. Instead, I shall raise a number of specific matters and seek the Minister's guidance on them.

The first matter of concern, certainly in Cornwall, is unemployment. The situation is bad, statistically and emotionally. It is true that, in the past five years, unemployment in Cornwall has increased by less than it has in some other parts of the country. Indeed, it has increased by less than it has increased in the country as a whole. However, that is only a reflection of other areas overtaking Cornwall in unemployment, because there has been no improvement at all in my area. The reason is not unfamiliar. Cornwall has a thin industrial base, the main job loss has been within industry, and the number of jobs lost has often been related to how important the industrial base was to the local economy.

Male unemployment in my county is not much short of 20 per cent. We become used to that figure at this time of the year. The following employment exchanges have male unemployment of more than 20 per cent. —Falmouth, Helston, Liskeard, Looe, Newquay, Penzance, St. Ives and Wadebridge. The trophy taker—if that is the word for such statistics—is St. Ives, with 30.8 per cent. male unemployment. It is therefore extremely important to the far west that we do not lose our development status, and that the areas are not changed to the south-west's disadvantage. Although we have not solved all our difficulties, we have made some progress.

My former employers—not in my constituency, but important to the county—Compair—or Holman Bros., as it was called when I was there—said that if the criteria had been changed they could not have modernised their plant. Without the aid of development grants, they would have been forced to move the company, with its great history in Cornwall as a manufacturer of mining equipment, out of the south-west up to the parent company at High Wycombe. The devastation that that would have brought to Camborne and Redruth and areas beyond that is difficult to describe.

That company is not alone. A number of companies — sometimes we underestimate the benefit of the development arrangements — say that the system has helped them to build on what they already had and to maintain their presence in the more remote parts of our country.

We have a record of attracting industry. My constituency has attracted a lot of printing works. I suspect that that is not just as a result of development status but has something to do with the union that has become rather famous lately. For all that, printing is now a major part of the local economy of my constituency, employing several hundred people. It is high technology printing, and, but for the grants, there is no doubt that the works would not have come to the area.

The most interesting aspect of the recent statement on development, having expressed the fear about boundaries, was the assertion that it would in future move into services. It was vague as to what was meant by "moving into services", and when pressed the Minister was not exactly forthcoming about the definition that he might apply. He implied that we could not extend the provision to all service industries, but it was difficult to tell which will benefit.

I suggest some criteria for the Minister's consideration. Any service industry which is an important part of the modern manufacturing process should benefit from development status. For example, a business providing computer programmes will not benefit from development arrangements. Development aid should be extended to cover modern manufacturing methods. Anything that saves the balance of payments should be considered. In my area that includes tourism, which plays a massive part in the economy of the far west.

I have never understood why we should give so much money to people who manufacture new articles when someone who repairs or renovates articles produced a few years ago receives no assistance. From my background I know that some companies rewind electric motors but receive no assistance, but the company that produces the new electric motors does receive assistance. That seems archaic.

It is difficult to believe that the Departments have no idea of how far they will go. Perhaps the Minister can give some idea of how the Government's mind is drifting in connection with the welcome extension of development aid.

Once again, perhaps not fruitfully, I suggest that aid should include mining. Because a mine is not mobile it does not qualify for development aid. The far south-west has long been fascinated by that. Mining is one of our most obvious productive industries, yet it is selected not to receive aid. If I can attract a wigwam factory to my constituency from the Scottish borders, it will be given aid, but if someone wishes to open a tin, copper, lead or tungsten mine in my county it will not receive aid. That is nonsense. I cannot believe that many hon. Members will defend that. We have put up with that for too long.

The importance of minerals to the far south-west is underestimated. If the highly efficient and highly profitable china clay industry were taken from my constituency, our economic base would be weak indeed. It employes about 4,000 people. Not many industries in the area employ that many, or more profitably. I urge the Minister once again to look at that. I am not full of hope because I have asked him before, but the nonsense is difficult to justify.

Instead of considering employment alone, the Government should examine activity rates when judging their criteria. The female unemployment figures in the south-east are only a little worse than the national average. That disguises the fact that the women in Cornwall who wish to work have never been able to find work, and do not regard themselves as unemployed. I challenge the Minister to publish female activity rates in some parts of the far south-west. I am sure that he will be impressed by the figures. The unemployment figures are meaningless. That is not unique to the far south-west, but it should he taken into consideration when important decisions are made about development status.

As the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West said, if we are ever to solve our unemployment problems, communications are important. The most important road improvement in Cornwall is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I know that that will sound slightly Irish, but that is the position. I still hope to be able to raise an Adjournment debate to challenge the responsible Minister on the standard to which the road is being built. I have put in five bids, so far unsuccessfully, but one lives in hope. It needs to be built and built rapidly.

However, on communications, I should appreciate some observations from the Minister on the deterioration of the south-west railway, which has now reached a deplorable state. Obviously one is more familiar with the times that trains leave one's home town than anywhere else, but I will tell the Minister the times that trains leave Truro to come to Paddington. There is one train at 5.37 am. I have not caught that train often. There is another one at 7.4 am, which I have been forced to catch on the odd occasion. The next one is at 9.6 am and the next one is 10.10 am. About what, the House may ask. am I complaining? It is 10 am and already four trains have gone from Truro to Paddington. I am complaining about the fact that there is only one more train for the entire day, and that leaves Truro at 5.5 pm. If one misses the 10.10 am from Truro to Paddington, the next one is 5.5 pm, which is the lot until the night sleeper.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

Although I have been reminded by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that I am comparatively new to the west country, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he does not agree that not only are there gaps in the train service but the trains do not run on time? The biggest problem facing the west country is that the trains tend to run between 15 minutes and 45 minutes late. They not only run late but a great number of them do not stop at the stations. My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) will know that a great number of the trains go through his station at high speed, and also the station serving South Hams at Totnes. They just do not stop there, although they arrive late where they are going.

Mr. Penhaligon

The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) will know that the Cornish have a fairly flexible attitude to time. I was brought up with a marvellous word called "directly". It will arrive "d'rectly". Anything that will arrive "d'rectly" may arrive the next minute or in half an hour. On the whole, my constituents are satisfied if it arrives at all. There are no trains between 10.10 am and 5 pm. There are five through trains from Truro to Paddington four of which have left by 10.10 am. That is asinine. It fits into the great fear that is expressed about the railway in Cornwall— not that a will be closed; that was a red herring and I never did believe that the Conservative Government would close the railway line in Cornwall; I never believed that, I never argued that or raised it within my county — but that Cornwall will be come a mere branch line to the main railway starting at Plymouth. This gradual deterioration is part of that. It is true that one can catch a train between those times by going to Plymouth and changing and then going on to Paddington.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Tom King)

Can the hon. Gentleman say how many people catch those five trains from Truro to Paddington, so that I have an idea of the passenger market?

Mr. Penhaligon

I have never walked up and down and counted them, but I can tell the Secretary of State—other Members besides me come up from the south-west —that it is not unusual to see, at least as far as Exeter, people sitting in the corridors of some of the trains going downwards. Coming up, obviously, the problem occurs in the opposite direction. I urge the Minister to obtain the figures because the trains are used far more than his question implies.

But even if the figures for Cornwall, from the point of view of financial return for the railways, were bad, trains are more important to the far south-west than purely monetary calculations might lead one to believe. Frankly, if the railways in Cornwall were abandoned completely, the psychological and emotional effect on the people there — the feeling that they had been abandoned by all —would be absolutely catastrophic. We fear that we are seeing the gradual deterioration of our service and that Cornwall will become merely a branch line.

I come to the question of summer lets and housing in general. I have raised this issue on the Floor of the House many times. Indeed, I think that I can claim to be almost the only hon. Member who raises it. I refer to the number of properties that are let by the week during the summer months in my part of the country, and a Government announcement has been made which is worrying me greatly. It has been stated that in the next Finance Bill the Government will, after considerable lobbying by the summer let industry, extend capital gains tax relief and relief on the replacement of business assets to those who run summer lets as a business and will call the income made from summer lets earned income for tax purposes.

That has been heralded in the west country as massive help towards that industry, and clearly it is. Exactly how much it is worth I cannot calculate, despite having made considerable efforts so to do. Have the Government carefully thought out the consequences of substantially increasing the tax help that is given to those who run summer lets in my area? There are already in my constituency villages in which nearly 20 per cent. of the houses are empty for nine months of the year. Yet we seem to be moving towards the position in which those who let houses in the summer by the week, as opposed to those who let their properties on a permanent basis, will receive a tax incentive from the Government for doing that.

I have already been approached by a couple of moderate-sized landlords in my constituency—and I am currently in correspondence with the Chancellor on the issue — who have always been against letting their property by the week during the summer because, they say, they can see the agony of the housing crisis that that creates. But they have asked whether they would be considered to be sane if they continued to insist on letting their properties on a permanent basis, given the massive tax advantages resulting from letting by the week. When I have raised this issue it has received only a little publicity in the south-west, but I have received mail bags full of correspondence.

On the whole, those who own summer let properties are not keen on my argument, and that is not surprising. But many people — hotel and caravan site owners, for example—point out that they are in business competing with let-by-the-week properties, and they are rated as businesses and must obtain planning consent and obey all the regulations applying to businesses.

I have a solution to the problem and an answer to the dilemma that the Government are about to create for themselves. I should be happy to see such tax concessions offered provided that letting properties by the week was made subject to planning consent. In other words, if people run such properties as a business, let them be treated as a business and subject to the planning consent procedure. At the moment, in my seaside resorts, if you want to change your house into a fish and chip shop, a pub or a vegetable shop you have to get planning consent, but if you want to change a normal hereditament to a house that is let by the week during the summer, no permission has to be obtained, and the new business is not rated for that purpose. That is an anomaly that the Government could solve at a stroke of the pen. I seek an assurance that if these tax reliefs are to be granted, and if the properties are to be treated as businesses, the obvious quid pro quo should be exacted and they should be made subject to planning consent. There is no reason why the Government should not accept that. If they do not do so, the problem in the far south-west will not go away — it will get worse and it will be seen to get worse, because of the tax concessions granted to those who let by the week.

When my regional colleagues explain the great concession in the Western Morning News, I wonder whether they are fully aware of its knock-on effect. I accept that this is not fully within the sphere of the Secretary of State for Employment, but I ask the Minister either to give me a reply or to raise the question within the internal machinations of the Government to get an official view.

In my constituency 120 families are living in temporary accommodation and awaiting permanent housing. I suspect that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) has a similar number. The housing crisis in the south-west is a fact. I fear that it will not go away, and that if the tax concession is granted it will get significantly worse.

The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West referred to the rates. No one could accuse Cornwall county council of overspending. The general routine is that if something ought to cost a quid, the council will try to do it for 50p and will allocate 30p. Some of the facilities in my constituency certainly look as though they were provided on that method.

As was recently announced from the Dispatch Box, the GRE is the Government's estimate of a reasonable level of expenditure to maintain the social fabric in any given area. Last year the GRE for Cornwall was f138.28 million. The country actually spent 133.10 million—a good £5.1 million below the Government's own estimate of what would be reasonable. Cornwall's reward was to be fined £800,000 for overspending. In Devon the figures are not quite as favourable, but Devon county council is below the GRE, as are most of the county authorities in the south-west.

There are many supporters of the Government on the county council, but much anger is felt on councils that have obeyed every single Government diktat and never once overspent, according to the criteria issued by the Government, and that clearly have a very low level of expenditure on the social fabric — a disastrously low level in some areas. For the Government to fine low-spending councils for their economy seems bonkers beyond belief. This year the Government are to allow the county to increase its budget by 3 per cent. That is a 2 or 3 per cent. cut in real terms, and I do not know where it is to come from. My county sees how some other authorities ovespend, and its anger is likely to increase and increase as time goes by.

There may seem to be little connection between the points that I have made, but they are all-important to the south-west, and I hope that the Minister will apply his mind to some of them. I have mentioned employment, summer lets, railway services and rates. Those are all issues that currently occupy the minds of those in the far south-west. The thought that hon. Members on the Government Benches will agree with me encourages me to sit down and allow them so to do.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that this debate ends at 1.15 am and that I am aware of a dozen hon. Members who wish to take part in it. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind.

10.54 pm
Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

I shall do my best to obey your recommendation, Mr. Speaker. Like the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) on raising this subject and following an excellent precedent. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Mr. Dean) introduced a similar motion in February 1967. Since he cannot take part in the debate, for reasons of which we are all aware, I should like to say that I do not know a more conscientious or able constituency Member than my hon. Friend.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon West, when I opened the debate in November 1964, 19 years ago —the first time, I think, that the south-west had been raised as a single issue in the House — I made the point that our prosperity must depend upon good communications; without them there could be no prosperity. In those days we published a manifesto for the south-west and substantial progress has been made, about which I believe it is right to boast this evening.

With regard to main routes, we have the M5, the A38 dualled as far as Plymouth, and, as my hon. Friend said, we are going ahead with the north Devon link. Locally we have built bypasses in, I dare say, some hundred places, for example Milverton and Wellington in my constituency. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Truro were right when they said that if we were to make a further dent in the appalling unemployment in Cornwall expenditure on roads must continue. We badly need the A30 route to which my hon. Friend referred, the Okehampton bypass, the Plymouth-Tamar bridge connection, a main route from Weymouth and the other south coast ports into the motorway network going to the north, and many more local bypasses — Hatch Beauchamp, Preston Bowyer, Norton Fitzwarren and so on in my constituency. We must continue the progress and I hope that my right hon. Friend and neighbour, whom we all respect greatly, will take the point on board. We are glad to have the Secretary of State for Employment here to answer the debate.

Let us make no mistake—we have transformed the position. Taunton is now a mere two hours from London or Birmingham, and Plymouth—thanks to high speed trains—a mere three hours. However, the hon. Member for Truro was correct in saying that British Rail's service is deteriorating sharply in the south-west. The one message which I hope will go home from the debate is that we want to see it improved. It is no good talking about arriving directly; we want to arrive on time and reliably.

We have the roll-on/roll-off ferries out of Plymouth giving easy connections to the continent—Roskoff, St. Malo and Santander—and we have the early morning air shuttle from Plymouth to Heathrow, which now means that business day return travel is easier from Taunton, Tiverton or Honiton to Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam than it might be from Ipswich, Northampton or Stafford.

The west country is no longer isolated. We have made a great advance. My right hon. Friends who have been Ministers deserve considerable credit for that. There are some surprising statistics. Between 1971 and 1981, our population rose by 6 per cent. to 4.34 million—the second highest increase of any region. In 1980–81 the south-west had the highest population influx of any region. People vote with their feet. The best evidence of the attractiveness of the area where we live and have the honour to represent is undoubtedly given by those statistics. However, the level of unemployment has remained a steady 2 per cent below the national average. It follows, therefore, that, with the notable exception of Cornwall, the south-west is riding out the recession, which is the worst economic storm since the 1930s, better than most other regions.

There are good reasons for that. We are fortunate, as my hon. Friend said, in our environment, but, more importantly, we have helped ourselves over the years. We have deliberately set out to establish diversity of economic growth as a safety factor. The south-west is an excellent place to establish or run a business because our managers are competent, our managers and work force alike are responsible people and we have good workers, dedicated skilful and loyal. With the single exception of Avon, a county which is profligate and spendthrift—in my view an abomination which should not have been created and which should be abolished — our local authorities are careful managers.

If I may quote Taunton out of many examples that I could give—and the hon. Member for Truro made the same point — when it comes to rate poundages, the increase over the period of this local authority's establishment, 1974–75 to 1983–84, is less by 20 per cent. than the increase for England and Wales as a whole. The average rate payment in Taunton for each domestic household is less by 40 per cent. than for England and Wales as a whole.

A point follows from that which I should like to make clearly in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and it has already been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West. It is unfair that the proposed rate capping system should penalise those who have been careful and competent.

Somerset, my county, will be affected very badly by the rate capping proposal. It is generally thought of as a sleepy, rural county, but it has also been sharing to a great extent in the growth to which I have referred. The population has increased by a remarkable 11 per cent. over the past decade. A further 11 per cent. increase in our work force is expected over the next 10 years. There is a surprisingly wide mix of manufacturing industry which accounts for 35 per cent. of our employment, above the national average, and yet our jobless rate has stayed well below current norms.

Here, then, in general is a success story, but, as the hon. Member for Truro said, it is right none the less that we should expect some encouragement and reinforcement from the Government after what we have been able to achieve. I put this point first, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West did. We want a proper share of our own market to be for our local production. That applies especially to agriculture, and the sooner we remove some of the uncertainties currently affecting agriculture, the better.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend. Before he leaves the subject of rates, I should say that until the last election I had the honour of representing a constituency covering the county of Somerset and the new county of Avon. I am sure my right hon. Friend will recall the constant communications which we as Members had with the leaders of the Avon county council.

I question whether the intentions of the Government are quite as my right hon. Friend has put it, because Somerset has been fairly good at housekeping. It riles my constituents to read of the Labour leaders of Avon county council blaming the Government for cutting the rate support grant when it has known week after week since it has been in office that its profligate expenditure, to use my right hon. Friend's words, is the direct cause of this penalty.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me for taking this opportunity to make it clear that Avon county council has had it coming; indeed, has known why it has had it coming, and I believe the Government are right to do what they are doing.

Mr. du Cann

I have no objection in the least to my hon. Friend's interruption provided, Mr. Speaker, that you will be good enough not to hold the time factor against me. I have every sympathy with the point that my hon. Friend makes. I have no objection to the profligate and careless councils being clobbered. Indeed, I believe that Government have a duty to that end in the general interest. My complaint arises when the low spenders, the careful spenders such as Cornwall, Somerset and Devon, are affected in the way that it is proposed they may be affected. I hope that it is not too late to find some way of making exceptions for such councils.

I was arguing the point that it is important for our local industries to get a proper share of our local market. Fishing is a second example which I could quote. There are other areas where minor alterations of Government policy would, I believe, have a disproportionately beneficial effect. Let me give one or two instances.

Tourism is a big industry, which employs almost 200,000 people. We have 15 million visitors a year, whereas Wales has 11 million, and Scotland 13 million. It raises about £1 billion a year in turnover. It must be right to encourage that development and to introduce tax allowances for tourist-related buildings on a par with manufacturing industry. The cost per annum would be a mere £10 million. It would only be fair to do that and to give some help with the infrastructure, where major investment is needed.

The Government give huge grants to Liverpool, the north-west, the north and other areas where there have been substantial structural problems, but smaller places also have structural problems. One example is Wellington, near where I live, whose textile industry — once the major employer in the town—has almost disappeared. Wellington has just as much of a structural problem as Durham, Tyneside or Liverpool, and derelict site clearance grants would be a great help in our area.

Furthermore, the Government should have the common sense to develop the natural resources of the south-west. For instance, it makes more sense to use a port such as Falmouth than it does to bring more heavy shipping through the Channel. They could also develop offshore oil and mining, as the hon. Member for Truro suggested. It also makes sense to spend money maintaining those defence industries where the entire economy would benefit. I have mentioned many times in the House the art and science of hydrography, which is a great earner for the United Kingdom. We need new ships, and an expansion of the service, so that our coasts are properly mapped.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

To do that we must carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry to chart the waters round our coast so that we can prevent fearsome pollution from collisions and strandings.

Mr. du Cann

I entirely agree and sympathise with my hon. Friend's point, which I have made in the House more than once. Government expenditure need not be wasteful expenditure. When it goes into capital projects it can bring returns of many times the original value.

I hope that, above all else, the Government will help us in the west country to retain our character. The Government are not always tactful in the way that they refer to the west country. One sometimes hears senior civil servants — who should know better — talking about Bristol as the capital of the west country, but Bristol is further from Falmouth than is London.

We have a unique character in the south-west. We are a self-reliant, independent and indomitable people, but we have had little direct help from the Government. The Library has a table showing regional assistance per head of the population. From 1976–77 to 1982–83 the total amount of regional assistance was £911 million. Of that, the south-west received a mere £16.2 million. This compares with Scotland, which received £366 million, Wales which received £181 million, the north, which received £109 million, and the north-west, which received £172 million. The south-west received 2 per cent. of the total. As to expenditure per head, the south-west received a mere £3.80, Scotland received £72, Wales received £66, and the north received £42. We do not ask for or want much, but we need that little extra help which will encourage us to continue to stand on our own feet and to be as successful as we have been in the past.

11.9 pm

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

These debates are an unrivalled opportunity to make constituency points and to argue the problems of our regions. We welcome the Secretary of State for Employment. He has done a great courtesy to all of us in coming to answer the debate on behalf of the Government.

The problem about the south-west is that we have two regions. The far south-west—Devon and Cornwall—is in many ways different from the rest of the south-west. By discussing the south-west across that wide region, there is a great danger of our losing sight of some of the unique problems that face Devon and Cornwall. The first thing to remember is that although the country sees Devon and Cornwall as a tourist resort and as beautiful counties, where people often spend their holidays, this is a region of considerable deprivation.

The most stark statistic reflects the average weekly earnings for males. In Devon and Cornwall the figure is £133.30 per week compared with England's average of £154.80. Of the 50 shire and metropolitan counties, Cornwall is 50th — bottom — in the league table of weekly earnings. Devon is forty-sixth. Further up the table, Somerset is forty-third. Those three counties are a concentration of low income, in regional terms. With that goes a low taxable base, presenting considerable problems for the local authorities.

It is extremely interesting that the Department of Education and Science recently did a survey of deprivation in terms of education. Devon came close in the analysis to the scores of major urban centres traditionally associated with decline and social problems. Rural decline and deprivation is an issue that is all too frequently forgotten.

Unemployment levels are high. They would be a great deal higher had we not had considerable investment from the Ministry of Defence over the years, which has insulated us a great deal from economic downturns. It has been a problem for us in other areas in terms of contributing to low wages, but in Plymouth it has been an important shield against the economic decline. We are extremely fortunate that Devonport dockyard did not suffer.

Mr. Wiggin

Its work load has increased enormously.

Dr. Owen

Its work load has increased as a consequence of the closure of Chatham, which was a necessary but important regional decision, as it had regional implications.

The other most worrying thing that has been happening in Devon is the fast increase in the number of elderly people. A 16 per cent. increase in those aged 75 and above can be expected over the next 10 years. As we all know, that carries with it heavy costs, particularly on the Health Service and local authority personal and social services.

It is against the background of low wages, deprivation in education and severe demographic pressure from the elderly population that one has to look at what is being done to the local authorities by the Government's rate capping proposals. The history is tangled and most unfortunate. Despite frequent attempts to intervene from the centre, no Government have yet been able to come up with a formula that is fair and does not greatly undermine local democracy and local judgment. We are now seeing a serious consequence, that fewer able people are prepared to go into local government when more of the decisions are being taken in the Department of the Environment and here in Westminster. If that continues, we will find that we shall get the standard of service from our local councillors that we deserve. Fewer able people will be prepared to go into local government. What is the reason? After all, both Devon and Cornwall are way below, in spending, that which the Government think is necessary to match the needs of the two counties. Devon and Cornwall will be specifically penalised, as the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) said. Devon will have to reduce its 1984–85 budget by £4 million to remain even the 1 per cent. above target. I urge Conservative Members, who can now control this issue, to throw out the rate capping procedures introduced by the Government. They are loathed by Conservative councillors throughout the south-west, and are thought to be unfair and unjust—something must be done.

I draw attention to the fact that 53.6 per cent. of roads in the county of Devon are unclassified — an extraordinary problem. They add tremendously to the beauty and versatility of the county, but it is being forced not to spend money on them. If this position continues for another two to three years, many of the roads will be impossible to repair. In my judgment, major closures will take place of country lanes which have added immensely to Devon's charm.

I will now concentrate, in the short time available to me, on my constituency. The far south-west desperately needs a better industrial base. I accept that we cannot have industry throughout Devon and Cornwall. However, I have always believed in the concept of growth areas as part of regional policy. One may say that that is because Plymouth is the obvious and natural growth centre and that I am arguing a purely constituency case. That is not the position. Plymouth should accept, in any sensible growth centre regional policy, a limitation on the size of factories which it might attract. I have never understood why Governments have not acted in such a way. A case exists for ensuring that the smaller towns in Devon and Cornwall can attract small factories, and any added incentive given by building up the industrial strength of Plymouth should not act as the magnet that takes away the small factories to which these towns are especially suited. We need a capacity to attract the larger factories to the biggest urban centre of population—in Plymouth— in the hope that they will spark off satellite development in other towns. Plymouth factories can be limited to the larger size, especially if the city is to become an enterprise zone. Plymouth is unique and would benefit from enterprise zone status. The rundown area of Cattdown is especially attractive.

I believe that three sites should be brought together in a Plymouth growth centre enterprise zone. One would probably be just in Cornwall, another in Plymouth and the third in Devon on the boundary of the City of Plymouth. It is ridiculous that we should examine an enterprise zone only in terms of Plymouth city council. We should look at the position encompassing Devon and Cornwall and try to link the three developments into our urban centre.

If enterprise zone status was granted to Plymouth, I would be perfectly prepared to accept a minimum size limitation on factories and that it could not act as a magnet for small factories which might be located elsewhere.

Plymouth must concentrate on its four remarkable institutions. The marine biological laboratory is world famous. It has made an unparalleled contribution to pure science. The only other laboratory in the world which draws a comparison with it is in the United States. Plymouth has the Natural Environment Research Council establishment. The city also has the Plymouth polytechnic, which has built itself up and specialises to a great extent in marine studies and sciences. We also have the Royal Naval Engineering college at Manadon which is soon to have the nuclear physics engineering department from Greenwich. The college has a remarkable capacity for marine engineering and it is beginning to admit civilian students.

The area lacks a person or body who will bring the four institutions together and build a marine sciences and technology specialisation for Plymouth industries. It is a natural growth technology. In California, marine sciences and technologies are becoming the high-tech spheres of the future. We must realise that Plymouth should and could specialise in this area.

It is no use expecting to attract industries right across the board. Scotland, Wales and other parts of Britain have problems and are trying to attract industries. We must develop a degree of specialisation, the high technology industries will be attracted to an environment containing a high level of pure science and research. Such an environment can make it easier for firms to attract scientists and managers in the rapidly moving sphere of science and technology.

We need a lead from the Government. I urge the Department of Trade and Industry to consider the possibility of building up Plymouth as a specialised centre of marine science and technology. That means bringing together the Departments of the Environment, Trade and Industry, Defence, and Education and Science and the marine and science institutions. That prospect offers hope for the future, and would benefit both Devon and Cornwall. We cannot expect to develop in isolation. I long to see a region for the far south-west, which would naturally be Devon and Cornwall. If it had to include Somerset, I could not deny that, although I think that Somerset more naturally fits in with Avon and other parts — [Interruption.] I realise the hostility to that suggestion. We are all sad that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) cannot speak in this debate as the lone voice of the Labour party. We would like to hear his contribution, but understand why he cannot speak.

Devon and Cornwall are a region and need to be recognised as such. Plymouth can make a contribution within that region. There are areas of deprivation and unemployment that face serious problems that we must tackle. I hope that the debate will bring some benefit to the region and concentrate the Government's attention on the problems.

11.21 pm
Mr. Gerrard Neale (Cornwall, North)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) on introducing the debate. I shall pick out one or two of his points, which were also raised by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon).

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport, (Dr. Owen) and the hon. Member for Truro both said that Cornwall is much further away from London and the developed south-east than many people imagine. If one is in Bristol, one is still closer to London than to the Cornish border if travelling by road.

I wish to impress upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the problems faced by the area. My right hon. Friend comes to the debate with the remarkable experience of ministerial responsibility for the Departments of the Environment, Transport and Employment—the three major Departments that cover the principal problems in the south-west, and especially Cornwall.

I was pleased by the recent announcement that regional aid would be reviewed. I share the attitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West towards the review—even though the criteria are being altered, I support any money for the west country being given to improved communications and especially road communications in Cornwall.

I ask my right hon. Friend to consider most carefully the impact of that suggestion on employment potential in Cornwall. While the area has a number of major employers, it is occupied predominantly by small businesses. My constituency is the third in the country most heavily populated by small businesses. The dual carriageway between Whiddon Down and Okehampton, which my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West mentioned tonight, is a welcome move. I urge the Minister to explain to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport how important it is that that road is "dualled" into Cornwall. I am certain that the hon. Member for Truro will confirm that it is nonsense to have transport coming from Whiddon Down via an alternating single track and double track all the way down the spine of Cornwall. That has an inhibiting effect upon industry in the county of Cornwall. I ask the Minister to consider also the beneficial effect on tourism in the constituency and the whole of Cornwall if that road were made into a constant dual track. It would extend the tourist season. The county and Cornwall as a whole would become more accessible for people coming to hotels, guest houses and camping sites.

People considering opening up small businesses, or perhaps even large businesses, in the west country do not look so much at the grants but, as a matter of commercial criteria, whether the area is best for them. In Cornwall, they find that the environment and wage rates are pleasing, labour relations are good and there is a willingness among local authorities to accommodate them, but, in addition to their communications problems, they all too often find that there is a lack of necessary infrastructure in terms of water resources and sewerage facilities to enable them to build the premises that they require and to set up their principal employees in the homes that they would want if they are moving to Cornwall.

I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to consider that aspect in terms of the capital that he can obtain for the county as a whole by using his influence. I share the view of the right hon. Member for Devonport that there are problems that are peculiar to Cornwall and Devon which are not the same as the problems higher up in the southwest region. If the Minister could prevail upon his colleagues in the Cabinet to ensure that capital expenditure is aimed at the infrastructure of the road and the other matters to which I referred, I am certain that throughout the country he would obtain a tremendous economic response that would lower the level of unemployment in the county.

11.27 pm
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

It gives me great pleasure to participate in a debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Tot-ridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills), especially as this debate is the third on the Consolidated Fund list and has been introduced at such a socially acceptable hour by Commons standards. The last time that I enjoyed a similiar pleasure was when I spoke on the Second Reading of a Bill on Dartmoor which was introduced by the then Member for Totnes, Ray Mawby.

Mention must be made of the achievements of my predecessor, Ray Mawby. He gave a life-time — 28 years—of service to the House. He was an assiduous, concerned and dedicated constituency Member. He was a considerable orator when roused, but, like many political careers, his ended in tears with boundary changes and no seat. I believe that Parliament must have a special responsibility for and give consideration to its servants when their careers end prematurely. That is not just financially important. There must also be social contacts.

Ray Mawby was not my only predecessor, as Totnes makes up slightly less than half of my constituency of South Hams. About a third of my constituency was taken from my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) and the balance was poached from my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West.

The area of South Hams is one of the most beautiful, unspoilt and scenically unsurpassed areas in Britain. It is a veritable paradise compared with the inner city constituency in Liverpool which I had the privilege to represent for nine years.

There are three bands in the South Hams constituency. In the north, there is what I call the "wildscape"—the Dartmoor national park. Even that area, however, is not safe. As we have heard today, the A30 bypass will cut through some of the most beautiful country in Britain, that of the Dartmoor national park. The military are also active on the north of Dartmoor. while in the south-west there is extensive mining of china clay. Moreover, an appeal is currently before the Minister on an application to mine tungsten. If the appeal succeeds, the tungsten mine in the Shaugh Prior — Sparkwell area will be amongst the largest in the world and probably the largest in Europe. The wildscape band runs from Cadover Bridge and Shaugh Prior in the west right over to the other side of Dartmoor, to the Avon dam, Shipley Bridge and South Brent, touching the outskirts of Buckfastleigh.

The second band is the agricultural belt of lush, fertile farmland which produces some of the finest milk and Devon cream. Within that belt are the medieval towns of Modbury and Totnes and small hamlets and villages such as Barberton, Holbeton Marldon and Berry Pomeroy, which would no doubt produce very fine wine if it were French. There are fruit farms and vineyards and the land flows with milk and honey.

The third band is the heritage coastline, running from near the fishing port of Brixham through Churston, Kingswear, Dartmouth, Slapton Sands, Torcross, East Prawle, Salcombe and Bigbury bay almost to the boundaries of Plymouth in Heybrook bay. That area is filled with rivers such as the Erm, the Plym, the Avon and the Dart. We even have an island in the shape of Burgh island. There are rolling hills, deep wooded valleys, estuaries full of fish and a coastline full of crab, lobsters and oysters. The climate is warm and mellow. Some regard it as a garden of Eden. We even have a naturist beach and hotel.

The House will forgive me if I wax lyrical about this beautiful, delightful area. It is totally unspoilt, but its location, climate and range of natural facilities are the very ingredients that spell danger for it. Tourism is an important livelihood — the other is farming — for many of my 77,000 constituents, but the potential exploitation of the area must concern both national and local politicians, who must be forever vigilant.

With the A30 and improved transport facilities, except when British Rail trains run their customary half an hour late, the area enjoys one of the best communications corridors in the south-west. Ministers and politicians must therefore consider the extent to which we should allow market forces to determine what happens in the area.. For example, do we continue building homes simply because there is a constant stream of people wishing to live in this most attractive area? My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) gave figures for the flow from other areas into the south-west.

Examination of the demographic map and of the census figures shows that the population which flows from large industrial conurbations such as Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow, lends to move south to new towns and to the south-west in search of a change of climate and environment and job opportunities. There is a real problem that the population of Devon will expand as the older industrial cities will empty. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment must consider that extremely carefully.

The North American experience is that large industrial cities such as Cleveland and Chicago have emptied in the past 30 years as people have moved to the sun belt in the south. That is exactly what is happening in Britain from the north to the south. Unless the Government want to distort those market forces, that is what will continue to happen. If that happens, the Government must consider what they will do about it. There is a dilemma for the planners as well as for the Government.

Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)

The hon. Gentleman is reading.

Mr. Steen

I am refreshing my memory.

Mr. Cocks

Memories of Liverpool.

Mr. Steen

Planners fa.ce the problem of deciding whether to concentrate on small growth areas and expand villages and hamlets. Ivybridge, which is on the A38, has a population of about 5,000 to 6,000. The planners intend that it shall increase to about 14,000 in the next eight years. Is that where we want growth to take place? Is that where there should be an enterprise zone, or are we to allow small towns to grow as well as the hamlets? At the moment the planners are allowing another 200 or 300 houses in Totnes and another 200 or 300 on the green field sites near the sea at Thurlestone and slowly but surely the market forces are destroying the area which I described earlier as one of the few that flows with milk and honey.

If the Government wish to delay the destruction of the area they must move in with regional aid and divert elsewhere the people who want to go to the south. That is why we must examine regional aid and decide whether we intend to alter the aid programme so that people do not move south but go to other areas. I suggest that it is not possible to distort market forces in this way or to move people to areas in which they do not want to live. We must therefore consider how we can tastefully and sensibly balance a new economy in the south-west so that, with the rapid expansion of the area's population, we develop a new harmony between developers and those who want to live in the area.

The problem of South Hams and of the south-west in general is how to conserve what is best, how to strike a balance in the development, and how to discriminate in favour of tasteful expansion against exploitation by market forces.

11.38 pm
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

I congratulate the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) on, as it were, his second maiden speech on his present constituency. I am sure that he found it easier to be enthusiastic and poetic, as he was in the first part of his speech, about South Hams than he would have been about Liverpool, Wavertree. We welcome him to the south-west. The House has heard him often before and I am sure that it will listen to him with the same attention in the future.

I, also thank the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) who, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) and other right hon. and hon. Members, initiated the debate. I had some difficulty with my hon. Friend the Member for Truro, whose definition of where the south-west begins and ends is confined to an area that stops 100 yards this side of the Tamar. I have to keep reminding him, when he tells me that I should not intervene in this debate because Somerset is really part of the west midlands, of what Dr. Johnson said when travelling in the south-west, that, "The further I travel west the more I realise why it was that the wise men came from the east." In the south-west, that is definitely true.

We hear much in the House about inner city deprivation. The right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) said that we may legitimately raise in this debate important queries about rural deprivation, which is as strong and indentifiable in the south-west as it is anywhere else. Inevitably, as my hon. Friend the Member for Truro said, such debates as this tend to become a list of points, and I am afraid that my speech shall as well. I shall not be able to paint such a rosy picture of conditions in my area of south-west as did the right hon. Member for Taunton, but that is as it should be as he sits on the Government Benches, and I sit on the Opposition Benches.

However, I start with the same point as the right hon. Gentleman—the importance of local government and the way in which its power and capacity to do something about the problems of the area have been diminished, particularly by rate capping. It is not necessary to spend time describing how this has affected Somerset, Cornwall and Devon, and our district councils. Yeovil district council, which is the lowest-spending district council anywhere, is still in danger of being penalised for over spending. We share the anger that the right hon. Member for Taunton expressed much more elequently than I.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will be as aware as I am of some of the effects of some of the Government's policies, which are deeply disturbing. My post bag is full of letters about the effects that will be felt in Somerset to take but one case, and I am sure that there will be others as well—in education. Somerset does not have a good record on education. We have been identified as one of the lowest-spending shire counties in England, and having one of the lowest pupil-teacher ratios. Many of our schools are small village schools with relatively high pupil-teacher ratios, so the low overall ratio disguises the fact that in some places the ratio is very bad.

Somerset is just beginning to be able to put more into the education system, but there will now be a further swingeing series of cuts. I was speaking three or four weeks ago to the chief executive of Somerset county council, who made it clear to me that, although there would be fairly major reductions in education this coming year, that would be as nothing to what we shall experience in the years following, when not only will there be a further reduction of the vital resources that go into education, and a further decrease of the pupil-teacher ratio, but the closing of more schools.

The shame of this is that the people of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, if given the choice, rate their education system highly enough to wish to pay more. They recognise that the Government are not going to hand out vast sums of money for the education system that they want. They recognise that the money will have to come out of their pockets, and do not mind. I was recently at a public meeting in which this question was put and both those with children in the education system and those with none agreed that they would be prepared to pay more to make this investment for our future. But we now know that they cannot do that. That is a shame for the future of our country and our area. As the right hon. Member for Taunton said, by our own skills and drive, we have managed to keep ourselves out of the recession — certainly, in our part of the south-west. Institutions such as Yeovil technical college, by keeping up an extraordinarily high level of technical and entrepreneurial expertise, have contributed to that. However, they, too, are now to be cut back. So it is a matter of future investment and future deep concern.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) also mentioned roads. Here, again, I part company somewhat from the right hon. Member for Taunton, who equated with a little too much facility good communications with the creation of jobs. Certainly, we need better communications in the south-west, but it is not only the large roads that matter. The Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), will know only too well that, although Bridgwater has a major motorway within 500 yards of its boundary, it remains one of the major centres of unemployment in Somerset. So good communications do not necessarily exactly equate with jobs.

I am more concerned about the state of our road infrastructure, our smaller roads. The county surveyor for Somerset has been telling me for many years that the infrastructure is in danger. One would expect a county surveyor to say that—after all, that is his job—but when farmers begin to complain about the breakdown of the road structure, we are in considerable trouble. The maintenance of small roads is now a matter of some concern. Many people see it as a threat to the whole infrastructure and to all our livelihoods, not just in farming but in industry.

Another subject that has been mentioned by right hon. and hon. Members tonight is the local transport system. I do not want to talk about railways, although it is possible to perceive extra investment in some of our lines—certainly, the one that is vital to my constituency, running from Exeter to Salisbury. There is now a possibility of extra money being put into that and into providing a more efficient service.

Rather, I want to talk about buses. The withdrawal of local bus services has isolated our villages and made them into areas where, in large measure, retired people now live. One cannot get from some of our smaller villages to the larger towns where the employment is based. In my maiden speech I mentioned the case—I mention it again today. with no apology—of the 16-year-old boy who left school last year and went, first, to his jobcentre to sign on and then to the careers office—in Crewkerne and Yeovil respectively — and he was then told to go to Taunton for his interview with the Department of Health and Social Security. From the small village of Cudworth where he lives it is impossible to get to Taunton and back by public transport in the same week. That was his problem, and it is shared by others.

Similarly, we are now beginning to see the necessity of capitalising on some of our vital investment resources in Somerset. Somerset county council is now considering selling the county council's smallholdings. In the past, those small farms have acted as a ladder for young people to move into agriculture. That is selling the seedcorn. I very much hope that Somerset county council will stand back from that decision and hang on to the few smallholdings that are left, so as to allow young people to come into agriculture.

Sir Peter Mills

Can the hon. Gentleman tell me how many people have actually moved out of the council's smallholdings? What is the percentage? It is not a stepping stone, or a ladder. They stay there and do not move on to other farms. What the hon. Gentleman says is not correct.

Mr. Ashdown

What the hon. Gentleman says may be true in Devon, but I can assure him that it is a stepping stone and a ladder in Somerset. I cannot give the figures off the top of my head, but the National Farmers union is deeply opposed to what is happening, although most of its members share the politics of Conservative Members. The NFU thinks that it is vital to preserve a career structure.

Mr. Wiggin

Will the hon. gentleman remember the value of holdings and bear in mind that they represent a substantial part of the county's lending? If the holdings were sold, the rates would be reduced by a substantial number of pence. The hon. Gentleman should inform himself about the figures before he makes broad statements based on the advice of the local NFU branch.

Mr. Ashdown

I have examined the figures and I should be happy to pass on the details. Even on the basis of return for the county coffers and the rent raised, we are talking about a significant source of income. Selling the seed corn in that fashion for a short-term return is a bad move which should be resisted. I warn Ministers that such a move will invite opposition from all sides, on the ground of economy and a reasonable career structure in farming.

I recognise that we have remained largely unaffected by the worst of the recession. Yeovil has done extremely well in comparison with others. My point is complicated but important. The whole of the county structure plan for Somerset and the policies within it are based on the premise that Somerset will have increased by 18,300 the number of jobs available in the planned period from 1977 to 1991. The structure plan is based upon that. When I gave evidence about that structure plan, I said that the target was pie in the sky.

How far have we progressed? By 1986 we would have to have created an extra 5,900 jobs. I do not know what the precise figure should be this year, but so far we have not created a single job—we have in fact lost 300. The premise on which the structure plan is based is in doubt.

The Manpower Services Commission, using the youth training scheme and the community programme, has a large part to play in creating and encouraging new jobs. It is with deep concern, not to say anger, that we discovered only weeks ago that the MSC, which has encouraged us to create new jobs, suddenly says, "It's all stopped". That came without warning.

I asked the Minister how the south-west compared with the rest of the country. The south-west has reached only 79 per cent. of its approved schemes target, whereas every area except London has overrun massively. The northwest is running at 120 per cent. of its budget. The figure for the north-east is 113 per cent. Other areas range from 114 per cent. to 120 per cent. of their budgets. The southwest has had to pay because of a lack of budget control by the MSC on the community programme elsewhere.

As I have said before, I have experience of working within and with the MSC. That experience leads me to believe that it is one of the most inefficient and unreasonable organisations which have access to the public purse in Britain. It lacks budgetary control. The fact that the Manpower Services Commission has been allowed to over-run its budget by 120 per cent. in other areas of Britain while the south-west has had to stop at 79 per cent. is an indication of that lack of budgetary control.

It is time that the whole operation of the Manpower Services Commission and its expenditure of public funds was the subject of some parliamentary scrutiny. I should like the Select Committee on Employment to examine the way the Manpower Services Commission spends the money, the way that it frequently mis-spends it, the inefficiencies in the commission, the duplication that is often brought about by the schemes it initiates, and its complete lack of consultation with local government in many areas. I hope that the Minister will answer that point in particular.

I strongly suspect that the sum of human misery created in rural areas such as the south-west by lack of housing is almost as great as that which is created by lack of jobs. I refer in particular to housing for single people, who are especially disadvantaged. There is no housing for single people in our area. The cut-backs have been such that, although Yeovil district council has £2 million in its budget, it is now unable to build an adequate number of houses, especially for single people.

I should like to tell the House of the tragic story of my constituent Melvyn Duck, whose marriage broke up six weeks ago. He was living in a house from which he was removed. He found himself the most disgraceful and disreputable accommodation, but it was accommodation in which he could live, and he had access to his two children. He was then removed from that accommodation. While he was in that accommodation, he was on the housing list with about 20 points and a reasonable prospect of being housed at some time in the future. The moment he became homeless, he was removed from the housing list because, in order to be on a district council housing list, one has to have a house in the first place so that one's housing can be assessed. The fact that he became homeless removed him from the housing list. That may seem like a Catch 22 situation—if he had a house, he would not have needed housing and therefore would have been removed — but the fact that he became homeless removed him from the housing list as well. The fact that there was no house for him meant that he lost access, because of a judge's decision, to his two children. The fact that he was therefore a vagrant wandering the streets meant that the DHSS treated him under the vagrancy conditions and required him to turn up at the DHSS every day to receive supplementary benefit. Because of the lack of a house, within three weeks, a respected and reasonable member of our community, a fellow citizen of mine, was forced to wander the streets at night, had lost access to his children and was treated by the DHSS as a vagrant. What a tragic story. His world had collapsed around his ears.

I have mentioned the run-down in education, the need to create more jobs in order to ensure that forward planning is effective, the need for housing and the need for better roads. It is incumbent on me, having raised those points, to say what is needed. I hope that the Government will consider, not only for the south-west but for rural areas generally, a programme to begin to regenerate some of the rural areas and the small villages and hamlets. Those are becoming, unhappily, museum pieces in which retired people live, and areas from which the lifeblood of employment, education and schools is being removed. They are becoming mere satellites to the larger towns. We need a study of the rural areas of Britain and a concerted programme in order to be able to cope with some of the problems that they experience and which we see largely in the south-west.

12 midnight

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

The economic prosperity of our region depends on our being able to attract new industries and the jobs that they bring and, at the same time, to provide conditions—such as a skilled work force, ease of communications and supporting financial services — to enable existing industries to expand.

A number of factors enter into that climate. Low taxation, freedom from exchange controls and freedom from excessive bureaucracy all play their part in enabling the region to capitalise on its natural resources. In addition, selective Government help in certain key projects is essential, and in that connection I remind the House that we are awaiting long-delayed decisions on three key projects, all of which are essential, not just to the area, but to the many industries which they affect, namely, the A320 airbus, the V2500 engine and the ship-launched Sea Eagle. But, perhaps most important, we need in this area the ability to compete with neighbouring areas for essential industries and jobs under the rules of fair competition. We therefore need a regional aid policy which leaves undisturbed the natural relationship between closely adjoining but similar regions.

Bristol, part of which I have the honour to represent, is less than 20 miles from the boundary of the south Wales development area. Both areas offer similar rapid communications by road, rail and air; both offer similar histories of welcome to new businesses, large and small; and both offer similar economic hinterlands. In theory they should be competing equally for jobs and industries, yet that competition is rendered pointless by the extensive grants that can be offered as a result of development area status.

I shall give three case histories to illustrate the point. In 1980 a company called Vallison Dean Limited of Brislington, Bristol, which manufactures and assembles new engineering products, was approached either by the south Wales development area or the county of Mid-Glamorgan, and moved to Bridgend. At the time of the move the firm employed 60 people. It was offered a factory of 5,000 sq ft rent free for two years, 20 per cent. grants on plant, a soft loan of £50,000 and labour subsidies for nine months, a total package worth more than £1,000 per man. Was it any wonder that the firm accepted the offer? But was it the original intention of regional policy that the money made available should be used merely to entice industries from adjoining areas?

In 1982, Burke and Jones Limited, manufacturers of reproduction scientific instruments, which developed in Kingswood with some assistance from public funds, was approached by the south Wales development area, and it too went to Mid-Glamorgan. The size of the firm's dowry is not known. It is known, however, that it grew from nothing to employ eight people before leaving the city, but is now believed to employ about 20. What was the cost of that move to the public, and what was the cost to public funds of the resulting unemployment in Bristol?

In recent weeks a company engaged in a service and manufacturing industry in Bristol, which currently employs about 100 people and is shortly to increase that number of employees to 200, has been persuaded to go to Newport, 20 miles away. The company had no particular desire to move, but a package worth more than £750 per employee proved irresistible. Is it any wonder?

I draw these facts to the attention of the Minister in the light of the recently announced intention to review the workings of regional policy. What is not needed is a different way of calculating the handouts. What is needed is both an effective redrawing of the map of the development areas so that the areas assisted accord with modern realities, and a requirement on the development agencies to go out and look for new industries, rather than take the easy option of sucking the blood from adjoining areas.

12.4 am

Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)

North Devon has always been of a non-conformist bent, so perhaps the House will forgive me if I am slightly more controversial about some of the points that have been made.

Bristol is one of my favourite cities, but it is also one of the most economically favoured cities and it has a little fat to spare. So, if we are to transfer industry into the south-west it may be at the expense of the places with industry already.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who has left the Chamber, wants an enterprise zone for Plymouth. Such an enterprise zone would suck dry Exeter, Torbay and such factories as we have in north Devon. I understand the logic of Bristol or Plymouth Members requiring favours, but they have roads, railways, ports and airports. Many places in the south-west, like north Devon. have none of these things.

I shall stir up controversy on both sides of the House when I say that although I am aware that all the shire councils are complaining bitterly about rate-capping, I have yet to hear a ratepayer complain about it. There is a slight danger that Members of Parliament may be over-influenced by councillors—just as some Members of Parliament have wrongly, I am sure, thought that Ministers are over-influenced by the Civil Service.

If we are to make a case for lower rates and more careful spending, and if the money comes from the centre, inevitably much of the control must come from the centre. I apologise again for disturbing the quiet tenor of our evening, just after the witching hour.

There is something important which we Members of Parliament in the south-west can do, and that is connected with the new White Paper, "Regional Industrial Development". Paragraph 32 states simply: The Government welcome views on which service activities should qualify in addition to manufacturing". If our natural industry, tourism, were treated at last as a genuine industry and not as some sort of by-product of rural England we could achieve natural growth, side by side with our agriculture, as the two logical industries for our part of the world.

People in my constituency are more interested in self-help it seems, than some others. Last Saturday the Lions Club of Ilfracombe gave me £2,000 towards the youth training centre at Ilfracombe. That was very welcome, and only a few months earlier Ilfracombe town council had given £1,000 and the local banks £400. All the youth training schemes are over-provided or, to be more accurate, undersubscribed.

We are not helpless people asking for everything, but we are asking for a little of the help that we deserve, because it seems that everyone else in the country has already got it. Transportation and roads are important, and we need a power supply which does not fluctuate, causing computers to go on the blink once or twice a day. After Yelland closes next year, there will be no generating station in the south-west, and it is the experience of the commercial world and of factory owners that we have a continual problem with fluctuating voltage.

How about some cheaper telephone calls? To call a local head office from Barnstaple to Exeter will be at the maximum rate. The cost of running anything is higher in the west country because of the distances and the complete lack of the infrastructure enjoyed by our good friends and colleagues across the water in south Wales.

Infrastructure is what we need most urgently. Let us accept that grants which merely induce firms to move from place A to place B do not do much for jobs. More important, we need catering and tourism to be treated as genuine industries. That will create jobs. One can automate many things, but not the personal service side of catering. It is the biggest employer and the biggest earner of hard currency in the country. It is nonsense that this has not been treated before as an industry.

The statistics of the south-west include Bristol. Labour and Conservative Members may talk about our unemployment levels being lower than the national average, but if Bristol were not included they would be well above the national average. To include prosperous Bristol in the south-west figures is a total distortion. I am not knocking Bristol, which is a super place, but the figures for Cornwall or Devon or Somerset, which are overshadowed totally in population by Bristol, are always made to look better than they are, even though the Government treatment that we receive is always worse.

12.9 am

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) on providing us with the opportunity to have this opportune debate. During the summer, Members from the south-west met local government representatives and councillors from the four peninsular counties of Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. It was plain from our discussions that there was a clear identity of purpose relating to that area as distinct from the much larger and richer area which includes Bristol and Sevemside.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) that Bristol and Sevemside completely distorted the circumstances affecting the peninsular counties. It is important to distinguish between them when we debate the problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) said that the problems facing Bristol were different from those faced elsewhere.

The representatives of those four counties were unanimous in the view that we not only needed a debate on our rather beautiful area but one which would give us a much-needed opportunity to point out our difficulties.

Devon and Cornwall are remote. It is difficult for us to transport our products and industry's vital raw materials. Britain's main commercial ports and airports are some distance away. It is therefore extremely difficult to attract industry and commerce. High transport costs mean generally that only firms whose products are of low weight and high value are viable.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West said, new communications to north Devon and the improved A30 to Cornwall are vital to reduce those disadvantages.

The south-west suffers from structural underdevelopment, a low employment base, higher than average unemployment, low weekly earnings and an over-reliance on seasonal employment. In Devon and Cornwall 68 per cent. of our employment is in the service sector compared with 59 per cent. in the rest of the country. The unemployment rate is 14.2 per cent. compared with a national average of 12.7 per cent. and average weekly earnings are £133 compared with the average for England of £155. We are pretty well at the bottom of the national league table. That puts Devon, and I am sure Cornwall, in a rather unique position for a shire county. It brings us into the classification of a deprived area similar to those of the major urban socially declining areas.

I shall take that analysis a little further before I mention some of the solutions. Devon and Cornwall, being rural counties with a scattered and sparse population, present economic and social problems in providing essential services. I should like to mention education. There are 87 primary schools in Devon with 50 or fewer pupils. That is 19.7 per cent. compared with the national average of 13.1 per cent. The unit costs for these smaller schools are appreciably higher. In 1981–82 they represented £1,373 per pupil for schools with 20 pupils or less compared with only £488 per pupil in the 400 to 500 pupil school. One must add the high cost of school transport which is nearly half as much again per pupil than the national shire county average. Education problems are acute.

The area has a huge social service burden. That was identified clearly by figures given earlier. During the next 10 years the number of over 75s will increase by some 16 per cent. That would be a problem anywhere, but it presents particular difficulties in a widely dispersed rural area because of the isolation and lack of access to social services and community facilities.

My hon. Friend dealt ably with the transportation problems we face, and I shall not go further into those problems except to underline the necessity for proper rate support to take account of the deterioration of rural roads in our counties.

That leads to the crux of my speech which is finance. The region has obviously historic funding problems. The main industry of tourism is highly seasonal and in need of sustained regional policies. The concept of a Devon and Cornwall joint agency for the promotion of industry and tourism is a good one that I hope will receive favourable consideration in the current review of regional aid. Parliament is about to plunge into highly controversial rates legislation, and I do not intend to anticipate the coming debates on that matter. However, I express my deep concern about the situation facing the local authority in Devon. Historically we have always been under-funded, and yet we have endeavoured to meet the Government's spending targets despite the immense difficulties. A wide gap exists between the target laid down for 1984–85 and the grant-related expenditure for that year to the tune of £15 million, and that ignores the sparsity element I described earlier that adds further to our costs.

As a result of the Government's rates penalties, Devon has had to reduce its 1984–85 budget by £4 million to remain even within the 1 per cent. above target level. That involves the axing of a possible 200 jobs, including many teachers, and a contraction of transportation spending. Those two main areas will be affected, and yet they are the very areas in which the greatest difficulties will be faced.

Looking at Devon's problems, I can only praise the work and effort of the county councillors and officials and their determination over the last few years to uphold the Government's targets as far as possible. However, I feel that the justice being meted out to the large overspending metropolitan and urban counties should not turn into rough justice for the good county councils like ours that, despite historic low funding, have restrained their spending over the last three years in line with the Government's requests and now find themselves being penalised.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has made some concessions that have benefited my own district council, the City of Exeter. The district council has moved very suddenly from forecasting a 25 per cent. rate increase to forecasting that it now can hold the rates at the present level. This shows that there has been relief, for which I am grateful. I only hope that some similar method can be found whereby the Secretary of State can be more flexible in his treatment of county councils such as Devon in the review that is to be undertaken before the legislation is proposed.

Finally, I wish to touch on a problem that is affecting all of us in the south-west; that is the operation of the youth training scheme in funding the YTS courses at colleges of education. In Devon and Cornwall three-quarters of the 130 youth training schemes sponsored by private employers make use of the colleges to provide the 13-week element. The Manpower Services Commission has fallen considerably short of meeting the full cost in the past, and the burden has fallen on the local education authorities who rightly refuse to accept it. Consequently, the individual colleges such as Exeter college have had to absorb substantial deficits on their youth training scheme courses. This matter has already been brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Department. I understand that new negotiations are taking place about next year's arrangements. I hope that my right hon. Friend will press as hard as he can to ensure that this under-funding ceases and that the Manpower Services Commission contribution to the colleges' costs will be to the full amount. If not, we shall go through the same agonies that the colleges faced last year.

Business confidence is growing steadily in our region, but unfair treatment through the rates system will destroy that progress. I want my right hon. Friend to ensure that that does not happen. Being a west countryman himself, my right hon. Friend will know that west countrymen are resolute fighters if the cause is just. I believe that on this occasion our cause is just.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. With a little restraint, all those hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate may be able to do so.

12.19 am
Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)

I shall bear in mind your injunction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and try to be brief.

I am not one of those who engage in harsh words and shrill criticisms of the Government for seeking to contain public expenditure in local authorities, but I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) concern about the impact on prudent spending authorities, such as Devon, Cornwall and other counties in the south-west, of the Government's spending restraints.

I shall illustrate, for the benefit of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, a problem that has arisen in a highly topical area. As the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said, Plymouth polytechnic is a major institution, and is one of four in the Plymouth area. It has a reputation that goes far beyond the region— indeed, it has a national reputation for some studies, notably maritime studies. The national advisory body, which does not give away its favours lightly, has agreed that next year it will permit an additional 374 students, mainly in engineering, computing and maritime studies, to enter the polytechnic. That is quite a feather in the cap of the college, and the committee will give an extra £700,000 to meet the costs involved.

However, owing to the need for Devon county council to cut its coat according to its cloth, it has proposed to the governors of the polytechnic that there should be a reduction of £700,000 in the amount given by the county, which has cancelled out the benefit of the national advisory body's grant. That is a matter of the utmost seriousness for the polytechnic and for the good studies and the economic benefits which those studies bring to the area.

The cut will probably be a false economy, because the polytechnic calculates that it cannot take the extra students. For each student that it cannot take it will lose £3,000 plus an extra £2,000 per student that would be spent in Plymouth on accommodation and other matters. I offer this example to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as a sign of the difficulties that can occur if authorities are screwed down too tightly financially.

Many hon. Members have mentioned transport this evening. I am coming more and more to the conclusion that artificial incentives, which distort the market, are questionable, to say the least, and that the Government should concentrate on providing truly good transport in its various forms. No one else can do that. I should not wish to be thought churlish about what has already been undertaken. My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) mentioned the extent to which the southwest has benefited from major undertakings, but it is not enough to stop there. If we are not careful, there will be a rundown in facilities.

One reason why the trains do not always run on time is that the locomotives are becoming old and increasingly unreliable, and need more and more maintenance. Unless there is investment in new locomotives, the problem of poor timekeeping will not remain as it is now, but will become worse. I hope that such investment will be considered carefully by British Rail and the Departments responsible.

One matter that has not been mentioned in the debate is the Torpoint ferry between Plymouth and Cornwall. The ships are becoming increasingly old, and there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when they must either be replaced or a completely different system, such as a tunnel, must be introduced to take the traffic. I suggest that the latter is by far the most effective in this modern day and age, and that we should not rely on ferries. The Plymouth chamber of trade and industry is keen to see such a development. The point should be made now in advance of the crisis being reached, so that we can get thoroughly good communications.

Finally, I should like to mention the A38 relief road linking the Marsh Mills roundabout outside Plymouth and the Tamar bridge crossing to Cornwall. We are delighted that that is going ahead, but there is a problem in that there will be a bottleneck at each end. We should give attention to what happens on the far side of the Tamar in Saltash and consider a flyover for the Marsh mills roundabout. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider that point carefully.

In view of your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not make the further point that I had intended to make but will forthwith sit down.

12.26 am
Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

The southwest region, even as presently constituted, has the lowest income per head of any region in Britain, including Scotland and Wales. If one takes out the Bristol area, one starts to get the full and true position. The true south-west is the area that rose in Monmouth's rebellion, plus Cornwall. Bristol did not rise in Monmouth's rebellion. The community of interests of Bristol is with the Midlands, to which it is the entrepOt. But it is included in the south-west, and a Permanent Secretary told me that it is impossible to justify the south-west economic region; it is merely what is left when one draws a reasonable line round everybody else.

The effect of including Bristol in one extreme corner of the region is to distort it administratively. The gas board, the electricity board and the health authority have their headquarters there. When one asks any individual why he is there, he replies, "Because the others are there." It is not the logical place. The so-called regional offices of Government Departments such as the Department of the Environment and the Department of Employment are tucked away in one extreme corner at Bristol. Remove Bristol from the south-west, and one can then relocate the focal points of Government services and regional services in the centre of the region, where they are accessible to it.

I mentioned incomes first because it is a fact that, as the population retires from other parts of England into the south-west, that grossly forces up the market price of houses. That is because one pays no capital gains tax when one sells a house in the Midlands and buys another in the south-west. However, that has a disastrous effect on the sons and daughters of people whose roots are in the southwest, and who cannot afford to buy the artificially priced houses, as they have nothing to roll over. They live in an area of low incomes. They have to compete with people who reach their plateau of income during their working life in the Midlands and have rolled that price of housing into the market, primarily in Devon and Cornwall, and riot so much in Somerset. That is producing an aggravation of the Costa Geriatrica syndrome—an ever-ageing population. It will go on ageing if the young people have to move out because they cannot find anywhere to live, as prices are outside their reach. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will realise that the only ready solution is that there should be an adequate supply of council house building. That is the only form of housing within reach of people on modest incomes, who are unable to compete with those who retire.

I wish to re-emphasise what has been said about the electricity supply. Industry cannot be attracted and retained if it cannot rely upon its power supply. Two winters ago the two main systems failed. Fortunately, power was fed from the aged and limited-capacity station at Yelland; but a great need exists for a new prime CEGI3 generating station to serve Devon and Cornwall, so that the area is no longer wholly dependent on two crucial power supply lines. Talk of a new power station at Plymouth has continued for years, but nothing further has happened. It would be good news if the Minister confirmed that the CEGB will go ahead with a new power station.

I plead for the south-west, as I have defined it, to receive equal treatment to that of Wales. For some reason, the Principality of Wales seems to have different traffic criteria, which enable the road to Fishguard to he dual carriageway. Such criteria applied to north Devon would make the Link Road dual carriageway, as it would that to Penzance. As the same Secretary of State is not answerable for Wales and England, cohesion of criteria does not exist. The result is a grossly disproportionate funding from central Government for tourism and road construction for Wales as opposed to the south-west, although the problems of the two areas are similar.

The south-west must also listen on the so-called BBC — I say "so-called" because it is supposed to be a national service—but throughout my area we must listen on Radio 4 to news about Wales. BBC Radio 4 serves a far smaller population in Wales than in the south-west.

Those are some of the problems facing my area, in addition to those raised by hon. Members on both sides, which cry out for redress from central Government.

12.32 am
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

Perhaps it is appropriate that I should be called last from the Back Benches because I represent, literally, the end of the line—Penzance, the beginning or the end. Perhaps we should spare a thought for part of my constituency beyond Land's End. If we are thinking of the difficulties in travelling to Taunton—when I reach Taunton, I consider myself to be near London — Exeter, Plymouth or even Penzance we must think about the 2,000 or so persons who live on the scattering of islands off Land's End. I could not help thinking of them when my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) was speaking, quite rightly, about the need to secure electricity supplies. The inhabitants of the off islands are presently campaigning for electricity to be provided to them. I received a letter from them today which said that their dearest wish would be to have electricity by this time next year. I hope that that dearest wish will be fulfilled.

The debate has revolved around the problems posed by distance—peripherality—which sums up the problems of the two counties of the far south-west — Devon and Cornwall.

I am pleased that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) has returned to the Chamber, as at one stage he was coming perilously close to suggesting that there should be an elected regional assembly for Devon and Cornwall. If he was, I hope that he will look behind him to his quasi-hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon), who will put him in the picture about Cornwall.

We must have equal joint action by the two county councils where there is an affinity of interests or of problems. A mechanism, without bureaucracy, already exists for that through a joint committee, which works well. It would be unacceptable to have an elected regional government for Devon and Cornwall. I can tell the House something for nothing—that would cost a great deal more than we now spend on local government services in the two counties.

Many hon. Members have rightly drawn attention to that diabolical stretch of road the A30. I would rather have delays in building certain sections of the road in Cornwall, provided they were built to a proper standard. It will be a waste of money to build the road to single-carriage standard. Although the area may not have the amount of traffic to warrant the attention and calculations of the Department of Transport, there is still the problem of peripherality and distance. The further an area is from the centre, the easier should be the communications to it—be they by road or rail.

Another means of communication which will become important to the area has not been mentioned in the debate, and that is the whole new era of telecommunications, advanced information technology and so on. The two county councils, working in equal partnership, have put forward a proposal known as SWANS. I do not know what those initials stand for, but it is a system under which certain subscribers could plug into the London telephone exchange. That requires investment, but it should be considered at both national and European level. I shall be pressing that scheme in my role as a European Member of Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) and other hon. Members were right to emphasise the need to improve infrastructure—be it roads or—something else that has not featured in the debate— drains. I know that the subject is unromantic and unexciting, but the absence of a decent drainage and sewerage system is holding back the sensible development of many places in Devon and Cornwall—and not least St. Ives, as became clear during the summer. I hope that more emphasis will be placed on the need to update the sewerage system of towns such as St. Ives that are dependent on tourism.

That brings me to the White Paper "Regional Industrial Development". I underline the plea by several hon. Members that tourism should be designated as a service industry that comes within the ambit of regional grants. I heartily endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Truro about bringing mining into the grant system. Geevor tin mine in my constituency is extending its life by digging deeper. Every mine must do that if it is to survive. I am glad to hear that it is to receive Department of Trade and Industry grant aid to the tune of £350,000. The hon. Member is right that there is no logic in the past practice of mines being deprived of the usual range of regional assistance.

In line with your injunction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall conclude my remarks with a final few words about rates. This matter has featured throughout the debate. My disappointment about rate capping is not based on a theoretical or geographical argument about the constitutional priority of that practice, but stems from the fact that I am afraid that in counties like Cornwall and Devon, where there are prudent local authorities, the Government's proposal as it stands will do nothing to hold out hope of a rate reduction to the many elderly people and shopkeepers who have been looking to the Government for reform of the rates system. We have not seen a real reform of the rate system. Even at this late hour, I beg my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues in the Cabinet to think about grasping the nettle of rate reform.

12.40 am
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I apologise if what I say is somewhat disjointed. I want to give the Secretary of State ample time to reply.

I was impressed by the good Socialist speech made by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern). He outlined graphically the dependence on public expenditure to provide employment in his constituency. I shall recommend his Labour opponent at the next general election to include a full verbatim report of that speech in his election address.

I speak with some diffidence in this debate for reasons that will be understood by Conservative Members. I feel that I am making a vicarious contribution on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks), although I believe that my credentials were at least partly established by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) as I helped to put in train the events that led to the saving of Wheal Jane in his constituency with an infusion of Government finance, which he suggested was not available in such circumstances.

One point which has clearly emerged — I speak as someone representing an area outside the region under discussion—is the sense of two regions within a region. That occurs in other parts of the country. For example, there are different problems in north Wales from those affecting south Wales. Not having dealt with regional policy for some years, and having listened to the comments from both sides of the House, it is clear that there is a potentially prosperous region in the northern part of the area, with access to the M4, M5, the markets of the midlands and London and Heathrow. With some economic growth, which seems to be beyond this Administration's economic capability, this would be an area of substantial prosperity.

In the context of a review of regional policy we should examine, regardless of assisted area status, whether administratively it would make sense to subdivide the region. It is clear that the problems of isolation and communication and the difference between the job and industrial structures in Devon and Cornwall are markedly different from the problems of the northern part of the region.

Devon and Cornwall and the northern part of the region have the common experience of a growth in unemployment. An interesting commentary on the achievements of this Administration is that Conservative Members have been congratulating themselves on the fact that unemployment in this region is not as bad as in some other regions. The fact is that unemployment in the region is still more than 10 per cent. and is nearly 11 per cent., and that one man in eight is without a job. If that is something of which Conservative Members are proud, they ought to step back for a while and ask what they have done to the region which they overwhelmingly represent.

Since this Government came to office, even what has been referred to as prosperous Bristol has seen more than a doubling of unemployment, and Exeter and Plymouth, too, have seen almost a doubling of unemployment. In other words, the south-west has been so successful in avoiding recession that unemployment has more than doubled and there are 100,000 more people out of work than there were when the Conservatives came to office.

In human terms, that means that many people over 45 have no hope of returning to work even in the event of economic recovery. One appreciates that their roots are in the area and they wish to stay there, but they could not move even if they wished to because property values where they are do not compare with property values where the jobs are. They thus cannot afford to move to the still relatively affluent south-east. The young are similarly trapped. Jobs are not available and nor is the necessary training to obtain jobs in the event of an upturn in the economy.

There is thus an evolution of social malaise, imbalance and destruction of communities due to selective migration. There is selective emigration of the young and the skilled who are more mobile and can move away from their homes to seek work, although they should not have to do so. Conversely, as so many hon. Members have emphasised, there is selective immigration of those at the other end of the age spectrum, those reaching retirement age who move into the south-west from areas where property values are high because, relatively speaking, they can get a good buy in Devon or Cornwall although in so doing they push property values out of reach of local youngsters.

Superimposed on the increase in unemployment and the deterioration in the age pattern of the community is the fact, to which the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) referred, that the south-west has the lowest pay in the whole of Britain. Local authorities face what for them is unprecedented unemployment as well as unprecedented demands due to the influx of older residents, which they know will increase by 16 per cent. in the coming decade. Those are social and economic problems enough, but the Government now propose to ensure that the authorities can do nothing about them, by imposing arbitrary, irrelevant and stupid constraints on necessary expenditure.

The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills), who initiated the debate, entered the House at the same time as I did and we have been friends ever since. I hope that it will not affect his position in his party when I say that I regard him as one of the most loyal people in the House. I was therefore surprised to hear him say today that he could not guarantee support for the Government in the future if they went ahead with their rate-capping proposals. As I listened to other Conservative Members, I understood the reasons for that view. Local authorities in the south-west are paying the price for having failed to make provision for the needs of their areas in the past—a fact of which they should be ashamed rather than proud. Now that the needs are becoming even greater because of the social changes that I have outlined, they are being tied to a rate and expenditure formula which was inadequate when they did not have such problems and which is grossly inadequate and irrelevant now.

The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West is not alone when he says that he does not want his, local authorities to be penalised because they underspent in the past. His was not an isolated call. I hope that the Secretary of State will report that fact to his colleagues. Vv e heard the same view expressed by hon. Members who represent Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. There is unity on the Conservative Benches in opposition to what the Government propose. That should be a cause of deep worry to the Government. I do not pretend that it is a cause of anxiety to me.

The Secretary of State might make a joke of what I have said, but he is laughing at the clear discomfort of a group of Conservative Members who have traditionally been among the most loyal to the Conservative party. Perhaps the Government should consider whether, in loyalty, they owe something in return. However, it is not for me to enter into the internal squabbles of the Conservative party and far be it from me to say anything that might exacerbate these little difficulties.

I was worried to learn that the south-west is so impoverished that the hon. Member for Tiverton and his colleagues can afford radios that have only one station arid are therefore obliged to brush up on their Welsh.

Many hon. Members have referred to the review of regional policy. It is right that we all argue our corners on regional policy. In the new White Paper the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry have said that the case for regional policy has ceased to be economic and is now purely social. I hope that Conservative Members will impress upon them that that is absolute nonsense. If public expenditure is, as is claimed, so central a part of economic policy, the logical conclusion of no regional policy, regardless of where the boundaries are drawn, is people being incited to move from where there are no jobs to where there are jobs. In so far as there are any jobs at the moment, they are to be found in the south-east, where there is already congestion in terms of housing, schools, hospitals and so on. There would be a duplication of social capital if the Government abandoned regional policy.

I should like to ask the Secretary of State one question to which the Opposition will be intrigued to hear the answer. He will recall that in about 1972, when the Conservatives were in office, he went into the Lobby to enable the people of Bristol to spend money on the west dock development. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the case, would the right hon. Gentleman care to say whether that expenditure and encouragement was wise and, as it has become such a burden to the ratepayers of Bristol, whether he will now ensure that extra provision is made to ameliorate the burden that he helped to impose on them?

12.55 am
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Tom King)

In the midst of what would otherwise have been a good-natured debate, the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) made a singularly fatuous end to his speech. The reading of the Crossman diaries would be good practice for him, to see the way in which a decision was made by a Welsh cabal of Ministers determining what would happen. The Conservative decision was to allow the people of Bristol to make their own choice as to whether or not they wished to proceed. As in the rest of the right hon. Gentleman's speech there were references to giving freedom to local authorities, that was an unfortunate reference. We shall award him the blue badge of courage because he came bravely into a debate that had nothing to do with the area that he represents. I mean this in the kindest possible way, but I know that every hon. Gentleman will understand what I mean when I say that one of the matters most keenly felt in the west country is having to listen to too many Welsh voices over the radio and television waves, so the right hon. Gentleman's speech was a brave attempt.

In a greater spirit of kindness and charity, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) on his skill in getting this debate at a tolerably social hour. I know that other hon. Members were involved with that. Irrespective of the subject matter, this is the best way to debate. I have managed, without too much strain, to sit through the debate, and a large number of other hon. Members have done the same, which shows their interest in the subject, and also that the length of the debate makes it possible to do so. This is something that we should remember more often in the future. I have listened to every minute of the debate, and therefore have a difficult task in seeking to wind it up.

I knew that one of the things to which my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) would correctly draw attention was the unbalanced state of the economy of the south-west. It was lucky that we had my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West. Bridgwater is tolerably close to being the hub of the region that is the subject of the debate. If we use the definition used by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton, we are concerned with that area of the country that rose to support the Duke of Monmouth. He will remember that the battle of Sedgemoor was in my constituency, and I am conscious of the associations.

I have nothing to add to the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton raised, as did my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), about electricity supplies. I am glad that Hinckley Point in my constituency is able to keep the south-west going as it does, but I have nothing to add about the news of an alternative site, although I am concerned about this. All of us in the southwest remember the events underlying the importance of this effort.

We all welcome here the presence of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks), who has sat throughout the debate, although, in his Trappist condition, unable to contribute. None the less, he has shown his interest in these matters. At the risk of endangering his political career I can say, since I worked in his constituency for seven years, that he represents much more the sort of Labour Member that I should expect Labour voters to vote for than some of the more extreme Left-wing Members that they have inflicted on us recently. That will no doubt be the end of his career.

As a number of hon. Members have said, this is by its nature a bitty debate. Inevitably, a number of little points have to be raised. I shall comment on several of the main themes, and I shall ensure that each of the specific points in certain subject areas is conveyed to my right hon. and hon. Friends who are responsible for them. Thus, on those points that I am not able to discuss I shall ensure that hon. Members receive replies. Practically every hon. Member seemed to find a new point to raise. I thought that the subject matters would run out, but then my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives got on to drains. Then I realised that everyone found something new to talk about. I make no joke about that, because I realise—if I had not, my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) would soon have reminded me of them — the real problems that are involved in economic development, certainly in Cornwall, as well as in other parts of the west country. It is by no means an insignificant matter.

A number of right hon. and hon. Members raised the subject of local government finance, the rate support grant proposals for this year, and the rate capping proposals contained in the Bill that my right hon. Friend will introduce tomorrow. My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West and other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and, from the ranks of Somerset, my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), all raised this subject. I think they realise that I am sufficiently knowledgeable about the rate support grant system not to comment in detail on the individual counties. In fact, the south-west's share of the grant is not bad, compared with other parts of the country. I accept that the rate support grant settlement is tough, but those of us who are concerned about public expenditure know that there is no realistic alternative. There will be a debate on the rate support grant, and as a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends and other hon. Members are in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in this connection, I shall not go into further detail tonight.

However, I should like to say a word about rate capping, because from what has been said in the debate, every authority represented here tonight expects to be affected by the proposals. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, whose Rates Bill is to be published tomorrow, said that under the selective rate limitation scheme only the highest overspenders in the country—some some 12 to 20 authorities, in all—will be selected for rate capping. My right hon. Friend made it clear that authorities spending below GRE will not be selected, and I assume that that will exclude Devon and Cornwall. Somerset is close to the line. Only Avon will be affected, and that is not surprising, bearing in mind the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Westonsuper-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) adduced. The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said that the shire counties should all be extremely worried, but I want to make it clear that they have nothing to fear from my right hon. Friend's proposals, bearing in mind their present expenditure. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) made an important point. We have heard the views of councillors, but we must not ignore the views of ratepayers.

The debate covered a wide range of topics. The importance of agriculture to the whole region cannot be overestimated. I speak at a time of great uncertainty and concern about the outcome of the discussions in Europe and their impact on agriculture. If I was hesitant to speak about the rate support grant and rates, I do not know how to describe my feelings on the possible outcome of the present agriculture negotiations. Clearly, it is a serious matter, and I am as aware as any other hon. Member of its significance.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton mentioned fishing, which is important as a source of employment in the south-west. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) and the right hon. Member for Devonport drew our attention to the importance of the defence industries, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and the hon. Member for Yeovil mentioned the significant contribution that the Government defence expenditure has made to employment in the area.

The contributions to the debate have been balanced. Some hon. Members were pessimistic and the view from the Principality was apocalyptic. I prefer the home-grown version to that seen from across the Bristol channel. We all recognise that different parts of the region face real problems. Nowhere in the region is unemployment exactly as we should like it to be.

I was asked about future regional aid. Following the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry there will be a consultation period during which views will be invited on the criteria and coverage to be adopted for assisted area status, and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will want to be involved in that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West made three unattractive illustrations of the operation of the previous regional assistance scheme. I understand that, because there will be a job cost component and the relocation of projects, if there is no net increase in jobs, the new policy will end the unjustified payment of aid to projects which merely shift jobs at the taxpayers' expense. That will be discussed further, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important point.

My second unkind remark is directed to the hon. Member for Yeovil. I was worried about whether he had all the information that he needed to make his comments about smallholdings. The interventions made me believe that he would find it useful to gather more information before making an instant judgment. The hon. Gentleman said that the community programme was finished. That is untrue. We have done better than we expected with the programme. We set a budget for this year of £370 million. We are running ahead. I have managed to get a further £10 million to cover the expenditure of the programme that people from all over the country have claimed at the same time. That has caused real management problems in helping to find employment and activity for unemployed people. We have managed to secure those extra funds and the MSC is now urgently reviewing and taking stock. That will be completed in the new year. We shall then be able to assess the position. I hope that it will be possible then to resume the adoption of further schemes. It is completely misleading to say that the programme is finished. The budget for the community programme this year is £370 million. For next year it is £570 million. To say that the community programme is finished is a distortion.

Mr. Ashdown

The burden of my remarks was not that the community programme had stopped but that a halt had been called for the moment. I want the Minister to understand how deeply disturbing that is for many people who are half way down the line. For example, Wiltshire received the information that it could expand from 100 places to 150 places. The next day it was told to slop. It had taken on supervisors and equipment, but was told to stop.

Mr. King

I say to the hon. Gentleman in the kindest possible way that his words will appear in Hansard. The hon. Gentleman says that people have been caused deep distress. If the hon. Gentleman goes around saying that the community programme is finished, no wonder it is causing deep distress to people. It is not finished and it is about to be expanded to a level of expenditure higher than before. To use words in that way, to say that the "burden of my remarks was" — and I wrote down what the hon. Gentleman said earlier—that "It's all stopped" was quite untrue. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to correct it and reassure the many people who will be worried when they see his remarks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) asked about the Plymouth polytechnic. There was an original proposal about the level of fees in connection with the off-the-job training it is providing. This problem will be reviewed towards the end of 1984. An original agreement was reached with the CBI on behalf of the managing agents, but if I have not covered the point I shall look again at my hon. Friend's remarks and see if I can deal with it more effectively.

I should like to pass on to the point on which most hon. Members focused. I started by referring to tourism, which is of enormous importance to the south-west. I am pleased to see that, at a time when we are concerned about whether the south-west gets its fair share of grants, under the grants available from tourism it is doing significantly better in its proportional share than the rest of the country.

Tourism is an important industry for the south-west and, in that connection, communications are absolutely vital. The point that came across clearly—these debates tend to be bitty and everyone focuses on different points—was the number of right hon. and hon. Members who said, "If you do anything, communications are the key to the improvement of the area."

A presentation was made to me when I was Secretary of State for Transport on the next major road improvements that were to be made. The feature now of the road programme is not the construction of a new motorway network but extensions in areas where the motorway infrastructure is inadequate, and improvements to the A303 feature very prominently on the map and the programme up to 1990, which are available to hon. Members in the Department of Transport. The construction of bypasses and the renovation of motorways is important for the south-west. I will not, in the interests of time, read out the list of schemes save to say that the note that I asked the Department of Transport to provide for me clearly spells out that The first priority now is to continue the A30 improvement westwards to Penzance. It refers to the bypasses of Launceston, Bodmin, and Camborne which have been built. Hayle's is under construction. Preparation work for 11 others is well advanced and a decision was recently announced to proceed with the Okehampton bypass and an announcement will be made today, as my hon. Friend made it yesterday, on the Whiddon Down to Okehamption diversion. I am grateful to him for making that announcement.

Our trunk road programme for the south-west has a value of more than £393 million, of which £70 million of the schemes are under construction at present. There has been a significant increase in the transport supplementary grant for the south-west this year.

In the short time that is available to sum up what has been a wide-ranging debate, I hope that I have covered some of the key points that have been raised. I recognise, as we all do, the impossibility of covering all the different aspects of what is a varied and attractive region which, none the less, has, if I may use the "Euro phrase" of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives, the problems of peripherality, which are real enough, the problems of low income, which are associated with it, the problems of population drift to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) referred, and the problems of a considerable concentration of old people. But with that goes a sturdy independence and resolution to tackle its own problems. That has resulted in an above average performance, albeit in very difficult circumstances, leading to a significant fall in unemployment this year, to an increase in job placings and to an increase in inquiries for small business start-ups in the region.

The south-west is a region which, given a reasonable stake in the economy, can show what it can do, and I am encouraged to see, looking at the national scene, that with the low inflation figures that we now have, with the much improved performance in output, with the reduction in unemployment and with the growth of job opportunities, we now have an opportunity to see a rather brighter future for the south-west, which I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House will seek to support.