HC Deb 30 November 1984 vol 68 cc1260-80

1.4 pm

Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)

I beg to move, That the House accepts the need for regional aid in north Devon.

Having been a Member of the House for six years, I find it a rare privilege to be answered by a Minister who entered the House at the same time and a particular pleasure for me that it is the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier). We have much in common in that we both come from areas devastated by the economic depression, neither of which has been helped by the Government's latest round of cuts in assisted area status. I know, therefore, that I have a sympathetic audience in the Minister even if there are not many other people here.

Of all the unkind cuts made by the Government, perhaps the unkindest of all is the treatment of areas such as north Devon. I do not suggest that north Devon is somehow strange or different from other areas—I find it beautiful and nicer than other parts of the country—but it shares the problem of lack of infrastructure with many areas in the south-west and other areas on the periphery of this country.

First, I must congratulate the Lobby correspondent of the Western Morning News, who managed to predict with about 95 per cent. accuracy the contents of the Government's statement a week before it was made. That was useful in that we were forewarned—although we were not, alas, forearmed, as the Government have the arms. Nevertheless, it is a continuing source of aggravation to Back Benchers that our friends and advisers in the press always seem to be able to obtain information that we lack, whether it be a matter of a few hours earlier, which I understand, or a matter of days, which I do not accept.

Interestingly, I have a question on the Order Paper today for a priority written reply in relation to flooding a few days ago in north Devon. Flood works will be deeply affected by the loss of assisted area status because the half of Barnstaple still to be protected will lose the possibility of grant from the EEC. My question was a simple one about flood warnings and I gather that a reply is now hastening to me from the corridors of power across the way to those occupied by this somewhat frustrated Back Bench Member to the effect that my question will be answered "as soon as possible"—presumably, once this debate is over and I have made various points about the problems of areas such as north Devon.

The people of north Devon do not hold out a begging bowl and do not expect their Member of Parliament to do so, but I wish to describe some of the problems that already exist and some of those which will occur as a result of the grievous changes made by the Government.

Until 1979, the whole of my constituency had development area or special development area status. I was happy to be elected in that year. Since then we have lost, first, development area status and now assisted area status. It would be unreasonable to expect my constituents not to see a connection from the fact that there was a change of Government and then a change in status for the area. I join them in that feeling.

In July this year, I received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark). With his usual courtesy, bless him, he notified me that the towns of Barnstaple and Ilfracombe were to be merged for the purposes of unmployment figures. Unemployment in Ilfracombe rises to more than 35 per cent. at some times of the year and in the current year has not fallen below 20 per cent. At present, it is a rather sad seaside town, with no railway connection and no decent road connection with the areas from which tourists come. For example, it takes longer to drive from Ilfracombe to Gawick than to fly from Gatwick to Majorca.

There are problems of distance and lack of infrastructure. Nevertheless, development area status has not merely been reduced to intermediate area status—it has been taken away altogether. I mention my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment because Plymouth, where unemployment is lower than in north Devon, has retained assisted status. That is good luck for Plymouth. I note from the current unemployment figures, a copy of which I received today, that whereas unemployment increased by two in my hon. Friend's constituency last month, it increased by 258 in mine. Plymouth, an excellent city of which I am extremely fond, has good roads, inter-city rail, an airport and a seaport. With its two additional unemployed, for whom I am truly sorry, it is to retain area status. My part of the world has higher unemployment, no decent roads, a passing railway service, no airport and no seaport and has lost its status. It is not difficult to understand the Government's logic —it is physically impossible.

What employer or what man setting up a factory in my part of the world will say, "I will opt for north Devon because the area is good" — it is good — "because it is beautiful" — it is beautiful — "because it has a good coastline" — it has a beautiful coastline — when roads, rail and infrastructure it has not? "No," he will say — and I do not blame him—"I will go to Plymouth, where I can get some assistance and where the infrastructure can be improved by the use of European development funds." I must tell the Government, through my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, that I have decided on a one-man strike against EEC legislation. If north Devon is no longer to receive EEC funds, the hon. Member for Devon, North will no longer attend the House after midnight as we go through the several litres, metres or kilos of documents. I rather look forward to that because it is the only silver lining that I have seen in a black and bitter week.

I am not singling out Plymouth — I shall pick on other areas. When I look around the United Kingdom I see the destruction of many industrial areas. That destruction is largely self-inflicted. I am sorry for my friends in the midlands and am glad that they now have some recognition, but I must observe that they had a motor cycle industry, a motor car industry and many others. They no longer have them. That is not my fault but, frankly, it may well have been theirs. I am glad that areas such as Merseyside are getting assistance, but they refused the container ships and their problems are largely of their own making.

That is not the case in the west country. We have had our industrial revolution. It was the change from the days of my youth when every parish and village was full of farm people—people who worked on farms and people who worked in firms that supplied farms. A Devonshire village now has no farmers, as farmers live on the farm. It has very few farm labourers, because there are very few farm labourers. It has the second home, which is usually empty and not contributing greatly to the rates, the commuter, who is welcome, and the retired who have come to live among us and create new industry. They are also welcome arrivals.

We did not complain, cry and seek aid because agriculture went through the trauma of losing almost all its labour. Even now, agriculture, probably the most efficient industry in Britain, has been hit by the imposition of milk quotas. I realise that this is not the time or the place to deal with agricultural matters, but it is fair to mention them when considering development areas. Areas such as Devonshire and parts of Cornwall, Dorset and Hampshire have lost considerably recently because of agricultural problems arising from population and, now, milk quotas. I do not doubt that such areas will lose later because of other quotas. However, we have not hung out the begging bowl. We have got used to things and got on with life.

We can only get on with things, however, when there is something physical to get on with. I have mentioned our industrial revolution and the depopulation of the countryside, but there are many more factors. Our part of the world inevitably has the problem of the Good Lord and water. Three months ago I was joining my constituents in prayers for rain. One week ago I visited some of the 400 homes in Barnstaple, Ilfracombe, Lynton and Instow, where I live, where we had floods. I know that the Government have no control over rain, although successive Ministers have paraded around in that connection. I hope never again to see my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), the Minister with special responsibility for rain, doing his "Singing in the Rain" act with a damp umbrella on a cracked desert masquerading as a reservoir. If we are to have reservoirs, we have to have cash. If we are to have cash, a quantity of it must come from European funds. If we lose status, we lose access to those funds. I took the trouble recently to talk to the various county and district council authorities.

Water is always a problem with us. I appeal to the Government to remove the restrictions on the external financing limits, at least for the South-West water authority.Our charges for water services may increase by 10 per cent. this year. They will not increase by the expected figure of inflation or less, which the water authority sought, but by 10 per cent. or more because of Government restrictions on new works which the authorities need to do. The South-West water authority must raise the cash for investment in essential new works, such as flood prevention schemes and the Roadford reservoir, directly from charges. In other words, we must finance reservoirs and flood protection schemes on a year-on-year basis. No industrial system finances from current income works which will last 50 or 100 years, yet we must do that.

Not only are many vital new works and improvements required, but there are the requirements of European Community directives and part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974. Those of us who are strong conservationists are aware of the almost total absence of good control on pollution in rivers and estuaries. The Government place the responsibility for all such matters on the water authorities, which are then denied the finance for the work.

In the parish of Lappford, I experienced the ultimate humiliation of a Member of Parliament. People told me that the water pressure was not sufficiently high. As an ex-member of the water authority, I was happy to go to my friends there and ask them to increase the pressure. The water authority did so, and the pipes burst. Such are the problems when one applies a palliative or a piece of Elastoplast to a wound that requires surgery.

The Government decide how we shall pay for things. With 400 homes flooded and perhaps £100,000-worth of goods damaged in the Mill road area of Barnstaple, the water authority tells me that it receives no regional aid from Government because public bodies are excluded from the programme, and that only areas designated by the Government as regional aid areas are treated by the EC as appropriate areas for EC regional development fund grants. The following day, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) made his statement, which said, "Sorry, you no longer have access to these grants".

Because the Government have decided to reduce the number of areas in the south-west which at present are designated assisted areas, the amount of grant which we can receive from the EC will also be reduced. At present, the amount from the regional development fund allows the South-West water authority to increase the level of its capital investment programme above that which it would otherwise he able to spend—that is, within the level of the external financing limit fixed by the Government. If the EC grants are reduced and there is no corresponding increase from the Government — which is what I am asking for — the authority must reduce the level of its capital programme and my constituents will continue to suffer from floods. Their answer will be that it is the Government's fault. That is indeed the truth. It is time that the Government realised that all the petty faults together build a massive fault which may crack the foundations of the Government, not of the water authority.

North Devon, which is a large rural constituency, has one mile of dual carriageway. It is a nice piece of dual carriageway outside an industrial estate. It was built when we induced manufacturers to come to our area with the promise of roads. I now pay tribute to the Government, perhaps for the only time in the debate, and especially to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), who hopes to speed up the north Devon link road construction. I am grateful to her. She is a Minister who clearly understands the problems of hon. Members on the periphery. I trust that she will not need EC money to complete the road. If so, we shall then have the marvellous example of 20 miles of motorway going towards South Molton and a few miles from Bideford towards Barnstaple, with a great gap in between.

At present, it is not possible for a bus or a heavy duty lorry to drive from the motorway at Tiverton or Exeter to my constituency at Barnstaple without breaking the law. The vehicle is so big that it must cross the centre line, and the centre line is a solid line. What is the driver to say when the police stop him for crossing the line and his vehicle is wider than half the width of what is laughingly described as an A road? I have A roads—the A361, for example—which anywhere else in the country would be B or even unclassified roads.

We have a rail link from Exeter to Barnstaple, but no longer a link from Barnstaple to Bideford. The bit between Bideford and Barnstaple would have made and would still make a most beautiful extension to the national coastal footpath. Once past the Somerset and north Cornwall coastline there is a gap between the Braunton area and Bideford. Sadly, the railway line is no longer used, but the Countryside Commission, using Devon county council as its agent and using money obtained in this case by means of a grant under the derelict land arrangements, intended to purchase and turn what at present is a disused railway line into an attractive walkway and cycle path for the benefit of the public. We do not know whether we shall get it now. I doubt it, and I suspect that my doubts will be realised.

Earlier in my remarks I made a brief mention of Ilfracombe, that delightful but somewhat downcast town. It has high unemployment. It has two or three good firms and I know that my hon. Friend knows the good ones that we have and that we seek to keep. With the help of a harbour development group of local citizens, North Devon district council and Devon county council, I have been working for two years to try to get a form of development scheme which would improve the harbour and produce a marina. There is no safe harbour along the north Somerset, north Devon and north Cornwall coastline. One is needed, but harbour developments in an area with a low rateable value inevitably need cash from the Government, and that means cash from the EEC.

The district council—a very good council but a poor one in terms of rateable value—has itself provided the cash necessary to employ consultants, and they reported this week. I have not yet seen the final report, but I understand that it recommends various ways in which a town full of good spirit but equally full of unemployment can rise again and become a marina, a port, a small business area and perhaps provide facilities for roll-on/ roll-off transport. All these have been given the kybosh by the announcement two days ago of what is to happen to our assisted area status.

North Devon is a tourist area. The Minister of State frequently refers to the tourist "industry", but we get no industrial assistance and no industrial grants. The numbers employed in the tourist industry are good, and growing, but no one in the Government ever seems to consider that the only genuine indigenous job creator is the catering industry. It takes people at all levels of expertise. It is not necessary to employ a senior wrangler to feed a washing-up machine. A senior manager, of course, has to be 'very good. The catering industry, possibly alone in the country, has not so much ridden the recession as surfed through it, so that here in London and down in my part of the world there are good hotels, excellent restaurants and hardworking people running good boarding houses getting no grants but surviving despite the lack of roads and other infrastructure.

We have just had a debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) on our licensing laws. I spoke to licensed victuallers in Barnstaple only last week. All of them told me that many people go overseas for their holidays because they do not understand why, at three o'clock on a hot sunny afternoon such as some we had this year, it is impossible to buy a glass of lager. They do not wish to turn the world into a world of drunkenness. They simply point out that our young people do not want to take holidays where these ridiculous and petty restrictions apply, with no apparent sign, according to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, of any increased drive by the Government to help the tourist industry, as they could so easily by taking a good look at the licensing laws as they apply to our seaside resorts.

So Ilfracombe is hit on one side by loss of status and on the other by the lack of any initiative to reform our licensing laws.

It may already have been said that Britain's licensing laws are based on the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act of 1915. Its purpose was to get munitions girls back to the factories in 1915. Nobody said, "Thou shalt not drink." They merely said, "Thou shalt go back to work." In true British fashion, we still have this lame duck of legislation, which makes sense to no one except perhaps those who framed the Sunday trading laws. That is another example of complete illogicality which hurts our minor enterprises and smaller businesses.

I am pleased to see here my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, knowing the good work that he does for small businesses. He has been to my constituency, as has his predecessor. He always has a good reception and people keen to improve and develop, but they say that if they are not to be given a grant, grants should be taken away everywhere. Let us not have the silly business where one side of the road is given status and the other side is not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) has a speaking engagement but he has asked to be associated with my general points on the economic problems of north Devon. By sheer chance, the reservoir that is to be built at Roadford in north Devon happens to be in a parish which comes under the Tavistock travel-to-work area. Therefore, with any luck, we shall get the reservoir simply because so many hundreds of years ago somebody drew a parish boundary in the right place. Otherwise, we should have had no water. Each time we have a drought, people say that it will be better next time, but it never is. That divine parish draughtsman of several hundred years ago may be our salvation, at least in respect of our reservoir.

My motion simply states that north Devon needs some form of regional aid. Assisted area policy has worked in north Devon because of the grants, despite the lack of infrastructure. We can manage with one or the other, but not without both. Extra jobs have been created. Since the Barnstaple region became a development area, there has been an increase in employment of 139 per cent. — 6,154 jobs. That is a large number of employees for a small country area. That may have happened over 15, 16 or 17 years, but none the less these are jobs for local people who can stay with us rather than always having to go away to seek work.

Much of the service industry sector services jobs brought in by our industrial areas. They have increased by 89 per cent.— 13,772 jobs. Altogether, 20,000 jobs may have been created as a result of development status in an area with a relatively small population. My constituency has only 63,000 people, which shows how significant that increase is, even when shared, as it must be, with the north Devon coastline area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West. All that was achieved with no infrastructure worth looking at.

I must be honest—as, I trust, all hon. Members are — and say that not all the unemployment in my constituency is involuntary. Perhaps in Plymouth, and I do not doubt in Torbay, and perhaps even in Exeter where unemployment is low, there is a certain element which believes that it is nicer to be unemployed in the west country than elsewhere. We understand that. There is always someone who will say that since the allowance is the same throughout the country it is better to take that allowance in nice Ilfracombe than in less nice parts of the country. I do not mean "less nice" in any personal way, but climatically, economically and, perhaps, psychologically.

We locals do not have that feeling in Devonshire. We are strong, resolute and perfectly prepared to fight our corner and to build our jobs. But, at some stage, the Government must lend a hand, even if it be in basic areas such as infrastructure. Infrastructure includes not only roads and railways but electricity. North Devon has high-tech industries that complain to me that power flickers, not terribly, but just enough to throw a computer programme, perhaps for a whole day. It may not matter too much if there are no roads for a small high tech factory, but the power supply is important. We are always told that the power supply is going to be improved. Indeed, the CEGB and the South-West electricity board are excellent authorities. That is our problem — we do not have any complaints against the various statutory undertakings, but they have a complaint against the Government.

In almost every other respect, I am proud and honoured to support the Government. But I am talking about areas that are so far away that those who represent suburban constituencies may realise that they exist only when they visit them for a holiday weekend or week. They may then complain "Oh you can't wash your car. They're short of water. How funny! We're not short of water in London." They may also say, "Oh, there's a problem somewhere, and currently it is the Okehampton bypass. That's funny! We have jams in London but they've hardly got any cars in Devonshire."

Those are fair comments, because although Devonshire has relatively few cars, it sometimes cannot take the summer surge. If that happens, the surge will not come the following summer, because people have better things to do than to toast themselves on the yet-to-be built Okehampton bypass, or at the end of the Tiverton road or further down at Exeter.

Devon county council is another good authority. One cannot blame all these good authorities, and that makes it difficult. I asked the county council what the loss of assisted area status would mean. Its reply was that much major infrastructure work remained to be done in north Devon, such as the north Devon link stage two and the Barnstaple and Bideford bypasses. Those are all Government schemes that would, on the face of it, be eligible for EEC money.

On the county side, the Barnstaple urban relief road and the Roundswell industrial estate are both expensive projects on a county basis. The Bideford to Barnstaple coastal footpath/cycle track comes under derelict land grant. But the county council tells me that loss of assisted area status might lower its priority for that grant.

The rules of the European regional development fund had just been changed so that infrastructure projects outside an assisted area might be eligible for help if doing the work in a non-assisted area helps an'assisted area. But I am afraid that I cannot do anything about that, because the nearest assisted areas to me are probably across the Severn, in Wales. There is no way that helping to ease the floods in north Devon will help an assisted area somewhere else in the country.

So even when we tinker—and how we tinker—with the way such things should be done, we do not do so constructively. When the Government get round once again to looking at development and assisted areas, they should accept that much of the grant has been wrong grant and has gone to purchase machines rather than jobs. If the system had been completely scrapped, and if grant had been based upon job creation, there would have been some logic to it. There are too many factories in which expensive machines are installed at the expense of the taxpayers' money and of jobs in the local area. One packing machine might do the work of six packers. I could accept the Government working as they have done, if the misery had been equal misery, but that is not so. Once again, it is take from X, give to Y and perhaps next year it will be reversed. It is not unlike our 10-year change of constituencies, when all of a sudden and for no apparent reason a Member of Parliament loses an area that he knows and loves — and in which he trusts there is some affection in return — simply because the figures do not quite work out right.

Back Benchers such as me, who totally support the Government in our national and international policies, in our policies on law and order and almost all Government policies, suddenly find themselves going from being total loyalists to being, frankly, virtually insubordinate. Party loyalty towards the Government is based on mutual trust between people who hold relatively the same viewpoint. We come from areas as wide apart as Scotland, Manchester and Devon. But we are like-thinking people and expect to be treated as we would treat others. That is not happening with regard to regional aid.

I come from an area on the periphery, and I am also insubordinate over student travel grants. A student who lives in London and goes to the LSE has no great problem with travel costs. But my goodness, if a student in Instow or Ilfracombe is at college at the other end of England or even in Scotland, he will have huge problems. The excuse is that this evens things out. It does not. It simply means that someone no longer has to do the arithmetic to give parity and fairness across the board. Parity and fairness have gone out of the window. There should be fairness for all.

I must tell the Government that the respect and trust of ordinary Conservative Back Benchers is being hard strained. If such Members as I feel loyalty is strained, there are others—perhaps less steadfast—who could be over-strained.

I asked the North Devon district council for its views. It said that everything depended on some form of aid or on the expedition of infrastructure and utility works. The council may send deputations and impolite letters. I shall happily pass on such letters to the Government, and add my own comments. The council does not understand how one area of one county can be singled out for such ill treatment. We want to catch up with everyone else in basic infrastructure to give our area a chance to prosper under conditions of fair competition. We say this often, but it appears not to be heard either in the House or in our party committees.

I am always lucky in raffles. At a licensed victuallers dinner recently I won a bottle of Long John whisky. The problem was that the gentleman presenting it to me was, I think, the local chairman of Bell's whisky. I do not care in what bottle the aid conies. I do not care whether aid comes from European funds that have been laundered on their way from our pockets into the European pockets and then via heaven knows how many bureaucrats hack into a water authority or derelict land pocket, but we do seem to make such a hard job of it.

It is the poor devils at the end of the line who receive the rough treatment. In my father's generation — my regiment is the Devonshire regiment—it was always bad for the foot sloggers at the end of the road. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has Royal Marines connections; I believe that they have better quality boots now and do not have to walk as far. However, it was always the same — if one is in the trench, one does not understand how the staff work. The lines of communication were not there then and I suspect that they are not there now. I know that my hon. Friend's area is also suffering. There can be no unkinder cut than that given by a Minister to his own patch —as one of my former colleagues in Scotland learned to his cost during the last election. I support the Government in general and, in the past, supported them in toto. If they expect that support to continue, they must give help to those of us who stand in the slit trenches during the long early hours.

I look forward with great interest to what my hon. Friend will say. No doubt it will be an interesting and genuine recital of the good aspects of my constituency. I shall leave it to him to say those good things because he is aware of them and I want him to become more and more aware of them because of what he is seeking to do for small businesses.

If I paint a black picture, it is because the clouds over north Devon are black and I cannot see any silver lining. That is unfair both to the Government and to my constituents. We have many excellent businesses that will continue to survive and prosper, but it is my duty as a constituency Member of Parliament and as a supporter of the free enterprise system to say, "Either free enterprise for all and goodies for all—or goodies for none."

I view with considerable sorrow the general direction in which matters are moving at this time. I am aware, of course, that other Members in other constituencies have similar problems. If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State cannot help today, I look to him for help tomorrow or the next day. If he or his ministerial colleagues cannot provide that help, he and they should remember that, if the men in the trenches ever turn round, they can do immeasurably more harm to the staff than the staff would wish.

1.40 pm
Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller). My perspective is similar to his. There are, of course, certain differences. I hesitate to say that I might have as much experience of another Member's constituency as I have of my own but I, too, am a Devonian born and bred. Perhaps I can pay no higher tribute to my hon. Friend's constituency than to say that many of my ancestors chose to be buried in it. There is no greater praise than that. I assure my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that they died a considerable time ago. They were not driven to an early grave by the effect that deprivation of status might have had upon them.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will appreciate that if I had been called when the announcement of deprivation status was made earlier in the week, my remarks to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry might not have been especially supportive. That is probably fairly obvious and needs no stressing.

I had the opportunity some weeks ago of taking a delegation to meet my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary so that we could put our submissions to him. We presented our case in very much the same way as my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North has submitted his. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary dealt with the delegation in an exemplary fashion. The delegation and I were left in no doubt that he had a complete grasp of the constituency problems and of the implications if there were to be a deprivation of status. It is bad enough to lose assistance that has previously been enjoyed but there is some consolation in knowing that the person who is charged with having to make that unhappy decision is aware of all the facts and figures and the implications. Cuts are bad enough and they become even worse if they are made by someone who does not know what is going on. The delegation was treated in an exemplary fashion and it will come as some small consolation to its members to know that its submissions were listened to and taken on board. I have no doubt that when the delegation left my hon. Friend's office the issue was considered afresh, even if in the end the provisional view had to be confirmed.

I read a profile of myself recently in a book that is being produced by a journalist, Mr. Roth. To some extent it was like reading one's obituary. One of the benefits of the resurrection means that we can come back and sneak into the back of the church during the funeral to hear what is said about us from the pulpit. I was able to read the profile of myself. I was described as being a liberal when it came to advocating the interests of my profession and as an ultra loyalist in terms of my party. That might make some of my hon. Friends table an early-day motion at once to show an independent cast of mind.

I felt no hardship when I read that I was an ultra loyalist in my party. I know the party for which I stood at the election and I know the reservations that I had about it. It is no hardship to me to say on every occasion that offers itself that I present myself as a Conservative. Indeed, I am proud to do so. Against that background, later remarks in my contribution to the debate will cause me some sadness.

Whose fault is it that we find ourselves in the present situation? My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North has described himself as a loyalist. He is not, of course, an unthinking loyalist. What is it that has brought us to the Chamber to make speeches that contain criticism of the Government? What is this action which means that even my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State approaches this matter with great sadness?

It would have been tempting when the announcement was made to have laid into the Government and accused them of incompetence and everything else in sight. We have been slightly more cautious than that. We can be acquitted of the charge of currying favour with our supporters. I suspect that one of the propositions that I could advance, which would command universal acceptance on both sides of the House, is that the Government are not especially prone to going around currying favour with their supporters. Whatever else regional aid is in this context, it is certainly not the politics of the pork barrel.

If one were give to cyncism or undue levity, one might point out—bearing in mind what dairy quotas have done for the farmers in my constituency, the effects of the rates restriction and what may yet be done if saner counsel does not prevail in dealing with student grants—that, in the Government's view of what is impartial, this was a bold move. The removal of regional aid from my constituency of Teignbridge and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North has the benefit of making sure than any other Conservative Member who has not been affected by some of the Government's other actions is at least caught up in this unhappy net. Whatever else the Government are accused of doing, the charge of currying favour with our supporters in this matter cannot be levelled at them. I shall put the matter beyond any doubt and say that it certainly cannot be said in this respect that the Government will curry favour with any of their supporters.

The reason we find ourselves in this unhappy position is rather like the reason given by the Irishman who said, "I would not have started from here anyway". My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has had to grapple with the task of being obliged to institute a system which, frankly, does not begin to make any sort of sense. The moment one is left to work an unsatisfactory system, one gets into no end of trouble. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North referred to the incongruity of the way the system works. He might have used the phrase "passing the parcel". I recall one of the better episodes of "Candid Camera" where a team of officials, dressed up to look like the men from Whitehall so that they could carry some authority, strongly persuaded people on one side of a bridge to haul up buckets of water, walk along from the bridge and pour the water out on the other side. Apparently, the allegation was that the two sides of the river were not balanced and that action would take care of the problem. It was comforting to see something of the British character—when required by officials to perform that task, the people got on and did the job properly.

That aspect lies at the heart of an episode of regional aid. We have inherited a system and, for the time being at least, we have to work it. Instead of trying to work out which industries are viable and how money can be used and — I hope that I can say this without being unnecessarily contentious — ascertaining what labour relations are like, we have a system that is crude almost beyond belief. We look at the unemployment statistics and say, "If unemployment is high enough, you get your grant, and if it is not, you don't." What is the sense in taking the grants from the constituencies of Teignbridge and Devon, North when Merseyside, which in terms of public money is one huge, yawning plug hole, receives the money because of its unemployment levels, irrespective of how that unemployment occurred?

What is so unfair and what concerns me greatly is the fact that what has happened to my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North is not their fault. I would be happy, if the rules permitted, to spend the next two or three hours extolling the people of my constituency, their character, their work rate, labour relations and the rest of it. Like my hon. Friends constituents, they are not in the begging-bowl business.

My constituents are not squealing. They do not regard jobs as something from which to strike. There is nothing wrong with the work rate or work ethic of my constituents, but because, lucky things, in some towns in my constituency unemployment is only 15 per cent. they cannot compete with other areas in the misery stakes.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North will agree that we are being forced to take part in a system under which the rewards do not go to the deserving or to those who make the best of things; the fruits of victory go to those who, in the extreme case, will not help themselves. That is not a sensible way of conducting our affairs.

Where is the sense, in terms only of the Exchequer, in the fact that, in the past, the need for grant was identified and the grant, whether for development area status or for intermediate status, was given. Then the rules are changed, the music stops and the money is removed. What is the point of pump-priming if one stops halfway through priming the pump? Were it not for the exemplary work and ingenuity of Teignbridge district council, taxpayers' money would not have produced the benefit that it should. The pump has been primed, but now it is to be cut off entirely. Again, that makes no sense. It is important to remember that my constituents are not in the begging-bowl business. Some schemes in my constituency are not entirely viable, and regional grant makes all the difference to them—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

Order. The hon. Gentleman understandably wishes to talk about his constituency, but in fairness to the motion and to the Minister I should tell him that the motion relates to north Devon. I am sure that he will use his ingenuity to direct his remarks to north Devon.

Mr. Speller

Does my hon. Friend agree that the conditions in Teignbridge and north Devon, which are about 40 miles apart, are almost identical? We in north Devon welcome his association with the constituency, but we regret the fact that, although his ancestors are buried there, none of his living relatives are voting there.

Mr. Nicholls

I am grateful for your help, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and for that of my hon. Friend, who is an experienced Member of the House, and I shall try to keep within the rules of order.

The heart of the problem is that the system that we are being asked to operate does not make sense. My hon. Friend said that one way of proceeding would be to remove grant entirely; that makes perfect sense. Another approach to the problem would be to give grant to everyone, but that would mean a return to the original position, which does not make sense. One must concede — I do so more readily now than I might have done earlier this week— that if the present system must be operated, it should be operated properly, effectively and on the basis of obtaining the maximum value for money. A most unhappy aspect of the way in which the system has evolved is the idea that to solve the problem one should continue to hurl money at it, without analysing its ingredients.

For example, we do not use the synthetic indexes to the extent that we should. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North is nodding. He would concede that if the synthetic index for his constituency had been considered more carefully, one factor that could have been given much weight is not only the median levels of unemployment, but the fluctuations that occur in seasonal industries. However, that suggestion would only tamper with a system that is fundamentally wrong.

What can be done? A number of points occur to me. It may be that the Minister will be able to help me with some of them. On the other hand, he may want to answer them by way of correspondence. It concerns me in particular that, once one is deprived of one's status, one is precluded not only from national grants but from European grants, except in the rather arcane way that my hon. Friend described. Before this week, he and I might have conspired together to assist each other or our other regional friends. That cannot happen now. It must be a source of particular grievance that one is left out of the European side as well as the national side.

My hon. Friend may also be able to offer me some guidance about article (9) (c) of the Co-operative Development Agency and Industrial Development Act (Commencement) Order 1984. That article sets up certain transitional arrangements under which the old arrangements will continue for a period of four months. A week is said to be a long time in politics. In terms of the way the system operates, four months is a very short time. I can imagine schemes, common both to my hon. Friend and myself, whereby, a degree of flexibility — I am not suggesting two or three years; politics is the art of the possible—in the transitional arrangements would be of great help to us both.

One can make the point, when trying to find the cloud with a silver lining, that if the whole system of regional aid is bad—it certainly is—one can state the obvious by saying that if one does not have a grant, or if it is taken away, one is in a much worse position than an area, region or constituency which has it. One can go further and say that there is now sufficient evidence that, even if one is in receipt of grant, in the long term, as an area, it will do one no good in the end. The one crumb of comfort I can extract from this unhappy state of affairs is that the worst situation of all—it must be the situation in which some of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members will find themselves — is that an adjacent area is receiving aid while one's own area is not. That, in a nutshell, points up the vice of the system. It points up the incongruity in a way which cannot be bettered. What happens when one side of the road receives grant while the other side does not?

Opposition Members will think that, to an extent, it serves me right, but when I was vice-chairman of the property services committee of the East Devon district council, where we were on the eastern side of the river Exe, industrialists asked us why they should move to our constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North must have had the same experience. The industrialists could point to the area of Teignbridge, in which I did not live at the time, and say, "Over there we should be in receipt of a large range of grants. Why on earth should we stay here?" It was difficult sometimes to answer that question. There is a certain grim irony in the fact that I am now a member of the party of a Government which has to operate a completely unsatisfactory, illogical and damaging system. In Teignbridge my grant was taken from me.

It is a truism that good cannot come out of evil. Perhaps it can be said, if one looks at the matter dispassionately and tries to distance oneself from constituency interests, that the Government have made the best of a very bad job. What I hope, in terms of good coming out of evil, is. that if in the long run what we have gone through this week and will have to justify to our constituents means the end of this wretched system and heralds a more sensible system under which good is done to the regions, in that sense, good may yet come out of evil.

1.59 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. David Trippier)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) on his good fortune in the ballot, which has given us the opportunity once again to debate the problems of his constituency, particularly those of Ilfracombe. I thank him for his kind words about me. He has always been a very active, vociferous and able advocate on behalf of his constituents, and he demonstrated that skill to us all today.

I know that my hon. Friend and his constituents will be disappointed that north Devon is losing its assisted area status. I should also like to express my sympathy to my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls). I understand the points that he made and recognise some of the problems that he identified.

It has been a difficult week for several of us. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North correctly referred to the fact that I was in a somewhat embarrassing situation as a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry with shared responsibility for regional aid. No doubt it will be interpreted as my having reduced the aid in my constituency. These are difficult times, and tough decisions have to be made. It may seem stranger, as it would not take a very bright Member to discover in Hansard that in about 1980, as a Back Bencher, I was fighting for assistance in my constituency because it was heavily affected by the recession, due to its overdependence on the two traditional industries — textiles and footwear. I shall refer to that later.

We have considered the situation in north Devon seriously. We considered that the position in Ilfracombe and Barnstaple did not merit their continuing to receive preferential treatment over the rest of the country. The withdrawal of assisted area status also involves losing access to the European regional development fund. As my hon. Friend demonstrated, that could affect the necessary improvements to the infrastructure of the area. I know that there is considerable importance attached to that—not only in north Devon but in other parts of the country that are losing their assisted area status—but the European regional development fund quota section can be used only to support member states' own regional policies in their defined "aided areas". In the United Kingdom these are, of course, the assisted areas. However, as far as the areas that are losing assisted area status are concerned, I can assure my hon. Friends the Members for Devon, North and Teignbridge that the European Commission will accept applications for the European regional development fund quota section until March next year and will consider them for aid where the majority of the expenditure is completed within one year of the announcement made on Wednesday by the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont).

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North referred to the object of the Ilfracombe harbour project, which of course would be to improve the economy of Ilfracombe and local employment prospects. Clearly, any cost-effective measure which increases employment opportunities would be welcome, but I remind my hon. Friend that other developments in the area are generating new jobs. For example, Pall Europe has announced plans to expand its Ilfracombe factory and, when that work is completed, to add another 140 jobs to the 100 already existing. Coutant Electronics plc is extending its premises in Ilfracombe, due for completion in April 1985, and is looking to create 25 jobs by the end of 1985, and more the following year. Expansion plans by engineering company J. and S. Marine could lead to the creation of 65 new jobs at Barnstaple. L. S. and J. Sussman Ltd. of Barnstaple has taken on 33 extra workers over the past year or so. Hobarts is celebrating 25 years at its Barnstaple factory with the opening of a new £180,000 extension, heralding job security for its present 175 employees and the prospect of a steady increase in staff over the next few years.

Some of these enterprises will have benefited from regional assistance, and undoubtedly such assistance has had an influence in encouraging industrial development in north Devon. It must be gratifying to my hon. Friend that the area is now better placed, relative to some other parts of the country, to build on its current assets. However, just as it would be foolish to view the future complacently through rose-coloured spectacles, so it would be equally wrong to regard regional assistance as the only means of helping industry.

I remind my hon. Friend of the other forms of financial aid available from the Department, notably under section 8 of the Industrial Development Act 1982. I am glad to record that some companies in north Devon have already taken good advantage of that facility, and I hope that more will do so in the future.

Mr. Speller

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the other forms of aid available. I wonder whether, with his special responsibility for small businesses, he might see fit to produce some fairly simple literature. Some ministerial literature is difficult for Members of Parliament, and perhaps even for more intelligent people in trade, to understand. I should very much welcome the availability of more information so that those who are losing aid in one respect can be made aware of alternative sources. I approve of the system to which my hon. Friend referred, as it is clearly directed at good, sensible, job-creating work. I welcome that, but I hope that he will let us have more information which we, in turn, can pass on in the hope that that may be the beginning of the silver lining.

Mr. Trippier

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I think that he is referring to the repackaging exercise which I have recently completed, which will simplify the literature from the Department targeted at the very important small firms sector. With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and relating it to north Devon, I should like to deal with that in more detail later. I hope that the information that I have to give will be of some comfort to my hon. Friend.

I assure my hon. Friend again that any projects put forward for possible assistance under section 8, which is available nation-wide, will be given most careful consideration by me and my colleagues. The Government can also help by the provision of counselling assistance through the Department of Trade and Industry small firms service based in Bristol and various forms of assistance to the small firms sector. Area counselling offices are situated in Barnstaple and South Molton and, in the past 12 months, more than 70 counselling sessions have been held. In the same period, more than 100 small businesses have been seen at the clinics held in Barnstaple and Bideford. Advice is provided to individuals considering setting up in business, as well as to established businesses.

With regard to local enterprise agencies, financial support has been offered by the Department to the North Devon Enterprise Group to provide a further source of advice to small businesses. This will complement the good work already done by the North Devon Manufacturers' Association, which I know is very active in the area.

In stressing the importance of local enterprise agencies, perhaps I may relate my comments to the situation in 1980 in my own constituency, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North referred. In the teeth of the recession, between 1980 and 1982, most travel-to-work areas experienced almost a doubling of unemployment. At that time, my constituency was the worst affected in the United Kingdom. Unemployment quadrupled, perhaps largely because of overdependence on the traditional industries of textiles and footwear. I thought that, short of sitting at my desk in the House with my head in my hands, the only way forward was to encourage indigenous growth. All hon. Members can hope that some large company will come and set up in their area—my hon. Friend will be no exception—but we could wait a long time for that. It is perhaps better to get on with the job of encouraging indigenous growth.

I had the opportunity one Friday afternoon, with several Conservative colleagues, to visit the first-ever enterprise agency, which was set up in St. Helens. It was on that model that the North Devon Enterprise Group has been built. I met for the first time an interesting and impressive character called Mr. Bill Humphrey, whom I have always regarded as the patron saint of enterprise agencies. He offered what I can only describe as a hand-holding service for small businesses. It was the first time that I or my colleagues had seen large industry become involved in the small firms sector.

Anyone who knows St. Helens knows that Pilkington Brothers is St. Helens, and that St. Helens is Pilkingtons. It had, unfortunately, had to lay off many people in order to remain competitive, but felt under a moral obligation to the community. As Bill Humphrey put it to me, perhaps Pilkingtons would make those people redundant today, but it would see them in the town centre the following weekend. Pilkingtons decided to do its best to encourage the start-up of small businesses by encouraging those who had been made redundant to establish small businesses and by encouraging existing small businesses to expand. In about 12 months, 150 small firms had been started and they employed about 250 people.

That was the most dramatic thing that I had seen since becoming a Member of Parliament and I tried to graft the experience on to my constituency. North Devon, I think wisely, has done the same. Industrialists in larger companies have recognised their moral responsibility to the community. As we need small firms and their employment potential, I am pleased to announce that there are now 228 local enterprise agencies in the United Kingdom. I opened the 228th in Aberdeen the other week. As the House knows, I have set a target of 300 in three years. It is now clear that we shall achieve that target. The enterprise agency is vital to north Devon for one reason. The failure rate of small firms—the news hits my desk—is one in three in the first 12 months. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that, unfortunately, north Devon is no exception.

Mr. Speller

This is an opportunity for me to ask my hon. Friend about just one case. Through his organisation we have the enterprise allowance scheme, which pays £40 a week to someone who is trying to start up a small business. The case concerns a young married couple. The wife has taken the allowance to start a small business making wedding dresses of natural fabrics such as cotton and silk. Because the husband was unfortunately made redundant recently, the £40 enterprise allowance is now treated as part of their income and is therefore deducted from his unemployment benefit, on which he keeps his family. Perhaps the best laid plans of Ministers can "gang aft agley", as they say in Aberdeen, when one side does not talk to the other. Perhaps Ministers could examine this matter, as it seems illogical that when a Minister pursues an excellent idea to enable people to get off the ground the beneficiary has the ground cut from beneath his feet when misfortune strikes a second member of the family.

Mr. Trippier

I am sympathetic to that point and I should like to examine it carefully. As my hon. Friend rightly said, the matter is one for the Department of Employment, but we have an important input into the enterprise allowance scheme because we mobilise the small firms service, for which I am responsible. I should be most grateful if my hon. Friend would write to me with details. I shall be only too pleased to take it up.

I referred earlier to the importance of the North Devon Enterprise Group. I wish it every success. In case anyone doubts the importance of enterprise agencies, I shall give the House some startling figures. The failure rate of small firms is one in three for the first 12 months. In areas where there are established enterprise agencies the failure rate is one in 12, that is about 8 per cent. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

When I had the privilege of visiting my hon. Friend's constituency, I saw an exercise in self-help. The community was pulling itself up by its boot straps. I also saw the attention which the area paid to its small business men, who are very important people. The difficulty in north Devon and in many other parts of the United Kingdom is that too many people set up in business thinking that they know it all and consequently do not seek advice. They are then surprised when they go out of business in a relatively short time. I wish to use this occasion as an excuse to encourage people to take advantage of the small firm services, which is available nation-wide, and to get in touch with their enterprise agencies, which offer an effective hand-holding service. That way the failure rate can be improved.

My hon. Friend will no doubt welcome the fact that I wish to urge large firms in Devon in general and in north Devon in particular to recognise the importance of paying small firms' bills on time. I receive more lobbying on that matter than on any other.

With regard to the 64 schemes in the Department of Trade and Industry which are targeted on industry we have unwittingly built up our own bureaucracy. Although it sounds impressive at a general election to say that we have built up 64 schemes, we are in danger of confusing the people whom we seek to help. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend about that. We have therefore just completed a repackaging exercise. The 64 schemes will be concertina-ed into four coherent packages which will cover schemes for regional assistance, exports, advisory services and support services.

For the first time we can set an example to industry in marketing our own products. In the past we did not set a good example generally. I also appreciate that Governments are fond of acronyms. There are many schemes with acronyms, such as CADCAM, CADTES, MAPCON, which mean very little to those whom we hope will be the recipients and beneficiaries of them. I also agree that because of the bureaucracy we need to scrap the considerable number of application forms that exist. I have introduced a communality of application forms, which will be shorter and written in plain English.

It is important for me to use this occasion to get the message across about the link between industry and education. We may not have concentrated as much attention as we should on the importance of bringing together industrialists and educationists. The Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry responsible for small firms is also responsible for industry education. That is one of the more frustrating jobs for which I am responsible. From 15 May 1985 we shall have another local enterprise week. The previous week was well supported in my hon. Friend's constituency. The theme for next year will be industry-education links. I am anxious to involve institutions such as further education colleges, which most communities have, and polytechnics and universities, where they exist.

At school level the idea is to try to get through to 13-year-old children the importance of wealth creation, which is even more important than wealth distribution.

Finally, on small firms, it is important to emphasise that we have still too much bureaucracy in terms of the constraints on such businesses. We are in danger of strangling them. When I visited my hon. Friend's constituency, I received this message loud and clear.

Recently I have completed an exercise whereby we have produced some flow charts. On one we have identified 45 different regulations which have to be checked and in many cases complied with by anyone considering setting up in business on his own account. On another flow chart we have identified 54 regulations which have to be checked and in many cases complied with by anyone contemplating employing only one person. It is a surprise to me that we have 1.3 million small firms when I look at those two charts. They are a tremendous disincentive to people whom we are encouraging to set up and employ others. We have decided that an efficiency exercise will be conducted on those charts. We hope that the results will be known by the end of January.

In north Devon the Government provide support for the area's tourist industry. This takes the form of promotional activity and advisory services provided by the English tourist board, assisted by the non-statutory West Country tourist board, and of selective assistance for tourism projects via the national scheme administered by the ETB under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969. Since August 1982, when the scheme was first extended to the whole of England, grant offers totalling £138,200 have been made to 18 tourist projects in north Devon.

Then there are the various schemes operated by other Government Departments. Under the youth training scheme the Manpower Services Commission estimated a need for 873 places for the youth training scheme in north Devon in 1984–85. Already more than this number—880—have been made available from a wide range of sources. These include 200 places on a broad-based scheme put together by the North Devon Manufacturers Association. This reflects the recognition by the association of the importance of attracting young people into manufacturing and confidence in the future of the employment they can offer.

There are three main agents with community programme schemes in the north Devon area. First, there is the Ilfracombe and District Industrial Development Committee, which has many schemes, including conservation and environment, youth, community and information schemes. Secondly, we have the Bridge Community Agency, which runs a skill swop centre, a welfare benefit campaign and several archaeological digs and environmental projects. Thirdly, we have the Council for Christian Care, which runs schemes mainly involving the tidying-up and restoration of church grounds and property.

English Estates has pursued an active policy of advance factory construction in north Devon.

Mr. Speller

My hon. Friend may not be aware of it, but in addition to the excellent bodies of which he has spoken the work of the Dartington North Devon Trust has been huge in our part of the world.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the Ilfracombe and district industrial development scheme, which proves my point when I say that we are prepared to help ourselves. But we need a little water in the pump with which to prime it.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for listing these good organisations, and with the North Devon Manufacturers Association we are well equipped for the training of our youth. Finding jobs for them once they are trained is the problem.

My hon. Friend also referred to the tourist boards. By a sheer coincidence, I believe that I am the only qualified caterer in the House, which is probably why I am not allowed near the Services Committee. It is of some interest perhaps that the West Country tourist board does the investigation under my hon. Friend's scheme, but that the actual verdict comes down from the English tourist board. It is hard to explain to a hotelier in Ilfracombe why, when he saw a pleasant man or woman from the West Country tourist board in Exeter, rather a long time later he gets a yes or no from London from someone who has not seen the scheme but has only dealt with it on paper. There might be room for a little slimming down there, not least because of the sheer misunderstanding caused when a person sees Mr. Smith from Exeter and the decision comes from Mr. Jones in London. Queries cannot be raised with the person who has made the decision, because he has never been seen.

Mr. Trippier

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for saying that I shall have to look into the tourist board matter. That is the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry. I shall certainly do that.

I accept entirely the difficulties created when assistance available under regional policy goes to a firm which is operating on one side of the street, whereas a factory on the other side gets nothing. One must examine carefully the purposes of regional policy. Its purpose is to try to remove the disparities in levels of unemployment in the United Kingdom. I appreciate that, no matter which Government are in power, when the dividing lines for regional policy are set the Government will make as many enemies as friends.

The White Paper on regional policy said that we would look at things other then levels of unemployment, and that may be of some comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge. We said that we would look at other matters such as over-dependence on traditional industries, obsolete infrastructure, and peripherality or distance to markets. Those have been looked at carefully, together with others, and we have put them in a synthetic index.

The most important point that I can make is that when we are using that synthetic index all those travel-to-work areas which go above the line will be assisted areas and those below it will not. I appreciate my hon. Friend's disappointment, but I am sure he will readily understand the difficult decisions which Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry have had to make.

English Estates has pursued an active policy of advance factory construction in north Devon. On Mullacott Cross industrial estate all but one of the 11 units are occupied and the 19 units in Barnstaple, which are all small, are all now occupied.

Parts of north Devon, including Ilfracombe, continue to receive special support from the Development Commission through the coverage of the rural development areas. This means that small businesses can receive special concessions from the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas on premises, business advice and finance.

I am aware that there is considerable interest in north Devon in the north Devon link road. Stage 1, from the M5 to Tiverton, is now completed and the road is open. Stage 2A, from Tiverton to Newtown, was the subject of a public inquiry between January and March 1984. The inspector's report is now with the Departments of the Environment and Transport and a decision will be given as soon as possible. Draft orders were published in November 1983 for stage 2B, from Newtown to Barnstaple, and I understand that it is going to public inquiry on 15 January 1985.

Also of interest in north Devon are the Barnstaple and Bideford bypasses. The former has just been the subject of a public inquiry while work has already commenced on the latter.

As my hon. Friend mentioned, north Devon, as with many parts of the south-west and indeed the United Kingdom, suffered from problems of drought last summer. Part of the problem will be resolved when a more secure supply can be provided upon completion of Roadford reservoir. Outline planning permission was granted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on 30 March 1983, but a number of reserved matters were retained for approval by him. Those include landscaping, access, and siting and design of buildings. These must come up for approval by 30 March 1986.

The South-West water authority is currently preparing an application on detailed matters and its submission is imminent. When dealing with this application, it is anticipated that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will also cover other related matters still outstanding, such as the appeal on the demolition of listed buildings. In the meantime, until Roadford reservoir is completed, problems may still exist on the Mullacott Cross industrial estate, where there have been difficulties in maintaining the pressure of the water supply—

It being half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.