§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Assisted Areas Order 1984 (S.I., 1984, No. 1844), dated 26th November 1984, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th November, be annulled.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
With this it will be convenient to take motion No. 3 on the Order Paper:That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Regional Development Grant (Qualifying Activities) Order 1984 (S.I., 1984, No. 1846), dated 26th November 1984, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th November, be annulled.
§ Mr. Beith
The Assisted Areas Order concerns the list of places that are eligible for regional aid. The other Order concerns qualifying activities. Most of my attention will be directed to the schedule of places eligible for regional aid. That is where the Government have made their greatest mistakes. I believe that it is useful to take the two orders together so that any hon. Members who wish to refer to qualifying activities can do so.
The widening of the qualifying activities is one of the few parts of the statement that we welcome. The extension to service industries of regional aid is clearly sensible and more accurately deals with the development of an area in which the service industries are an important back-up to manufacturing industry and important providers of jobs. On the whole, we welcome the second order, but, none the less, we feel that it should be debated.
Our greatest reservations concern the map, the schedule, and the list of areas. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed reservations, many of which are well founded. There are not simply complaints from those whose areas have been excluded from development aid on reasonable objective grounds. There many cases of complaints from those who can point to areas that fulfil in every way the criteria which the Government have set out for inclusion in a development area. The map devised is most at fault.
The criteria that the Government set out and reiterated tonight for determining the places eligible for regional aid included such aspects as high unemployment, high long-term employment, high employment relative to other places, great distances from main markets—which the Government call, in a rather ugly word, "peripherality" —and industrial structure. According to those criteria, a number of places should have been included in the list of places eligible for development aid, but those places were not included.
Several of my hon. Friends have mentioned during debates or raised with me concern about some of these areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) has talked about parts of Cornwall which exactly fit those criteria. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) is concerned about, and, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will refer to, the area of west Leeds which meets these criteria, including the additional criterion the Government included about the drain from the centre of cities. On many occasions, I have raised with Ministers the problem of 608 Amble in Northumberland which exactly meets the criteria of having high unemployment relative to the places adjoining it, of being at a great distance from the main markets and of suffering from the problems of an old industrial structure — old industries such as the coal industry having been a dominant employer in the area.
In so many of these cases, areas that have been left out of the list meet the criteria more effectively than the areas left in the list. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West has referred publicly to the contrast between Leeds which is not in a development area and Pudsey which is placed within a development area. On any objective assessment, many parts of Leeds meet the criteria better than places within the development areas. On objective criteria Amble meets the argument far better, for example, than Ponteland which is in the Newcastle travel-to-work area.
The result of this decision is that some of these areas — the most hard hit, the ones upon which the Government claimed that they were going to concentrate their aid—have lost the direct United Kingdom regional aids and their access to EC regional aid, and for many of them that is the most important point. Frankly, they were expecting to get more out of the EC than they were ever hoping to get out of the United Kingdom Government.
But the story does not end there, because they now find themselves facing direct competition from neighbouring areas whose problems are often not as great as theirs. That is a point to which the Minister of State referred when he wound up the earlier debate, the competition between the areas which do have incentives and those which do not. I am sorry to have to tell the Minister that he has picked some of the worst hit areas and left them with precisely that sort of competition, a very unfair competition indeed.
Why should Government and European regional aid be denied to the sort of places that I have described? I think the Minister should get some idea of the sort of places about which I am talking when I refer to Amble, for example. It is a community where one in three adults is already without a job and where only 18 per cent, of pupils stay on into the sixth form. When one compares that with a community like Ponteland, it is interesting to hear what the reaction of one of a Conservative councillor in Ponteland was when he was told that his area was on the map and asked why it was. He said:You could not say we are industrial. I am not aware of an unemployment problem though there might be some youngsters out of work.That was a Conservative member of the Northumberland county council commenting on the inclusion of his area in a development area whereas in Amble 160 youngsters leave the high school in search of their first job every year, and most of them will not find such a job.
The Alnwick district council in presenting its case locally and nationally has drawn attention to some of these youngsters. It picked out one of them, Susan Stewart, who sought to get a job which involved design work, in which she was hoping to specialise and train. The opportunity was there, and what did she find? She read in her newspapers that development aid was going to be lost for Amble. She read in the same newspapers that the firm with which she was going to get a job was moving on to another area where higher development aids were available. It is that competition from neighbouring areas which is now going to be so damaging. Of the 163 school leavers from the local high school last year, 143 are still without a 609 permanent job. It is those sort of circumstances in which the competition from neighbouring areas will be insufferable and unreasonable.
Why is it happening? Why have the Government done such a monstrously callous and heartless thing as to exclude some of the areas that I have described, and others to which the Minister's hon. Friends have referred, from regional aid? Why have they delivered that blow to communities which deserve help under all the guidelines which the Government themselves have set out?
I think that the clue to the answer is given in a letter which was sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West by the West Yorkshire county council. It makes this point and says:The Government's insistence that it cannot depart from the principle of defining Assisted Areas on the basis of Travel-to-Work Areas means that economic blackspots within the County have been ignored".It is the insistence on using travel-to-work areas inflexibly as the boundary. The same point, indeed, was made by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) when he spoke. Indeed, he made the point that in his constituency Pitlochry, Blairgowne and Aberfeldy were so much set apart by hills that nobody travels between them for work and in no real sense are they a genuine travel-to-work area. So many of these travel-to-work areas conceal pockets of high unemployment. Some of them may well be appropriate for defining regional aid boundaries, but some of them manifestly are not.
The Government should have been readier to recognise that they have alternatives at their disposal if they do not want to use those areas.
In an earlier debate I said that the regional aid map which the Government have produced has been drawn by somebody sitting behind a desk in London who had never been to many of the places affected and did not understand their problems. I got an interesting reply to that point from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary. He quoted what I said, and stated:Nothing could be further from the truth, and I shall explain why. The travel-to-work boundaries were first drafted by the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies at Newcastle university, which may surprise the hon. Member".It does not really surprise me—I used to work there. He continued:Those sitting behind their desks in London then sought the advice of those with local knowledge, particularly on any recent local developments that could have led to changes in the travel patterns since the census." — [Official Report, 19 December 1984; Vol. 70, c. 410.]
I took the trouble to talk to the people at Newcastle university who had been involved in the process of defining travel-to-work areas. The first point that they were bound to make in their own defence was that they were asked by the Department of Employment to draw up areas which were reasonable units for the collection and reporting of unemployment figures. They were never asked to set out boundaries which might reasonably define where development aid should go. As reputable academic statisticians, they did the job assigned to them according to the proper criteria. They assessed what would be reasonable areas for reporting the figures of unemployment.
That was not the end of the story. As the Minister said, the next job was to seek the advice of local people as to whether other factors should be taken into account. The Minister responsible supposedly did so, but he gave the local authorities a week only in which to respond. That did 610 not deter the local authorities in Northumberland, and I am sure that it did not deter those in areas such as west Yorkshire either. They made their responses and not the slightest bit of notice was taken of them. It was the contrary. The local authorities produced a far more reasonable proposition than we now have before us.
I shall deal more precisely with the case of the Amble and Alnwick area. The Minister may not realise—I am glad that the information is being hastily brought lo him—that the statistics produced by the centre at Newcastle university gave travel-to-work areas other than those that he has brought before the House. The travel-to-work area for Amble and Alnwick was not the large area that he has now. It was much smaller and excluded the whole of the western area and confined itself to the area from Alnwick to the coast. That was a much more reasonable unit.
The advice of the local authorities was to link Amble and the area immediately to its south. If the Minister had accepted the first suggestion from Newcastle university's centre he would have had a better map than he has now. If he had accepted the local authorities' advice he would have had a still better map.
None of the advice that he received from Newcastle university, people on the spot, or, I suspect, his regional officials led to the conclusions that he has now reached.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Norman Lamont)
I did not draw up the travel-to-work areas. It is done by the Department of Employment for a specific purpose other than regional policy. It is done to measure unemployment over the smallest most meaningful area that unemployment can be measured. Given that that is the purpose, it nevertheless makes sense to use it for regional policy.
§ Mr. Beith
The Minister has made my point. He did not define those boundaries, and the advice that 1 and others gave to him was that he should never have thought himself bound by them in the first place. He did not devise them and they were not devised for the purpose that has brought him to the House tonight. They were not devised to determine regional aid boundaries. They were defined by another Department for the reporting of unemployment figures. If I seem, by attacking collective responsibility, to be castigating him personally, that is not what I am doing. I was referring to his colleagues in his Department making such a spirited defence of the figures. I was trying to get to the facts which are that if we look at the original travel-to-work areas produced by the statisticians, they did not produce this crazy map.
§ Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of any case similar to that of Ilfracombe in north Devon, where in July the Department of Employment advised me that it was looking at the figures and moving two areas in together—one good and one bad one? We should have smelt the rat which was there to be smelt. A few months later the two areas lost all status at one blow. Has that happened to the hon. Gentleman's knowledge elsewhere, perhaps in his own part of the country?
§ Mr. Beith
The hon. Gentleman makes a sound point. His case is similar to mine. The advice that the Department of Employment took was not heeded. The Government have patched together a larger area to suit their own convenience. I have read the Adjournment debate that the 611 hon. Gentleman raised on the subject of Ilfracombe. There is a remarkable similarity. The figures were produced by another Government Department. What should Ministers responsible for regional development have done? They should have looked at the map and said that it did not fit their needs; it did not correspond to the reality of high unemployment. They do not have the guts to stand up to their colleagues across the street or across the building in another Department and say, "You did a job for your own purposes; it will not do for ours." They should have devised a map which met their own purpose.
§ Mr. Norman Lamont
As the purpose they follow is to measure unemployment meaningfully, why is that wrong for regional policy?
§ Mr. Lamont
That is their objective. If that is their purpose, it is irrelevant for the hon. Gentleman to say that it has nothing to do with regional policy.
§ Mr. Beith
I have been trying to explain to the Minister why it does not work for that purpose, and he is getting restive about it. A travel-to-work area does not define levels of high unemployment. It is a way of reporting unemployment figures. It does not necessarily indentify unemployment blackspots. Indeed, if one takes the statistical criteria, one can use the whole of the country as a travel-to-work area because 70 per cent, of people come in under both headings; they work and live in it. The size of areas is very much determined by the administrative convenience of the Department of Employment, not to provide reasonable units for the hon. Gentleman to use for his purpose of regional policy.
§ Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)
It creates lunacies the other way about in that Stratford-on-Avon, Solihull and Sutton Coldfield are included for special development assistance when, by any judgment, they do not need it.
§ Mr. Beith
I ask the Minister to go to the Darras Hall estate in Ponteland, or to some of those places that got included in the west midlands area, and ask himself whether the exercise of using travel-to-work areas has successfully identified in those instances the places that are most urgently in need of regional aid.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
I intervene to illustrate my hon. Friend's point still further. The Bull Ring in inner city, Liverpool, in my constituency, where unemployment is running at 45 per cent., is now included in an area which also includes the constituencies of the hon. Members for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison), of Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt) and of Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), all of which are represented in this House by Ministers and in all of which the rates of unemployment are only a fraction of that in central Liverpool. Does my hon. Friend think that that has anything to do other than with pork barrel politics?
§ Mr. Beith
A Pandora's box of places mysteriously included is being opened, but without my hon. Friend's local knowledge I will not begin to speculate on the reasons involved. Suffice it to say that the travel-to-work areas in a number of instances do not successfully identify 612 the areas of greatest need. They embrace areas which do not have the same high needs and they exclude some areas which are in great need.
If the statutory framework within which the Minister was working had given him no choice but to work from the travel-to-work areas, it would have been another matter and we should be demanding that new legislation be introduced. But the House has only recently passed the Co-operative Development Agency and Industrial Development Act 1984, which sets out what the Minister can do. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman did not examine that measure and see the wide range of choices open to him.
The Minister could have made an order under the appropriate section describing a development area by reference towards, travel-to-work areas orany other area which has been created by or exists or existed for the purposes of any Act or Statutory Instrument, whenever passed or made.Thus, anything that has ever been defined in a statute as an area he could have used; his choice was limitless.
In one case, in one city, the Minister had the sense to realise that he had to do something different, and that was in Manchester. There, he used local government wards to define the boundary. I am tempted to attribute it to an outbreak of wisdom on his part, but I know that the real reason was other than that. It was that when he and his officials got to Manchester they realised that they were pushing against the barrier of the total percentage that they would be allowed to claim for development assistance under the European development fund. Accordingly, they started somewhat to redefine in Manchester, which was not unreasonable, because had they left Bramhall in the regional development area they would have deserved the same criticisms as I am delivering to them in relation to a number of other places elsewhere in the country.
I do not complain, therefore, at that being done in Manchester. But why in only one place in one part of the United Kingdom did they use the flexibility available to them under the Act? They have handed over their duties to Ministers in other Departments, they have taken hand-me-down areas provided for a wholly different purpose and they have failed to examine whether they met the needs of the case. As my hon. Friends and I have sought to show on many occasions, the Government have made the gravest mistakes in the map by so doing.
The controversial points that have been raised today are deeply felt by Members who sincerely believe that the Government have excluded areas which fulfil all or most of the criteria and genuinely need that kind of help. There is still a chance to remedy the deficiency. The Undersecretary of State is reported to have said on a visit to the north-east that the map would not be set in concrete but subject to regular review. I ask the Minister to hold out some hope to school leavers in the communities that I have described and to local authority officials desperately trying to attract industry to their areas and to help industry to stay there in the face of competition from nearby areas receiving assistance but often without anything like the same problems.
The map contains errors. There may be members of the present Administration who regard themselves as infallible, but I am sure that the Minister is not one of them. I am sure that he recognises that even the passage of time can change these things, not to mention the original errors.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be useful to know how long the map is intended to remain in operation? I understand that it is intended to operate without further review for five years. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether that is so and whether he agrees that as the 1979 map became out of date so quickly, regular and far more frequent reviews would be most helpful.
§ Mr. Beith
I am sure that my hon. Friend is quite right. Moreover, it would be entirely consistent with the Minister's earlier remarks about not hanging on to regional policies that were no longer working if he would guarantee that he will review the boundaries annually and that he will be prepared at any time to consider cases which clearly meet the criteria that he set out but which have so far not been included. I hope that he will give at least that much hope to areas which sincerely feel that he and other Ministers have delivered them blow after blow as they desperately try to fight their way out of difficulty and depression. The areas that I have described are trying desperately to help themselves, but the Government seem intent on hindering them.
As the procedures of the House do not allow us to amend the order, I ask my hon. Friends to vote against it, but I hope that the Minister will offer some hope by saying that he is prepared to reconsider cases which cry out as loudly as those that I have mentioned.
§ Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
I, too, wish to refer to an area that I believe has been wrongly deprived of assisted area status—the town of Blackpool, part of which I have the honour to represent. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscanipbell) mentioned this briefly in the earlier debate and I wish to elaborate on it.
Unemployment in the Blackpool local authority area in December was 20.2 per cent. The average for the whole of 1984 was 17.8 per cent. Those figures are a good deal higher than those for the generality of intermediate areas and for some of the development areas.
I cannot support the Government in the Lobby today because, although they are right to try to reduce the total cost of regional aid and to make the whole policy more job orientated, I believe that they have made a mistake in relation to Blackpool.
What matters more than anything else to Blackpool is the resulting deprivation of European Community assistance because it has already embarked on a number of very important projects and was about to embark on others which would have received assistance from the European investment bank or the European regional development fund.
The definition of travel-to-work areas has been discussed. I, too, have a criticism to make. Blackpool is part of a travel-to-work area that covers the whole of the Fylde. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North said, Fylde, just to the south of Blackpool, has relatively little unemployment—about 9 per cent. That totally alters the unemployment picture. Even though Blackpool is by far the largest local government unit in the Fylde area, the figures for the travel-to-work area are fundamentally altered, in a way that has deprived the area as a whole of its assisted status.
But even if one takes the travel-to-work area as a whole, the December 1984 unemployment figures were 614 16.5 per cent. The average for 1984 as a whole was 14.9 per cent. That figure is higher than the figures for three of the intermediate areas in the north-west — Accrington and Rossendale, Manchester and Oldham. If one takes the main criterion, unemployment, which the Government have been using, and the travel-to-work area of which Blackpool is a part, it is hard to justify the fact that Blackpool and the Fylde do not qualify as a travel-to-work area.
I repeat the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North. The local authority area of Blackpool alone passes all the tests to qualify as a travel-to-work area. It has a potential working population of 60,000. It is larger than two-thirds of the travel to work areas in the north-west.
Relevant also is the speed at which the unemployment figures in Blackpool and the travel-to-work areas have increased. Between 1983 and 1984 they increased in Blackpool by 1.8 per cent., in the travel-to-work area by 1.3 per cent., in Lancashire by 0.7 per cent. and in the United Kingdom as a whole by 0.6 per cent. That is a very worrying trend for those of us who represent Blackpool and the Fylde. I do not know when the Government froze the figures in coming to their decision. If they had taken the figures a little later they might have made a different decision about Blackpool. I do not remember hearing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or my right hon. Friend the Minister of State spelling out fully the six criteria that they used. If they did, I apologise for not having grasped them. However, I wonder whether they took account of the trend in the different areas. If they had done so I believe that it would have been very relevant.
Blackpool and the Fylde have been trying to help themselves. They do not believe in relying principally upon handouts from the Government. They have been trying to compete with the Costa Brava by building their own indoor Costa Brava. It is already under construction and will cost £16 million. They still hope that they will be able to complete most of it in time to receive a very substantial grant from the European regional development fund. They have in mind other important projects, which are fundamental to the tourist life of Blackpool—still the most important part of Blackpool's livelihood. They include a road right into the middle of the town for tourist purposes, more car parks and coach parks and a 70 acre industrial site whose infrastructure has just been completed. Ironically, the first sod was turned at just about the same time as the Minister announced the change in policy. Important work has to be done for coastal protection. The storms in the Irish Sea do not take account of whether Blackpool enjoys assisted area status. The Winter Gardens, built about 100 years ago and still, in my view, one of the best conference halls in the country, will need to be modernised to match the modern conference halls being built in other parts of the country. Blackpool airport will need modernisation because the runway is getting old. The town had hoped to have an electrified railway link to Preston and Manchester. All those proposals could have qualified for aid from the EC. Now the prospect of getting that aid has been removed.
If such schemes are carried out most of them would have to be with money from the local authority. What will happen if the local authority does that? What will happen if it spends money repairing the airport runway? It will run into the problem that it will be penalised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for 615 overspending. It does not wish to overspend and be penalised. It had expected to receive substantial grants, up to 30 per cent., from the EC, but it may not do so now for some of the projects. Therefore it faces the dilemma of deciding whether to scrap those projects, with all the attendant disadvantages, or to go ahead and risk the penalties that the Secretary of State would inflict.
The Government should think a bit more about their policy for the assistance of tourism. The Government say that tourism is increasingly important in our national scene. It is a great earner and saver of foreign currency. Industrial towns outside the assisted areas have enjoyed certain benefits by way of Government assistance, from urban schemes, and so on. But if a tourist region is outside the assisted areas it receives little help at all and has no recourse to the EC, which has been helpful to the British tourist industry. It can only go to the English Tourist Board if it is in England. The total grant available under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969 is about £8 million, and it is clearly not available for projects of the magnitude that I have been describing. So assistance from the EC would be available to develop tourism or conference facilities in sunny Wolverhampton or beautiful Oldham or Sheffield, but not in Blackpool. The Government really should re-examine that situation.
To sum up, I hope that the Government will bear in mind that Blackpool has all the qualifications for a travel-to-work area on its own. I should like the Minister to say whether, in examining the plans that the Government have announced, allowance was made for the speed of change to which I have referred—the speed of growth in the unemployment figures in different areas and the speed of change of different industries.
If the need to renew the industrial infrastructure was one of the criteria which the Government used, what about the need to renew the infrastructure of tourism? The changes in tourism have been more rapid than the changes in almost any other industry in the past forty years. I hope that when he replies my hon. Friend will say something about the Government's attitude to tourism in the context of the question that I put to him.
I also hope that my hon. Friend will answer the question put to him from the Liberal Benches. How long shall we have to wait for a review of the Government's policy? I hope that it is not true that we shall have to wait five years. That is much too long. It is possible that in some of the areas where unemployment has been increasing fast action will have to be taken much sooner.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I appeal for extreme brevity. The Front Bench is hoping to catch my eye at 11.15.
§ 11 pm
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)
The interest that the House has in these orders is comprehensive. My interest is encapsulated in the explanatory note to the order dealing with industrial development in assisted areas. It says:The Order revokes all earlier Assisted Area Orders with appropriate saving provisions.I shall try to be brief. My submission is that we have not given sufficient thought to existing policies before we have 616 found ourselves rushing headlong into a new approach —an approach reflected in the debate earlier today and in the order itself.
I wish to draw to the attention of the Minister, as we consider the problems of travel-to-work areas, infrastructure and accessibility of European funds and the rest, the impact that these policies have on people and particularly upon the people of my region of Strathclyde. It represents half of the population in Scotland and has grave reservations about the policies that the Minister is adopting, which are reflected in the orders.
Strathclyde regional council published an excellent document, which I commend to the Minister, called "Strathclyde economic trends" in January this year. It made a number of interesting points, points that advance the case for increasing regional aid and public expenditure and not reducing them. Among the numerous points that it made, and which I commend to the Minister for his consideration, and to those Tory Members who spoke on the earlier debates, there is the comment thatthe Chief Executive's Department has estimated that were it not for the various governmental 'Special Measures', 37,100 more people would be unemployed in Strathclyde in October 1984.
That was the case under existing regional aid policy, so when Tory Members say, as they did today, that public expenditure does not lead to jobs, I suggest that the available evidence shows that that simply is not the case. It is astonishing, in the light of the orders, that the Tory party campaigned in the general election on the issue that our defence policies would cost jobs because of the reduction in defence expenditure. Today, we are being told that the reduction of expenditure in the public sector will not necessarily mean that there are fewer jobs. I do not accept that. I plead, as most people in Strathclyde do, for increased investment at a higher level than that envisaged in the order.
The report revealed that in youth unemployment, the ratio is 246 young people chasing every job. I am concerned about long-term unemployment, and in my constituency, the report shows that in Coatbridge, of those unemployed, 25.5 per cent. have been without a job for two years or more. In Chryston and Kelvin Valley, again in my constituency, the figure is 19 per cent. Surely the whole position calls for more public investment than the Government's figures, representing £100 million less in Scotland, would suggest.
The fact is that the order is a mean-minded order, representing the Government's mean-minded approach. That approach was made clear when the Minister made a statement on 28 November, on the same day that we heard about the abolition of skillcentres in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman said that there would bea considerable lightening of the public expenditure burden". —[Official Report, 28 November 1984; Vol. 68, c. 937.]That is the point of the order. It is not about finding jobs or correcting regional imbalances—and in any case we have heard this evening about the anomalies that are being created. The Government's concern is to reduce public expenditure, and in reducing regional aid they have found a convenient policy.
In Scotland, the measures have been found to be almost universally unacceptable. The Fraser of Allander Institute, for example, states:We can expect no significant reduction of unemployment during the remainder of this decade".617 I suggest that unemployment in Scotland, with its frustrations and heartaches, is far too severe to permit us to consider the possibility even of its continuance at the present level, let alone an increase.
I hope that the House will reject the order, because the philosophy underlying it is not only repugnant but divisive. Speeches from the Government Benches have illustrated the arrogance of intellect coupled with the brutality of power. The Government's approach lacks both the sensitivity and the compassion of the Earl of Stockton, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and the Bishop of Liverpool, among others. Because of that lack of compassion, and because the British and the Scottish people have been misled about the Government's approach. I urge the House to reject both the orders and the Government's policies.
§ 11.7 pm
§ Mr. Robert Hicks (Cornwall, South-East)
I have always believed that the primary purpose of a meaningful regional policy—indeed, its justification—is to help to create a situation in which each region contributes to and shares in the nation's prosperity and advancement. However, the designation of the new assisted areas and the list of qualifyig activities, sadly, will not help us to achieve that objective.
We face a real problem of widening regional disparities. The nation as a whole has a responsibility to try to improve the level of activity in the less prosperous parts of the United Kingdom. Other hon. Members have already referred to the growing problems created by the rapid development of technology, the changing patterns of demand, and the difficulties created when, in certain regions, the industries that once formed the basis of economic activity start to decline. The country as a whole has an obligation to try to reduce the basic disparities that result.
The Government are right periodically to reappraise regional structures but on this occasion public expenditure considerations seem to have dominated, rather than the needs of the regions themselves. That is especially worrying, because we face both high unemployment and, in certain regions, reduced average incomes.
When I spoke in the regional debate in July 1979 I pointed out that Cornwall had an unemployment figure of 12 per cent. and that average earnings in Cornwall—at that time the lowest in the United Kingdom—were 83.8 per cent. of the national average. Today, the corresponding figures are 19.2 per cent. unemployment and 80.1 per cent. of average earnings. The gap has widened in both cases. The same trend has occurred in the great majority of peripheral and assisted areas.
The Government are less vulnerable on how they intend to spend regional aid. The suggestions are more sensible and cost effective, but the scale of resources that they intend to devote to regional assistance worries me. The orders do not suggest a strong commitment to less favoured areas at a time of widening social and economic disparities. We are reducing expenditure on regional policy from a projected £700 million to £400 million.
I am disappointed that the Government have not taken a more positive initiative in linking regional proposals with the responsibilities of other Departments of State which have a regional dimension. I refer to the work of the Development Commission, the various Manpower Service Commission schemes, inner-city policies, the vital need 618 for improved infrastructure and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) said, the need to co-ordinate and integrate tourism policies into regional economies, because tourism is often one of the basic ingredients of regional economic structures.
I make no apology for referring to an amendment that I tabled and which appears on the Order Paper. It concerns the danger of a divided Britain—the greatest potential economic and social problem that faces the country. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to remember that the decisions that we are making in respect of regional policies will, in the short and long term, have a real influence on whether we have a divided Britain.
§ Mr. Speller
Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the basic tenet of his argument is supported by the fact that when the orders go through, as inevitably they will, the time for people who have worked for improvements through assisted or development area status will be so short that it will be impossible for any useful purpose to he served during the three months for notification or until implementation in November? Does he agree that Britain is also divided in sheer fury at the fact that people have worked hard to improve matters with Government help, which has now been suddenly and completely withdrawn?
§ Mr. Hicks
I fully understand my hon. Friend's sentiments. I fail to understand the logic of the omission of north Devon as a designated assisted area.
These proposals, as outlined so far, do not constitute a meaningful regional strategy in economic or social terms for reasons that I have had to set out hastily. They are not consistent with the concept of one nation Conservatism to which I subscribe.
§ Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)
At this stage, I must be brief. However, the problem underpinning the orders is that the Government have used the travel-to-work areas as the building bricks of their regional policy. I can illustrate the problems involved in two ways.
First, anomalies are created by the fact that the travel-to-work areas include certain areas that should not necessarily qualify for regional aid. For example, in the Bradford travel-to-work area the Government include Pudsey, made up of the two metropolitan district wards. In Pudsey, the unemployment rate stands at 7.3 per cent., according to the most recently available figures. One can only speculate that it is blessed with regional aid because the Minister of State, Home Office represents that constituency.
Secondly, the new map shows that large sections of the south Yorkshire coalfield will be covered, while none of the west Yorkshire coalfields qualify. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) would have made that point earlier if he had been able to. In addition, the use of the travel-to-work areas does not reflect the problems of the inner city. My constituency of Leeds, Central has an unemployment rate of 21.2 per cent., yet it does not qualify, although Pudsey, which has an unemployment rate one third of that, and which is only four miles down the road, qualifies.
A system that produces those injustices and anomalies is wrong in practice and principle. We need a regional policy that is sensitive enough to recognise the real areas of difficulty in unemployment, and which pushes aid in that direction instead of using the present building blocks.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West)
I am sure that many hon. Members regret the fact that we are having to discuss this most important issue of the map at this late hour, and under this time restriction. It is not what my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and I had planned during the Committee stage, but it is not the Government's fault that the parliamentary tactics of other minority parties have meant that of the 40 hon. Members who wished to participate in the debate—many of whom no doubt have constituency interests and important points to make about the map's impact on their areas—only 25 hon. Members have been able to take part, including four Front Bench spokesmen. Probably fewer than half of the Back Benchers who wished to have taken part in the debate.
It is quite appropriate that we should have restricted our Front Bench to a few minutes. However, we shall need those few minutes, because it is clear that the map has everything to do with economy and nothing to do with regional policy. There is only a short time available to the Minister, but could he tell us the real reason—other than his insatiable appetite for cutting Government expenditure—for abolishing special development areas? I suspect there is no reason for doing that other than his appetite. After all, it is very flexible instrument for tackling those very pockets of unemployment to which the Secretary of State referred at such length.
We have already heard that the £300 million cut in the regional development grant will only be made good to about one sixth or some 14 or 15 per cent. by the increase in discretionary allowance. So the map has really been drawn so widely on the basis of the travel-to-work areas to enable as many areas as possible to qualify for the European Regional Development Fund. The Minister should come clean about that.
The question of travel-to-work areas is genuinely difficult, as my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Labour Government know. It gives rise to anomalies that are difficult to avoid and that put temptation in the way of Ministers, of whichever Government, to manipulate the building blocks to favour their electoral chances. The proposal is not the best. I would have thought that a Government who undertook a comprehensive review, about which we have been told so much, would have included in it, the alternative or additional ways available to or considered by them, in which the map could be classified. We did not hear about them in Committee or on Report. Perhaps the Minister will tell us about them in his reply.
It is clear that we could take a different basis for drawing up the map. In Manchester the wards were taken as the basis. We can point to many anomalies. Neither my right hon. and hon. Friends nor the Minister would wish me to point to an excessive extension in the west midlands.
I should like clear answers from the Minister on four points. Why were the special development agencies disposed of? Were the intermediate areas made only to make eligibility to the European regional development fund possible? Why were no alternatives or additional possibilities considered as a theoretical package or basis for the new map? I reject the idea of considering the matter annually. That is quite impracticable, and out of the 620 question. If, because of the existence of travel-to-work areas, it can be demonstrated that there are bad anomalies, will he consider them sympathetically?
§ The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Normon Lamont)
I shall try to answer some of the points raised but, alas, time will not permit me to answer all of them.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir. P. Blaker) asked what criteria were used, and whether we considered future trends in unemployment and industrial structure. He was especially worried that tourism in Blackpool would be vulnerable. Yes, we considered industrial structure and therefore, by implication, the trend of the local economy. Blackpool was not in the worst 100 travel-to-work areas for long-term unemployment, industrial structure or occupational structure. I know that my right hon. Friend disagrees with our decision, but I assure him that we addressed that point.
My right hon. Friend asked about tourism policy and said that those outside assisted areas could not receive help with tourism projects. That is true of the European dimension and the European regional development fund. The Community does not have a separate tourism policy, and all aid goes through the ERDF. However, as my right hon. Friend knows, tourism in the United Kingdom is administered on a national basis away from regional policy. That change was specifically made by the Conservative Government before the general election because the tourist industry wanted to get away from being linked to assisted areas. No one would wish to return to that linkage, although I know that my right hon. Friend says that the resources devoted to tourism are not large compared with the sums employed in regional policy.
The main point was raised by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and related to travel-to-work areas. I cannot pretend to be an expert on the methodology of travel-to-work areas.
They are compiled for the specific purpose of measuring unemployment. TTWAs are groupings of local employment offices amalgamated in such a way as to represent reasonable labour market areas. I know that the hon. Gentleman would be much happier if I said that I was an expert on travel-to-work areas and knew everything about them. In future, I shall behave with just as much immodesty as he does.
Travel-to-work areas are only approximations to local labour markets, and I accept that, in reality, local labour market areas overlap. There is evidence that people in some groups seek work over wide areas, and obviously at any time the area in which residents of a locality seek work will depend upon transport and the pattern of employment opportunities. But, as I said in an intervention in the speech of the hon. Gentleman, the Department of Employment compiles the figures in that way for the specific purpose of trying to measure unemployment meaningfully. The Department does not believe that it can be measured on any other basis. Regional policy must have everything to do with measuring unemployment meaningfully, because that is central to its purpose.
There are many ways in which travel-to-work areas could be defined. People who are disadvantaged as a result of our decisions will complain when they see a relatively prosperous area, or an area with low unemployment, being included with another area. But we must accommodate 621 every area somewhere, and the little areas that some people do not want in their travel-to-work areas or constituencies must be fitted into the map. Of course, wherever they go, some people do not like them.
It does not make sense to measure unemployment on units smaller than travel-to-work areas. We could define smaller areas that have a higher percentage of people working and living in them. But travel-to-work areas are defined on the basis that 70 per cent. of the people who live there, work there, and 70 per cent. of those who work there, live there. People can travel to work in those areas. Of course, sometimes there are local black spots within those areas, just as there are sometimes small areas within them that have better than average unemployment. We must inevitably deal with some averages.
The result of our decisions was that the average for the intermediate areas for the year in which we measured unemployment was 15.5 per cent. Alnwick and Amble was 14.5 per cent., and Blackpool was 14.3 per cent. I could continue, but I know that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) wishes to speak briefly.
§ Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to speak. Travel-to-work areas were always artificial, they are now nonsense, and they will he extremely damaging in terms of unemployment in the inner cities. With high unemployment so widespread, the travel-to-work area principle fails to address the problems of 1985 and beyond. The main problem is that, although in the south and the west there are pockets of poverty, in many of our inner cities there are no pockets of wealth. In that context, although 35 per cent. of the country is covered, some areas that have immense problems and huge unemployment are not covered.
What that means in my area is that the inner city of Leeds is the only major inner city that remains unassisted, although it has urban programme status and is in a metropolitan county. It is crazy. The Minister abandoned the travel-to-work principle in Manchester. If he is prepared to do that, the difference is one only of scale, not of principle. If he is prepared to do that in Manchester, I do not understand why he will not accept that the principle can be followed elsewhere.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) read out a long list of Ministers' constituencies that are part of his travel-to-work area. The same is true of Leeds. Pudsey—the costituency of the Minister of State, Home Office — has half as many unemployed people as does my constituency, which is next door, but almost twice as many people from Pudsey travel to work to Leeds than as the number who travel to Bradford. Pudsey constituency is now in a assisted travelfrom-work area. There is something sadly wrong with a policy of regional assistance that does not address the problems of inner cities but seeks to include the problems of suburbs, which are not nearly so strong.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 113, Noes 179.623
|Division No. 71]||[11.30 pm|
|Alton, David||Barron, Kevin|
|Anderson, Donald||Beckett, Mrs Margaret|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Benn, Tony|
|Banks. Tony (Newham NW)||Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Boyes, Roland||Kennedy, Charles|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Caborn, Richard||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Canavan, Dennis||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Cartwright, John||McWilliam, John|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Madden, Max|
|Clarke, Thomas||Marek, Dr John|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Maxton, John|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Michie, William|
|Cohen, Harry||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Nellist, David|
|Cowans, Harry||O'Neill, Martin|
|Craigen, J. M.||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Crowther, Stan||Patchett, Terry|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Pendry, Tom|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Penhaligon, David|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Pike, Peter|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Deakins, Eric||Prescott, John|
|Dixon, Donald||Radice, Giles|
|Dobson, Frank||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Dormand, Jack||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Sheerman, Barry|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Eadie, Alex||Skinner, Dennis|
|Eastham, Ken||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Ellis, Raymond||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Snape, Peter|
|Fatchett, Derek||Soley, Clive|
|Faulds, Andrew||Spearing, Nigel|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Speller, Tony|
|Fisher, Mark||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Foster, Derek||Stott, Roger|
|Freud, Clement||Strang, Gavin|
|Garrett, W. E.||Straw, Jack|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Hancock, Mr. Michael||Tinn, James|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Wainwright, R.|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Haynes, Frank||Wareing, Robert|
|Hicks, Robert||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Home Robertson, John||Wilson, Gordon|
|Howells, Geraint||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Mr. A. J. Beith and|
|John, Brynmor||Mr. Michael Meadowcroft.|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Forman, Nigel|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Baker, Nicholas (TV Dorset)||Forth, Eric|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Fox, Marcus|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Franks, Cecil|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Freeman, Roger|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Gale, Roger|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Galley, Roy|
|Burt, Alistair||Gow, Ian|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Gregory, Conal|
|Carttiss, Michael||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Cash, William||Ground, Patrick|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Grylls, Michael|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Gummer, John Selwyn|
|Conway, Derek||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Cope, John||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Hannam, John|
|Dunn, Robert||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Fallon, Michael||Harvey, Robert|
|Favell, Anthony||Hawkins, C. (High Peak)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Hawksley, Warren|
|Fletcher, Alexander||Hayes, J.|
|Hayward, Robert||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Powley, John|
|Henderson, Barry||Price, Sir David|
|Hickmet, Richard||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Hind, Kenneth||Raffan, Keith|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Holt, Richard||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Hunter, Andrew||Rowe, Andrew|
|Jackson, Robert||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Knowles, Michael||Shersby, Michael|
|Knox, David||Silvester, Fred|
|Lamont, Norman||Sims, Roger|
|Lang, Ian||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Latham, Michael||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Speed, Keith|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Spencer, Derek|
|Lester, Jim||Squire, Robin|
|Lightbown, David||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Lilley, Peter||Stern, Michael|
|Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Lord, Michael||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|MacGregor, John||Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Sumberg, David|
|Maclean, David John||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Major, John||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Malins, Humfrey||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Malone, Gerald||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Maples, John||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Marland, Paul||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Marlow, Antony||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Mather, Carol||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Thurnham, Peter|
|Mellor, David||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Tracey, Richard|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Trippier, David|
|Mills, lain (Meriden)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Mitchell, David (NW Hants)||Waddington, David|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Walden, George|
|Moore, John||Waller, Gary|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Ward, John|
|Murphy, Christopher||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Needham, Richard||Watson, John|
|Nelson, Anthony||Watts, John|
|Neubert, Michael||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Newton, Tony||Wheeler, John|
|Norris, Steven||Whitney, Raymond|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Osborn, Sir John||Wilkinson, John|
|Ottaway, Richard||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil||Wolfson, Mark|
|Parris, Matthew||Wood, Timothy|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Pollock, Alexander||Mr. Tony Durant and|
|Porter, Barry||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.