§ 6.6 am
§ Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)
I am grateful for this opportunity to debate economic developments in Nottinghamshire. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister for having kept him up so late, especially as he has a heavy schedule ahead of him. I am grateful to him for agreeing to reply to the debate.
This subject is of particular interest to my constituents and to the people of Nottinghamshire. It is also of great interest to some of my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles), for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), for Newark (Mr. Alexander) and for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester). All of them have expressed strong interest in this debate and have given me a number of ideas to include in it. Any ideas that are original and interesting come from them. They take no responsibility for anything that I say that does not come up to their high standard.
Despite the lateness of the hour, I hope that there is not too unreal a feeling in the Chamber. I often wonder how many hon. Members have dreamt that they were speaking in the House of Commons at 6 o'clock in the morning and have woken up to discover that they were. I shall use the time that is available to me to consider three questions: first, economic development in Nottinghamshire, and its landmarks; secondly, a number of specific and key aspects of economic development in Nottinghamshire; and, thirdly, a number of points that I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will note and then consider.
If Nottinghamshire were a stock exchange commodity, it would be severely under-valued. I have lived in Nottinghamshire for three years and have put down roots in the county, but I hope I still maintain a certain objectivity of view. In the past the county has hidden its light under a bushel. Its particular virtues and its appeal to those who wish to invest in the county have been very much undersold. The film that was made on Nottingham city during the latter part of 1987 by Mr. Dimbleby for independent television caused very deep distress. It was deeply insulting to many of the people who live in Nottingham and to many of my constituents. It focused attention on one aspect of Nottingham that is completely unrepresentative.
The inner urban deprivation that the film tried to portray was entirely atypical, and gave a very false impression. Many people—some of them business men who did not know Nottingham particularly well—experienced a reaction clearly chronicled in the local paper and by local radio stations: if they ever drove through Nottingham, they would make sure that the doors were locked and the windows shut. The film made by independent television directly led to that erroneous view of the city.
I should like to talk a bit about how my constituency, Gedling, fits into recent economic developments. There is not a great deal of heavy industry in Gedling; it has always been to some extent a dormitory town for Nottingham city. Nevertheless, we take a close interest in what happens in Nottingham, which we regard as the centre of the wheel, with Gedling as one of the spokes. We recognise that what 730 happens today in Nottingham affects the wealth, the standard of living and the quality of life in Gedling tomorrow. We cannot stand immune from what happens over the border. I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Members who represent Nottingham accept that view, and for their understanding that we in Gedling have a part to play in the debate on how the inner city of Nottingham develops.
First, let me salute the work of the local council in Gedling—officers, management team and members—for the work that they do through the ecomomic development committee. In the finest traditions of Conservative politics, the council seeks to handle urban and economic development as manager and organiser, without becoming too much involved in the venture itself. The aim is to stimulate development, and act as a catalyst for it.
I can think of no better example than the new business centre to be opened in about three weeks' time in Arnold, which will make available 21 units, of which 14 are already let. The space measures between 160 and 600 sq ft. together with appropriate support facilities for the small businesses that will be setting up there. We have no doubt that, before the centre is open, virtually all those places will have been filled. I am delighted at the success of the project.
The council's aim has been to ensure that new starters can move in, but not stay there permanently. They are there to ensure that they make a good start, and then they can move on. It is also to put the small businesses that are taking advantage of the accommodation in touch with action resource centres and with Nottingham Business Venture, and to act as a go-between. That too is very important.
The business centre has a broadly neutral effect in financial terms. It is not expected to be an expense on the ratepayers of Gedling, and eventually, when suitable management is found, I have no doubt that the borough council will part with it to the private sector and allow it to be run by an appropriate body there. That is a good example of the way in which local government in Nottinghamshire, and in the borough that I represent, is able to stimulate the activities of small business men and the businesses of tomorrow.
Along with that, perhaps the major economic development—in Gedling—adjacent to the worst area of unemployment—has been the development at Victoria park at Colwick, through unstinting hard work by both the private sector and the borough council over a long period. An area of some 100 acres, part of which is now a derelict railway yard, and which has—to put it mildly—seen better times, is now being redeveloped. The first phase will provide for non-food retail, and most of it is already let. It will provide between 200 and 300 new jobs locally, in an area with a worrying level of unemployment—which, however, has come down from 20 per cent. to 16 per cent. in the past 18 months, and where, I am sure that satisfactory trend will continue.
While dealing with economic developments close to my constituency in Nottinghamshire, I cannot fail to mention the importance that we attach to the road infrastructure there, and, in particular, the importance of the Gedling bypass, about which there is enormous concern in my constituency. The new developments that I have been outlining, particularly on Colwick sidings, will help to add to the enormous traffic congestion in that part of my constituency.
731 Indeed, a report by the county council officers stressed that nowhere in the whole of the county was traffic increasing so fast as in that area of Gedling. The road there has been talked about since the 1930s, so we have already been waiting over 50 years for some relief in that respect. The Government have also said that they will look favourably on transport support grant being made available for that important road.
I hope that the county council will reconsider its capital programme priorities. It is a matter of regret to many of my constituents that they have not seen fit to include it in the latest review of its capital programme. I hope that in time it will be possible, and preferably as quickly as possible, to ensure that that important new road comes about. The sort of economic developments that I have outlined underline the importance that that should, indeed, take place.
Let me move on to a wider perspective. I said earlier that Gedling is overshadowed by what happens in inner-city Nottingham. What happens in Nottingham today matters very much to the large numbr of my constituents who work there. I also mentioned that we have watched the debate about Nottingham's future with great interest. I should like to pay tribute to the work that has been done over a long period by the Nottingham Evening Post, a popular and powerful local paper. It has been a ceaseless and fearless campaigner for concentrating the minds of the local community and politicians on the importance of pulling together and getting on with the job of bringing inward investment to Nottingham and ensuring that those areas that require rejuvenation are rejuvenated.
We have also benefited greatly from the proximity of the constituency of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who takes such a close interest in what happens in Nottingham. That can only be to the city's great advantage.
In particular, Nottingham Development Enterprise has sprung up as a result of local concern and the initiative of local politicians. It is fortunate in having as its chairman David White. Last night. at a board meeting, the new board was confirmed, which included the chairman of Boots, the managing director of Plessey, the senior partner of Peat Marwick in the region and the regional director of NatWest. In addition, the appointment of NDE's new chief executive, Michael Neale, who has had so much experience in the London Docklands development corporation, has recently been announced. With that galaxy of talent and experience, I hope that NDE will now be able to get on with the difficult job that it has set itself.
It is important to stress the aim of an organisation that in many respects is effectively a private sector urban development corporation.
§ Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)
I thought that the local authority, as well as the private sector, had a place on the board, unlike the Government's urban development corporations, which cut out local authorities.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the chance to make the point that NDE is specifically a private sector initiative and its main and central purpose is to bring private sector bite to the problems of rejuvenating those parts of Nottingham which need it. I should make it clear that it is, in a real sense, a radical 732 departure from what has happened in the past. There is plenty of evidence to sustain my view that it is very much a private sector UDC, with certain differences.
There are in Nottingham a number of major derelict sites and that is one of the first objectives which the NDE must now tackle. Progress has been stalled in a number of respects by the hope of the owners of those sites for retail planning permission. Those areas of land are substantial. We must resolve whether to give retail planning permission to all the sites, in the hope that that will saturate the market and undermine the premiums, or whether we should use the compulsory purchase order procedure to bring the site back into economic development. That issue must now be resolved quickly.
The second aim of NDE is to ensure that we do more to market Nottinghamshire and Nottingham, to bring in further investment. NDE is right in having identified one of the problems of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire as lacking a coherent identity and a central theme. The country of Nottinghamshire, by tradition, has been very self-contained; I am sure that the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) will agree with that. One of the most important problems to be addressed by NDE is Nottingham's ability to go forward with a national arid international identity.
When I recently visited the royal ordnance factory in Nottingham, which, because of relocation of other aspects of its business, is seeking to increase its work force from 1,100 to 2,000, I was told of the difficulty being experienced in encouraging people to transfer to Nottingham. I find that extraordinary. The area has a tremendously high quality of life and a good central position.
A major Nottingham-based company, which has branches and warehouses all over the country, recently sought to work out, using a sophisticated computer programme, where would be the most advantageous and central position to have its headquarters. It came up with an area within five miles of where it is in the centre of Nottingham.
Apart from the excellent quality of life, the leisure and shopping facilities are famed in the region. The local countryside is not sufficiently well known outside the county, but is among the most beautiful parts of England not yet discovered by the tourists.
Employment in Nottingham is broadly spread, which has enabled us to weather some of the more severe effects of recessions. The outstanding labour record and the good relationship with trade unions is another good point.
We benefit greatly from the low cost of housing. Every national housing survey shows that housing is low priced, which benefits people who are relocating or wishing to invest in the country. Housing is reasonably priced when compared with other parts of the country.
NDE should equally be concerned about infrastructure. We have the fourth largest airport in the country, which, until recently, was the fastest expanding. The county is fortunate in being served by the A1 and M1, but the A453, which leads into Nottingham, is an extremely dangerous road, so I hope that a way will be found to improve the link road. If one travels west from Nottinghamshire, it is difficult to get on to the M6 without going through Derby, Stoke and so on. As we move towards a unified Common Market in 1991, it will be 733 important to sort out those problems, and I hope that the county and the Department of Transport will make some progress before that date.
Local attention must concentrate on the defects of the railway network. We on the eastern side of the county are fortunate to have the east coast service, which has been electrified. It is an excellent service, which can get to Grantham in under an hour. That is in contrast to the Midland line, which serves the city of Nottingham. The service there is very slow and we must speed it up if we are to get more inward investment to Nottingham and attract businessmen to the city. The chairman of NDE has been successful in persuading British Rail to put more trains on the Midland line and to cut the London journey time by six minutes, bringing the speed of the journey up to that of the average speed of the journey from London to Birmingham.
Despite the fact that I understand British Rail's position and accept that very heavy capital investment would be needed to improve that line substantially, I also believe that gradual improvement is absolutely essential. British Rail has spent about £25 million on improving signalling at Leicester and for us to get the benefit of that improvement on the Midland line there should be a strong commitment over a period—and I accept the financial necessity for that — for British Rail to improve continuously the quality of the service on the Midland line.
Those are challenges for Nottingham, and NDE is seeking to help. It is important to explain that the Government's approach to the inner cities and to Nottingham in particular has been very beneficial. I welcome the recognition that "inner city" is not a generic term. For example, differences exist between Liverpool, Sunderland — where I fought a seat in the general election in 1983 and was defeated—and Nottingham. We cannot use the same term to describe those three very different areas.
Nottingham is right to identify the need for a private sector initiative and that is a very important way forward. Reverting to what I said earlier in response to the intervention from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) about the relative merits of the NDE approach or the UDC to stimulate economic growth in Nottinghamshire, I want to stress that no Government money is being made available to the NDE. If my hon. Friend the Minister decided to set up a UDC in Nottingham it would cost between £100 million and £160 million. However, under the NDE initiative, which we hope will supplant the necessity of a UDC for Nottingham, no Government money is to be invested. The city council is putting up about £50,000 and £50,000 is being put up by the county. The chamber of commerce, with its range of private sector interests, has also offered its full support.
However, we must accept that, if the approach fails, and it is necessary to set up a UDC in the area, that will be much more expensive. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider that it is important that he and his colleagues find a way to help in that context.
I want to offer one idea for further thought about one of the most important aspects of the work of NDE. Local authorities in Nottingham have been successful in securing a number of the urban grants made available by the Government. I hope that the Government will decide to 734 allow a secondee from Whitehall — either from the Department of the Environment or the Department of Trade and Industry—the DTI is the lead Ministry in those respects in Nottingham—to work in the city for a year to help guide and sort out the mish-mash of grants and other aspects relating to Whitehall.
To have such a secondee in the offices of NDE would be a great advantage and would be welcomed. I do not think that that will necessarily be a new idea for the Government, but I hope that they will consider it as a fruitful and constructive way of helping, and one that costs virtually nothing in comparison with the overall costs of a UDC.
One of the key characteristics of economic development in Nottinghamshire has been the dominance of the small firm. We have greatly benefited from the Government's measures in that respect. The encouragement of development, through enterprise and incentives has been very helpful. The chamber of commerce in Nottingham cites, as particular benefits provided by the Government to help small business men, the reduction in taxation, the simplifying of bureaucratic burdens on employers and the removal of some of the nervousness that it detected about business expansion and, also, more mundane matters such as moving to cash accounting for VAT.
There is widespread and vigorous support in the chamber of commerce for some of the measures affecting the taxation of small business men which were announced in the Government's community charge legislation. It has been suggested that the chambers of commerce are against that legislation. Certainly, in the Nottinghamshire chamber of commerce, one of the most powerful in the country and the second largest, there is strong support for those changes.
In the past few years, the textile and clothing industry, which used to be the linchpin in Nottinghamshire, has started booming again. There is no point in competing with labour-intensive, Third-world industries in that market. In many places, the industry has been re-equipped and re-machined. It employs many of my constituents, who are undergoing something of a renaissance, which is tied in with the fashion industry in Nottingham. I salute the achievements of companies such as Atlas House on the Colwick estate.
I recognise the contribution to economic development by Labour-controlled Nottinghamshire county council. One of the attractive aspects of the county council—I am afraid there are not many—is the fact that the council takes a pragmatic, common-sense and highly professional view on economic development. It is important to demonstrate that, in our approach to inner-city and economic development, we try to put party politics to one side and to concentrate on a unified approach to solving these difficult problems. I hope that that aspect of the way in which we conduct our local economic affairs appeals to central Government.
Having set economic developments in Nottinghamshire in a general context. I should like to consider two specific and important parts of its economy. The first and largely untapped one, which is growing steadily, is tourism. By contrast, the second is deeply rooted in Nottinghamshire, is among its oldest industries and is of fundamental importance to the area's prosperity—coal. The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) will wish to expand, although not necessarily agree with, some of my points about the coal industry.
735 Most outsiders who know Nottinghamshire know it as the home of Robin Hood, yet we have been remarkably slow to capitalise on the natural attraction and advantage that that gives us. Perhaps Nottinghamshire is known also for Holme Pierrepoint, the national water sports centre.
There has been a radical change in the local approach to stimulating tourist and leisure activity—private sector led—in tourism. It has been recognised that there is a major chance of winning new jobs for the county. This is reflected in the high quality and high occupancy rates of the local hotels. It is interesting that three quarters of the people who conic to the area are business men rather than tourists. Although the area is attractive to tourists from north Europe, who like the shops, restaurants and nightlife which are offered, this has not penetrated so deeply into the minds of some of our fellow countrymen. It is very much a part of that strategy to tempt those people who are coming from the north to break their journey in the midlands and to see some of Nottinghamshire's advantages. That strategy has enormous potential.
In support of that, I draw attention to the activities in the county of Centre Pares, a Dutch company. In a recent £40 million investment, it built its first British holiday village—a new concept—in Sherwood forest. It opened last spring and has been fully booked ever since. At first there was some anxiety that it would appeal only to the Dutch and to those familiar with the concept, but local people have taken to it with relish. This new concept in luxury rural living has provided 400 new jobs; another expansion has recently been announced, and there are more jobs coming. It is a great step forward.
The area now abounds with new ideas for stimulating tourism as an aid to economic development and capitalising on some of the county's natural assets. We now have the possibility of a Pilgrim Fathers heritage trail in Bassetlaw, which is where they started from. There is an idea for a museum of the Civil War in Newark. You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the county was on the wrong side in the Civil War, but the area is steeped in history from that period.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The hon. Lady need hardly ask me that in this place.
The area has huge potential. In the last 10 days the Robin Hood centre, another new concept for Nottinghamshire, went public to raise £2.5 million to open a "Tales of Robin Hood" centre. That is a further example of capitalising on this important aspect of our history—albeit late in the day.
Other new thoughts include setting up an international football history museum and soccer centre, which would be a world first for Nottingham. In Notts County, we have the oldest football league club in the world and in Nottingham Forest the most successful, although I pay due deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) in that respect. Perhaps having immortalised Robin Hood, we are now about to do the same for Brian Clough. A worldwide soccer centre could be a major attraction for European soccer enthusiasts.
I shall move on to the more contentious subject of the coal industry in Nottinghamshire. My constituency is very much a coalfield community. Next door, I have my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) who so admirably represents the seat with the most collieries in the 736 country. We are steeped in the lore of the coal industry. Gedling colliery in my constituency, which last year lost some £5.7 million, is this year hoping to approach break-even. The colliery has a very proud tradition, although most of those who work there come from outside my constituency. It is proud of its reputation and by local tradition supplies the Queen with her coal at Sandringham.
Gedling is one of the few Conservative local authorities that is a member of the Coalfield Communities Campaign, and one of our Conservative councillors is a member. He has spent his life in the coal industry and is a former colliery member. I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that the CCC benefits from having a man of his stature as a member. I hope that the time will not come when Gedling feels that it should withdraw from the CCC because it is too party-political. That trend has been identified and it would be regrettable, and a great loss to the CCC, if that happened.
The importance of the Nottinghamshire mining industry is demonstrated by the fact that last year British Coal drew half its operating profit from the county. In spite of the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers strike, productivity has increased by 13 per cent. in the past year, and progress is being made. The board of British Coal should seriously consider moving its headquarters to Nottingham. It seems absurd that the headquarters of a business should not be in the area where that business principally operates. I hope that British Coal will consider that seriously.
British Coal's commitment to Nottinghamshire is underlined by the fact that in each of the next five years it will be investing £100 million in the industry. I need hardly mention the promotion of the plans for Asfordby as showing British Coal's commitment to the Nottingham coalfield. What is so encouraging—we sometimes lose sight of this factor in debates on coal — is that productivity and competitiveness are increasing all the time.
The hon. Member for Mansfield speaks on these Issues with great concern. I must tell him that the future of British coal must depend upon greater competitiveness and productivity. I accept that, in the past few days, we have heard further sad news about closures. They are a fact of life in the mining world. That was recognised when the Labour party was in government, as well as today. There is often quite simply nothing that we can do when a pit is exhausted, or extraction is uneconomic. But if we continue to concentrate on productivity and competitiveness as the linchpin of the industry, it has a great future.
Two thousand people have been recruited into the industry in Nottinghamshire in the past year, of whom 120 are shool leavers. The industry is now the lowest-cost producer in western Europe. These are important steps forward.
I believe that the Nottinghamshire area will accept the six-day working plan. Although the leader of the NUM tells us that miners fought for a five-day working week, he does not tell us that the five-day week came in because in many cases the men were working only a three or three- and-a-half-day week before the war and the five-day working week agreement was to guarantee and secure five days of work and wages. A six-day working week is not to be feared. It would allow for flexible working and the possibility of, say, three weeks working for six days, followed by a week off. Whatever arrangement was 737 undertaken no more days would be worked in a year than are worked now. This is the way for the industry to have more productivity, employment and success.
An important factor in this matter is that the Government's proposals for privatisation of the electricity industry represent a great chance both for the Nottinghamshire economy and for the miners.
I am fortunate to have the headquarters of the East Midlands electricity board in my constituency, I visited it last Friday to meet the board and the chairman, Mr. John Harris, to talk about what they regard as the opportunities for the area arising from the Government's proposals on electricity generation. I was struck by the enthusiasm with which they greet the proposals. They recognise that, while distribution is a natural monopoly, generation of electricity is not. They say that there are already queues of people seeking to enter the generation industry. I believe, subject only to the Nottinghamshire miners continuing to increase productivity and competitiveness, that there is a great future for the coal industry. Nottinghamshire can be the power house for coal-fired generation. EMEB is already talking to the miners about how they can bring that great advantage to the Nottinghamshire economy, to the miners who live and work in the county, and to the development of the industry.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for listening to the debate and I look forward to his reply. I hope that he detects in Nottinghamshire the determination to face these challenges. I am pleased to be joined by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) who regularly expresses interest in many of these matters. I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise the keenness to build on the success that has already been achieved in the economic development of the county, and in those areas that I have signposted to him, he and his ministerial colleagues will give us a constructive and welcome fair wind.
§ Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), but I must take an opposing view to some of his remarks, particularly his references to the textile industry and to British Coal. Contrary to what he has implied, British Coal's management does not give great hope for Nottinghamshire. The Government are causing problems in that respect. Perhaps 2,000 workers have been recruited by British Coal into the industry in the past two years, but since 1979 when the Conservative Government came to power, the overall manpower in the coalfield has decreased from 34,000 to 19,000. Yesterday's announcement of the closure of Crowny pit at Mansfield colliery in my constituency, makes the situation even worse. It is a terrible decision for my community and it will do no good for the economic development of Nottinghamshire.
The hon. Member for Gedling has said that it would be nice if British Coal shifted its headquarters to Nottingham city. For my constituents, those headquarters might as well be in Timbuktu because they receive little or no beneficial responses from them.
The pit closure at Crowny will have devastating effects on the community. Only yesterday British Coal said that there will be no compulsory redundancies at the pit. That is complete nonsense. A short time ago Linby colliery was closed and 50 former employees have yet to find work.
738 Some of that number were supposed to turn up next Monday at Mansfield colliery to start work. Thus there is little hope for the workers—between 950 and 1,000—at Crowny pit.
The decline of the coal industry in Nottinghamshire is not because coal is running out. In 1983 Crowny was found to contain more than 12 million tonnes of resource reservable coal. Less than 2 million tonnes has been withdrawn from that pit. The industry is not subsidised by the Government and, as a result of a fall in the price of coal, jobs and coal must go. That does not make economic sense. The Government, instead of investing in the coal industry, as other countries do, have gone for profitability and cheap, imported coal.
The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will be aware that millions of tonnes of cheap, second-rate coal are lying on the Continent at Ghent, Rotterdam and elsewhere. I am told that more than 20 million tonnes of such coal exists. It is sold at £13 a tonne, plus £8 carriage costs—a total of £21 a tonne. That is two thirds of the production cost of British coal. We cannot compete with those prices.
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that imported coal is blood coal. It has been mined in South Africa by miners earning £20 a week, many of whom die in the process as a result of bad working conditions. No Government should stand back and rely on cheap, imported coal.
It cannot be argued that the workers at the Crowny pit were uneconomic. In the past four months the workers have broken two world records for coal cutting at the face. A short time ago local magazine and newspaper articles were describing how wonderful the workers at Mansfield were for knocking out such large amounts of coal. Those miners were not involved in the 1984–85 miners' strike. They worked throughout that strike in support of the coal board and the Government. Sadly they have been let down and have been told, without any warning, that the pit is to close.
In the past there have always been negotiations and discussions with workers at the highest level within the industry. Those discussions were for the purpose of informing the miners of forthcoming problems. The Crowny pit closure has illustrated another fundamental problem with British Coal. No such discussions took place. The other day members of the mining community were called in and told that the pit was to close. A story is going about that the Government have said that British Coal can have £24 million to invest in the mining industry in Nottinghamshire, but that a pit had to close. Everyone thought that it would be Calverton and not Mansfield. Mansfield is a secure bastion for the Government. It worked hard when the Government needed it so much, but now the Government and the coal board have walked away.
There are other problems in the Mansfield community, apart from those relating to mining. Textiles are also a bastion of reliable employment in the Nottinghamshire area. Recently, the Viyella factory, which was based in my constituency and represented 250 years of textile manufacturing of the highest grade products in Nottinghamshire, closed down. I was interested to see recently in Vogue magazine that the company was still trading with the Mansfield logo and saying that all the products were produced in a homely Nottinghamshire 739 factory based in Pleasley in Mansfield. That is nonsense, as all the workers have been sacked and the factory has closed down and moved to Lancashire.
British Coal is already bargaining and bidding for the Pleasley Vale area because there is an opportunity to explore the large area of opencast seam coal and strip it clean. That valley used to produce the highest quality goods which were sold in New York, Paris, Hong Kong and London. Viyella products are a trademark of Harrods, which Conservative Members will know so well.
The Government are not making great economic strides. As a result of their policies, industry is losing out and is about to lose out even more if they persist in their reactionary and backward economic policies.
The hon. Member for Gedling criticised the lack of help for the small business community in Nottinghamshire. Like him, I dread to think what will happen unless some kind of sense can be derived from the Government's strategy on the poll tax. We need help to ensure that those businesses do not go to the wall. Many thousands of bankruptcies have occurred in Nottinghamshire in recent years and we must ensure that they do not continue as a result of the introduction of the poll tax.
The situation in north Nottinghamshire is grave. The setting up of a founding fathers' trail in Bassetlaw will not solve the problems of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) regarding economic development in the area. Much more is needed.
§ Mr. Andrew Mitchell
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, but we must continue to stimulate local economic development. Tourism in the county can play a role in that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pooh-pooh one of the two or three initiatives which are currently under consideration and which, together, constitute a great deal more than one independent and isolated idea.
§ Mr. Meale
I am not pooh-poohing everything that the hon. Gentleman said; in fact, he spoke quite a lot of sense. However, tourism will not save Bassetlaw, Sherwood—with its Centre Pares — or Mansfield. I welcome the large companies that are coming into the Mansfield area and trying to develop tourism. But tourism will not solve our problems. It will only scratch the surface of the major problems in the community.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to remember what has been said in recent days about putting up money for the inner cities. I have grave doubts about Government policy in that respect. I ask the Government to consider seriously such areas as Mansfield. According to a recent study by Nottinghamshire county council, Mansfield is, in parts, the second most deprived area in the county. It is not only the inner cities that need help, but such areas as Mansfield with pockets of extreme deprivation.
We also need help for the small business community, which is failing to survive. Today I got from the Library the figures for unemployment in Mansfield. Since 1979, when the Consevative Government were elected, unemployment has more than doubled in my constituency. As of yesterday, 3,760 men and 1,260 women were unemployed there, 32 per cent. of whom were under the age of 25, and more then 40 per cent. of whom were long-term unemployed — more than 2,000 people. The decision to close Crown Farm, Mansfield's colliery, will add 1,000 people to the dole queues in my constituency and surrounding constituencies. That places a heavy burden on future developments.
740 My district council is trying hard to get involved in economic development. It has just hired a senior economic adviser and is producing booklets and brochures. It has started a campaign—I know that the hon. Member for Gedling supports it—to try to get a rail link from Nottingham to Mansfield, which is the largest town without a rail link in Britain.
Conservative Members and the Government must realise that we need central Government help. Our major industries — textiles, mining and others — need some bolstering by the Government. We do not want to keep open uneconomic pits and pits whose coal is inaccessible, but there were 9 million tonnes in the pit that closed yesterday. We need support from the Government to get that out. The local authority needs money to invest in a range of industries.
It is no good saying that everything in the picture is rosy, so let us go forward together. We need action, not only in cities, but in areas such as Mansfield.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. John Butcher)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) on his success in the ballot and on the manner in which he deployed his arguments. He spoke eloquently of the advantages of Nottinghamshire from all points of view — as a place in which to work and to which others should come to work and to visit if they have surplus cash to spend in their leisure time. The themes in his speech were so good that they should, perhaps, be incorporated in, and constitute the frontispiece of, whatever information the county council next publishes.
To an outsider, it appears true that Nottinghamshire has tended to hide its light under a bushel, although it is being more assertive now. It was interesting to hear that Nottinghamshire has joined Mr. Dimbleby's casualty list, which appears to be growing. Perhaps the people there have seen vividly the pitfalls that may appear when television reporting of that sort is foisted on a local community.
I also join my hon. Friend in congratulating the new business centre in Arnold, which he told the House had already let 14 of its 21 units. That is an excellent rate of progress. My hon. Friend also talked about the Victoria park at Colwick, where 100 acres of derelict land are being developed and which should generate 200 to 300 local jobs. My hon. Friend made a very important point about the road infrastructure and I shall return to that theme in a moment.
§ Ms. Short
We have heard about retail development on one of the derelict sites. I understand that it was the view of both local councils that planning permission for retail development should not have been granted, but that that was overturned by the Secretary of State for the Environment. There are now grave local problems about developing other derelict sites because there is great competition for planning permission for retail development. Big financial houses are competing to come into Nottinghamshire and they would provide a considerable amount of jobs. I hope that the Minister will note that the Government's intervention, their overturning of local decisions and the granting of planning permission for retail development seems to be creating a block on the development of other derelict land and that that block could be disadvantageous to the local area.
§ Mr. Butcher
I think that I had better answer that point, and then I should welcome an intervention by my hon. Friend. I hope that the hon. Lady has noticed some very recent announcements—in parliamentary terms in the early part of today—from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment. If I remember correctly the contents of his press release, grants of about £8 million have been allocated to the east midlands. He made that announcement in Nottingham and a major element of the grants will be for derelict land.
This vexed question of how one chooses which kind of development should go ahead in what sort of area applies not just to Nottinghamshire but nationally. We should agree first that anything that can restore derelict land to productive use so that jobs can be created is to be welcomed.
The second question is about the balance of employment available in a locality. We have to trust our planning and the appeals procedures that go with the planning methodology to produce a balanced conclusion. I would not hazard a guess about which type of employment would be most agreeable to the residents in a particular location.
§ Mr. Andrew Mitchell
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) raised an important matter, but, unfortunately, she has been furnished with only half the facts. One of the principal aspects of the debate on this development was whether permission should be granted for housing to be constructed in the area. The borough council fully accepts that there should be some retail space, and there has been much debate about that as well. The point made by the hon. Lady gave only a partial view of the debate in respect of that application.
§ Mr. Butcher
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling reminded the House that his constituents have been waiting for the Gedling bypass for 50 years. The decisions about whether transport support grant applications should be invited and whether the capital programme should be reconsidered are matters for the county council. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be most interested in my hon. Friend's comments and will examine Hansard to see whether any of my hon. Friend's observations apply to him.
The Nottinham Development Enterprise is an excellent effort. It has been private sector instigated and, from my contacts with the industrial and commercial community in Nottinghamshire, and especially with the chamber of commerce, I can say that there are some very vigorous and imaginative people in the county and the city. I am sure that the NDE methodology will maximise chances of success. The question raised in this context relates to the secondee. I shall look carefully at what my hon. Friend has said — perhaps I should do that in a more rested condition — to see whether either the Department of Employment or the Department of Trade and Industry can come up with a response that my hon. Friend will welcome.
Tourism is another topic which occasionally excites the House. Some say that tourism is not a sufficiently macho form of employment and see employment to be welcomed only in the manufacturing sector or mining — in the 742 traditional industries, as they have been called. As long as the United Kingdom is generating from all sources of employment sufficient wealth to sustain the quality of life which hon. Members would welcome, we can be more or less neutral on how individuals earn their living. I have said many times in the House that it is predominantly the manufacturing sector that generates most efficiently cash income for the United Kingdom, in that 80 per cent. of its output is internationally tradable. But that is not to say that the service and non-manufacturing sectors have not made a useful contribution. They have made a magnificent contribution in terms of job creation and have generated hundreds of thousands of jobs, some of them in the teeth of the 1981–82 recession. So we can be genuinely open-minded on where employment should come.
I wonder whether Nottinghamshire has recently understated the role of Robin Hood in its previous history.
§ Mr. Butcher
Nottingham, as the hon. Lady quite rightly says, is desperately trying to assert that he never met Maid Marian. As someone who was born in a mining community in Yorkshire, I prefer the Invanhoe legend; and as someone who went to school in Huntingdonshire, I can confirm that Robin Hood definitely did not have a lapsed title there. He was none the less an interesting man, an enigma and very much a Saxon in his attitude to those who were trying to rule us in a rather anarchistic and feudal manner. He represented the rights of freeborn Englishmen, perhaps in a mythological sense and in a way which the English have liked to reassert in the ensuing centuries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling spoke generously about the coalfield communities campaign and said, quite rightly, that efforts should be made to keep it on an objective, all-party basis. Like him, I hope that it does not develop into a lobbying operation for a particular political stance.
The suggestion that the National Coal Board headquarters should move to Nottingham was interesting. If that is the growing centre of gravity in the mining industry, that is something for the board to consider. I would expect my hon. Friend to make a strong point in that regard, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy may care to take a look at it, although I suspect that he is pretty busy at the moment on broader issues. I believe that across the public sector there should be far more decentralisation and that we should continuously examine the location of jobs either in Whitehall Departments or in public utilities which report to them.
My hon. Friend concluded by saying that increasing productivity has to be the continuing way forward for the coal industry, and it is, I believe, the correct conclusion for Nottingham and for his constituency that we should examine the ingredients for success and build on them.
The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), understandably in the light of very recent news, spoke passionately about the impact of the colliery closure in his constituency. I fully understand why hon. Members have to, and always will, I hope, speak up when such events occur. I know that efforts are necessary to do our best to replace the jobs that have been lost.
I hope that when the hon. Gentleman deals with his local authority and when that authority puts forward 743 development programmes, he will say that it is not enough to appoint economic advisers or issue leaflets. More important is the type of home and welcome that Mansfield gives to people who, of their own volition, wish to bring work to, or start work in, the location.
While this may not apply to Mansfield, there have been cases of cities appointing economic advisers and development units but insisting on slapping on rate increases that are far too high to create a welcoming environment for the job providers.
I welcome the observations that my hon. Friend made and I appreciate the reasons for the observations of the hon. Member for Mansfield. I shall not detain the House for long. In Nottinghamshire there are signs that the recovery has strength, that the traditional industries are finding a new way forward, that new industries are coming forward, that the enterprise culture is alive and kicking in the city and county and that the days when Nottinghamshire may have been underestimated may now, with the help of its MPs, be coming to an end. By that I mean that, because of those efforts, the underestimation will come to an end.
§ Mr. Butcher
One must be extremely careful in the early—or should I say late?—hours of a parliamentary day. The hon. Lady will know that on occasions such as this, one loose adjective can cause the most disproportionate amount of trouble. I am doing my best, at this hour, to control my adjectives and to speak slowly, clearly and in a considered manner, and though I have not even begun to read the speech that has been prepared for me, I hope that I have passed the test, certainly from the point of view of the usual channels, in responding as positively as I am able to the points that have been made.