HC Deb 27 March 1990 vol 170 cc325-44 11.10 pm
Sir Marcus Fox (Shipley)

It is extremely encouraging at this time of night to see so many colleagues, on both sides of the House, in the Chamber bearing in mind that the television cameras are not operating. I therefore assume that the effect of regional policy on our county is of supreme importance to all of us.

First, I must declare an interest—to be safe I should do so—as I am a director of two companies that employ a few thousand people around the United Kingdom. They also employ a couple of thousand people in the Bradford area. My directorship gives me a greater ability, if I dare to say that, to speak about employment. I believe that regional policy is specifically aimed in that direction.

I do not seek to ignore high interest rates, which are so damaging to our economy. I do not want them to remain high for a day or hour longer than is necessary. However, I support the principle that to squeeze inflation out of our economy means that such high interest rates are necessary, especially if we are to return to the level of growth that has become natural under this Government. I emphasise "under this Government" as the level of growth that has been achieved in the past 11 years, and particularly in the past six years, has been far in excess of anything achieved previously.

In spite of high interest rates, the economy in my area is buoyant, and profitability has ensured that. In the past few years profitability has acted as the cushion against high interest rates. I have no doubt that other colleagues will confirm that that is so in their part of the county.

It is the luck of the draw that I have the opportunity to open the debate. I do not want to speak too long as that would deny other hon. Members the chance to participate. I want to refer to my area of Shipley and the Bradford and metropolitan district. I pay tribute to the Conservative-controlled council in Bradford, which has transformed our city since it took over. I do not want to talk about the community charge—I have already said quite enough about that—except to say that I do not accept it as it is. It is the equivalent of tablets of stone set in concrete, but there will be other occasions on which to discuss it.

The city of Bradford is the fifth largest metropolitan district in the United Kingdom and the seventh largest city. We tend to forget that. During the 1980s an increasingly large work force was drawn into the city, existing companies have expanded and many new firms have been established. Many national companies are also located in the city. I get tired of people looking at Bradford and speaking in terms of its decline. That was true in the past, but it is certainly not the case today. When one thinks of Grattan, Morrisons, Fine Art Development and the many textile and printing companies which are national names, the names speak for themselves. [Interruption.] I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson) is listening, not writing.

Mr. Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

I am writing down what my hon. Friend says.

Sir Marcus Fox

If I had to select one company that epitomised what can be done, it would be a company called Spring Ram. My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley got the Prime Minister to open the first factory in November 1979. I believe that there was no roof on it then. It manufactured baths. Two men, with considerable borrowings, moved into the area. Today, they own 11 companies, four of which make baths and sanitary ware. A third of all the baths made in the United Kingdom come from that company. It is the brand leader in the kitchen market and controls 15 per cent. of the ceramic market. It has 40 per cent. of the United Kingdom market in non-metal sinks and 25 per cent. world wide. Guess where it does its manufacturing? Thanks to regional policy, it is done in Bradford, Barnsley and Scunthorpe.

Out of 1 million companies in the United Kingdom and 100,000 quoted companies, Spring Ram is the most profitable company in Britain. It started in 1979 and its year-on-year profits have been 74 per cent. a year. It has not borrowed for five years, has £15 million in the bank, is doubling the size of its work force to 3,000 and spending £85 million in the coming year. Therefore, when people talk about the decline of manufacturing industry, they should look around and see what is happening. The numbers employed do not necessarily have anything to do with the output or profitability.

We used to call our area the West Riding of Yorkshire. What a tragedy that we do not still live in the West Riding or the East Riding or the North Riding. I am well aware under which Government those changes took place, but I still criticise them. The small, family businesses are still crucial. The cult of being one's own boss has particular attractions for many of our countrymen.

I was delighted that there was in the Budget particular appeal for savers. Many tax concessions were made to individuals, and not before time. There were tax-free arrangements for those who save and the composite rate of tax, as I think it is called—composite motions are something about which Opposition Members know—was highway robbery. It allows building societies and banks to deduct tax from interest, whether or not one is liable to it.

The threshold at which small companies have to pay a reduced level of tax has been lifted from £150,000 to £200,000. The limit for the 35 per cent. rate has been raised from £750,000 to £1 million, and the cost of financing has been made easier. We all have stories to tell about VAT. For far too long small companies have lost VAT that has been paid, even when they have been unable to collect it from their customers. I welcome the legislative changes on VAT. I am also delighted that VAT registration has been made simpler.

Both I and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) are concerned about transport problems in the Aire valley. Life is being made impossible by the failure to complete sections three and four of the Airedale trunk road. Section three, through Bingley—the Bingley bypass—is awaiting the inspector's report. At present, traffic in Shipley is at enormously high levels. When the Bingley section is completed, the position will be horrendous.

Hence the need to bring forward a preferred route for the final section—section four. There is no reason why the consultation or inquiry could not be commenced immediately. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), who has ministerial responsibility for the matter as the Minister for Roads and Traffic, is on the Government Front Bench this evening although he is not to reply to the debate. I have spoken to him about the matter on one or two occasions. I tell him, without detracting from my hon. Friend the Minister of State who is to reply, that it is my belief that there is a solution to the section four difficulty. For 20 years there has been total opposition to a route through the bottom of the valley, but the 47 groups which have aired their objections—I did not give my hon. Friend advance warning of this—have come together in agreement. It would seem that they wish to get something done. If there is consensus, I believe that we can move forward. That is possible if the opposing groups have buried the hatchet.

At the recent inquiry on section three, I understand that the Department of Transport announced that a cost-benefit analysis on revised traffic flows showed that a dual tunnel would have positive results. It would be a solution to the bottleneck in the bottom of the valley, and our environment demands it.

The improvement to roads is, however, only one solution. The growth of traffic in the area—some Opposition Members' constituencies suffer from this problem as well—means that there is a need for rail links as well. Traffic figures tell us that there is scope to take passenger traffic off the roads on to rail. I have read what my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley said in a recent debate on electrification. I was one of several hon. Members who were present yesterday at an instructive meeting with the passenger transport authority, the city council, the chamber of commerce and perhaps a representative from British Rail, which I know is with us on the issue. We all look forward to Bradford being linked into an electrification of the rail system. It would be of great advantage to the area.

Finally, I mention the bypass for Burley, which is in my constituency. Over 95 per cent. of the local people have wanted a bypass for years. It has been thwarted by the odd individual, but at long last the proposal is coming to fruition. Perhaps those who live on the main street of Burley will see something happening in the near future.

All of us in the county take pride in what has been achieved in the past. I am sure that what the Government have done has helped to eliminate many of the problems that existed before they took office.

11.23 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) on being fortunate in the ballot and enabling us to debate Yorkshire regional policy this evening. I am sure that all his Yorkshire colleagues on both sides of the House are indebted to him for providing the opportunity for advancing the Yorkshire case. It is rare now that we have the chance to do so. I can remember the days when we used to have Yorkshire debates. It is unfortunate that they are so sparse these days; we seem never to have them.

I do not want to paint a picture of entire gloom and doom in Yorkshire, but I do not want to follow the same path as the hon. Member for Shipley. I assure him that, if he represented Pontefract and Castleford or another mining community in Yorkshire, he would have a different story to tell.

The Budget offered little hope for Yorkshire and Humberside. Families in the region have lost over £67 million in child benefit because the value of the benefit has been frozen since 1987. Only families in receipt of over £275 a week have gained anything substantial from the Tory tax cuts. Yet 72 per cent. of families in Yorkshire and Humberside have weekly incomes below that sum. Many of them will have suffered a loss of income under the Tories. Any growth in income has been concentrated on the rich and those in the south-east. I do not think that many Conservative Members would disagree with that.

Manufacturing investment in Yorkshire and Humberside has grown by 1 per cent. since 1979; in my view, that very nearly amounts to recession. Male unemployment stands at 8.6 per cent. Yet the Budget did nothing for manufacturing investment or for research and development. It also did nothing for the region's training.

The hon. Member for Shipley, understandably, failed to refer to the poll tax. The average family in Yorkshire and Humberside faces a poll tax bill 30 per cent. higher than their previous rates bill. That will create great financial difficulties in Yorkshire.

The holder of the average new mortgage in Yorkshire and Humberside, which is £10,000 less than the national average, is paying £103 more per month as a result of the increases in mortgage interest rates since July 1988—a massive £1,200 a year. The average new mortgage in the area is £29,600, and many such mortgages were taken out at an interest rate of 9.8 per cent. Initially, the owners paid £181.30 a month; they are now paying £284.90 a month. Those are some of the problems that people in Yorkshire and Humberside are experiencing.

The problems in Yorkshire's blackspots—the mining communities—were brought about by the savage rundown of the coal mining industry that has taken place since 1984. I do not want to go into the reasons why some people think that that was necessary. Conservative Members think that it was necessary on economic grounds, and I suppose that some of them would also argue in favour of an alternative fuel supply. To my mind, that is purely and simply dogma. But whatever the reasons, there has been a savage rundown of the industry. In the Wakefield area, 11,000 jobs have been lost in mining alone, and the spin-off has been significant, with about 20,000 jobs lost since the miners' strike, if we include related industries.

I shall return to the matter later, but, until recently, no assistance has been given to attract industries to my constituency to replace the jobs lost in the mining industry.

Mr. Donald Thompson


Mr. Lofthouse

The hon. Gentleman says, "Oh." Let me repeat what I said: until recently, there has been no encouragement to industry to come to the area. Year in, year out, we have made representations to different Ministers, some of whom are present. We have visited Ministers, with deputations, to try to influence them and to make the case that the Select Committee on Energy has twice argued in its reports on the coal mining industry and the privatisation of electricity. The Opposed Private Bill Committee on the Associated British Ports Bill said that, if the Government were not ready to prepare the way for alternative employment, the industry should not have been run down so rapidly.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

My hon. Friend has given us details of the number of jobs lost in the mining industry, especially in the Wakefield district. Is he aware that about 2,000 to 3,000 jobs have been lost in other industries—in particular, in mining engineering—in the Wakefield area? Is he aware of the clear implications that that has for Britain's export potential? I have met members of British Jeffrey Diamond and Fletcher Sutcliffe Wild, now Gullick Dobson, both major exporting companies, who complain that, as a direct result of the rundown of the British coal industry, they have difficulty in demonstrating their machinery to potential exporting countries and thus boosting Britain's export potential.

Mr. Lofthouse

I am certainly aware of the spin-off that has resulted from the rundown of the industry. The companies are in great difficulty and are no longer in a position to manufacture and supply abroad.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

The hon. Gentleman is not noted for gloom. I do not know where he has been this evening, but clearly the Horlicks that he has imbibed has turned him into a prophet of doom. That cannot be in any way representative of the citizens of Pontefract. He says that there has been no Government help whatsoever for Pontefract. Either he has been sleeping or he is being mischievous. In fact, money has been poured into realising the potential of Pontefract. I mention tourism as an example. Tourism is the fastest-growing industry in Britain. The hon. Gentleman need not, by his demeanour, dismiss that. Let him look to Bradford, which, next to York, is the tourism capital of Yorkshire. The potential is there, and the money is available. If the hon. Gentleman intends to keep knocking Pontefract, when will he resign his seat?

Mr. Lofthouse

First, let me assure the hon. Gentleman that Horlicks is the strongest drink that I touch in this building.

The Castleford travel-to-work area includes Pontefract. As its status has not been changed since 1981, we have received no assistance whatsoever—not one penny. No alternative employment has been provided. The unemployment rate is now shown as about 11 per cent.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)


Mr. Lofthouse

As my hon. Friend says, the figure is massaged. Redundant mineworkers are not included, the 11,000 men in my travel-to-work area have been removed.

Mr. Gregory

Get them another job.

Mr. Lofthouse

The hon. Gentleman says, "Get them another job."

Former Conservative Ministers who are in the Chamber tonight know full well that we have been pressing the case for many years, but without result.

I am no prophet of doom. I am simply stating facts. I refer hon. Members to a Coalfields Communities Campaign report that was issued about a week ago. I realise that it is not a Government document, or anything like that, but previous reports from the same source have not been far off the mark. That body forecasts that, by 1995, the number of men in the mining industry will have fallen to 30,000. That suggests that many more pits will close.

Indeed, on 16 March the Coal Board issued a press release preparing the way for this. The redundancy terms are to be made a little more attractive. The Coal Board tells us that the reason for that is that further restructuring is necessary. Why is further restructuring necessary? It is because of the privatisation of electricity. We know that, within the next three years, the demand from the electricity industry will have gone down to 60 million tonnes. That is why there is to be a further rundown in the mining industry. But still there is no sign of Government help for these communities.

I said earlier that we had seen a chink of light. In the first movement that we have seen since 1984, a Japanese company decided to invest in my constituency. That investment will provide 1,200 jobs. I was a member of the deputation that met the Minister for Industry, who is on the Government Front Bench tonight. I was very grateful to him for meeting us. He was very pleasant and very sympathetic, but he could not give us any money. Wakefield, being the solid Yorkshire area that it is, had to look after itself. We persuaded the Japanese to come, but we cannot replace the jobs that we have lost without some Government financial assistance. It is time that the Government recognised that. There have been problems about regional area status. I accept that it is not all doom and gloom in Yorkshire as it is in the areas that I represent, but I can sincerely say that what I say about my area and its mining communities is the truth. It is rather noticeable that the Yorkshire constituencies with big Labour majorities get little help.

The Government took the decision to run down the mining industry—no one else—and they have an obligation to provide employment in those communities. The average age of the present work force in the coal industry is 34 and they will not be cushioned by weekly payments as the men over 50 were after 1984. Those young men have no future. Many of them were encouraged to purchase their council homes, and they were keen to do so. They now face a future with mortgages round their necks, their jobs down the Swanee. They cannot pay their way, and the Government have an obligation to those Yorkshire miners who have never let the country down in its hour of need and never will, despite all the turmoil. The Government should at least give serious consideration to putting Wakefield and the Castleford travel-to-work area into an intermediate area zone as soon as possible. Failing that, they should find some other way.

We are fortunate, with the Government's assistance, to have been included in one of the EEC's regional programmes, objective 2 I think it is called, and the RECHAR scheme. With some Government pressure on the EEC, we hope to see a chink of daylight in the form of financial aid. I hope that the Minister will take note of what I have said and will do all he can to assist us.

11.37 pm
Mr. Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) on being successful in the ballot and gaining such an early debate. It is good to see my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry on the Front Bench. He looks after the northern areas in Yorkshire very well, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) works hard for Yorkshire and for Yorkshire Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

That is daft—he works against Labour Members.

Mr. Thompson

As usual, the hon. Gentleman knows not what he talks about.

On Friday, I shall be welcoming my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside to my constituency. He looks after the development commission which spends a great deal of money in the upper Calder Valley—a prosperous area with 4 per cent. unemployment or less.

Tonight I shall mention four topics which concern all Yorkshire Members—pylons, the canals, the moors and new industry. Various proposals to replace pylons which march across our moors are imminent. The pylons were put in place in the 1950s and 1960s and are ready for replacement. My constituents are anxious that, wherever possible and reasonable, the pylons should no longer march across the moors. The lines should be buried beneath them—for no other reason than that it is sensible and environmentally efficient. Cost-efficiency is one thing, but environmental efficiency is another. The new pylons would be in place for some 40 years, so if we renew the lines, they may as well go underground as they do in towns and cities such as London, Bradford and Brighouse.

I have had sensible discussions with people in the electricity industry and with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, who has a quasi-ministerial responsibility for this matter, and I know that he has listened to what I have said.

The pylons march across the moors which connect our Yorkshire constituencies. While I am on the subject of moors, I will mention opencast mining. I hope that the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), who has just made a brief speech, will not intervene—I know that the subject is dear to his heart.

Many of the old coal workings on the moors are becoming viable again as opencast mines, but not solely as opencast mines. Opencast sites can also be used for infill with industrial and other sorts of waste.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Imported toxic waste.

Mr. Lofthouse

The waste has to go somewhere. The industries of south Yorkshire, north Yorkshire and the west riding produce it. It should not go under the moors, as that would destroy their geology and geography. Waste has been sympathetically disposed of in other parts of my constituency.

Todmorden moor has some derelict coal workings and is a likely subject for opencast mining and the tipping of waste. The local Calderdale council has been lured to tidy up areas of dereliction by planning trade-offs and has been talking to various companies about waste disposal and opencast mining for a long time. The coal will be produced as a by-product. If Calderdale council rejects the plan that it has been discussing for the past two years, will the Minister give special consideration to the areas of outstanding natural beauty in my constituency and in all the Yorkshire constituencies?

Rochdale canal is also in my constituency. There is a blockage at Sowerby Bridge on the canal, which inhibits navigation throughout the region and throughout the United Kingdom. To make a deliberate pun, millions of pounds have been poured into the Rochdale canal by the Government and by the development commission to make it navigable for pleasure boats and other craft. That has led to development alongside the canal by such companies as Tenterfields in my constituency, where two young men have built up a business park using their own money.

If my right hon. Friends at the Department of the Environment can see their way to help Calderdale council with regional aid to eradicate the blockage at Sowerby Bridge, we shall have a feature that people in constituencies throughout Yorkshire can enjoy and use. It will also enhance the tourist potential of the area, which I know is dear to the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory).

I heard all that the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford said about new industries. In my constituency the old, traditional industries have reshaped themselves and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, the family industries have come through very well. New industries are also starting.

The industry that is now burgeoning and expanding, however, is the much-maligned financial services industry. The Halifax building society, the Pennine insurance company and others are attracting numerous new workers and jobs, and could be said to base their activities on northern thrift. The Haifax wants to create 1,200 new jobs on the edge of my constituency, but the local authority is quibbling about a road scheme which will cost the building society between £2 million and £4 million.

Yorkshire Members often go to see the Minister to ask for money to develop various activities in the area. When a new, expanding industry which will be of crucial importance to the United Kingdom and Europe wishes to place 1,200 jobs in its home base in Yorkshire and the local authority quibbles about mending roads—something that it should have done many years ago—I despair. When once the authority would have been on its knees begging for £2 million to get those jobs to its area, now it is behaving in what I consider to be a most peculiar way.

We have a fine initiative at Lowfield, in my constituency. A large amount of Government money is going into opening up an area of flatland—only about 50 acres, which is not considered much in other parts of the country, but which in my constituency is very valuable—and I thank the Government for that. The development must be carried out sensitively so as to enhance Elland and its environment rather than damning it.

I could say much more, but I will content myself with thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley again for securing the debate.

11.46 pm
Mr. Hardy

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson), not least because he proposed a subterranean activity. I accept that it only involved electric cables, but it is nevertheless reassuring that Conservative Members are worried about what takes place underground. It is about time that that interest developed.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) for stimulating interest in the debate. I noted the elegance with which he declared his interest and talked about employing thousands in our region. Let me point out, however, that many of the thousands in our region are very badly paid, and that one of the problems is low purchasing power. If Conservative Members develop their interests, I hope that as the years unfold they will be able to increase the wages that they pay to the employees in their various companies.

Starting a small business is difficult. There are exceptions—some have managed to achieve despite all the difficulties, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out—but having less than average purchasing power makes it more difficult for small firms to succeed in our region than in better-off areas.

Mr. Cryer

Would not that purchasing power have been enhanced if the Regional Development Grants (Termination) Bill, which cut out regional development grant aid to such areas as Yorkshire and Humberside, had not been given its Second Reading on 25 January 1988? Does that not make Conservative Members' comments sound rather hollow, especially when we know that they all voted to cut such aid by supporting the Bill?

Mr. Hardy

My hon. Friend has anticipated my next point. Conservative Members, who certainly have an interest in the region, did not serve that interest effectively when they supported the Government's various steps to reduce dramatically the value of the regional and selective assistance that was in place before they took office in 1979.

Fifteen years ago—the Minister cannot contradict this, nor, I think, can his hon. Friends—the Department of Trade and Industry took the view that Yorkshire's problems would be resolved within our own county. The economic problems that we faced then were much less severe. Many of us felt that the internal generation of investment and wealth would help us largely, if not entirely, to succeed. Unfortunately, the need now is much more acute than we could possibly have envisaged 10 or 15 years ago.

I do not have time to list all the problems that we face. Three quarters of Yorkshire's population are worse off today than they were in 1979. Owner-occupiers are paying, on average, £100 a month more in mortgage interest. Conservative Members have had the audacity to suggest that they are saving money. The vast majority of people in Yorkshire cannot afford to save £1,800 a year under the TESSA scheme, or to invest in personal equity plans. Yorkshire is well down the road towards impoverishment as a result of this Government's policies.

The metropolitan borough of Rotherham has received inquiries about industrial development. All of them during the last two years have been for green field, green belt sites. My constituents, and those in neighbouring constituencies, are desperately concerned about green belt development. The local authority is in real difficulty. It needs to attract investment in order to create jobs, but the only inquiries of any consequence throughout that period have been for green belt sites.

Largely due to the excessive number of colliery closures, there are thousands of acres of derelict land in the borough. All that Conservative Members are interested in is getting rid of them quickly. Our concern is to make that derelict land decent again. Unfortunately, the allocation of money for the clearance of dereliction is absolutely disgraceful. The main scheme in Yorkshire is in Rotherham, but there ought to be 10 or 20 schemes every year on that scale. While 1,000 acres in the Dearne valley remain derelict, there is no cause for congratulation. That is not the only area of dereliction in the county. The increase in dereliction during the past five years has been of criminal proportions.

I hope that I do the hon. Member for Calder Valley no disservice when I say that he suggested that our area could be used for the deposit of waste. There is an old county song about a Yorkshireman who did not wear his hat on Ilkley moor catching his death of cold. I have a feeling that there are those who would like to bring toxic waste to many areas in Yorkshire. The people of Yorkshire would die then not of cold but of the kind of toxicity that was brought into my constituency, improperly and unlawfully, almost a year ago. And it is still there. It is a tribute not merely to dereliction; it is also a tribute to the inadequacy of the law as a result of the Government's decision to keep industry at arm's length and to allow free market forces to play havoc with common sense and blight areas such as mine.

I am glad that we have had this opportunity to debate the matter. The Minister's forebear, Lord Hailsham, was deeply moved about unemployment in the north-east. It will be recalled that he rang a bell to express his indignation. The causes that we are espousing tonight demand not a little hand bell but a veritable carillon of loudly clanging bells to remind the Government of the damage that they have done to areas such as mine.

11.55 pm
Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) on initiating this debate, because Yorkshire is one of the most successful regions in Britain under Conservative Administration—[Interruption.]—and I shall give facts and figures to prove it. Although Opposition Members are few in number, they are, as usual, vocal and they might care for some home truths.

The number of new businesses in the United Kingdom expanded on average by 1,500 a week in 1989, compared with 1,200 a week in 1988. In the last year of the last Labour Government—probably the last year ever of any Labour Government—6,000 more businesses closed than opened. In 1988, 64,000 more opened than closed.

In the Yorkshire and Humberside region, 11,900 new businesses were registered in 1980, the first year for which figures are available. That increased to 13,700 in 1983, the year I was elected, and by 1988 the number had surged, again under the Conservatives, to 16,900. So the net rise in that time was from 900 in 1980 to 4,000 in 1988. That was success indeed, and most embarrassing for the Opposition.

Investment has also been rising. Government expenditure on fixed assets—on replacement of or addition to the stock of fixed assets, excluding expenditure on maintenance and repairs—in the region rose from £346 million in 1979 to £465 million in 1983 and to £606 million in 1987. For industry as a whole for those three years, it rose from £1,981 million to £2,385 million to £3,288 million. That covered agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy water supply, manufacturing transport and communications. It excluded air and sea transport, dwellings and the service sector.

The population of the region, like that of the rest of the United Kingdom, is rising. In 1979, there were 1.808 million households in the region. By 1988, the figure had increased to 1.924 million. The number of housing starts has also been on the rise. In 1980, there were 12,829 starts in the region. In 1989, there were 15,800. I would not like to be a Labour candidate in the region at the next general election trying to explain away that success story. In York .I mention this in the unlikely event that there is a Socialist candidate—in 1979, 228 new properties were recorded, 478 in 1983 and 536 in 1987.

There is falling unemployment in the area, as one would expect, improved pupil-teacher ratios in primary and secondary schools and shorter hospital waiting lists. It is a good picture for the heart of the white rose county.

Any visitor to York can see beyond the tourism highlights to the industries of confectionery, the railways and insurance. But all those sectors are subject to the unified business rate, and I wish to discuss the problem that faces Yorkshire in general and York in particular in that connection.

Mr. Cryer


Mr. Gregory

It is nice to see the hon. Gentleman, who has joined us for this part of the debate, although he was not here at the start.

The major problems result from valuation and revaluation. That should have been undertaken by the Socialist Administration in 1968. They pledged to revalue properties at that date, but, not for the first time, that Administration did not keep their pledge, and that was the start of the difficulties that we now face in north Yorkshire. The Conservatives postponed, as they announced, a radical alternative to commercial rates—the unified business rate.

At the time of the last revaluation—1973–74—the commercial rates in York were 39.9p in the pound. Today, they are £2.557, higher than they need be if there was competitive tendering throughout all services. To date, York has not gone the way of other more progressive councils such as Wandsworth, which has put 17 services out to competitive tender. The struggling and shouting Socialists on York city council have put the minimum number out, although the figure would have been lower if they had put more services out to competitive tender. That is, perhaps, a subject for another occasion.

Mr. Hinchliffe

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gregory

From April, the rate is set at a far lower figure of 34.8p in the pound, but on substantial revaluations. That is hard on family businesses. It is important to retain a good mix of businesses. An example is Kilvington's of Stonegate, founded in 1838 by George Kilvington, a craftsman in wire. It is a typical family business which is still selling pet food as well as wirework in those premises. Up the road, we have lovely porcelain shops and jewellery shops. Transitional relief will help such companies over five years, and no property will face a rise of more than 15 per cent. plus inflation each year if the rateable value is less than £10,000 or 20 per cent. plus inflation above that level.

However, we need to retain small family businesses, because they are the backbone of the north Yorkshire economy. Businesses pay £2 billion more to local authorities than the value of the services they receive. York has its strength in such family businesses and it makes sense to differentiate between such shops and the branches of national chains which have no loyalty to the city.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gregory

Part of the problem arises from the fact that there has been no revaluation for 17 years.

Mr. Illsley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gregory

Those involved in the commercial sector are well aware of the considerable rises of rental values in that time. I shall give some examples to the House. In Colliergate in 1972, a typical rent was only £1,500, whereas today, a person renting those premises could expect to pay £34,000. In the Shambles in 1973, rents were £5,500. I am not sure whether the Socialist council wishes to rename that street Mandela street, as one scurrilous report has suggested. Those rents will now rise to £22,000. Petergate rents were £1,500 in 1973; today they are £70,000. A typical shop in Coney street had a rental value in 1973 of £7,000; today the figure is £152,000.

Clearly such market forces for rents—and various groups, especially the pension funds that have purchased such properties, appreciate this—are a reflection in certain respects of Labour's failure to revalue the rents [Interruption.]—and there has been a great deal of catching up to do. The new transitional rate means that a typical city-centre shop that had expected to pay £11,136 in rates with the new valuation will now pay between £3,000 and £3,874 next year. I hope that, as a result, York's rich mix of shops will continue for resident and visitor alike.

However, the Inland Revenue valuation officer has not fully taken into account the growth in outer-city shopping, which is only just starting. Any visitor to York will see the equivalent of American-style shopping malls and, until recently, no effective competition in the city centre. That will hit cities such as York. Few shops now sell exclusive, high-profit-margin goods such as those in Helmsley, Pocklington and the suburbs of Leeds.

I suggest—I hope that the Minister will respond to this specific point—a sliding scale for the uniform business rate, as with corporation tax. Under corporation tax, if a retailer's profits are under £150,000, he currently pays 25 per cent. Between £150,000 and £650,000, there could be a sliding scale between 25 per cent. and 35 per cent. If a similar scheme were in force for York, the small businesses, not only of Yorkshire but throughout the country, would benefit enormously and ensure that shoppers continued to enjoy a wide range of merchandise. Clearly, only a caring Conservative Government and a return to a Conservative administration in the city of York will ensure that city's future prosperity.

12.5 am

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Yorkshire is large, complex and different—different in its many aspects and different in its representation. I am sure that no hon. Member would not wish the best for Yorkshire. We have to recognise its highlights and its difficulties, and we shall not overcome its problems easily. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) for initiating this debate: it is time that we had more debates on Yorkshire.

I see that the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) is in his place. When he was Minister I was grateful for the help that he gave to a firm in my constituency, Shaw Carpets. He helped it to survive and it is one of the greatest successes in manufacturing industry. I wish that he was still the Minister, because we could do with a few more such help-outs.

The area of south Yorkshire that I represent probably has one of the highest unemployment rates outside Northern Ireland—14.1 per cent. male unemployment and 5.9 per cent. female unemployment—and, against all trends, it is rising. When we talk about things going well in industry, we tend to forget those areas where things are not going too well. We need the Government to recognise those difficulties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) said that, because of the destruction of the base of manufacturing industry in our area—mining, steel and engineering—there are tremendous difficulties. My local authority is taking areas out of the green belt, which I have fully supported, and the roof has fallen in because people have quite naturally objected to this. But we have a great deal of derelict land, and in our area, unlike the rest of the country, the acreage is increasing. We need more help poured into it so that we can use it for green belt purposes. If we take areas of green belt land for industrial purposes, we must replace them by turning derelict land into green belt areas.

We are very lucky in that we have made a breakthrough with Japanese firms such as Seiko with Government help and local authority initiative and the industrial willingness of people at Dodworth in my constituency. This has meant the creation of 400 high-tech jobs. Rather than penalise local government, as they are doing, the Government should recognise this achievement and the efforts that the local authorities are making in this area.

I turn briefly to the problem of possible poll tax capping. The Government's standard spending assessment for my local authority is way out. There is nothing in the assessment that fits the local authority. For many years under Conservative and Labour Governments the assessment of local authority expenditure in my area and the calculation of grant have been wrong. When we had a base industry, mining, to cushion the effect, that was fine, but mining has disappeared. The 10 collieries which were operating in my constituency six years ago have closed. Therefore, the spending power in the local economy from those collieries has gone. The rating assessment has gone as well, but that has not been fully compensated for.

In the standard spending assessment the Government have not taken into account the £3.5 million which it will cost to bring in the poll tax; the local authority will have to pay the larger part of that. The Government have not allowed for the £6 million in grants that will not be paid or for the inflation rate. That means that the Government assessment of £222 is way out and that the local authority has had to bring in a poll tax of £329.

As the local authority is likely to be poll tax capped, what will it mean? In my area nursery schools will close because they are a non-statutory provision. Many other non-statutory provisions will also have to go. In an area which we are trying to rejuvenate and prepare for 1992, education is of prime importance. Part of the education system is nursery education. In the early years the foundation is laid for the secondary years. Therefore, it would be sacrilege to impose upon the local authority the necessity to close nursery schools which have taken 10 years to develop.

As regards industry, we are likely to lose in the next three weeks the firm of Corah, which provides 300 female jobs. Because of a merger at David Brown's we are likely to lose another 150 jobs. Against all national trends, our unemployment rate is getting worse.

It is not all doom and gloom because there is light on the horizon, but we do not want Government policies and Government ideas round our neck. By all means let central Government determine what they will give local government. There is no quarrel with that. Our quarrel with central Government is over the fact that they will not allow us to determine our future. The local authority should consult the people about what they want. We do not want central Government interfering.

Yorkshire and Humberside is a proud region. Along with Scotland, we will have devolution if the Government do not leave us alone. We will determine our own future, whatever the Government want.

12.13 am
Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) and to thank him for his reference to a problem which occurred some years ago.

It is typical of the debate that there are areas in our great county which have considerable difficulties, and none more so than the areas in which the great coal and steel industries were once the main and possibly only sources of employment. I think particularly of the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) when I recall the problem of the boundaries of assisted areas. The matter of greatest difficulty, whether one was in government or in opposition, was the redrawing of the map every two years as one problem succeeded another. I remind the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) of the huge input of cash, largely from the European Community, to assist the declining steel and coal areas. That must be added to the major changes that have been funded in infrastructure investment. I agree that it was a long time before we managed to persuade Mr. Ian MacGregor to head the British coal industry. That happened far too late in view of the declining prospects of the industry. I fully recognise that and apologise for it.

We are talking about Yorkshire in the round and about the problems of regional aid in relation to Yorkshire. Large areas of Yorkshire are not covered by regional aid and do not deserve to be so covered. I am thinking of the city of Leeds and of my constituency of Pudsey, in so far as Pudsey is within the city of Leeds. That is not and never has been an assisted area, and rightly so in view of its diversity of employment and its potential for growth and for attracting the new industries that have moved into the metropolitan area. In fairly recent times Leeds has obtained an urban development corporation to deal with a portion of the derelict area of the city centre, alongside the canal, where there used to be factories which have long since closed. That too is starting to make a major contribution.

We are also grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry who, no doubt, has assisted in the redeployment of another 2,000 or more jobs from within the Civil Service deployment unit, which are now coming to Leeds with the Departments of Social Security and Health. Those are two recent and welcome developments.

I refer briefly to two other aspects that concern me. Both can be classified as regional policies but both are national in origin. I refer first to the Channel tunnel and to its consequences for railway development in the north of England. I am far from satisfied that that operation is being planned correctly. I am also far from satisfied that the commitment to the northern links will be built to a time and cost that will enable us in the north to share in the developments of 1992.

I am far from satisfied that the funding arrangements for the Channel tunnel will survive the pressures put upon them. I take a critical view of the absence, so far, of public funding for a portion of that project. If, as seems possible, the next attempt at a private sector tranche of funding fails, I trust that my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry will do his bit to insist that public sector funding is considered as the correct solution to that problem.

We must have correct and rapid goods transit to the north. I want to put in a plea for the transit station and depot to be at Stourton on the outskirts of Leeds. As one Opposition Member—bless him—now recognises, that is the natural place to site it. I am sorry that I cannot be persuaded to consider the Doncaster alternative, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and our hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), who is sitting next to him on the Treasury Bench, might also consider the transport advantages of the Stourton turn-off for the international freight service.

I make no apology for referring now to the wool textile industry. It would be wrong for a debate on Yorkshire to conclude without reference being made to the vital importance still of the wool textile industry to our economy and the vital importance to that industry of a successful and progressive transfer from the multi-fibre arrangement to the general agreement on tariffs and trade. That was the burden of our debate some months ago and of the message that we left with my noble Friend Lord Trefgarne when we went to see him in another place. It is crucial that my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham ensures that the arrangements to transfer the MFA over a period into an orderly world textile regime which is funded by GATT and founded within that system is an essential part of the future of the textile industry in Yorkshire. I trust that careful note will be taken of that element tonight.

12.19 am
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I shall take only a few minutes because others wish to speak. The number of hon. Members who wish to speak shows the wisdom of allocating three hours to any future debate on Yorkshire and Humberside.

Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam)

This debate is one and a half hours.

Mr. Cryer

I want the next debate to be three hours, not one and a half hours. There was a time when the Consolidated Fund—[Interruption.] I am talking to the Whip, who is shouting out from a sedentary position. I am merely pointing out that we want more time, not less. The amount of time allocated is decided by Mr. Speaker. I do not like the position and I make a plea for more time in the future. I am spending an unnecessary amount of time doing that so as to make the position clear to the Minister.

Yorkshire and Humberside has suffered under the Tories. To repeat points made already, we have lost money through the poll tax which will result in a bill 30 per cent. higher than the rates bill for the average family in Yorkshire. We have lost almost £80 million through the freezing of child benefit in an area where there is much social deprivation and a great need for child benefit, which goes direct to the family and the children.

Tax cuts have benefited only a tiny wealthy elite. In manufacturing industry, which is vital to the future of Yorkshire and Humberside, and indeed the rest of the United Kingdom, investment has grown by only 1 per cent. since 1979. I shall not dwell on the increase in mortgage charges to 15 per cent. as a result of the Government's economic policies.

I emphasise the importance of the textile industry. In Bradford, of which I represent the south side, 14,000 jobs depend directly on textiles. Another 14,000 at least depend on the industry indirectly. We want the multi-fibre arrangement to be renewed. We want any changes in the MFA resulting in a takeover by GATT rules to be made in an orderly fashion, as Silberston recommended. The Minister should note that Silberston said that as many as 33,000 jobs could be lost if the MFA was not renewed. The industry believes that the figure could be nearer 100,000.

As the textile industry is a large water user, the region also faces penalties because of the increase in water charges. That could mean that more jobs will be lost in Yorkshire and Humberside. I hope that the Minister will consider what both the employers and the trade unions in the Yorkshire textile industry want. They want grant aid to make more efficient use of water. The industry's investment capacity is limited. Increases in water charges are not its fault. It is a large user of water. I suggest that it would make environmental sense, too, to have better water utilisation facilities in the textile industry.

Since 1979 when the Government came to power, 2 million jobs have been lost in manufacturing industry. Nearly 200,000 of them were in Yorkshire and Humberside. That trend must be reversed in the future, and I guess that that will be done only with the advent of a Labour Government at the next general election.

I echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) when he opened the debate that we need a shift from roads to rail in the region. This comes in a week when we have had the formal announcement of the closure of the Wortley Curve, which will remove direct rail access to Bradford. From now on, all trains will have to go through Leeds. There has also been a meeting of the west Yorkshire passenger transport executive. I know that this is not the direct responsibility of the Minister, but we want the railway between Bradford and Leeds to be electrified. I should like both the Aire valley route and the route through Pudsey to be electrified. It would mean a speedier, more efficient and better service.

In Yorkshire and Humberside, rail passenger transport has grown. Trains are overcrowded and uncomfortable and passengers are carried in unacceptable conditions. We need more investment. I hope that the PTA obtains authority to borrow £50 million. I would like to see grant aid from the Government to make sure that the investment goes ahead. It is environmentally sound, it will benefit Yorkshire and Humberside and it will help to create jobs. Jobs for the future are a vital component of success for Yorkshire and Humberside.

12.23 am
Mr. Timothy Kirkhope (Leeds, North-East)

I shall be brief as I know that this debate is drawing to a close.

It is symptomatic of the power and influence of Yorkshire that hon. Members on both sides of the House have done much to persuade Government of the need to consider always what is best for Yorkshire. The initiative taken by the present Government, especially in certain parts of Yorkshire—for example, Chapeltown in my constituency—are welcome. The pump-priming effect of the work of the Department of Trade and Industry in relation to the task force operations is something of which I am extremely proud—as we all should be.

The other day I was involved in the opening of a nursery school in Chapeltown, which had been helped with £76,000 of aid from our task force operation. With the full co-operation of charities and commercial organisations, in partnership with the local authority in Leeds, that venture, in common with others in the area, will be an enormous success. That aid, coupled with yesterday's announcement of £5.4 million for Leeds under the urban programme, demonstrates the Government's commitment to the city and to Yorkshire.

In many ways, Yorkshire can look after itself, and many other parts of the country look to it with great envy. Leeds is the undoubted capital of the north. The prosperity of the financial services in that city is legion.

The continuing success of manufacturing, the excellence of the local beers, the success of the textile industry and its on-going development and the commitment and interest of local politicians and politicians at Westminster guarantee the continued success of the region. That is thanks to the Government's policies and the hard work of the region's representatives.

12.26 am
Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central)

In common with other hon. Members, I thank the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) for introducing the debate, which has been worth while. There has been agreement across the Floor about the Channel tunnel and sections 40 and 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. No doubt Conservative Members will support us when we seek to abolish section 42—we shall be pleased to see them in the Lobby with us.

The debate has been about regional policy and I would be remiss if I did not say that the Labour party is extremely concerned about the structural weaknesses in Yorkshire and in the northern region. There is ever-increasing evidence that, with the advent of 1992, we shall face some serious problems. Those problems must be seen against the present background of a reduction in support for the regions.

It is difficult to discover the Government's regional policy, as they have been withdrawing from the regions ever since they came to power. That withdrawal is now costing Yorkshire about £47 million per year. [Interruption.] Reductions in the regional development grant and regional selective assistance have cost Yorkshire £47 million a year in the past 10 years. Government funding is set to continue to decline. On top of that, support for research and development and training has been cut, as has support for our transport infrastructure. All that shows that the Government have abrogated responsibility for supporting the regions.

If one compares our regions with those of our European counterparts, it is clear from any economic indicator—gross domestic product per capita or real economic growth—that our regions fair badly. Let us compare the English regions with the lander of Germany. The very best English region, the south-east, does not compare with the worst lander. All the English regions, not just Yorkshire, are in the third division.

Some revealing figures on state aids have been published recently by the Community. The Community has considered not public expenditure, but public investment. If one excludes steel and shipbuilding and considers manufacturing, the state aid per head for that industry across the Community is £1,050. In the United Kingdom it is £448, in Germany it is about £550. That shows the decline that has taken place. If we are to play on a level playing field, let us have that level playing field.

It is no good the Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, running round carping about it. He must do something about it. If the average investment per person in manufacturing is £1,050, and the level in the United Kingdom is £448 per head, there is a major discrepancy. This Government's withdrawal of the grant regimes has made it difficult for our manufacturing industries to compete. That has been made more difficult by the high interest rates and high inflation. That is why we have a £20 billion trade deficit.

It gives me no pleasure to refer to the Louvain report, which was carried out by the European Commission to consider the rundown of industrial regions in the Community. Strathclyde and south Yorkshire were two of the regions considered, and on almost every count we were at the bottom of the league. It was a most depressing report. I do not have time to go into it this evening, but it is compelling reading, and it shows the structural weaknesses for which I do not blame just this Administration. Over a period of recent history, structural weaknesses have appeared in this country. Our technology, infrastructure and decision-making centres are behind those other industrial regions in the EC. The report said that south Yorkshire had become marginalised.

We should take heed of such information, which is objectively produced. The Commission was right to commission that report and show the problems that we face. We have not relaxed in south Yorkshire, or in Yorkshire in general, and, based on that report, an outline of regeneration strategy for south Yorkshire, hopefully developing to the whole of Yorkshire and Humberside, has been undertaken. Those developments and discussions taking place at present are to try to start rectifying some of the structural weaknesses with intervention and structural planning.

Our problem is a Government who are ideologically based, have objections to local authorities, and will not intervene, but want to parachute in resources. While I do not want to knock urban development corporations or task forces, it is interesting to read the Audit Commission's report on urban regeneration and economic development, which states that we have a patchwork quilt of aids which nobody can understand and which mitigates against any development of economic growth. I ask the Minister, for about the third time, if he will make time to debate that report, together with the reports on urban development corporations from the Select Committee on Employment and the Public Accounts Committee.

This evening's debate has been good. It is unfortunate that we have not dealt with the issues entirely at regional level, but many hon. Members have brought in problems involving their constituencies. Unless we heed the advice that is being given and consider seriously reports such as the Audit Commission's, Louvain and many others available to us and have some strategic planning for our regions, the advent of 1992 will make a difficult position much more serious. I hope that, when he replies to this debate, the Minister will at least give us a little light at the end of the tunnel and show that he will take the subject more seriously than he has done in the past.

12.33 am
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for allowing me a moment or two to contribute to this debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) spoke about the uniform business rate, which is particularly helpful to Yorkshire and Humberside. We benefit as a region to the tune of 21 per cent. Before revaluation, the rate bill for our region was £710 million; it is being reduced by £150 million. Our only regret is that we shall not see all the benefit at once. It is a great pity that the change is being phased. There are firms that will pay more, but the Government cannot be held responsible for changes in market conditions. The region will benefit, and that will make a great difference to regional policy.

The change to the uniform business rate is helpful. There have long been complaints that local authorities unfairly increase business rates and that the firms which have had to pay the increased bills had no opportunity of expressing their verdict via the ballot box. The new system protects businesses from that form of exploitation, and that has been widely welcomed. It is especially important that the legislation guarantees that the increase from one year to the next will not be greater than the current rate of general inflation. The change to the uniform business rate and revaluation has been welcomed throughout the region, and I hope that no one will lose sight of that fact.

12.35 am
The Minister for Industry (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

In the five minutes of the debate that are available to me, I shall not be able to do justice to all the matters that have been raised in the debate.

Like other hon. Members, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) on initiating the debate. I was entirely in agreement with the way in which he opened the debate, which was to stress the buoyant nature of the economy in Yorkshire and Humberside and to attribute much of that buoyancy to Government policy. My hon. Friend has great experience of the area and what he says carries considerable weight. His support of the Budget provisions, especially in so far as they relate to VAT changes and to reductions in the corporation tax burden on smaller businesses, was especially apposite.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) referred to Pioneer going to Wakefield and I much appreciated the meeting that we had to discuss it. That enables me to make a much more general point but one that I think is worth drawing to the attention of the House. It is wrong to say that the Government do not have a regional policy. In fact, we have an extremely effective one. That is one of the reasons why we secure for the United Kingdom about one third of all Japanese investment in Europe. It is also one of the reasons why we gain a substantial proportion of United States investment in Europe.

Opposition Members want us to return to something like the old regional development grant system, but that would be preposterous. The RDG was automatic and took no account of the relevant economic criteria that come to mind. The policy of regional selective assistance has been of extreme benefit to Yorkshire and Humberside. I shall give some relevant figures. Between 1 May 1979 and 28 February 1990—I like to be precise—in Yorkshire and Humberside there have been 1,308 offers of assistance. The value of that assistance is £144 million. The projects to which the offers related were worth £1,543 million. The offers of RSA are likely to create about 48,000 jobs and to safeguard about 30,000. That is a remarkable achievement and a testimony to Government regional policy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson) made some extremely important remarks about the environment. They are primarily matters for my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of the Environment, but I shall ensure that they are made aware of what he said. My hon. Friend was right to draw attention to the considerable stress that is placed on new industries, and especially financial services. The substantial increase in employment in the financial services sector in Yorkshire is one of the most remarkable transformations to have happened recently. That is especially true of Leeds.

Speaking of Leeds, it was especially pleasing to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw), one of my most distinguished predecessors. I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) said about the contribution that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey made to the region. Understandably, my hon. Friend dwelt on the textile question and emphasised the importance of securing proper safeguards when the multi-fibre arrangement is brought back into the general agreement on tariffs and trade. That is entirely right. When the MFA is brought back into GATT, it is important that proper safeguards are introduced, that a sufficient transitional period is provided for, and that we address the questions that will then arise.