HL Deb 06 June 1945 vol 136 cc420-35

2.57 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is an enabling Bill and it is one designed to facilitate Government action in securing, where necessary, redistribution of industry. Your Lordships will remember a period in the middle thirties when there was severe unemployment in this country, and you will recollect that this unemployment showed itself in its most acute forms in those parts of the country that were almost entirely dependent upon one industry. In a mercantile country such as ours, it is inevitable that, from time to time, the demand for its products should vary, but it does not necessarily follow that the decline in our trade will vary equally all over the country. Obviously, our aim should be to secure in each locality that there is some balance of trade. Those areas especially afflicted by trade decline in the thirties indeed presented a very sorry sight. The same set of circumstances often operated to create unemployment among all the wage-earners in a family at the same time, and there was very little left for those people to do except to wait in idleness until the economic wind changed. And sometimes it was a very long time in changing.

We called these places Special Areas, and your Lordships will remember that Commissioners were appointed to deal with them. But for some time the economic wastage continued and it was deplorable. I saw it at close quarters for, along with my noble friend Viscount Portal, I was one of those who had the responsibility for deciding in which way Treasury money that was allocated for the restoration of industry in these parts of the country should be spent. I therefore speak on this subject with some experience. I speak about it, too, with some feeling for the desperately bad conditions under which the people in those districts at that time were living. We did find that we could do something. We found that we could introduce new industries into these depressed areas, even though, in fact, they were unattractive places to industrialists. Naturally, the longer mass unemployment continued the more unattractive they became. Mainly philanthropic in its outlook that relief process was really characteristic of British methods. It was an experiment, and we have learnt from it.

In this Bill, which I am presenting for its Second Reading to-day, we are proposing to utilize the experience which we gained at that time and to embark on what I regard as a positive effort against unemployment. We are seeking to take measures to prevent unemployment before it arises. In the inevitable change-over of industry which will result from the fact that we are no longer concentrating entirely on the production of munitions, we are seeking to make arrangements so that places which in the past have been unduly dependent on one industry for the provision of employment may become the home of other industries. In this effort we have the support of the industrialists, because, as a result of the dispersal of industry which has occurred during war-time, industrialists have now realized how skilful, how enterprising and how adaptable are the people who live in these areas, and they are prepared to go there to start new enterprises.

I do not want to address your Lordships at too great a length on this Second Reading, but I should like to run rapidly through the clauses of the Bill. In Clauses 1 and 2 the Board of Trade are authorized to secure land and to erect on it factories and ancillary buildings, including houses for key workers. I was in South Wales recently, and was talking to some people who have taken war industries there and asking them whether they proposed to stay there. They said that they were very willing to stay, and were very satisfied with most of the labour that they found there, but it would be necessary for them to bring in specialists for their peace-time production, to live there and to teach the other workers, and the problem facing them was whether they would be able to find houses for those specialists. In this Bill, therefore, the Board of Trade are given powers to erect houses for key workers, and alternatively to help to finance trading estates on a non-profit-making basis, so that those trading estates can build factories.

But the erection and equipment of factories take time. During that time people who are engaged on the production of munitions will be released. In an effort to meet that situation, schemes for building factories in some places are already well advanced, but progress on these schemes will be delayed unless the powers to proceed with the actual work are obtained quickly. The people who have worked so magnificiently and tirelessly during the war must not be rewarded with a period of unemployment which is the direct result of delayed legislation, and therefore I would urge your Lordships to pass this Bill during this Parliament. If your Lordships will look at Clause 3, you will see that we realize that buildings alone are not sufficient, and that it will be necessary in some instances to improve the basic services. In Clause 3 financial provision is made so that communications can be improved and increased electricity, water supply and so on provided—all these things that are necessary to enable industry to function. Clause 3 makes available the finance necessary for this purpose.

With factories and essential services at its disposal, industry may need help to establish itself in unusual places—unusual that is for the industry concerned—and among a population where the workers are not trained for that industry. Clause 4 authorizes the Treasury to give financial assistance towards the capital requirements of industrial undertakings which are being established or expanded in Development Areas. This provision of capital replaces various types of financial assistance that were available before the war from the Special Areas Reconstruction Association, Limited, the Nuffield Trust, and the Special Areas Fund. The provision of such financial assistance is intended to compensate industrial undertakings for any disadvantage of a temporary kind that may arise from their location in a Development Area in accordance with Government policy. I ought to say that the financial assistance provided under Clause 4 is not intended as a subsidy, but to assist in the raising of capital when this cannot he obtained from other sources on the terms that the industrialists consider necessary. It is laid down that the Treasury must in every case be satisfied that the undertaking concerned, though it may be in need of temporary assistance, can reasonably be expected ultimately to be able to carry on its work successfully. In Clause 5 we seek power to deal with those areas which have been suffering for years from the unsightly results of previous enterprise—derelict places, unattractive to the eye and not likely to allure the industrialist to go there or anybody to want to live there. We seek power to enable us to clear those sites if necessary.

The First Schedule to the Bill contains a list of the areas which have been initially selected as Development Areas. You will notice the difference of phraseology. We used to refer to Special Areas, and we sometimes called them distressed areas. My own home town of Liverpool was terribly distressed by unemployment, but was much too proud to call itself a distressed area. We are now referring to these areas as Development Areas, and I hope that that will be an encouraging change of title. The First Schedule indicates the particular districts concerned. It has been drawn up widely. It can be altered, but it will not be altered for a period of three years. Once a district appears in the Schedule it will remain there at any rate for three years, which will give some assurance of continuity. The areas selected are those in which we have reason to suppose there is some danger of heavy unemployment developing unless special measures are taken. They are mainly what were called the Special Areas before the war, but they are larger; they have over 2,000,000 more inhabitants, and 1,000,000 more insured workers.

I now come to a very important provision in the Bill, Clause 9. Under this clause, industrialists who contemplate the establishment of new factories are required to notify the Board of Trade of their intention to do so. The requirement is that they shall notify intention, and this notification must be given sixty days before the contracts for building are placed, or alternatilvely before building operations begin. The purpose of this requirement is that industrialists shall tell the Board of Trade before their plans reach an advanced stage, so that on the one hand the Board may place at the disposal of industrialists information which may be useful to them in deciding the location of a new factory, and on the other hand the industrialists may be persuaded to put a factory elsewhere if it is in the national interest that they should do so.

There has been a little discussion about this clause. It quite clearly cannot do the industrialist any harm to get all the advantage that comes from knowledge of what the Board of Trade can tell him, if he does not already know. It may indeed be that when the industrialist contemplating extension realizes that it would be to the national advantage if he extended in one place rather than another, and when he finds that it would be no serious impediment to his commercial enterprise that he should do so, he will quite willingly make that change.

No notification is necessary for an extension of an existing industrial unit by the erection of a new building contiguous or adjacent to buildings already used by the same undertaking, nor is it necessary in the case of a new building with an aggregate floor space of 10,000 square feet or less. The Board, having no comment to make, have power in cases of particular urgency to permit construction to proceed before the sixty days have passed. To avoid any misunderstanding, it should be made clear that the provisions in this clause do not impose any delay on industrialists. It is inconceivable that plans for the erection of a building of 10,000 square feet will not be considered sixty days before it is necessary for building operations to begin. I need not go into the details of the clauses, but I wanted to give a general picture of the provisions of the Bill, and I hope that your Lordships will be good enough to give it a Second Reading to-day. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Woolton.)

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill, I think, demonstrates some of the disadvantages as well as some of he advantages of a Coalition Government. Had there been a Government of one Party I do not think this Bill would have emerged at all. If there ht d been a Government of another Party it would have been much stronger and much more far-reaching. No one I think can fairly claim that this Bill makes any pretence to carry out the main recommendations of the Barlow Commission, nor do I think that in practice it will succeed in avoiding those difficulties which this country faced between the wars from the mallocation, the unregulated location, of industry in certain parts of the country. This Bill is, of course, a Bill to seek to spread unemployment, if unemployment should occur. The policy of the Government, I hope, will be more concerned with preventing unemployment than with measures for spreading it if it occurs.

The noble Lord in introducing the Bill said that there had been a change from the description of Special Areas to that of Development Areas. Well, the problem still remains. What we want is not so much a change of description as a change of policy which will avoid the difficulties which were experienced in certain parts of the country before the war. It is, of course, not the whole story to say that these difficulties arose only in the 1930's; they were present with us, unfortunately, throughout nearly all the inter-war years. It is true that in 1931 the position was more acute than in earlier years, but unemployment and distress were rife in the industrially developed parts of the country throughout the whole period between 1920 and 1939. In the view of those of us who sit on these Benches the powers proposed to be taken in this Bill are not adequate to deal with the problem if it should arise. We do not think that you can ultimately rely upon persuasion as to the location of industry. If the objects sought are to be attained we take the view that, if it is in the national interest, powers beyond persuasion should be taken, and I think I can find reinforcement for that view in the almost unanimous recommendations of the Barlow Commission, where they relied, if my memory serves me aright, to some degree upon persuasion but in the ultimate resort upon direction.

Moreover, not only does this Bill give no adequate powers to the Government to remove industry, or indeed in the final analysis to direct the ultimate location of a particular factory, but there is no provision at all in the Bill for giving any appropriate powers to local authorities. The location of industry cannot be effectively carried out with satisfactory results in this country without everyone realizing that it is likely to have very serious repercussions upon the whole structure of local government; and local government in its turn, in carrying out such planning as may be possible under recent legislation, will be unable to escape itself the problem of the location of industry if it is to decongest areas which are overpopulated by factories as well as those areas which are over-populated by residences.

Under the Town and Country Planning Act of last year the local authorities have some limited power to provide sites, and indeed to build factories where the need arises, because of the destruction of factories or the damage to factories in an area of extensive war damage. But beyond that the local authorities have no powers at all to direct and guide and influence the location of industry in connexion with their planning proposals. We all know—at least those of us know who have been associated with larger cottage estates outside the area of a big city—that one of the most acute problems is to get industry to go to the place or places to which labour is taken on those cottage estates, and thus to avoid excessive and unnecessary travel into and out of the particular city. The local authorities will be under an obligation to go on with that process of decanting their population, or a substantial proportion of their population—a rather appreciable proportion of their population. But the local authorities have no adequate powers to see to it that industry goes to the same areas as the population.

I think it would have been wiser had the Government looked at this problem of the location of industry not so much, as I fear they have done, from the narrow economic point of view, the point of view of spreading unemployment, should it occur, as from a wider point of view as a part of the general replanning and reconstruction of the country. I fear that it may well occur that under this Bill there may be relocation of industry which does not take account sufficiently of the requirements of good, sound and satisfactory planning. My noble friends on this side take the view that this Bill is, as I have said, by no means adequate for the end which it seeks or, indeed, for the problem which may face us, but it is a start; and in those circumstances, reserving the right to move such Amendments as we might think proper at the appropriate stage, my noble friends will support the Second Reading.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I do not feel it possible to allow the Second Reading of this Bill to pass entirely sub silentio from this side of the House. I think the noble Lord opposite, in his criticism of my noble friend's speech, did not do full justice to the exigencies of the situation. As I understand it, this Bill reaches us in this rather limited form solely because of the lack of time to debate a wider measure. I take it—this is where I differ from my noble friend opposite—that my noble friend the Lord President stands by what he said in the past about the determination of this Government, like the National Government, to see that we do get a proper measure of national planning. I think it is due to the House, if that is the case—and I am confident that it is—that the noble Lord in winding up the debate should give us that assurance, because, frankly, without some such assurance as that I should not be entirely satisfied that this Bill should go through.

My noble friend has assured us time and again in this House of the importance of a proper measure of national planning, and indeed he accepted op behalf of the Government a Motion which I moved not so very long ago advocating a policy of decongestion, dispersal and redevelopment of the urban aggregations. That was accepted and stands as the policy of the then Government. It is, I believe, the policy of the Government now in power, and the policy which they intend to implement in due course when they have been reaffirmed in power, as we on this side of the House hope they will be, after the General Election.

I would like to remind my noble friend, if he will forgive me, of one or two of the things that he has said. On the Third Reading of the Town and Country Planning Bill he said the Bill would enable the Minister to exercise such control as will secure that both the places of the new development and the form of it will conform with the requirements of national planning… It is an essential object of the Bill that the sites for the overspill shall be chosen with full regard to the wider considerations of planning. I think this would have been a wider measure but for the exigencies of time to which I have referred. My noble friend went on: The central planning authority is the Minister of Town and Country Planning… The Minister will also be the channel through which all central decisions on planning matters (whether or not those decisions concern other Departments as well as the Ministry of Town and Country Planning) will be sought and will be pronounced. There can be no doubt as to where the powers of the central authority are located. I do not think this is the time to make too many detailed criticisms but I am not entirely happy about the extent of power which is given under this Bill to the Board of Trade or to the limitations of planning which are thereby introduced. My apprehensions will be relieved if my noble friend will assure us, as I hope he will, that this is only an instalment and that there are other measures to come along later which will complete the policy necessary to secure the carrying out of the acceptance of the Barlow Report, which my noble friend has more than once assured us is the policy of the late Government. If decongestion and dispersal remain the policy of the Government, then we must have some measure and some further powers for the central planning authority to deal with decongestion and dispersal.

The policy in this Bill is directed, as my noble friend has explained, entirely towards the former Special Areas. In my view, taken by itself, it is an unbalanced and insufficient policy. The whole policy for the location of industry, to which I firmly believe my noble friend still adheres, must provide for factory buildings in overspill communities, not only in those Development Areas. It must provide for some restriction of the extensions of factories in congested towns, and so on. I do not want to elaborate the matter, but I do want to get an assurance from my noble friend that he still adheres to a policy of national planning, perhaps not entirely in the sense but more or less in the sense in which he has already given assurances in your Lordships' House.

There is one minor point on the Bill to which I would like to direct his attention because I think it is lopsided and if time permitted I would have liked to move an Amendment. I would like his comment: on it. Clause 5, to which he has referred, permits the Boars of Trade where there is a derelict area in a Development Area to go in and spend money and get it put straight for the purpose of securing that it is brought into use or for improving the amenities of the neighbourhood. Now the Board of Trade is concerned with industry, but the Government Department which is concerned with land use is the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. As the Bill stands it appears to be clear infringement of the domain of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning by the Board of Trade. If the Board of Trade were going to use the land entirely for industry, well and good, but it specifically provides that it may be for amenity. I would have liked to move an Amendment to substitute "Ministry of Town and Country Planning" for Board of Trade," at least in that particular instance. I think you are, by this provision, setting up a dual control of the administration of land use. That is what the Ministry of Town and Country Planning was set up for, and that is one reason why again I would like a renewed assurance from my noble friend that the whole policy of constructive town and country planning has not been abandoned by this Government but that they intend to give it fulfilment in due course.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I would like to add a few words to what has been said by the noble Lord who has just sat down. I do sincerely hope that, small as this Bill is, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning will not be left out. Really it should be brought into active consultation by the Board of Trade before they answer industrialists who, under the provisions of this Bill, notify them of, or who are discussing with them, the establishment of new factories. It does appear to me that both in houses and in everything else the much-trumpeted and belauded Ministry of Town and Country Planning is being ignored by every other Government Department much more than by the general public, the local authorities or anybody else. The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Works (of which I was once Minister), and the Ministry of Transport all regard this Ministry of Town and Country Planning as something of an academic nuisance, and that attitude has a most unfortunate result. If we are, when we come to full peace-time planning, going back upon the undertakings given and the hopes held out in the creation of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, we are going to rue the day.

Now take this Bill. It is so easy to suggest that it may be that the areas which were distressed areas after the last war will be identical with those which may be distressed in the future; but we cannot possibly say that to-day. The distressed areas in the inter-war period were mainly coal-mining areas—almost predominantly so—because owing to the great change-over from coal to oil in steamships, and many other things, there was a tremendous falling-off in bunker coal and in the export of coal. As we can see ahead, for the next few years the last industry likely to be distressed is the coal-mining industry. The whole world is short of coal. We are desperately short of coal in this country and likely to remain so. It is in the coal-mining areas, where we are short of miners and capital and everything in the coal-mining industry, that we want to produce more coal in the next ten years than we have ever produced before.

The danger after this war is that inevitably there have grown up enormous munition factories, particularly aircraft factories, in certain areas which arc now full of particular types of mechanical engineers, and there is going to be a great slump in some of those trades in those places which have been mainly producing munitions of war. The West Riding of Yorkshire textile industry will boom; North Staffordshire pottery will boom. The whole world wants their products. But some of the engineering areas are likely to become distressed areas very quickly if we do not look out. Anybody who is interested in this matter, as I have been for some years, could talk at length about it. The broad question one always has to bear in mind is the tendency not merely of people in this country but in every country, certainly every civilized country, to go back to the big cities. That is true of new countries like Australia. It is true of South Africa, where I have been recently. It is true of Canada and the United States. The vast majority of workers and of people of enterprise, whatever their trade, whether they are high-class industrialists or high-grade workers or ordinary artisans, all desire to go to the big cities. There is magic in the attraction of the big city. What is the position in America? Chicago, Los Angeles and all the big cities are getting bigger and bigger. It is the same all over the world and I do not believe any Act of Parliament will stop a free people tending in that direction. The tendency inevitably is towards the great capital cities.

That is why the location of industry needs most attention round the big cities like London, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester. Those are the areas where you must have a suitable distribution between industry, amenities and dwelling-houses. You need it in those areas because they will always be the great magnet. It is a world experience that you really want provisions of this kind. South Wales, an area with which I am somewhat familiar, is not likely in the near future to become a distressed area, for industry in a considerable variety of forms has grown up there during the war. It is a very promising area. Moreover, it looks as if the coal trade of South Wales is going to be revived. If you try directly to compel any class of the community, least of all the ordinary wage-earner, to give up going to the big cities with their attractions, their companionship and the like, and compel him to start work in a derelict mining village in Durham, well, I think you are mistaken. The workers will go on wishing to go to the neighbourhood of the big cities.

That being the case, I think this Bill, helpful though it may be and temporary as it is, is quite inadequate in the long run to deal with the problem which, if I may say so, is only tentatively discussed in the Barlow Report. Only the fringe of the problem was touched in that Report. A good many of us feel that it might have gone a good deal further. Therefore let us pass this Bill now, but bear in mind that we are embarking on a very much larger subject which requires a good deal more than is contained in this Bill. For goodness' sake do not leave out from this Bill the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. They have done a very great deal of work of great importance, and it really is essential that they should be brought in. There is a large number of plans, there are some planners at work in the country, and they have not yet finished their work. It would be most unfortunate if the Board of Trade, without consulting them in regard to the work they have done, gave encouragement to people to establish industries, as apparently would be done under this Bill as it is drafted to-day.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, there is only one small point in regard to administration which I want to mention and that is in Clause 9, which the Minister was good enough to explain to us very particularly. I take it that one of the main objects of this Bill is to encourage new industries in these Development Areas. There is one thing here which some of the industrial people may look at somewhat askance—namely, the necessity of having to give sixty days notice before they can make their arrangements or start on their work. I quite appreciate the intention and the good work which may be done. The Minister referred to the fact, among other things, that the Government might persuade those who were proposing to put up these new buildings not to do so. Some people in the industrial and commercial world know pretty well what Government persuasion means.


I said, not to do so in those places. I do not want to stop them putting up buildings. I must not be misunderstood. I said they might be persuaded not to go to a particular place but to go elsewhere.


I am sorry if I did not make that clear. That is what I intended to say. As I say, I entirely appreciate the value of the clause generally and I think perhaps that it cannot be altered now. But the way in which it is worded is a little unfortunate. My hope is that those in charge of this Bill will make clear what is the intention in the future and that in administering this Bill the full sixty days will not be made use of except in those cases where it is absolutely necessary. At present the shortening of the period mealy comes from the words "such shorter period as the Board of Trade may allow." I hope it will be understood that the Board of Trade will make it a shorter period whenever they possibly can. In many of these cases the starling of work immediately without delay is one of the things to which the promoters of this industry attach very great importance.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I thank you for the general reception you have given this Bill. The noble Lord opposite and. Load Balfour of Burleigh have indicated something about which your Lordships are not in complete ignorance —namely, that when this Bill started its Parliamentary life it was bigger and it covered more ground.


Not much.


Perhaps my noble friend Lord Balfour at any rate would agree that it had more clauses in it which have been taken out in order to meet a decision in another place and in order to meet the swift passage of time in the life of this Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, asked me a very difficult question. If he asked me where I stood in this matter I could give him a straight answer.


We should like it.


I stand precisely where I stood before. I stand where I have always stood on this issue of town and country planning, and I have not wavered in the matter in any speech I have made on this subject since I joined your Lordships' House. Perhaps you may think that I have not benefited by the amount of education I might have had from listening to the views of other people, but I am quite convinced about it. If you ask the Lord President of the Council where he stands in the matter of promising legislation, it is no use anybody making promises about what this Government is going to do until we see what the next Government is going to do. Untutored as I am in political life, I think I should make a mistake if I made any promise to the noble Lord as to what will happen in the future. Perhaps, however, I might without impropriety say that since I shall be a member of your Lordships' House whatever may be the result of the General Election, the noble Lord may rely on my coming along and sitting with him on one side of the House or the other.

May I say that I think noble Lords are unduly sensitive about this young child, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning? The truth is that so many people are anxious that it should be brought in that we dare not forget it. I am sure the Minister would see anyhow that we do not. There has been a complaint that we have not mentioned the Ministry of Labour in this Bill: that surely when we are dealing with the distribution of industry labour is one of the most important things to remember. What happens in practice is that somebody among Ministers has to be responsible. We decided that it should be the President of the Board of Trade but at the same time we made a Ministerial arrangement that the Minister of Town and Country Planning should always be brought into consultation. He sits, not as a person brought in by the Board of Trade, but as a colleague with equal rights. We did not, however, think it necessary to mention him specifically in the Bill. I am very glad to see that my right honourable friend has so many friends in this House and also in another place. I do not think you need consider it necessary to amend this Bill in order to secure that the point of town planning will be taken into account in whatever decisions the Board of Trade may arrive at on the subject of the distribution of industry.

In reply to my noble friend Lord Hemingford I would say that I have in my time started many buildings. I should not have thought sixty days too long a time—and I used to work quite quickly in those days—after first deciding to build a building in a certain place to elapse before I started. If the whole of that time were occupied it would not be likely to cause much delay but there are ample provisions in the Bill for the period to be less. I am certain I should be right in saying that I am sure the President of the Board of Trade, whoever he may be, will instruct his officers to see that the minimum of time should be used rather than the full sixty days. I make that statement very deliberately in order that it may be recorded. I hope I need not detain your Lordships longer either in defending the Bill or apologizing for the fact that it does not do all the things some of us originally hoped it would do. I ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.