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Industrial Development Certificates (London)

Volume 887: debated on Tuesday 25 February 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Before calling on the Minister to move the motion standing in his name, I must say that I have selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch (Mr. Brown).

10.15 p.m.

I beg to move

That this House takes note of the Town and Country Planning (Industrial Development Certificates Exemption) (No. 2) Order 1974 (S.I., 1974, No. 2028), dated 4th December 1974, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th December.
The aim of regional industrial policy is to encourage the expansion of industry in the development and intermediate areas. To this end, as the House is well aware, the Government give assistance in financial and other forms towards industrial development in the assisted areas. The beneficiaries of this regional assistance are Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Northern England—that is, the North-East and Merseyside—and the extreme South-West. These are the areas which, for economic, geographic and historic reasons, have had a very difficult time for decades. These are the areas which have long experience of persistently high unemployment. Their unemployment rates are markedly higher than those in the rest of the country.

Let me illustrate the employment situation. I am using November 1974 figures. These are the latest for which there are full and substantial details. I find, for example, that in Liverpool there were 43,900 registered unemployed—an unemployment rate of 6·8 per cent.—against a mere 3,800 vacancies recorded by employment offices. In Glasgow, the unemploy- ment rate was 4·9 per cent.—26,800 people unemployed against only 8,000 vacancies. In the very much larger total area and population of Greater London, on the other hand, there were 59,400 unemployed—an unemployment rate of 1·5 per cent.—and no fewer than 67,600 vacancies. I realise, of course, that the detailed figures will show some changes in the pattern I have described, but I have no doubt that the relative problems of places such as Liverpool and Glasgow will not have diminished. The figures would have been even worse if successive Governments had not pursued regional development policies in the last 30 years.

It is the aim of this Government to continue the battle to reduce as far as possible the unjust and wasteful disparities between different parts of the United Kingdom. I would remind the House that the Gracious Speech last March promised that high priority would be given to the stimulation of regional development and employment.

Let us look at the pledges we made when in Opposition. The Labour Party's programme for 1973 declared our intention to strengthen the industrial development certificate controls, and to tie their operation in closely with our overall planning at national and regional levels. What has happened? As the Prime Minister said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice) on 5th December last, the Government have doubled the regional employment premium, tightened the industrial development certificate control in the non-assisted areas, and announced three new programmes—that figure is now four—of advance factories. We therefore have a situation in which regional policy operates, as it has for many years, through a combination of inducements and controls. The inducements are the provision of financial assistance and buildings, and these are available to firms investing and providing jobs in the assisted areas.

The control is the IDC control, which was introduced in 1948. Its purpose, as I have already implied, is to secure a better economic balance between the different parts of Great Britain. In practice, this means encouraging the establishment of new industry and the expansion of existing industry in the assisted areas and, where appropriate, controlling the establishment of new industry and the expansion of existing industry in areas liable to pressure on available resources of labour.

IDCs are not required in the development areas, including the special development areas. Outside the development areas, an application for planning permission for an industrial development in England and Wales must be supported by an IDC, if the industrial floor space to be created by that development, together with any related development, exceeds 5,000 sq. ft. in South-East England, 15,000 sq. ft. in the intermediate areas and 10,000 sq. ft. elsewhere. We have recently published an up-to-date guide to the operation of the control. Hon. Members will find this in Trade and Industry for 13th February. There are copies in the Vote Office if Members would like to have them.

I carried out a review of the control in the spring of last year and announced in July that we would be making a more critical examination of IDC applications where the project is considered to be mobile. I also announced the reduction in the IDC exemption limits which has led to this debate.

I should like to remind hon. Members of the history of the exemption limits. From 1948 until 1965 IDCs were required throughout Britain for any new industrial floor space exceeding 5,000 sq. ft. When we were last in office we extended the control to include ancillary floor space, and took power to vary the exemption limits. In London and the South-East, the limit was for a time brought down as low as 1,000 sq. ft. When we left office in 1970, the limit was 3,000 sq. ft. The Conservative administration raised the limits twice. In London it went first to 5,000 sq. ft. and then, in the middle of 1972, to 10,000 sq. ft.

I am sure that hon. Members appreciate that, in many ways, it is not the level of exemption limits which is the key but the Department's attitude to individual applications. It is a matter of setting the exemption limits at what can reasonably be regarded as a sensible level. I can assure the House that the IDC control will continue to be operated flexibly and with understanding of the needs of firms, and of the needs of areas which have not shared consistently in the relative prosperity of the South-East generally.

Let me explain the way in which we have applied this policy in my Department. The special difficulties for the dockland areas of London are well known. In the two calendar years, 1973 and 1974, my Department approved 71 IDC applications for dockland locations, representing 2,159,000 sq. ft. of industrial floor space and 1,449 jobs, 881 of them male. In the same period, only three IDC applications, totalling 72,000 sq. ft., were rejected, and two of these were for speculative developments, which could not be entertained. I stress—and it is one of my Department's clichés—that each IDC application is considered on its own merits. It is the only way, as no two cases are alike.

We have found that a great majority of IDC applications in London—and indeed for other parts of the country—are for projects which are not mobile to the extent that they could be carried out in an assisted area, and relatively few applications are unacceptable on congestion grounds. Consequently, it is not surprising to find that, in the last three years, 93 per cent. of all IDC applications in Greater London have been approved.

You, Mr. Speaker, have told us that you have selected the amendment which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). We have looked very carefully at this amendment which poses for me and my Department certain practical problems of administration. It is, however, an arrangement which I believe we could make work, because we recognise that there are serious problems in certain areas in Geater London and I am pleased to be able to tell the House that I am prepared to accept the amendment.

I would assure the House once again that we shall continue to apply the IDC policy sensitively in all the areas where it applies, paying due regard to local circumstances, and to changing industrial situations, but subject always to the overriding needs of the assisted areas. The Government consider that these arrangements for the operation of the IDC control give the right balance between the interests of the assisted areas and those of the rest of the country. I therefore invite the House to approve the motion with the amendment.

10.26 p.m.

I beg to move, at the end of the motion, to add,

"and desires that in so far as its operation in Greater London is concerned, applications for an industrial development certificate of up to 10,000 square feet shall not be refused, save on the intervention of the Secretary of State after consultation with the appropriate local authorities".
May I immediately express the thanks of my colleagues in London to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the very forthright way in which he put his case and for his kindness in accepting our amendment. We tabled the amendment because of the importance of this issue to London. The problem of the decline in industrial employment in London has reached alarming proportions. In the country as a whole the numbers employed in industry fell by 4 per cent. between 1961 and 1971. During the same period they fell by 25 per cent. in London. Since 1971 a further 125,000 such jobs have disappeared. This is the stark reality.

It cannot be right to allow all industry to disappear from an area such as London. It has a population of 7½ million. It represents one-seventh of England and Wales. It covers 620 square miles. It is surely inconceivable that the only jobs available in London should be in the service sector—and that assumes that there are any jobs available.

Apart from the social problems created by deliberately destroying the skills and crafts attained by workers and forcing them to seek employment in jobs which have little or no skills and which pay greatly reduced wages, how can we train apprentices to become the craftsmen of tomorrow? What are the manpower services all about? Of what value is it suggested that the industrial training schemes are? The primary reason is to train young men and women to work in industry. One cannot equate the destruction of industry in a conurbation such as London with the basic concept of industrial training.

We in London accept the needs of the assisted areas. We support the Govern- ment without reservation in their policy in this regard. The assisted areas are entitled to all the help that the Government can give. The Government's acceptance of our amendment does not stop them from giving the maximum help to those areas. They will have our full support.

My hon. Friend the Minister has made a wise decision in accepting our amendment and I wish to place on record our appreciation. Although we appreciate that it will not dramatically improve the situation in London, it is our fervent hope that it will at least slow down the rate of decline. It will give confidence not only to industrialists but to the workers in London that the Labour Government cares that these matters are not left to somebody in Whitehall who has no understanding of their problems. I therefore hope that the House will accept the amendment.

10.30 p.m.

Much of the Minister's speech, especially at the beginning, was irrelevant to London's needs. I should like to ask whether the House would have had an opportunity to debate the matter had it not been for the activities of the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, in another place. In an interesting speech on 6th February he made the point that London's needs were being neglected because praying time had run out in this House.

We are grateful to the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) for making the point that this was an all-party motion against the Government—not the Labour Government but the government in Whitehall—as to how London should be treated.

The hon. Gentleman the Minister of State, Department of Industry, was a little less than usually sensible in his remarks. Having read to us a long speech, he said we could have read most of it in the supplement to Trade and Industry dated 13th February. I shall return to that point in a moment.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch was becomingly modest in expressing his gratitude to the Minister. What he should have said was that he and other London Members of Parliament on both sides of the House had enough votes to lead the Minister to deliver the goods tonight—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] We know the facts quite well. I very much welcome the chance of asserting London's needs. It is right to remind the House that as recently as 2.38 a.m. on 29th January the GLC unanimously resolved that there was a need for the Government to rethink the situation on industrial development certificates.

We are used in this House to hearing about regional problems and the way in which they are expressed by Scottish and Welsh nationalists. However, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is regrettable that we are now apparently seeing the development of London nationalism? Fortunately, that attitude has been eschewed by my hon. Friends but it is now being represented to the House directly and meanly in the words of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg). Does he not appreciate that these are common problems in the United Kingdom and should not be resolved by threats about votes?

For far too long the voice of London has been silent in this House. The amount of time given to debating London matters such as the present motion compared with the amount of time devoted to Wales and Scotland needs to be looked at in the columns of Hansard. Certainly the Conservative Party proposes to give London its fair share of discussion in this House.

I very much hope that the House will accept the amendment, which is bipartisan and which was tabled for tonight because it was too late to annul the order. The order would have been annulled if the right hon. Gentleman the Patronage Secretary had given time for it at the right moment. Being a Londoner, he knows that.

There is growing unemployment in London, as the Minister said, but until now he has seemed rather less interested in the London problem than perhaps he should have been. When asked in the House whether he would raise the IDC limits in the London area, he replied:
"No. It is less than six months since the limits were reduced and I have no plans at present to make any further changes."—[Official Report, 18th February 1975; Vol. 886, c. 399.]
He then talked about the Trade and Industry supplement.

The hon. Gentleman gave us figures which he said were the latest available. The latest at my disposal, given to me in Hansard yesterday, show that in Greater London the total numbers unemployed in May 1974 were 53,292, and this month—

People and people. I am not interested in percentages. Every unemployed person is to me someone out of work, and meaningless percentages shouted from a sedentary position are irrelevant. By this month the figure had risen to 71,000.

Is not the 43,000 unemployed on Merseyside, many of whom are my constituents, a far more significant figure than the figure which the hon. Gentleman quotes for the unemployed in the London area?

If the hon. Gentleman can restrain himself, I shall come to the question of Merseyside a little later.

London is doing badly. Unemployment this month is up to 71,000.

The Minister must not always appear to suggest—I say "appear", because I do not wish to do him an injustice—that the world begins and ends at Merseyside, Glasgow or elsewhere. He must look at the figures as a whole. He has given the impression that while he has his ear to the ground at Meriden or Kirkby he seldom has his ear to the ground in London, and it is time he did. If the capital city's heart is sick, the national body will be sick.

I have been at great pains to make it clear that this is a bipartisan—

The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat if the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) is not giving way.

I notice that a quieter hon. Member wishes to intervene, and I give way to him.

I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman typifies the current trend in the Conservative Party to represent the South-East. What would be his comments if he represented a constituency within a region which has the textile industry concentrated in it, where 55,000 out of 80,000 employees were on short time, and a substantial proportion were unemployed? Would he then be arguing that London was under-represented?

Having in the early 1960s negotiated with textile unions in Lancashire, I know the problems of the textile industry well. One does not have to represent a constituency outside the South-East to understand the problems of other parts of the country.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that every London Member on the Government benches, particularly those whose names are associated with the amendment, would wish to dissociate himself from the hon. Gentleman's approach? No Labour Member is more conscious of the needs of the assisted areas and the regions than are the London Members. We are very conscious of those problems, but we are equally conscious of the developing problems that face us in our own constituencies. The hon. Gentleman is doing a disservice to his own cause, which is shared by Labour Members representing London constituencies, when he approaches regional problems in his present cavalier fashion.

Order. I remind hon. Members that the debate finishes at 11.30 p.m. tonight, not at 11.30 a.m. tomorrow morning. If there are many lengthy interventions there will be little opportunity for the matter to be disposed of sensibly. I fail to see why so much heat has been generated, as the Government have accepted the amendment.

I knew that it was a mistake to give way to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson). I regret doing so and I shall not do so again. The fact that the bipartisan amendment has been accepted by the Government means that the general feeling in the House is that London is not getting fair treatment. Up to now the Minister has been utterly inflexible. I know that discussions have been going on among Labour Members representing London constituencies, their colleagues and the rest of the country, but they did not secure a debate at the right time to enable the order to be annulled. It is only because of their Lordships that we have the opportunity of this debate.

Several Labour Members have been worried about development areas. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) mentioned the textile industry. In July 1972, as the Minister said, the IDC limit was raised. For the rest of the country the limit was raised to 15,000 sq. ft., and all the controls were removed from the special development and development areas. There is no question of the amendment taking one job away from the development or special development areas. Indeed, the Minister said that, but some of his hon. Friends did not seem able to comprehend it. London has no desire to try to get jobs at the expense of other parts of the country.

None the less, because of London's growing unemployment problems, it was wrong for London to be singled out by the Minister when the limits were reduced. No good reason has ever been put forward for the reduction that the Minister made. The decision which the House is being asked to take, which is that the limits shall be restored—

I know more than the Minister does what I am talking about. He may know more what he is talking about. We are being asked to agree that for London, certificates of up to 10,000 sq. ft. shall not be refused, except on the Minister's intervention after consultation with the local authorities. Up to now that has not been the position. That is all I said. The Minister may have misunderstood me.

Had it not been for the opportunity of this debate, London would not have had this concession, for which the local authorities in London have been asking since early December, when the Greater London Council sent out a detailed statement referring to Statutory Instrument No. 1283 of 1974.

It would be churlish to say that the Minister has not responded to London's needs. I do not intend to be that churlish. I have been churlish against a Government Department and not against an individual. The Minister has shown that in response to the views of the House he is prepared to be flexible. Since he is prepared to be flexible I believe that the House will welcome his repentance and will welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch in putting down the amendment which I hope the House will accept.

10.46 p.m.

It is a tragedy that in debating such serious matters as employment and the effect of the order on the Greater London area we should have been subjected to the sort of comments made by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg). I am sure that all hon. Members must be painfully aware of the human tragedy which is involved in the high unemployment figures of so many parts of this country, which are the shame of this country and which compare with the relatively low unemployment level in the Greater London area.

Our argument this evening is not directed against the rest of the country. We London Members fully support the Government's policy in trying at long last to do something realistic about unemployment by bringing jobs, industry and homes to those who are faced with these grave problems. London has problems which can be overcome by the very sensible attitude which the Minister of State and the Secretary of State have adopted in the order.

The amendment demonstrates the good will, the serious intent and the understanding by the Labour Government of the problems which confront the country and with which we grapple in Greater London. We London Members have had many discussions with the Minister of State and the Secretary of State. We are delighted that they have accepted the amendment.

When the hon. Member for Hampstead purports to speak on behalf of the people of London one is forced to recall that he has been strangely silent on the many other occasions when Labour Members have fought late at night in this Chamber for the rights of Londoners. By accepting the amendment Ministers have recognised the force of the pleas made to them by the trade union movement, particularly the national executive committees of the Transport and General Workers' Union, the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers and many others who have made representations through the London Labour Party.

My hon. Friend the Member of Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) has participated many times in these debates. So ardent has been his dedication to the problems of Londoners that he has earned for himself the title "Mouth of the Thames", and he carries it with great eloquence. He is affectionately known among his hon. Friends as "Ronologue". In organising the London group of Members so as to get the amendment accepted by the Government he has done a great service to London in a way which has not devalued the Government's efforts to deal with the regional problems elsewhere in the country.

During the past decade many thousands of jobs have been moved away from Labour constituencies in the southeast of London. Although serious unemployment has not resulted, many men and women have been declared redundant, in some cases no fewer than five times, during the past decade.

This amendment will restore confidence and hope to London. However, no hon. Member representing an area of high unemployment need have any fears, since the Government will see justice done to the workers of the United Kingdom.

10.51 p.m.

I have not been deluged with requests from people living in the London area. However, on Saturday night I spoke to several constituency Labour parties in Deptford. This matter came up at the meeting. I did not answer the specific question although I defended the Government's record in a limited number of areas. The Under-Secretary of State replied to the point and said that he would bring it to the attention of his boss. However, the matter had been brought to the attention of the Secretary of State by Members of Parliament representing London constituencies.

We must be clear about what we are doing tonight. The idea of industrial development certificates and intermediate and special development areas is to push industry—private industry in the main, since it is relatively easy to push public industry around without these incentives—to the badly affected areas throughout the United Kingdom. That policy must be flexible so that it takes account of changing circumstances in the United Kingdom.

It may well be that the employment position in the south east and the Greater London area is not as good now as over the past four or five years, but that is not to say that it has deteriorated in relation to developments in the rest of the country. Although the percentage of industrial capacity and employment in London has fallen, it may well be that the position has deteriorated even faster in Scotland, in Wales and on Merseyside.

We must be flexible. If it can be shown that there is to be a slight marginal shift in resources to the advantage of London, that will affect the distribution of jobs in the worse-off areas.

My view is that to raise the limit for industrial development certificates to 10,000 square feet without the other inducements and incentives is to make only an extremely marginal improvement. But it is not for those of my hon. Friends who propose in their amendment to raise the limit to 10,000 square feet then to say that they support what the Government have done hitherto for the rest of the country. That cannot be so.

Would not the logical conclusion of the amendment be to scrap the whole of the industrial development certificate apparatus?

Order. It would be entirely out of order to discuss the principle of industrial development certificates on this amendment.

I have done my best to steer clear of that argument. I am trying to concentrate on the marginal issue which will occur as a result of the amendment. I do not go as far as my hon. Friend in saying that we can sweep them all away. But I suggest to those who believe in the Common Market principle that they should bear in mind that when we get any regional policy from the Common Market, and if it is on the lines propagated a short time ago—on more narrowly defined areas than our existing intermediate, development and special development areas—they are in for a rude awakening, because they will not be able to make amendments of this kind and have the sort of flexibility that we are discussing tonight. That is why I support it, because I do not see that it will shift our industrial capacity to the extent that some hon. Members imagine—certainly not to the extent that some hon. Members representing London constituencies hope.

I suggest that we have to concentrate on trying to find the real causes of employment. We have to concentrate our activities towards that end. If we are to solve the problems existing in the regions and in the Greater London area, we have to take into account the way in which we can use the Industry Bill. In addition, because in some of its aspects the Industry Bill is weak, we have to concentrate our minds on ways of developing industry throughout the country on a much wider basis, and we have to do that by public investment where private investment has failed.

One reason why the Greater London area is in relative trouble is the lack of activity by private investors and the asset stripping which has gone on over the years. I am concerned with the overall level of investment. I realise that it is no use continually paying lip-service to the idea that we can find a sufficient number of carrots and sticks to improve the relatively low level of investment in past years. It has to be done by public investment. That is the answer to the problem. It will not be found in the wider context of the Common Market, that is for sure. That will be another shackle on the Greater London area especially. Certainly it will be a shackle on the intermediate and development areas.

Those are the lessons that we have to learn from this proposal. I support it. It will make a slight change. I have no doubt that hon. Members representing London constituencies will applaud it. But let us have none of this hypocrisy which says that we are behind the Government in what they have done hitherto in their attention to the special development areas, the intermediate areas and all the others, but which says at the same time that this order in itself will not change the situation.

11.0 p.m.

Not for the first time I follow, not only physically but mentally, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I am glad that this has turned out to be not merely a London debate but a debate about the principle of the industrial development certificate.

I was pleased to see my hon. Friends representing London constituencies taking part in the debate and, rightly defending their own people. Their speeches contrasted with that made by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg). While there are elements in the London amendment which I regard with anxiety as they affect regional policy, there is no doubt that the speech of the hon. Member was hostile towards regional policy. Too many people in the City think that the North begins at Finchley and ends at Hampstead. That is not good enough.

If we are right in saying that this debate is about regional policy and IDC policy, it is right to compare the difference between the two sides of the House. We have a well-stocked Labour bench comprising people concerned about unemployment, regional policy and investment. The Conservatives have not even got a forward line. They have four hon. Members in all. Even the House of Commons football team has more forwards. What is worse is that there is not one Liberal Member present—but I see that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has entered the Chamber. Even more serious, when we bear in mind the propaganda there has been in Scotland and Wales, there is not one nationalist Member here. The nationalists claim that they have been neglected in debates. Now they have the opportunity to participate and they are not here. I hope that the people and the Press of Scotland and Wales will take note.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this would be an ideal time to have television cameras here?

Every time I speak is a good time to have television cameras.

I have been sceptical about certain aspects of regional policy. I am reminded of what the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) once said about regional development. At this point I must congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead on his translation to the Opposition Front Bench. I think that perhaps he was a little less churlish on the back benches.

The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet in a previous incarnation, when he was Chancellor, said that Governments could offer industrial development certificates to industry along with other inducements but that if industrialists did not go to a certain area there was nothing else that could be done. The IDC policy is a minor part of the regional policy, but when I look at my constituency I realise that a great deal of the employment there is due to the operation of regional policy.

We have Babcock and Wilcox. Were it not for that firm's involvement on a United Kingdom basis in the generating programme, it would not be there. We also have Chrysler. By God! we are fighting to keep it at Linwood. It would not be there—with 7,000 jobs—without a regional policy. The IDC system plays a part in this.

What we are concerned with is not a new amendment, flexible or otherwise, for London. We are concerned with unemployment which is now reaching totally unacceptable levels. Those who have jobs with Chrysler in Scotland are working two days a week and fighting to keep their jobs. This week a deputation, not of trade unionists but of councillors from five councils in the area, is coming down to argue about Chrysler. Having read tonight's headlines I would say that the Industry Bill is not being introduced before time. If we get the sort of reply from leaders of the industry that I read in tonight's headlines, it is time that we had planning agreements, public investment and public control.

Finally, I again thank London Members who are correctly fighting for their constituents, but we should not confuse their problem of 1·5 per cent. unemployment in their areas with the 5 per cent. unemployment in Glasgow. There is a difference. In Glasgow, for every vacancy there are five people unemployed. That is a big difference which transforms the situation.

The hon. Member for Hampstead said that we should be concerned with each individual who was unemployed. That is very good. It reminds me of the amendments I used to get from the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. One would put down a good motion for the conference and the executive would change it, saying that the resolution should be done by half-past 11 the following Tuesday. That is the situation here. The suggestion is that unemployment is as bad in one area as in another for each person. But it is not. The unemployed in Hampstead are five times more likely to get jobs than are the unemployed in my area. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reject the tone of his attack upon regional policy, however attractive it may be for the Tory Party to try to consolidate its basis on the relatively affluent South-East of England.

Order. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) was giving way.

I should like to make it clear that I was making no such statement on regional policy as the hon. Gentleman has twice attributed to me.

The hon. Gentleman could have fooled me. I thought that his endorsement of flexibility was carried to the point of fluidity. It was pouring out through the Thames estuary. I should have thought that a very good peroration if I had been allowed to make it.

Yes, of course. Were it not for the fact that regional policy is so well supported by the Chair, I might have attempted it.

11.8 p.m.

We are seeing a strange transformation of attitudes to regional policy. Tonight we have had the Minister of State's arm twisted by the considerable political muscle of London Members of Parliament. [Interruption.] I am sorry. I understand that it was twisted last night. The fruits are before us.

Last Friday I attended a conference in the West Midlands at which the participants had to consider a document which stated that the West Midlands will be the problem area of this country in the 1980s. Last week, I read in the Evening Standard a report of a speech by a man whose name I cannot pronounce, the chairman of the policy committee of the GLC, in which he said that the 1980s will see the 1930s situation in reverse with Londoners, so desperate will be their fate, marching to Jarrow. I think that in some ways we are going mad.

This situation raises the necessity for a completely new look at regional policy. I hesitate to say that it calls for the setting up of a Royal Commission or anything as distinguished as that, but it is obvious to many people that, while things would have been worse if regional policy had not operated, the 40 years for which we have had it have not changed the situation very much.

The unemployed differential between Scotland and the national average over the last 30 years has not deviated from about ·7 per cent. by more than 0·1 per cent. I could give many interesting statistics. I am sowing the seed in the Minister's mind in suggesting that we need a reappraisal, if not an agonising reappraisal, of regional policy. I hate being parochial, but I think that Stoke-on-Trent is somewhere between the Great Wen of London and the holy of holies, Liverpool.

What we are debating tonight—namely, what we are suggesting is the problem of London—is something to which we have to give considerable attention. We spread the jam of regional aid very thinly across a surprisingly large part of the country. When the Secretary of State for Industry leads us into the Common Market we shall be more selective in our approach, and in a sense that will be a good thing.

What I am saying is that we have to look not only at what is now almost the whole country, if we include the West Midlands and London, but at the growth areas. Therefore, we must adopt an attitude to industrial development certificates which bears in mind perhaps more important—or perhaps not—or possible more subtle, criteria than the crude yardstick of unemployment.

I am making an appeal for an area such as mine where unemployment is not high. We must have a more ready access to IDCs because the export potential of the area is massive and much above the national average, and the import substitution potential in the energy field is much higher than in the country as a whole.

That is one important aspect of the problem, but one could go on—I shall not do so—to talk about the whole question—

Order. I hope that the hon. Member will not go on because he is really out of order.

I am sorry that I have roused you to such a state of indignation, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Hon. Members are prepared to fight for London, and I am prepared to fight for the city which I represent. If I am straying from the narrow confines of the order, I can only say that I have had many excellent precedents set for me this evening.

One of the duties of the Chair is to determine when fights take place on particular issues. It is no use the hon. Member saying to the Chair that he is following someone's example. We are discussing an order and an amendment, and it is the duty of the Chair to see that business is conducted according to the Standing Orders laid down by hon. Members themselves.

I did not realise that the Hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) had finished his speech.

Let us find out whether the hon. Gentleman has finished. Does he wish to continue his speech?

That is a most unusual thing for the Chair to do. One wonders whether one could do it more often.

11.13 p.m.

I am sure that every London Member present, and certainly each one on the Government benches, welcomes the contributions to the debate by my hon. Friends the Members for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) and Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and the way in which the debate has been widened to regional policy and the problem of national unemployment.

A number of important points have been made, and I want to add only a marginal one. The effect of IDCs in London has been a good deal less than some people have pretended. Not long ago the Minister of State told me in a Written Answer the number of IDC applications that had been refused in South-East London—that is, in the boroughs of Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley. I believe that out of 173 applications for IDCs between 1970 and 1974, precisely four were turned down. Two of those were in Southwark and two in Bexley. One could almost say that the consequence was that the boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich, the latter of which I represent, were not subject to IDC control at all during those four years.

I say that because I am not certain that the concession we have gained is as important as some hon. Members are apt to point out, nor indeed as important to the regions as has perhaps been suggested by hon. Members who represent constituencies outside London. The structural problems in London's manufacturing industry are much more deep-seated and long-term than we admitted tonight.

I was very encouraged by a Written Answer I received on 24th February from the Minister of State, in which he said:
"My Department is additionally contributing to a number of studies of the special problems of inner city assisted areas being carried out by the Government as a whole."—[Official Report, 24th February 1975; Vol 887, c. 25.]
That gives me much more cause for rejoicing than the small concession that the Minister has announced.

That is not to say that I am ungrateful, because it will do a good deal to restore confidence, particularly among working people in my constituency and elsewhere in London, but the problems of London are much greater than some of us have admitted tonight. For instance, a report entitled "Canning Town to North Woolwich: The Aims of Industry?" is very relevant to the debate. Some of the things it says suggest that London's problems may be as serious as those of some other great cities. In Chapter 9 it states:
"What is needed is a set of policies for the outworn industrial areas of all Britain's towns irrespective of their geographical location within particular 'regions'."
That would be directly relevant to the problems of Liverpool, Merseyside, Glasgow, London, Birmingham and the rest.

Another reason why I welcome contributions from hon. Members for constituencies outside London is that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover has drawn attention to the need to replace the kind of regional policy upon which we have tried to attract industry into the regions by the kind of policies contained in the Industry Bill. Since the war, regional policy year by year has become steadily less effective because of the concentration of economic power in private industrial hands. Instead of reacting to incentives by doing what the Government are trying to encourage people to do, these firms, some of them multinationals, have been able to use the incentives for their own benefit and not in order to pursue the sort of policies which the Government have been trying to encourage in order to get industry to go where it is badly needed.

I could quote case after case of mergers and regroupings which have adversely affected London industry—AEI-GEC is the most obvious example—because incentives have been taken but employment has not gone where it was intended to go. That is why I am delighted that the Department of Industry is pursuing these studies. I hope that they will be pursued in depth, with the widest possible consultation with local authorities, the GLC, the unions and the employers involved. Only on that basis in the great cities, with their outworn industrial areas, shall we begin to solve some of the appalling problems affecting so many individuals and families.

11.19 p.m.

The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) argued that the Minister of State was oriented towards Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool. The Minister is certainly aware of the problems in those areas, and he knows at first hand what unemployment there means. He has himself been unemployed in Merseyside. Therefore, it is not a question of his being Merseyside-oriented. It is a question of a Minister who understands that level of unemployment there and in other areas. The policies now being pursued by the Government and acted upon, quite rightly, by the Minister, are directed accordingly.

I want to draw some assurances from the Minister. First, I have never seen IDCs as being a positive way of controlling the economy in so far as movement of industry is concerned. At present, however, that is all that we have. Regardless of how marginal this may appear, I want an assurance from the Minister that there will be no effect upon Government policy in relation to dealing with areas such as Merseyside, where the unemployment figure is not 40,000, as was mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), but 53,000 in the Merseyside travel-to-work area. That was the January figure—7 per cent.

I accept that the problems concerning IDCs in London should be examined, but this ought not to be a movement by the Government away from the desperate problems that exist in the regions I have mentioned. I should appreciate an assurance from the Minister that arising from the amendment there will be no shift of direction by the Government away from Merseyside and other areas of high unemployment.

11.21 p.m.

It always seems as though any debate in which I get involved becomes rather heated at certain stages and of greater import and impact, perhaps, than many other debates. I cannot understand that. This has been a very heated debate at times, but it has also been very important and very interesting.

First, I should like to contrast the speeches made by my hon. Friends with the one alien speech made from the Opposition side. That was an injection into the debate which really dealt very little with the serious problems we have been discussing. It was a piece of sheer political effrontery—I cannot think of another more appropriate phrase—which had very little to do with the serious problems that all my hon. Friends have raised, whether they be from the London area or from Scotland, Wales or the various English regions.

The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) more or less implied that the amendment would change the nature of the order. I want to make it clear that the amendment does not raise the limits. I repeat that it does not affect the operation of Statutory Instrument No. 2028. The IDC exemption limit for London and the rest of the South-East Region has been 5,000 sq. ft. since 1st September 1974 and it remains at that. What the amendment does is to give the Secretary of State guidance in the way in which the control is to be applied to small projects. If officials think it right to refuse an IDC for a scheme below 10,000 sq. ft. in London, they will seek the Minister's endorsement for that decision. That is the reality of the situation. We have gone slightly further than that by involving the appropriate local authorities as well. If I honestly believed that the amendment was in any way harming, cutting across or undermining the Government's regional policy, I would not have accepted it. I would rather have gone out of the Government than accept such an amendment. I make that absolutely clear.

I must point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) that it is not the Government's intention in any way to stop their regional policy of inducing firms to go to Merseyside, the North-East, South Wales, Scotland or other areas. On the contrary, it is our intention to continue with our regional policy and to step it up. But to some extent we are changing it. For a long time we have held the carrot. We have wielded the stick, as it were, by means of IDC controls, but that has not been enough. What is now required is the introduction of the sort of policies that we are bringing forward in the Industry Bill—namely, positive proposals to invest in the regions.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the carrots for London has been the new towns in South-East England? Further does he agree that one of the matters we should consider in terms of London and other parts of the country is whether our policy is as opportune now as it once was?

It is almost as if my hon. Friend knew that I was coming to that point. I am glad that he raised it. There has been reference to the extent to which industry has been moving out of London, particularly inner London. That obviously has a relationship to the whole question of new town policy. I think we all agree that that movement has been encouraged by the Greater London Council, and before that by the London County Council as part of the programme of overspill housing in the new and expanded towns. No one can deny that. A new town is built and then it is discovered that there is no local industry. Obviously the next step is to encourage industry, but that has nothing to do with IDCs. I know that the Greater London Council has given active encouragement to the policy I have outlined.

Is not this a sensible Socialist regional policy that is good for London as well? By moving industry to the regions, the overcrowded school classes and the homelessness are reduced and the social fabric is protected. The sensible Socialist policy of moving industry into other areas is to the benefit of London as well as other parts of the country.

I have listened many times to my hon. Friends from London explaining the tremendous difficulties and problems raised by housing and education needs in London. Regional policy is very much integrated with ameliorating the difficult problems that exist in the London area.

There is no doubt that there has been a serious rundown of manufacturing industry in certain parts of London. There has also been a rundown of manufacturing industry in other areas, many of them assisted areas. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) that that does not necessitate merely the broad regeneration of industry throughout the country but a regeneration of industry in the large cities. That is absolutely right. That is why the Government are now studying the city areas. We shall ultimately come before the House with our proposals.

Amendment agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House takes note of the Town and Country Planning (Industrial Development Certificates Exemption) (No. 2) Order 1974 (S.I., 1974, No. 2028), dated 4th December 1974, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th December and desires that in so far as its operation in Greater London is concerned, applications for an industrial development certificate of up to 10,000 square feet shall not be refused, save on the intervention of the Secretary of State after consultation with the appropriate local authorities.