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Industrial Cities

Volume 934: debated on Wednesday 29 June 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what discussions he has held so far with those large industrial cities which were not included in the inner city aid programme about help with their particular problems.

My right hon. Friend and I have met representatives of Newcastle and, separately, representatives of the other authorities of Tyne and Wear to discuss their partnership requests for inner city assistance. Prior to my right hon. Friend's statement on 6th April we met with several other authorities and their associations.

I welcome the aid that is being given to London, the West Midlands, Liverpool and elsewhere, but is my hon. Friend aware that there is considerable concern in other major industrial cities, whose inner city problems are just as serious as those in the areas to which I have referred, and that they have been overlooked in the first round? Will that be taken into consideration, and will some new proposals be brought forward at an early date?

We were aware of a very special concentration and intensity of problems in the cities and areas that have already been selected. We are also aware that similar situations exist in other cities. That is why we intend to meet representatives from Sheffield, Wandsworth, Haringey, Islington, Hackney and Hammersmith. There are other authorities that we may also meet in making a final decision on the list that will emerge. I should make it clear that if the money that is available is to be effective we cannot, unfortunately, widen the list too far.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is not only in industrial areas that the problem of deprivation arises, it being present in many rural areas? Is he aware that there has been a sad decline in a whole series of services, whether it be local transport, village schools, building new roads or making improvements, helping the elderly and, unfortunately, the closing of many beds in cottage hospitals? Does he realise that a very real problem exists? Will he bear that in mind when considering the rate support grant for next year? Is he aware that many people in rural areas are coming to the conclusion that they are having to pay more and more to receive less and less?

I am well aware of the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, namely, that there is deprivation in rural areas. However, the Question is concerned with a very high concentration and intensity of deprivation that exists at the centres of some of our industrial cities. It is that with which we are primarily concerned. That is not to say that the problem does not exist in other areas, including the smaller cities and towns and rural areas.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the depth of feeling in Newcastle upon Tyne and the Tyneside and Wear-side area generally about the way in which his right hon. Friend's policy is developing? Will he give us an assurance that the point made to him will be seriously considered, namely, that the level of deprivation in the areas that I and others represent is at least as serious as in the areas chosen? Will he give some indication when he will come to a decision, as the delay is causing great uncertainty locally?

I was not aware, from meeting representatives of Newcastle upon Tyne, or Tyne and Wear, of the depth of concern about the way in which my right hon. Friend's policy is developing, which is how my hon. Friend put it. I am aware of their depth of concern about the problems that exist in their areas. That concern was forcefully put to us in the meeting that they had with us. My right hon. Friend and I will come to a conclusion on the whole issue as soon as we can.

Will the hon. Gentleman be frank and acknowledge that the Government's White Paper indicates that there is little hope of practical help being given to the areas outside those that benefit under partnership agreements as defined under the Government's criteria? Will he admit that the disappointment is justified in large parts of the industrial West Midlands, Lancashire and Yorkshire, which feel badly neglected under the policy?

I would not admit that. The hon. Gentleman knows that the rate support grant is one means that the Government have used to try to recognise the problems of the areas that he has described. We have also made it clear in the White Paper that the main policies and programmes of the Government as a whole will try to recognise the new priority in inner city areas. The urban programme, which has been transferred to our Department, will also be available to assist areas where deprivation exists, though perhaps not on the scale that exists in the partnership cities and the others that may be selected for partnerships.