HC Deb 11 July 1968 vol 768 cc709-11
4. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs whether he will reconsider the policy of making cash payments to firms in development areas in order to increase turnover.

7. Mr. Michael Shaw

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what is the Government's present policy regarding the future of the regional employment premium at the end of the planned period.

The Minister of State, Department of Economic Affairs (Mr. T. W. Urwin)

The regional employment premium, which I assume the hon. Member for Blackpool, South has primarily in mind, is intended to make manufacturing industries in development areas more competitive in comparison with similar industries elsewhere, and thus to stimulate the growth of employment opportunities in these areas. When it was introduced we announced that the scheme would last a least seven years, and this remains our policy. I cannot speculate on the position thereafter.

Mr. Blaker

The hon. Gentleman said that the regional employment premium is intended to stimulate the growth of employment opportunities. But what is there to prevent a firm from using its premium to purchase labour-saving machinery, thus achieving the same turnover with lower manpower?

Mr. Urwin

There are encouraging signs that firms are using their discretion in determining their pricing structure, as a result especially of the regional employment premium, but it is still too early to judge its effects fully.

Mr. Shaw

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm or deny that the article of 10th June in the Financial Times by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) represented Government policy in stating that the regional employment premium would be withdrawn at the end of the seven-year period?

Mr. Urwin

The policy is to last for seven years and clearly, at the end of the period, it must be reviewed. It is impossible to speculate so far ahead.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Is my hon. Friend aware that, on this side of the House, we welcome the fact that he is rejecting any pressure to get rid of the regional employment premium? Will he institute inquiries to make sure that firms getting the advantages of the premium are making full use of it?

Mr. Unvin

We expect firms to use the amount of money allocated to them through the premium in order to ensure that the scheme becomes self-generating and provides more employment opportunities.

9. Mr. Sheldon

asked the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs what estimate he has made of the increase in the number of jobs in development areas attributable to the regional employment premium.

Mr. Urwin

As my right hon. Friend explained in replying to my hon. Friend's previous Question on 18th January, we expect about 100,000 new jobs in the development areas over a period of years. —[Vol: 756; c. 1945.]

Mr. Sheldon

Since we are spending £100 million a year in order to persuade industry to do things it would not otherwise do, is it not time to get figures to show what is happening in order to ensure that the money is being spent in the best possible way?

Mr. Urwin

I cannot give the kind of answer my hon. Friend clearly expects, but this aspect cannot be separated from the rest of the package.

Sir C. Osborne

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the Prime Minister's policy of July, 1966, for redeployment and a more efficient use of labour must mean less jobs and that, in a free society, no Government can guarantee full employment for everybody all the time?

Mr. Urwin

This, in common with the many other measures the Government have introduced to help development areas, is aimed at reducing and removing the imbalance between the regions. Unless the unemployment disparities in different areas are reduced, growth and employment prospects will suffer. We should be delighted to consider any further measures which hon. Members on either side have in mind to improve the situation, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that if the last Government had done as much to help development areas as the present Government have done and are doing, there would not be such imbalance between the regions.