HC Deb 16 February 1971 vol 811 cc1605-8
Q5. Mr. Sillars

asked the Prime Minister if he will now arrange a programme of official visits to the development areas.

The Prime Minister

I intend to go to Scotland next month, but at present I have no specific plans for other visits.

Mr. Sillars

When the Prime Minister finally gets round to visiting the regions, will he have the decency to apologise to the unemployed people for the promise he made on 16th June to cut unemployment "at a stroke"? [Interruption.] Whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite say, that is the promise which the right hon. Gentleman made. Will he have the honesty to admit that rising unemployment is due to the fact that the Government have made a shambles of both economic policy and regional policy?

The Prime Minister

When one looks at the consequences of Labour rule and the loss of jobs during the four and a half years of Labour Administration, I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman has the nerve to ask such a supplementary question.

Dame Irene Ward

Am I right in thinking that my right hon. Friend is, to our great pleasure, coming to Northumberland next month? Is he aware that we are looking forward to his visit with great enthusiasm? Does he know that I could give him a wonderful list of things that he could do while he is with us?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. I shall be going to the North-East. [Interruption.] It will be a party visit. The Question was about a programme of official visits. I thank my hon. Friend for her comments, and, as for her suggestion, I remind the House that she is constantly making suggestions to me.

Mr. Grimond

If the right hon. Gentleman intends to accept only the most attractive offers, will be encourage other Ministers to visit other areas—where the feminist influence may not be as strong—to discuss Government policy, the unemployment situation, emigration from these areas and the fact that in many of them wages are being left far behind while prices are rising all the time?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I certainly encourage other Ministers to make such visits. In fact, more than 20 visits have been made to the North-East and North-West in the last six months or so. As far as Scotland is concerned, there are, of course, the Scottish Ministers, though others visit these areas as well.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman now in a position to answer the question which I have repeatedly put to him since before Christmas and to his Deputy while he was at Singapore? Can he now state the number of firms about which he has information which were negotiating for new factories or were building factories in development areas but which have pulled out of those negotiations or have postponed them because of the change in Government policy away from investment grants or because of any other reason?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the complaint is now widespread in industry that industrialists do not know where they stand in relation to investment grants, on the general position for development areas and in other ways? Will he now state all the facts he has on this matter?

The Prime Minister

There is absolutely no reason for firms not to understand what the position is in relation to investment grants or investment allowances. This has been made perfectly clear, and, as I have repeatedly told the House, the differential benefit to the development areas—taking free depreciation and the special arrangements under the Local Employment Acts—will be the same at least as under the existing scheme. [Interruption.]

As to the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question about numbers, my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry gave these figures on 8th February to the House, when he said that there were two cases in which firms had abandoned their plans in part on the grounds of a change in investment incentives. As far as other changes are concerned, I understand that 37 firms have been reviewing their position but that the investment allowances were not necessarily the reason.

Mr. Harold Wilson

If the right hon. Gentleman says that the position is clear and that there is no excuse for firms not to know all about it—he will be aware of the very large number of representations that have been made to the Government—for example, affecting a large number of small firms in relation to investment grants, hire purchase contracts and so on—and if it is clear to the industries concerned and if it is clearly clear to the right hon. Gentleman, would he tell us what the position is?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman cares to let me have details of cases in which these problems arise, they will be investigated. We cannot deal with the cases of individual firms at Question Time.

Mr. Tilney

Will my right hon. Friend take it that he will be a most welcome visitor to the development area of Merseyside, and that if he would visit us soon, he could see the potential site of a national airport which, in conjunction with fast customs trains on British Railways, would provide a superb boost to industry and morale in South-West Lancashire and North Cheshire?

The Prime Minister

I am always glad to visit Merseyside, and I shall certainly consider that proposition.

Mr. Heffer

The Prime Minister is not my favourite visitor to Merseyside, but I think that it would be a good idea if he came so that he could, perhaps, look at the high level of unemployment there, which is now about to be further worsened because of the Lucas difficulties resulting from the Rolls-Royce affair. Would he look also at the difficulties of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, directly the responsibility of the Government, and, further, would he tell the people of Merseyside that he will ensure that they have in future a much better deal than they have had up to now from his Government?

The Prime Minister

In fact, it was the Conservative Government between 1959 and 1961 which persuaded the motor industry to go to Merseyside. Moreover, this Government have absolutely no responsibility for the situation of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, or for the situation of Rolls-Royce. If the hon. Gentleman, for his part, were prepared to do what he could to improve industrial relations on Merseyside, he would see a much better response in the docks.

Mr. Ross

When the right hon. Gentleman comes to Glasgow, will he make a point of visiting the Rolls-Royce factories there, because I have a feeling that he will be very warmly received when he comes? Second, is he aware that his policies are so antiquated that the Scottish Office has produced a Rate Support Grant Order, 1971, giving the domestic element for the year 1872? Is it not time that the Government came up to date?

The Prime Minister

I shall give no undertaking to visit any particular factory when I am in West Central Scotland, but I shall certainly have the opportunity to study the situation there.