HC Deb 18 January 1971 vol 809 cc494-6
9. Dr. John A. Cunningham

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many firms which were planning new industrial or commercial projects, or extensions of existing ones, in the Northern region, have now indicated to him that they are reviewing their position, following the changes in financial incentives announced in October 1970; and whether any of these projects are connected with Cumberland.

Mr. Anthony Grant

About 12, including four for West Cumberland. However, these figures have little significance, since I am sure that all firms are considering the implications of the Government's proposals on investment incentives.

Dr. Cunningham

Is it not remarkable that the Minister can say that these figures are of little significance when one considers the persistent underlying unemployment in areas like West Cumberland? Does not this situation emphasise how right hon. Members on this side of the House were when they said that the effect of these changes in policy would be to reduce the number of jobs going to the development areas?

Mr. Grant

It is entirely premature to make a dogmatic statement like that. Some firms will be better off and some firms will be worse off, but it will be some time before any useful assessment can be made, and we quite seriously believe that the policies which we have announced will bring more employment to the hon. Member's constituency.

Mr. Bagier

Is the Minister aware that unemployment is at present increasing in the development areas? Is he not also aware that it is the change in incentives that has taken place that is causing a standstill in inquiries in the regions? Why does his right hon. Friend feel that one of the first priorities in development area policy should be an increase from 5,000 sq. ft. to 10,000 sq. ft. in the footage required for industrial development certificates?

Mr. Grant

The latter part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry when he replied to Question No. 7. We believe quite seriously that what is in the best interests of the development areas is a policy that brings to them profitable and long-term industry, and that is what we believe will be the effect of our policy.

Mr. Benn

In view of the figures which the Minister has given the House today, will he now publish figures for all the development areas so that the country as a whole can judge whether his claim that his new incentives will improve the position in fact stands up to examination, or whether, as we argued, they will damage development in the development areas?

Mr. Grant

No, Sir. As I said before, it will be some time before any useful assessment can be made of the impact of the new incentives—it is far too soon to do that—but we are watching the position closely and when there has been time for incentives to new firms to be reflected in their investment decisions, we can come back.