HC Deb 18 June 1973 vol 858 cc13-5
12. Mr. Sidney Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the Government's policy towards applications for natural expansion of firms and industries in places outside the assisted areas.

Mr. Chataway

Industrial development certificates are generally approved for projects with strong local ties and modernisation schemes involving some increase in employment.

Mr. Chapman

I appreciate the need for new industry in the development and other assisted areas, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that this will not be at the expense of the natural expansion of firms in other areas? Does my right hon. Friend recognise the imbalance that this causes industry in such places as Birmingham? Will he undertake to consider and judge each application for an IDC on its merits?

Mr. Chataway

Yes. I can give that undertaking to my hon. Friend. We have taken a more flexible attitude towards IDCs, especially since the spring of last year, and have been anxious to ensure that they are not used to frustrate investment which is not, of its nature, mobile.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Minister aware that some areas, such as North Staffordshire, do not receive anything like the assistance that they need? Since North Staffordshire is dependent upon declining industries like coal and pottery, and on a steel industry which is about to be taken away from it, will the Minister commission a special inquiry to see how the region can be assisted?

Mr. Chataway

I had the opportunity of discussing this matter with the hon. Gentleman and a delegation the other day. I know that he was delighted to note the enormous fall in unemployment in the area. It is now below the national average, I think that my recollection is right when I say that we have approved more IDCs in the past 15 months than in the previous four years.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

With regard to the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), can my right hon. Friend identify any single area, town or district in the whole of the United Kingdom which thinks that it is receiving the assistance to which it is entitled?

Mr. Chataway

I do not know that I have had as many representations from my hon. Friend's area as from other areas, but I realise that he, in common with a number of other hon. Members, may feel that, successful as the Government have been, there is still yet more to do.

Mr. Horam

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is no more searching test of a Government's commitment to regional policy than their attitude to IDC applications from the South-East and Midlands during a period of economic boom? Is he aware that there is evidence that there has already been a dangerous relaxation in this area and that many of us who believe that regional policy will help not only employment but congestion problems in the Midlands and South-East will be watching very carefully?

Mr. Chataway

The hon. Gentleman referred to a dangerous relaxation. However, his colleagues from the London area, from whom I have been receiving representations this morning, take the opposite view, as does the Labour Party in control of the Greater London Council. I believe that we have the balance right. We are using IDCs to steer mobile projects to the regions but we are accepting modernisation projects and a number of major developments in the South-East and West Midlands which it would not be sensible to try to steer in this way.