HC Deb 26 March 1973 vol 853 cc916-8
27. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate he has made of the effect that the Budget proposals will have on industrial activity in the Yorkshire and Humberside region.

Mr. Anthony Grant

I expect continuing growth in industrial activity in the region.

Mr. Wainwright

What a shocking answer! Does the hon. Gentleman realise that there are large pockets of unemployment in the Yorkshire and Humberside region running at more than twice the national average rate? Does he realise further than average wages in the Yorkshire and Humberside region are just about the lowest in the country and that young people are leaving many areas to try to find work elsewhere? When will the hon. Gentleman do something? Will the Government designate it a development district and appoint a junior Minister to look after Yorkshire affairs?

Mr. Grant

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman finds the prospect of continuing growth and industrial activity shocking. He is slightly adrift in his figures. Unemployment in the region has fallen from 4.6 per cent. in March of last year to 3.2 per cent. this year compared with national averages of 4.1 and 3 per cent. respectively. There are pockets of unemployment in such places as Mex-borough. But even there all is not gloom. Recently the firm of Gerrard Industries announced that its intention to establish a new factory and office complex. Everything conceivable is being and will be done, and the figures that I have given indicate that it looks like being successful.

Mr. Wilkinson

Although in West Yorkshire there has been a dramatic about-turn in the past year, there are already severe pressure on trained manpower and a shortage of skills in certain key sectors. Does not this mean that the difficulty is one of maintaining expansion rather than those to which the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) has referred?

Mr. Grant

I agree much more with my hon. Friend than I do with the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright).

Mr. Duffy

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are pockets of youth unemployment in the Yorkshire and Humberside region which are not only as severe as those anywhere else but have an even more depressing outlook since there is no prospect of employment in professional and scientific services, in banking and finance and in research, design and marketing, because of the lack of service industries throughout the region? When the hon. Gentleman is looking at incentives will he try to overcome the resistance of firms to move their headquarters into the regions, especially into the Yorkshire and Humberside region?

Mr. Grant

The hon. Gentleman will realise from the exchanges that have occurred this afternoon that there are claimants among the regions for office and service development. We have to consider all claims. I accept that there are certain pockets in Yorkshire which are difficult but even there the indications are encouraging. In the coalfield area, for example, our regional director announced recently that in his view the problem could be broken well within three years.

Mr. Mason

We hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be complacent about the future of Yorkshire and Humberside. Is he aware that in the calendar year 1972 14,000 jobs were lost there in textiles, coal and steel? Why is the region lagging lamentably behind the other major industrial regions of the North in the use of the special financial assistance under the Industry Act which the Govern- ment promoted to improve job prospects? Why is Yorkshire lagging so far behind?

Mr. Grant

It is not lagging behind. The position is that a different method of dealing with applications has been adopted in the Yorkshire area. We have devolved to the regions the responsibility for dealing with applications. It is for them to make up their minds. But I am far from being complacent. On the other hand it is even more dangerous to be unnecessarily gloomy and miserable.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

Is my hon. Friend aware that the fishermen of Humberside would like to see the grant on new shipbuilding return to 35 per cent. as it was under the Labour Government and the loan length return from eight years to 12 years? Unemployment on Humberside has gone down in a striking way, and this is the way to keep it down.

Mr. Grant

I shall look carefully at that suggestion. But I hope that my hon. Friend will not fall into the same trap as Opposition Members of assuming that all is gloom. On the contrary, Yorkshire has a bright future before it.