HC Deb 25 March 1974 vol 871 cc9-11
6. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement on the future of the regional employment premium.

13. Mr. Steel

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will now make a statement on the retention of the regional employment premium.

27. Mr. Gwynoro Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement on the future of the regional employment premium.

Mr. Heffer

We shall maintain the existing arrangements for regional employment premium while considering further possibilities for the future.

Mr. Hamilton

I am sure my hon. Friend recollects that we consistently criticised the Tory Government for not giving categorical assurances that REP would continue after September 1974. Will he now make sure that he practices what he preaches?

Mr. Heffer

My hon. Friend has been in the House a long time. He will be aware that tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be making a statement. I am not in a position to anticipate what he will say. All I can tell my hon. Friend is that REP will continue until other arrangements are made.

Mr. Hill

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the Community the regional policy programme and development fund may well be excellent instruments to replace the regional employment premium? Is he having consultations with his right hon. Friend at the Commission in Brussels?

Mr. Heffer

As as far the EEC is concerned, all matters of regional policy and other matters are subject to renegotiation. I assure the hon. Gentleman that all aspects of this subject are being discussed and any proposals that anyone wishes to make will be looked at carefully.

Mr. Anthony Grant

How does the Minister consider that the regional employment premium will help areas such as North Staffordshire and the intermediate areas mentioned in the last Question?

Mr. Heffer

The regional employment premium helps those areas where it applies. Obviously, it cannot help areas where it does not apply, but it did not apply to North Staffordshire. Legislation would be required to restore those grants.

25. Mr. Blenkinsop

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what alternatives to the regional employment premium are under consideration by his Department.

Mr. Heffer

I refer my hon. Friend to the replies I gave earlier concerning REP, but I am ready to consider any effective alternative.

Mr. Blenkinsop

While welcoming the announcement by the Government that they will continue the regional employment premium until a new proposal is worked out, may I ask whether there has been proper consideration of a concentration tax or other proposals of this nature? Can facilities be made available for a debate on this matter before final decisions are taken?

Mr. Heffer

Debates in the House are not matters for me; they are matters which should be raised elsewhere. We are considering a number of possibilities, and if hon. Members wish to make representations we shall be pleased to receive them.

Mr. William Hamilton

Is my hon. Friend aware that we on this side like REP very much and want it to continue? Will he give an assurance that there is nothing within the EEC rules to prohibit its continuation after September of this year?

Mr. Heffer

As far as I understand, there is nothing in the EEC rules to prevent us from continuing REP. In any case, we shall consider the whole matter on its merits and not necessarily in relation to the EEC.

Sir J. Hall

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that much could be done to improve the desirability of certain regions by spending the money now spent on REP on improving the infrastructure of those regions rather than giving it in the form of a premium to companies which do not increase their labour force?

Mr. Heffer

This is a matter that we shall consider along with all the other proposals being made. It is absolutely right that the continuation of REP has been pressed by the TUC and by the CBI, and we take into consideration the opinions of such bodies.