HC Deb 01 December 1975 vol 901 cc1249-50
19. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what steps he proposes to take to encourage the diversification of industry in North Staffordshire.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

I accept that some diversification would be desirable, and this is a factor that we take into account in administration of the IDC control. But we must continue to give priority in the steering of new industry to areas with the most serious unemployment problems.

Mr. Ashley

Does my hon. Friend accept that while unemployment is an important criterion it should not be regarded as the sole criterion for taking action? Is he aware that in North Staffordshire we have very serious economic problems and, although our unemployment record is not as bad as in some other areas, we are dependent on only two or three industries, and successive Governments have made the mistake of assuming that North Staffordshire's problems are the same as those of the West Midlands? They are not. May I ask my hon. Friend to visit the area and see the problems for himself, and then make his decisions about helping the region?

Mr. Mackenzie

I agree that it is undesirable for an area to be so heavily dependent on one or two industries. My right hon. Friend will be taking an opportunity to visit Staffordshire, and I have visited the area in the last two or three weeks and discussed some of the problems with the people there.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Does the Minister agree that the criteria should include the question not only of short-term unemployment but of the long-term industrial structure? Is he aware that the long-term industrial structure in North Staffordshire needs diversification?

Mr. Mackenzie

We take into account a number of matters when determining whether a region should be given intermediate or development area status. Unemployment is the main criterion, but dependence on one or two industries would also be taken into account in fixing IDC control policies.