HC Deb 03 February 1977 vol 925 cc742-4
Q4. Mr. David Steel

asked the Prime Minister if he will appoint a Minister with special responsibilities for regional development.

The Prime Minister

I refer the right hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) on 20th January.

Mr. Steel

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is now a total void in the Government's regional policies and that, following the sudden and unpremeditated withdrawal of regional employment premium, no new measures have been advanced to stimulate industrial development in the development areas?

The Prime Minister

I am not aware of that. New measures are constantly being considered in this area and, as I have explained to the right hon. Gentleman, it is the strong view of the Government that, while regional employment premium was successful in its initial stages, it has outlived its usefulness. We are constantly considering how best we can help the regions. I have already said that unemployment is changing its character, not only in this country but elsewhere.

Mr. Bagier

Would my right hon. Friend accept that the last time the Northern Region had a Minister responsible for it he was a Minister without real power, without a direct voice in the Cabinet? Is it not a fact that some of the major fears which hon. Members representing the Northern Region have about the devolution Bill and about what is happening in Scotland and Wales—with their Secretaries of State and the structure that is suggested—arise from the feeling that regions such as ours which are suffering tremendous unemployment problems could be left out in the cold? Would not an appointment of the kind I have described help to alleviate some of these fears?

The Prime Minister

I am aware of those feelings. I myself represent a development area. But I do not believe that they are justified from what I see of the way in which Government policies are developing. It is easy to propose that the appointment of another Minister would solve a problem, but the problem of the development areas cuts across the responsibilities of a great many Departments. I believe that the Government's system of co-ordination and of Cabinet examination ensures that no region is left out of account when these matters are being looked at.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

As the Prime Minister is in a mood for telling the truth today—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that the hon. Lady meant to say "today".

Mrs. Ewing

Perhaps I should start again. May I ask the Prime Minister to tell the truth on the additionality question of grants from the Regional Fund of the EEC? Will he assure us that such grants are not simply regarded by the Government as a way of saving Government money on regional spending? Will he recognise that that is not the purpose for which these grants were made and that there is an additionality principle, which is recognised by the member States? Will he come clean on this matter?

The Prime Minister

I am aware of the problem of additionality, because when I occupied my previous office I discussed it at great length. I assure the hon. Lady that the amounts that are set aside for regional aid in this country take no account, when put aside, of what may be derived from funds in Europe, which are additional funds. The way in which they are disbursed is a matter for discussion, but they are always additional to the sums put into the Estimates.