HC Deb 18 July 1977 vol 935 cc1133-5
14. Mr. Willey

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what progress the National Enterprise Board has made in Wearside, pursuant to its report on the areas affected by the Plessey closures.

Mr. Alan Williams

As my right hon. Friend told the House on 27th June, the NEB is making vigorous efforts to pursue the recommendations of its report, not only in Wearside but also in the North-East and North-West generally.

Mr. Willey

Is ray right hon. Friend aware that the immediate and present problem is that of implementing the Posner Report and that we expect his Department to use its good offices to see that we get a satisfactory reply from the Post Office? If it can help in any way, we would expect the NEB to play its part in producing a formula which will be acceptable to the whole of the telecommunications industry. Does my right hon. Friend accept that this is absolutely urgent and essential in Sunderland, with the highest unemployment in Britain, where we may lose these 350 jobs?

Mr. Williams

I fully appreciate the concern of my right hon. Friend. He will be aware that in another part of the area I have managed to negotiate another 400 jobs, and it was a great disappointment to me that I could not do the same for his constituency. As to the point for further consideration made in the Posner Report, the Post Office did not feel able, on all advice, to go ahead with it.

Mr. Grylls

Will the Minister tell us what magic the NEB has that makes it possible for it to run these factories profitably when Plessey cannot?

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman seems to have a rather peculiar idea of the role of the NEB. I know that he has to some extent, almost mischievously, in relation to the tanning industry made interventions which could have reacted very badly for a tannery that is about to be closed in the Millom area. He should look again at his own activity.

Mr. Heller

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, while we on Merseyside welcome the report as far as it goes, nevertheless we are rather disappointed with it because it does not indicate how to solve the problem of the 1,000 redundancies which are likely to occur? Some of them have already taken place. Will my right hon. Friend have another look at this in order to get the NEB to be more positive in intervening on Merseyside to provide work on a wider scale for people in an area with the worst unemployment in the whole of the British Isles?

Mr. Williams

My hon. Friend will be aware that I had very detailed discussions with the firm in order to save as many jobs as we possibly could. As a result of the initiative taken by the Prime Minister, the NEB carried out its investigations and made recommendations. In fairness, it should be said that the Government responded immediately by increasing the incentive to special development areas, which would help Merseyside and the Northern Region, for example, and by increasing the expenditure in the construction industry. But, frankly, when there is no demand for the product of a factory it is very difficult to see how one can save the jobs. The need is for alternative industry to come into the area.