HC Deb 07 March 1977 vol 927 cc911-3
21. Mr. Anthony Grant

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he proposes to hold a review of regional policy.

Mr. Alan Williams

The effectiveness of our regional policy is constantly monitored.

Mr. Grant

I entirely accept the concept of regional policy, but is the Minister aware that the present policy involving vast sums of money spread thinly over ever-widening areas is quite unrealistic at present? In view of the appalling unemployment and deterioration, particularly in the urban areas, is not a fresh and more concentrated approach now called for?

Mr. Williams

I think the hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is conducting a review of the problems of the urban areas, and I am sure that we should await the outcome of that survey.

Mr. Grant

Is the right hon. Gentleman taking part in that?

Mr. Williams

Indeed I am.

Concerning regional policy, in a period, again, of intense recession there is the difficulty that the long-term underlying structural problems of the traditionally assisted areas can be overlaid by the very heavy unemployment that results from a recession. If we are not careful, we could greatly damage the long-term effect of regional policy if we reacted against what is inevitably a short-term problem of unemployment.

Sir A. Meyer

I do not dissent from what the Minister has said, but is he aware that in certain areas, notably of the county of Clwyd, there is a longterm structural unemployment problem? This is an area which, compared with surrounding areas, is without the development area status of, for example, Merseyside and the rest of Wales.

Mr. Williams

I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. An application is before me at present from the Clwyd County Council. The hon. Gentleman should be perhaps somewhat relieved that the application is lying on my desk instead of on the desk of his hon. Friend the Member for Harrow Central (Mr. Grant), who wants to restrict the areas that are receiving this assistance.

Mr. Crawford

In the context of an earlier question put by the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), does not the Minister agree that regional policy has been a disaster as far as Scotland is concerned? Does he not agree that the only way in which Scottish industry can be rejuvenated would be by a Scottish Assembly with full economic powers?

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman lives in a poly-paradise. He does not seem to recognise that, if it had not been for regional policy—I hope that the nationalists will turn their attention to this matter—followed by Governments of both major parties over the last 20 to 25 years, the situation in Scotland today would be far worse than it is now. I say that as a Welsh Member of Parliament. For years many parts of England have forgone industrial development in order to help my part of the country and the hon. Gentleman's part of the country. The incredible ingratitude and bitterness of the nationalists should be seen for what it is.

Mr. Joan Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the regional policies pursued by all Governments since the end of the last war have succeeded in maintaining the unity of Britain and that it is good economic policy to ensure that industry is dispersed throughout Britain, including Wales and Scotland? In view of this, although the Government are doing much in the way of selective assistance, will they look again at REP, which has worked well over the years?

Mr. Williams

I entirely accept my hon. Friend's basic premise. I am sure that most hon. Members—except a few of the frantic fringe—accept that we must have a unified approach to our industrial problems.

As for REP, the successive effects of inflation have meant that its real impact, in terms of cost to a firm, became very marginal. It seemed far better in that case to concentrate money on those really in need, who could be saved by the much higher rate of temporary employment subsidy—I am sure my hon. Friend will accept that it is a very valuable asset for many firms—and to release money for selective assistance, such as the new selective scheme that my right hon. Friend announced earlier and such as the £65 million scheme for the shipbuilding industry announced about a fortnight ago.

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