HC Deb 11 June 1980 vol 986 cc534-6
5. Mr. McQuarrie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to make a decision on the status of the areas which have been affected by oil-related industries in relation to the assisted areas which have to be decided by him before August 1980 ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Younger

The changes to be made this August in assisted area status in areas affected by oil-related developments are as announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry last July. For those areas which are being downgraded by more than one step there will be, as has already been announced, a review in the light of the circumstances prevailing at the time before the final step is taken in August 1982.

Mr. McQuarrie

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that there is widespread concern in the Grampian region, particularly in my constituency, about the threat of the removal of assisted area status, especially in respect of the highly specialised large and small firms that have come into the area? Will he have a further meeting with local authorities and other interested parties before removing assisted area status from these areas?

Mr. Younger

I note my hon. Friend's concern, which he has expressed to me on many occasions. I am aware of the case put by the Grampian region. There will be a further review of the situation, as my hon. Friend requests, before the final step is taken to alter the assisted area status.

Mr. Gourlay

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Levenmouth area will be deprived of its special development area status in August? Unemployment in that area is presently over 13 per cent. and rising, and an even greater number of redundancies have recently been announced. Will the right hon. Gentleman approach the Secretary of State for Industry to see that the Levenmouth area has its special development area status restored by August?

Mr. Younger

I know the position there, and it causes me some concern as well. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will be in touch with my right hon. Friend about it. This is a matter which was decided in last July's review, and I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will raise the matter again with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Myles

Will my right hon. Friend consider giving grants on an industry basis rather than on a geographical basis? The latter is not always beneficial.

Mr. Younger

I note that suggestion. Parts of the regional aids are provided on an industry basis under section 8 of the Industry Act, but the real aim of regional policy is to bring special help to areas in which there are high levels of unem- ployment. That is the theme of the whole policy.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Is the Secretary of State aware that, despite the unanimous view of, and a deputation to the Department of Industry from, every local authority in the Grampian region, and of virtually every Member of Parliament for that region, it has been confirmed that the development area status will be changed in August, in advance of the special study that he announced with a great fanfare on 17 July of last year, saying that there would be a special study of the effect of oil-related industry? Is not that inquiry a sham, bogus and a hoax on the people of the North-East of Scotland?

Mr. Younger

No, the hon. Gentleman is not correct about that. If regional policy means anything, it means the concentration of help where the need is greatest. The fact is that in the Aberdeen area in May 1980 the unemployment rate was 3.9 per cent., compared with a Great Britain figure of 6.1 per cent., and a higher figure than that for Scotland.

I hope that the special study will be complete by the spring of 1981. We shall then look at its recommendations. Its objective is to look at the effect on indigenous industry of oil-related developments in those areas, and I hope that it will prove a most interesting report.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Secretary of State accept that one of the most important oil-related developments is contained in the decision of his right lion. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry on the gas-gathering system for the northern area of the United Kingdom continental shelf? Will he give, as soon as possible, his views on how that system will operate?

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, I, too, am extremely interested in this exciting project. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make an announcement shortly.