HC Deb 09 February 1981 vol 998 cc594-6
15. Mr. David Watkins

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what measures he is now taking to stimulate industrial redevelopment in the Consett area.

Mr. MacGregor

Consett has been made a special development area. The Government have instituted a special programme of remedial measures involving factory building, derelict land clearance grants, special manpower measures, support for local road improvements and compensation to the local authorities for the loss of rate income.

Mr. Watkins

Bearing in mind the Secretary of State's misconceived answer to an earlier question about the establishment of a Northern development agency, will the hon. Gentleman consider acting positively on the suggestion that I made during his recent visit to Consett to the affect that he should come to the area twice a year to chair meetings of the locally based strategy committee, which is doing so much to further industrial redevelopment in the area but which cannot do more without outside help, because of the sheer magnitude of the problem?

Mr. MacGregor

I accept the magnitude of the problem and I was impressed by the constructive approach that the hon. Gentleman, local authorities and the community are taking to deal with the switch from decling industries to the new jobs of thefuture. I hope that it is clear that the Government have introduced a wide range of measures to try to help. As the hon. Gentleman knows, 58 factory units will be available shortly. As for my taking the chair at meetings of the strategy committee, the hon. Gentlena will appreciate that I have many responsibilities in other parts of the country and I cannot give an absolute commitment to come to his area twice a year. However, I shall do all that I can to keep a close interest in what is happening there.

Sir William Elliott

Is my hon. Friend aware that his recent visit to the region was most welcome? Is he further aware that there is a general appreciation in the North-East that the Government have introduced a wide measure of assistance to the region and that they are conscious of our problems? Does he agree that there is great encouragement in the interest being shown by smaller developers in factories of 1,000 sq. ft. and less on our trading estates? Will he do all that he can to encourage smaller developers?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks. He will know that it was because of my interest in the problems of the Northern area that I made it one of the first places that I visited after my appointment. I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend said about small developers. I am sure that they will make a useful and significant contribution.

Dr. John Cunningham

Does not the Minister's problem in dealing with the debacle at Consett and throughout the Northern region arise from the fact that there is a collapse in investment in British manufacturing industry? Is that not exemplified by the recent statement of the managing director of one of the largest chemical industries in this country that, because of the overvaluation of sterling and our high interest rates, his company will be concentrating its investment outside the United Kingdom?

Mr. MacGregor

The problem of investment has existed in this country for years and has been coupled with the insufficiently effective use of the investment that we have had. The hon. Gentleman will know that among the major factors that affect business confidence are the rate of inflation and expectations about inflation. The fact that inflation is coming down is helpful.