HC Deb 22 June 1981 vol 7 cc16-8
20. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will study the problems of industrial decline in the West Midlands; what steps he is taking to arrest this decline; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Tebbit

The Government are fully aware of the problems of industry in the West Midlands. The best prospects for arresting industrial decline in the region lie in the measures being taken to put the economy as a whole on a sounder footing and on the initiative of work forces of all grades and responsibilities in restoring the competitive position of industry there.

Mr. Roberts

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that both Labour and Tory Governments have moved industrial operations from the West Midlands to other areas, where they have proved to be less efficient—hence the fall in productivity? Will he give particular consideration to the location of Government research centres, which are predominantly in the South-East, with a view to making some of them the nuclei for further development in the West Midlands?

Mr. Tebbit

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have heard his hon. Friends pleading for more Government money to be spent to divert industry from the Midlands to the North and other parts of the United Kingdom. He will understand the difficulty that I face in keeping a sensible balance between the two. I am sure that the West Midlands is well capable of responding to the challenges that are in front of it, provided that the criterion is met of all grades of the work force meeting the challenges that are put to them.

Mr. Budgen

Does my hon. Friend agree that the West Midlands is crucially dependent on British Leyland and that if BL at any time between 1975 and early 1980 had been forced to sell its subsidiary businesses, it is likely that the Rover factory at Solihull would now be profitable, under new management?

Mr. Tebbit

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is right, but in any case it is water under the bridge. The position we now face is that of making BL as competitive and successful as possible in order to support the industry throughout the whole of the West Midlands.

Mr. Jay

Are we to infer from the Minister's answers this afternoon that the more successful the Government's policies are, the higher unemployment will rise?

Mr. Tebbit

No, Sir. That would be a childish way of viewing the matter. The more successful the Government's policies, the more people will be displaced from "non-jobs" in which they are lowering the efficiency of the operations of the firms for which they work, and the more opportunity there will be for those people to find new and productive jobs that will last.

Mr. Grieve

While recognising the fact that under previous Governments great damage was done to the West Midlands by compelling industries which naturally had their base there to move out and to establish factories elsewhere, does not my hon. Friend agree that now the problems of the West Midlands are the problems of a large part of the rest of the country? They arise from underproductivity and, in the past, a great deal of indiscipline. Does not he believe that British Leyland, which we agree is the centre of the British motor industry and of West Midlands industry, is now on a firmer path to competitiveness and success?

Mr. Tebbitt

The problems of British Leyland are illustrative of the problems of British industry as a whole. Had the standards of performance which are now being achieved in British Leyland been achieved five years ago, the whole of British industry would look different today. There is no reason why these standards could not have been achieved five years ago except perhaps, that the Government policies of the day were diametrically opposed to allowing forces to operate to force those improvements.