HC Deb 22 February 1982 vol 18 cc578-9
9. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if, in view of the rise of unemployment in the regions, he will institute a review of regional policy aiming for more investment in United Kingdom industry and a greater prospect of new jobs; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Department of Industry (Mr. Norman Lamont)

As was made clear at the time of the 1979 review of regional industrial policy. the Government attach a high importance to continuity and stability in regional policy. The Government keep the circumstances of particular areas under review, and are presently reviewing those areas which are due to be double downgraded in August.

Mr. Jones

Is the Minister aware that five British regions now have unemployment of a terrifying 17 per cent. or more? Does he agree that only an unprecedented amount of public investment can make urgent inroads into mass unemployment in those regions? Is his Department prepared to fight in the Whitehall machine to obtain more money in the next financial year to make inroads into mass unemployment?

Mr. Lamont

My Department already spends over £2.5 billion on supporting industry. Some £600 million of that is spent on regional policy and over £200 million is aid to industry under the Science and Technology Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not enough".] Labour Members shout "Not enough." They must say whether they expect that money to come from increased borrowing or taxes and whether they agree that the most important thing for British industry is to obtain lower interest rates, and only containing public expenditure will bring that about.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Will the Minister confirm that his Department has no plans to downgrade the status of the Teeside travel-to-work area?

Mr. Lamont

The Department has no plans to downgrade any areas beyond those which have already been publicly announced.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Is my hon. Friend aware that the most important way to help the regions—and many regions which are considered high unemployment areas now were not so considered three or four years ago—is for the Chancellor, in his Budget, to give all the help that he can to British industry?

Mr. Lamont

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will note what my hon. Friend has said. I am sure that he is right in saying that large sums of money, doled out as regional assistance to companies, have only a limited effect in countering unemployment. All the evidence suggests that when regional policy has been widely spread, as it was in the 1970s, it was much less effective in creating jobs than it was in the 1960s when it was more concentrated.