HC Deb 25 January 1982 vol 16 cc603-4
10. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if, further to his answer of 7 December, Official Report, column 575, he has now studied the Central Statistical Office figures showing that the Northern region now has the slowest industrial growth in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor

Yes. The CSO article examines trends in regional gross domestic product in the decade to 1980. During the first half of the decade the Northern region experienced the fastest rate of growth of GDP per head of all the regions. In the latter half the North slipped from the position of fastest growth to that of slowest.

It is our policy to concentrate resources on the areas of greatest need. In keeping with that, over 80 per cent. of employees in the Northern region will continue to live in special development and development areas after the changes projected for later this year—a higher figure than in any other region.

Mr. Dormand

That answer is not clear. Is the Minister saying that the Government do not accept the statistics simply because they do not suit the Government's case? If the Minister does not accept that proposition, does he accept that the Northern CBI is heavily critical of at least some aspects of the Government's industrial policies? Is it not self-evident that, despite the parrot-like repetition that we hear from the Dispatch Box about what the Government are doing for the region, the North continues to have the highest unemployment rate and that the policies that have been enunciated yet again are a complete failure? Is it not time for a fundamental change in attitude towards the North?

Mr. MacGregor

I made it plain that I acceped the article. As it does not suit the hon. Gentleman's case as much as it suits mine, he should consider it with more care. The article points out that the decline in relative growth occurred before the Government took office. The more favourable growth rate in the North in the early 1970s had come to an end by 1976 and that had taken place under the previous Conservative Government. Having said that, I accept that there are massive problems in achieving industrial restructuring of the Northern region. Regional preferential expenditure in the Northern region since we came to power has exceeded £360 million, which is more than anywhere else.

Mr. Trotter

Is not the prosperity of the North-East and other areas that depend largely on the older industries tied to the prosperity of Britain as a whole? Therefore, should we not be grateful for the fact that all Governments have continued to give support to the North-East? Is it not damning to see from the statistics read out by my hon. Friend that national policies were favourable to the North-East in the first half of the 1970s and not in the period of the Labour Government?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend is right. The more that we can pull round the country's economic decline, the more the regions generally will benefit. That is why we have also put so much emphasis on increasing productivity, getting rid of overmanning and dealing with inefficiency.