HC Deb 17 June 1982 vol 25 cc1069-70
3. Mr. Foster

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will examine the possibility of co-ordinating more effectively public expenditure in the North of England so as to stimulate an early recovery of the economy in the Northern region.

The Minister of State, Treasury (Mr. John Wakeham)

Levels of public expenditure are primarily determined on the basis of functional expenditure programmes rather than by territorial areas, but, where appropriate, the needs of areas such as the North of England, which has been experiencing particular difficulties, are taken into account.

Mr. Foster

Is not the loss of output and the growth of unemployment in the Northern region now so fundamental that a completely different approach is required, such as a development plan for growth? Does the Minister accept that, far from crowding out private investment, there is a complementarity between public and private sector investment? Should this not be co-ordinated in such a fashion that there would be an inducement for private investment, which is something that even this Government do in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Wakeham

I am not persuaded that the best interests of the North would be served by the creation of another agency. The powers in respect of Scotland and Wales, for example, are held through different agencies in the North. To add such an agency to the North would provide no extra power, merely an increase in bureaucracy.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Has my hon. Friend heard the news that of all the towns in Great Britain that provide good value for money, the town that provides the best value for money is the holiday town of Morecambe? Does he agree that were the Government to carry out proposals of the kind suggested by Members from the Northern region for special arrangements for the area, much resentment would be entertained by people who live on the fringes of that area?

Mr. Wakeham

I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting up early in the morning to listen to the radio after two late nights in the House and taking this opportunity of advertising his constituency, which I am sure industrialists and those thinking of setting up business will bear in mind. My hon. Friend points to the real difficulty of areas that lie just outside any special development area.

Mr. Dormand

Will the Minister assess the response to the Chancellor's welcome initiative of last year, when financial incentives were provided from the scheme for the conversion of oil-fired boilers to coal? Has not the take-up of that scheme been much less than was expected? Will the Chancellor provide more money and widen the scope of the scheme? I assure the Minister that if that were done the effect on the coal industry in the North of England would be quite considerable.

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. and learned Friend widened the scope in the last Budget, and one of the reasons was that the take-up had not been as large as he had anticipated. We shall bear this whole question in mind, because we are anxious that the scheme should be used as much as possible.

Mr. Horam

Is it not time that there was at least a mechanism in the Treasury for co-ordinating public expenditure, not only functionally, but by regions? At present there is no such mechanism, which is why the Minister cannot give a proper answer to the two points made from the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Wakeham

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman believes that an additional agency—

Mr. Horam

Not an additional agency.

Mr. Wakeham

—will assist in these matters. The present bureaucracy is quite sufficient, and we would sooner see it reduced than increased.

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