HC Deb 22 November 1982 vol 32 cc575-6
16. Mr. Wigley

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will now review the working of regional development grants under the Industry Act 1972 so as to improve their effectiveness in relation to the economic circumstances of counties such as Gwynedd.

The Under-Secretary of State for Industry (Mr. John MacGregor)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry announced in the House on Tuesday 9 November an immediate end to the four-month deferment of regional development grant payments. Combined with a reduction in the average time taken to approve grant payments in Wales to about five weeks from the receipt of the application, this represents a substantial improvement in the effectiveness of the working of the scheme.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Minister aware that unemployment in Gwynedd doubled from 4,000 to 8,000 between 1974 and 1979 and that it has doubled again to more than 17,000 since 1979? Is he further aware that during that time large parts of Gwynedd have lost development area status? Is he aware also that the level of unemployment in the Arfon and Dwyfor areas is higher than in many areas that enjoy special development area status? Does he agree that there is a case reviewing those areas and giving them back the special area status that they once enjoyed?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman will know that a review of various travel-to-work areas and their assisted area status was carried out in the summer and decisions were announced then. It was made clear that there would be no more major changes during the present Parliament unless there were exceptional reasons for them. I have reexamined the levels of unemployment in the areas to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I do so frequently. The hon. Gentleman will know that more than 90 per cent. of the working population in Wales are in assisted areas. That is the case in Gwynedd. I am satisfied that, in relation to other travel-to-work areas, the present gradings are correct.

Mr. Ioan Evans

What criteria are used to determine whether an area should have special development or other status? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there has been a reduction in a number of special development areas in Wales while unemployment has doubled? Is he further aware that there is 20 per cent. male umemployment in my area and yet it has been demoted from being a special development area to a development area?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman probably knows that there are a series of criteria. Unemployment and its relative level is one factor. The others are spelt out in the Industry Act 1972 and are often repeated in the House. Special development areas are always based on travel-to-work areas. There is one travel-to-work area in Gwynedd, for example, that enjoys special development area status. No other travel-to-work area in Gwynedd approaches the national average of special development area. That gives some idea of how we examine the relative levels of unemployment, but unemployment is not the only factor.

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