HC Deb 14 December 1983 vol 50 cc987-8
12. Mr. Marlow

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he expects to publish the White Paper on regional policy.

Mr. Tebbit

As my hon. Friend will know, the White Paper on regional industrial development was published yesterday.

Mr. Marlow

In as much as the taxpayer is going to be asked to provide money for industrial support, and in as much as my right hon. Friend's White Paper said that there could well be some savings under the new system, will it be possible to support industries as well as just moving jobs from region to region?

Mr. Tebbit

As my hon. Friend knows, part of the impact of the changes that I announced yesterday will be to reduce what I call mere job shuffling. The whole strategy was designed to support industries in the past, and is now designed to support some aspects of service occupations in the future. That will make the impact more effective, especially as it is more job-related and less capital-intensive than before.

Mr. Barron

Paragraph 9 of the White Paper published yesterday on regional policy is headed "The Government's Approach", and makes great play of the adjustment of employment opportunities by limiting wage and unit costs and labour mobility. Paragraph 12 says that labour mobility and wage costs do not interfere greatly with employment opportunities in those areas. Will the Minister accept that the free market philosophy pursued by the Government is failing? We informed the right hon. Gentleman about that and he told himself that in yesterday's White Paper. When will he do something about the criminal unemployment levels in Britain?

Mr. Tebbit

Of course I do not accept that. The hon. Gentleman has difficulty in understanding even what is written in simple language. Perhaps I could repeat it to the hon. Gentleman and try to make the position clearer. If he will be so kind as to listen for a moment, he might just begin to understand. I said in the White Paper that, of course, labour rates and the greater mobility of labour had a part to play, but we could not expect that those two factors by themselves would answer all the problems.

Mr. Favell

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to say a word about those areas, many of which are industrial and north of Watford, which are ineligible for regional aid because they have diversified, modernised and enjoy good labour relations, as did my constituency, until the National Graphical Association arrived? When areas such as Stockport look a little way down the Mersey and examine the activities of other local authorities, it seems as though the prodigal son is being rewarded with a fatted calf.

Mr. Tebbit

I entirely understand my hon. Friend's strong feelings. The costs of regional policy fall not least upon those who are not in the assisted areas, and in many cases that means those who, by their own efforts, have improved the condition of their local economies. Equally, in some cases, substantial funds are made available in areas where some of the people concerned have done their best to wreck the local economies. It is regrettable that that should happen in those areas. None the less, we have a responsibility towards the vast mass of decent people in those areas who are trying to improve the economy, are pulling their weight, and are not part of Militant Tendency operations or other such operations.

Mr. Ryman

Will the Minister refrain from acting as a benevolent nanny to British industry and address his thinking, if thinking he does, to the real hardship being caused in the north-east of England as a result of his asinine announcement of 13 December? The substantial cutback in regional aid will inevitably lead to a foreseeable and huge increase in local unemployment. Is the Secretary of State not interested in the future of the shipbuilding and coal mining industries?

Mr. Tebbit

Of course I am interested in the future of those industries. For example, we have put more than £140 million into subsidising the losses made at Scott Lithgow recently, and we still seem to find great difficulty in persuading the work force to get an oil rig out on time. That is the fault not of regional policy, but of both the management and men at Scott Lithgow. I do not know about benevolent nannies, but when I listen to the hon. Gentleman I sometimes think that we have a problem with malevolent ninnies.

Mr. Bowen Wells

Does my right hon. Friend agree that he has presented to the House a typically balanced and sensitive regional policy? He recognises regional policy for what it is—a social service. Does he also agree that reorganisation of depressed areas very much depends on the co-ordination of industrial and social policy in those areas, and is the responsibility of those who live there?

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am the first to own up to being a very balanced and sensitive chap, who has a very balanced and sensitive policy.

Mr. Shore

According to the right hon. Gentleman, there are only two reasons for the major industrial decline that has taken place in the past four years. The first is that we apparently produce oil and export it — and on the right hon. Gentleman's logic that inevitably leads to the decline of British industry—and the second reason is the irresponsibility of British workers. Has it occurred to the right hon. Gentleman for one moment that the appalling decline in British industry coincided with the arrival of the Conservative party in power, and with the implementation of its absurd monetarist policies?

Mr. Tebbit

Earlier I was a little puzzled when the right hon. Gentleman produced a new verb, to emote. Having listened to him, I understand what it means. I have told him what he knows to be true, but dare not admit in front of his right hon. and hon. Friends.