HC Deb 16 November 1983 vol 48 cc833-5
3. Mr. Fallon

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he has completed his review of regional policy.

10. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he has yet completed his review of the arrangements for regional aid.

11. Mr. Straw

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when his review of regional industrial aid will be completed.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Norman Tebbit)

No, but I intend to publish shortly a White Paper which will invite views from interested parties on some of the issues in a process of consultation that will be part of our review.

Mr. Fallon

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the White Paper will tackle such structural problems of the north-east as centralised wage bargaining, lopsided public investment and a shortage of entrepreneurs at all levels?

Mr. Tebbit

I hope my hon. Friend does not think that it is quite that bad in the north-east. Certainly there are a number of problems, and some of them will be dealt with in the White Paper. That is one reason why we shall be seeking views on some aspects, as well as stating our policy on others.

Mr. Fisher

Will the Secretary of State ensure that, as its major priority, the White Paper deals with the creation of new and lasting jobs in the regions generally, but especially in north Staffordshire and my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent, Central? Is he aware that 50 per cent. of the jobs in the pottery industry have disappeared during the past four years? Does he agree that unless there is new regional aid, as a matter of urgency, the industrial base of north Staffordshire will disappear?

Mr. Tebbit

It is fortunate that there are good signs of better times in the pottery industry. A number of companies have been making a strong come-back, and some have taken on additional labour. Regional policy is about the creation of jobs, but quite often the expenditure that has been incurred has not necessarily resulted in the creation of many new jobs.

Mr. Straw

Is the Secretary of State aware that in the north west and other regions there is the gravest suspicion that the review is nothing more than a smokescreen for further cuts in total aid to the hard-pressed regions? If that is not true, will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to assure us that the White Paper and the review will not be used as an excuse for further cuts in regional aid, which has already been cut savagely by the Government?

Mr. Tebbit

When looking at these issues, the first step must be to decide what instruments should be used, how expensive they may be and how they can be tailored to give the best possible results for the least possible expenditure. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to incur public expenditure simply for the sake of it —perhaps I am not sure.

Mr. Hal Miller

In the review of regional policy, will my right hon. Friend pay special attention to the need, not simply to create new jobs, but to preserve existing jobs in industries that need to be modernised and restructured, perhaps with the loss of some employment, to ensure their competitive future?

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. Friend is right. That is why, of late, we have been giving more help to schemes, especially in the engineering and manufacturing industries, for the introduction of new products, new techniques and new machinery. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has been especially active in that respect in the west midlands. We must beware that regional policy does not simply shuffle problems, at great expense, from one part of the country to another.

Mr. Grylls

Will my right hon. Friend always remember that regional aid takes money through taxation from firms in one area and gives it to those in another? Will he ensure that the basis of the White Paper is value for money for the taxpayer?

Mr. Tebbit

I can reassure my hon. Friend on the matter that he has raised. The justification for regional policy is primarily on social grounds — trying to do something to assist regions in the most difficulty, especially those with high unemployment.

Mr. Park

What are the implications of the review for the west midlands? Will the Secretary of State do anything to stop the continuing contraction, especially in the machine tool industry?

Mr. Tebbit

The hon. Gentleman had better await the White Paper before he makes his judgment. Opinions are divided on whether the west midlands would be better off by being included in an assisted area, or better off without what is often considered to be unfair competition from a nearby assisted area.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the strong message from the Conservative Benches is that assisted areas blight their neighbouring areas?

Mr. Tebbit

I understand my hon. Friend's point. There is a case, especially on social grounds, for those in the more fortunate parts of the country to assist those in the less fortunate parts, but we should not pretend that that necessarily gives a great boost to the economy.

Mr. Kirkwood

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind the needs of the rural parts when he draws up the White Paper? Will he consider establishing a new regional status—a rural development area?

Mr. Tebbit

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware of the help given to rural areas, not least through such organisations as COSIRA and through assisted area status for certain rural areas. I hope he does not forget the greatest of all aid to rural areas — the common agricultural policy. He may reflect upon its cost-effectiveness, but it amounts to a great deal of money.

Mr. Shore

I greet the Secretary of State on his first appearance at Question Time in his new and important role. If he is as positive and creative in his new Department as he was negative and destructive in his previous role, British industry and trade may have reason to greet him and look forward to his tenure of office.

Is not the central problem facing anyone considering regional policy the fact that during the past four years the whole of Britain has become a development area? As this is one of the most controversial of all subjects—which areas should benefit and whether such benefits should be for employment or capital purposes—would it not be more sensible to come to the House with a Green Paper rather than a White Paper, so that we and the Minister can enjoy sufficient flexibility to make our points without the right hon. Gentleman being over-committed before hearing what we have to say?

Mr. Tebbit

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his characteristically generous welcome, which I entirely reciprocate. I am sure that from time to time we shall have our differences, and I am sure also that they will be honestly debated. I look forward to hearing him put his side of the case—whether it is the one in which he believes, or the one that is his party's policy.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I shall remain as destructive of bad practice, and as negative about those who have impaired our industrial economy, as I ever was.

On the right hon. Gentleman's point about a Green Paper, I have already said that although we intend to publish a White Paper, there will be a great deal of room for discussion. There will be some green edges to the paper. That is the right way in which to proceed.

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