HC Deb 30 January 1985 vol 72 cc276-7
16. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many recent representations he has received on his decision to alter the criteria governing regional aid.

Mr. Butcher

About 120 written submissions on the changes in regional industrial policy have been received since my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry announced them on 28 November. Ministers in the Department have also had a number of discussions with right hon. and hon. Members and others about local and general industrial development questions against the background of the new policy.

Mr. Fisher

Will the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State concede that the five or six criteria in the new policy for regional aid are adequate to respond neither to the underlying unemployment trends, such as job vacancies or youth or long-term unemployment, nor to the inherent industrial problems of an area such as mine in north Staffordshire? Will he recognise that his plans leave an area such as north Staffordshire in a worse position, sandwiched as it is between two areas to which he has given aid? Will he therefore reconsider his plans?

Mr. Butcher

I fully understand the reasons for the hon. Gentleman's question, particularly in the light of the pending early redundancies. However, I hope he will agree with me that there was no other way for the Government to proceed but upon objective criteria, impartially applied, and paying due cognisance to the core factor, which was the absolute level of unemployment and the level of long-term unemployment. On that basis, and on the travel-to-work-area basis, unfortunately — or perhaps one should say fortunately — Stoke was not sufficiently disadvantaged to qualify.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Will my hon. Friend accept that the west midlands welcomes the modest change in regional aid in our area, but could he help us about what the effect will be upon BL, a company which is owned in the majority by the taxpayer? Although in the past BL needed aid to save it from bankruptcy, it has now become a successful company. Are the Government, as the major shareholder, willing to invest further in its success so as to secure the jobs that are most desperately needed by the motor industry and the west midlands.

Mr. Butcher

My hon. Friend referred to the new changes as modest, but I am bound to say that industrialists in the Birmingham area do not see it in that light. I would cite as evidence the fact that 2,000 companies have already made inquiries about the workings of the system, of which 10 are from the inner city area of Birmingham, with which I know my hon. Friend has some preoccupation. As for BL, we look at its applications for various forms of assistance on their merits, but at the moment there is no application, either formal or informal, before us. We are also anxious to continue the support that we give to the BL component suppliers, which BL regards as a very important part of the industry.

Mr. Wilson

On top of the Government's recent discriminatory refusal to give to Scottish old-age pensioners the heating allowances that they are dishing out in the south of England and in the midlands, does the hon. Gentleman not understand that in Scotland we feel that we are also being discriminated against on industrial aid—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I find it difficult to relate the hon. Member's question to regional aid.

Mr. Wilson

I did, Mr. Speaker, refer to industrial aid. What proposals do the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend have for restoring to the Scottish economy the £100 million that they have embezzled from it?

Mr. Butcher

I find that a most incredible assertion. Scotland has received significant aid,, from this Administration and from many other Administrations during the last two or three decades. Not only has Scotland received significant aid, but the Scots were not discriminated against during the last evaluation of assisted area status. Scotland has been subjected to exactly the same criteria as the rest of the country.