HC Deb 16 April 1986 vol 95 cc865-7
11. Mr. Dixon

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he proposes to take to improve industrial development in the regions.

Mr. Channon

The best prospects for industrial development in the regions lie in the Government's economic policies, which are creating conditions for sustainable growth in jobs and output. In addition, many parts of the regions are eligible for regional assistance in recognition of their specific difficulties.

Mr. Dixon

As a result of the economic policies of the Government and the cuts in regional grants, the northern region has the highest level of unemployment in Great Britain. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State ensure that the newly formed Northern Development Company will have adequate resources and positive ministerial support to get on with the job?

Mr. Channon

I do not agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. As my hon. Friend said a few moments ago, the combination of a low rate of inflation and increased growth provide the best base for the economic prospects of the country. It is too early to comment about the Northern Development Company, but I shall certainly study what the hon. Gentleman said about that.

Mr. Fallon

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the worst proposition for the northern region would be any kind of enhanced role for local government, whose record has been one of high rates, poor quality housing, haphazard commercial development and a general lack of interest in any kind of enterprise economy?

Mr. Channon

That is a helpful contribution and I shall study it carefully.

Mr. Dormand

Does the Secretary of State agree that in regions such as the northern region, where there is a successful employment agency, it is either best left alone or given further encouragement by the Government? Is he aware that the Department of the Environment is proposing to abolish the three new town corporations in the north-east? They have an excellent record and have produced thousands of new jobs in the last six or seven years. Will he consult his colleagues and use his influence to stop this nonsense of abolition?

Mr. Channon

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to comment on that. It is a matter for my right hon. Friend and I shall discuss it with him in the light of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Conway

The progress made by the Government's regional development policy surely cannot be challenged, but will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the emphasis in the regions must be on inward investment and that the nation does not benefit by the movement of investment away from constituencies such as mine in Shrewsbury to development areas. That certainly does not help the national economy.

Mr. Channon

I understand my hon. Friend's views about that. As he says, it is important for us to try to encourage inward investment. I am glad to say that in the north-east there are one or two cases which I hope will be significant.

Mr. Gordon Brown

Why will the Minister not give funds to the Northern Development Company when even the Institute of Directors is now supporting Labour's policy of a northern development agency? Are not the Minister's bland reassurances about the economy contradicted by today's unemployment figures, which show that unemployment is rising twice as fast in the depressed areas as in the rest of the country? Will the Minister explain to the House how a 20 per cent. cut in regional aid this year and a 40 per cent. cut in the next two years will do anything to assist the regions, which are not enjoying economic revitalisation, but are suffering from social disintegration?

Mr. Channon

I have not said that I will not give any money to the Northern Development Company. I said that I would consider it, as the House and the hon. Gentleman would expect. Any effective organisation for the promotion of industrial development in the regions is to be welomed, and I shall study any application that comes to me. That is a perfectly reasonable stance for me to take. It is perfectly reasonable for me to examine such applications, and that is what I propose to do. I do not agree with the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question. The economic policies followed by the Government are most likely to increase prosperity throughout the country as a whole.

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