HC Deb 28 January 1987 vol 109 cc320-2
2. Mr. Favell

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the initiatives he has taken since 1983 to assist industry in the north.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Giles Shaw)

Recognising its problems, we re-designated many parts of the north of England as assisted areas following the 1984 review of regional industrial policy. In total, 30 travel-to-work areas are assisted in my Department's three regions in the north of England, thus benefiting from regional schemes of assistance. These are automatic regional development grants, selective financial assistance and the activities of the English Industrial Estates Corporation. In addition, the efforts of my Departmenet's Invest in Britain Bureau and the three regional development organisations in the north of England have helped to secure nearly 220 separate decisions by foreign companies to invest in the north in the last three years.

Mr. Favell

The amount that has been done to help the north is impressive, as my hon. Friend has listed. As a fellow northerner, will he remind the House that Liverpool's greatness was built on the entrepeneurial spirit of Liverpudlians, Manchester on the commercial enterprise of Mancunians and Newcastle through the industrial enterprise of Novocastrians, not through Left-wing Socialists in town halls, who have done so much to destroy the reputation of the north for self-help and enterprise.

Mr. Shaw

I fully endorse my hon. Friend's wise analysis. As a fellow northerner—one from Yorkshire— I have to comment that a Labour-controlled local authority in south Yorkshire has recently declined to assist a small business because it did not consider that it would be socially useful to do so.

Mr. O'Brien

Will the Minister take on board the seriousness of the situation in the north, especially in the Dewsbury, Wakefield and Pontefract travel-to-work area where there is 16 per cent. unemployment? We have a 238-acre industrial site which is privately owned, but nobody will take up the offer to develop it. Will the Minister give the Wakefield area some assistance in veiw of the rising unemployment there, especially among the young?

Mr. Shaw

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am aware of the problems in parts of west Yorkshire and I concede that there are problems associated with attracting new industries to areas that have suffered structural decline. The coal industry, for example, has suffered decline. The hon. Gentleman knows that considerable time and effort must be expended to secure an improvement, and we are doing that.

Mr. Fallon

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, as a result of initiatives, the number of people in work in the northern region has risen by some 40,000 since 1983? Is he further aware that the only threat to industry in Darlington is the prospect of a Labour Government scrapping Trident, cancelling Sizewell and putting up inflation and the cost of of borrowing?

Mr. Shaw

I understand my hon. Friend's comments fully and I can confirm that in my trips to Europe and elsewhere I try to stimulate inward investment. It is the continuation of the Government's policies that firms are most concerned about.

Mr. Wainwright

Is the Minister aware that the Department's failure to restore the grants that were so greatly reduced by his predecessors has resulted in a number of non-European companies moving production from west Yorkshire to other parts of the European Community? For example, Case International is transferring a great deal of its tractor manufacturing to France. Will the Minister take some action?

Mr. Shaw

I am aware that there have been significant changes, but the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the proportion of the working population, especially in northern parts, has been increased by the redevelopment of the map tinder RDG2. I am aware of what the hon. Gentleman said about the Case works and have written to the chairman to ask for clarification of his intention.

Mr. McQuarrie

We hear about the north-south divide, but it appears that we now have a north-north divide. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) my hon. Friend the Minister did not refer to Scotland when talking about the north. Does he take account of Scotland, and is he prepared to discuss the restoration of development area status to parts of Scotland? Is he aware that there is high unemployment in my constituency?

Mr. Shaw

I hate to take issue with my hon. Friend on a matter on which he is expert, but as far as I am aware we do not have responsibility for regional policy in Scotland. That is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

Will the Minister confirm that no region has done more to help itself than the northern region, where co-operation between the regional Trades Union Congress, the regional Confederation of British Industry and local authorities is far advanced? What is the Department's view of he Northern Region Development Company, which has been set up by those organisations on a tripartite basis?

Mr. Shaw

I greatly welcome the creation of the Northern Region Development Company. It is an admirable example of local authorities reaching agreement after many years of not doing so, and forming with other local bodies and industry a base for promoting the northern region. I trust that the company will continue to prosper. We wish it well.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim

Can my hon. Friend tell us a little about the situation in the north which the Government inherited in 1979? Is it not true that under the Labour Government 70 per cent. of manufacturing job losses were lost in the north and that the Labour Government submitted a paper to the European Community in 1978 saying that the situation in the north was disastrous because of the general state of the British economy?

Mr. Shaw

My hon. Friend is quite correct. There has always been a view that there were significant problems which the Labour Government did not address carefully. The regional development policies pursued by the Government play a significant part in improving conditions in the northern region. Some 9 per cent. more money is going into such policies this year.

Mr. Gordon Brown

Will the Minister confirm that during the seven years of Conservative Government manufacturing employment has fallen by 34 per cent. in the north, by 35 per cent. in the north-west, by 36 per cent. in Wales and by more than 30 per cent. in Scotland? Will he confirm that the real value of manufacturing investment in the past seven years has fallen by 31 per cent. in the north-west and by more than 40 per cent. in the northern region? What practical purpose will be served by halving the value of regional development grants yet again? How can he talk of recovery when he is destroying the means of recovery?

Mr. Shaw

There is plenty of room for arguing about the basis of the hon. Gentleman's figures and I shall not confirm any of them. I can confirm, however, that we have spent £419 million in the current year. That is a substantial increase on what was spent in 1979. I can also confirm that we are dedicated to improving conditions in the northern parts of Britain to enable the imbalance of unemployment be eliminated.