HC Deb 07 December 1988 vol 143 cc299-301
6. Ms. Armstrong

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he has any plans to announce new measures to boost the economies of Britain's regions.

Mr. Newton

There is already a range of such measures which we shall continue to pursue vigorously. They are contributing to the economic revival which is clearly taking place in the regions.

Ms. Armstrong

Does the Minister recognise that there is still a great difference between regions in terms of economic prosperity and deveopment and that, in some regions, there is almost over-capacity, whereas in others we are desperately looking for ways in which we can become self-sufficient? Self-sufficiency demands productive industries, research and development and skill-based industries. What does the Minister intend to do to ensure that we have that base from which we can then properly grow?

Mr. Newton

I certainly recognise that there are still substantial differences between regions, but those regions that have had a particularly difficult time are now showing signs of a very strong revival. It is, of course, right that they should have the appropriate economic and industrial base, but the mix of that base will be different from that upon which they have traditionally depended, because the world has changed. In the case of the hon. Lady's region, the north-east, it seems to me that what is happening—notably but by no means only as a result of the arrival of Nissan—is generating exactly the sort of new skill base through its effects on training, for example, that we want to see.

Mr. Andy Stewart

Did my right hon. Friend read The Independent on Monday where he would have seen, listed constituency by constituency, the drop in unemployment? If he did, he would see that Sherwood, my constituency, was second from the bottom. That is due to an unprecedented reduction in manpower in the mining industry. We do not yet qualify for Government or EEC aid. Will he reconsider advising the EEC that we need such aid in the constituency of Sherwood? Better still, would he care to visit my constituency at the earliest possible opportunity to see what can be done about improving our prospects?

Mr. Newton

I did read the tables in The Independent on Monday and they were indeed interesting. Although I did not visit my hon. Friend's constituency yesterday, I visited Leicester and Nottingham and discussed a numbr of those problems with Nottingham city council and Nottinghamshire county council. I am very much aware of the problems being created by the decline of mining employment and the British Government have indicated their support for some of the proposals put forward in respect of the point raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. James Lamond

Does the Minister recognise that certain industries are heavily concentrated in some regions, such as textiles in the north-west? Now that the textile industry is facing difficulties once again, does the right hon. Gentleman have any special measures that he intends to put into operation—such as additional finance to Inward, the development agency in the north-west—to enable any temporary difficulties which may arise because of the decline of certain industries to be overcome?

Mr. Newton

I have no specific additional measures in mind of the sort that the hon. Gentleman suggested. As I said in the main answer, there is a range of measures—including regional selective assistance—designed to encourage the development of new industries in the regions. Our record in attracting and encouraging new inward investment in all parts of the country is already considerable. We shall seek to build further on that.

Mr. Conway

Will my right hon. Friend take it from a former board member of the North of England Development Council that any colleague in this place who visits the assisted areas will see a marked improvement on the days when the Labour Government were implementing their broad-brush policies? Since the Government introduced their policy of targeting help, which is designed to create employment, there has been a vast improvement, as Labour Members well know.

Mr. Newton

I agree with my hon. Friend. As I have said in answering earlier questions, I have been visiting some of the regions. There is no doubt that the sense of confidence and optimism is far greater than it was even a year or two ago.

Mr. Caborn

Is the Minister aware of the report on the regional impact of the single market of 1992 which has been produced by the department of applied economics at the University of Cambridge? One of the conclusions reads: Regional policy needs to be significantly strengthened if 1992 is not to be disastrous for the regions". The report's conclusions have been endorsed by the regional policy director of the Community. Is the Minister telling the House that we are leaving regional policy in 1992 to market forces?

Mr. Newton

I am not saying any such thing. We have a substantial range of measures and we shall continue to press them vigorously. There are undoubtedly implications for the regions in 1992. For example, they will need to have good transport links with the markets of Europe, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is actively pursuing that aspect.

Mr. Batiste

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to stimulate the economies of the regions is through the creation of genuinely local enterprise cultures, and that the most effective way of starting those cultures in areas of high unemployment where the economy is dominated by local authorities is for the authorities to put out to genuine tender as many of their services as possible?

Mr. Newton

I am sure that that approach could make a contribution. Also important is the work of local enterprise agencies, in many of which local authorities play an important part. I welcome the growing number of private sector initiatives which are directed at producing exactly the sort of culture that my hon. Friend rightly advocates.