HC Deb 13 July 1988 vol 137 cc353-4
13. Ms. Quin

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he will next be visiting the Northern council of the Confederation of British Industry to discuss industrial progress in the northern region.

Mr. Atkins

I have no present plans to visit the northern council of the CBI, although I regularly meet northern businesses. During my most recent visit to the region I was encouraged to hear business people themselves confirming the report of industrial progress and prospects for further growth which have figured in successive CBI surveys.

Ms. Quin

Will the Minister seek an urgent meeting with both sides of industry in the north to discuss the proposed closure of Marconi Radar in my constituency? Does he agree that the loss of 450 high-quality jobs such as those, and the decision by Marconi to concentrate production in the south-east, represent a trend opposite to what we wish to see? What action will he take to ensure that the jobs are not lost to the northern region?

Mr. Atkins

I am extremely concerned to hear that Marconi has decided to reduce or close capacity at Gateshead and Chelmsford. However, those are matters for the company management, which is best placed to judge the market, or lack of it, for particular products.

Mr. Holt

Does my hon. Friend agree that if he goes to the north-east to meet the northern council of the CBI, the Northern Regional Association of Councils or the Teesside chamber of commerce in my area, he will find nothing but expansion, growing job expectations, declining unemployment and the regeneration of the area improving day after day?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend does his area and region a great service by never ceasing to tell us how strongly and how importantly the north-east features in the scheme of things. My hon. Friend is right to say that, although there are still difficulties in the north-east, things are improving. Opposition Members would do better to talk about the successes, rather than continually talking about the weaknesses.

Mr. Radice

May I remind the Minister of the acute shortage of large-scale factory space in the northern region? Can he tell the House what measures he will take to bridge that gap, thereby not holding back the recovery in the northern economy and helping us replace the jobs that have been tragically lost at Marconi and those that will be lost at Swan Hunter as a result of the announcement the day before yesterday?

Mr. Atkins

The hon. Gentleman and many of his colleagues have rightly and understandably raised the problem of the shortage of factory space in the north-east. He will know that when I answered the Adjournment debate that he raised in the House I said that that was a problem of success. I have received a number of representations and contributions, not least from the hon. Gentleman, whose paper we are considering, and I have discussed the matter, together with my right hon. and noble Friends, with English Estates. We hope to be able to tell the House a little more about progress in the not too distant future.

Mr. Cran

Is my hon. Friend aware that if he consults the regional reports of all the councils of the CBI for the past year, including that for the northern region, he will find that they are couched in terms of unremitting confidence and that the only problems they outline are those associated with growth, such as temporary shortages of labour and so on?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend is quite right. There are things happening in the north-east and the northern region that are extremely good for the local and national economy. We have to ensure that that success is built upon. The problems to which hon. Members have referred, such as the shortage of factory space, have to be addressed. I repeat that that, ironically, is a problem of success.