HC Deb 18 March 1988 vol 129 cc1384-95 1.42 pm
Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

I beg to move, That this House welcomes the rapid improvement and growth of the economy in the North West and recognises the attractions of the area to potential private investment, believing that those who seek to project an image of the region as being depressed and deprived not only misrepresent the truth, but do great harm to the North West's attempts to attract such new investment. I, too, shall be brief because I know that other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. Having said that, I felt it right to bring to the attention of the House the improvements in the economy of the north-west and the good things that are happening in that part of the country. It is right to give hon. Members the opportunity to express their views on this important area of our country and our economy.

I want to make it clear at the outset that parts of the north-west region still suffer the effects of what was the recession. I have no doubt that unemployment and employment figures vary across the region, and that in parts of our cities and towns decay is still real and evident. However, what I know equally to be the truth about the north-west is that the image of decay and decline purveyed with such relish by many is not the real image of the northwest in the late 1980s.

Let us turn our attention to industry. Is it not time that hon. Members — particularly those who represent the area — and the media, stopped speaking and writing about and lovingly photographing the shells of the northwest's industrial past? Is it not time that we began to speak of the new, modernised, streamlined, efficient and entrepreneurial north-west? The evidence that I shall present to the House will show not that the phoenix is simply rising from the ashes of the north-west but that it has risen.

It is no accident that the region has been marked out as the growth area of the country over the next few years. No greater example of the new spirit of the north-west can be found than that of Trafford Park. Hon. Members will forgive me if I remind them that Trafford Park was one of five new urban development corporations that were announced in 1986. I do not propose to list the names of companies—many of which are international companies—that have moved into Trafford Park, but I should tell hon. Members that the Trafford Park area comprises 3,000 acres, that 600 companies are operating there employing over 24,000 people and that 200 companies have moved in over the past few years.

That is evidence of companies moving to the north-west from elsewhere. There is no greater proof of confidence in the north-west than when people from outside are willing to put their money on the line in the area.

That measure of confidence was greatly reflected by a recent announcement of a proposed new Trident business park at Manchester airport. Construction will begin on 1 April 1988. There will be 80,000 sq ft of letting space, and private money will be involved. It is the biggest speculative investment in the north-west for years, and it will cost about £10 million. It is interesting that a southern-based property company has come up to the north-west and said, "Yes, this is where the future is; that is where it is worth putting our money and this is where the economy is expanding."

Salford Quays is another marvellous example of private investment. An investment of £150 million by private enterprise has transformed the area, which previously was derelict and commercially had nothing going for it, into a major development. Some £25 million of public money has been spent on improving the docks area, canals, roads and the local environment, and a major hotel has been attracted to the region.

The Government spent £6 million to reclaim derelict land at Wavertree technology park. In total, Wavertree technology park comprises 60 acres. By the end of this month, 30 companies will have moved on to the park, and 800 jobs have been created there.

Those are examples of private investment being encouraged by prudently spent public money. They have attracted vastly greater percentages of private rather than public investment.

The idea is often put about—with regard to the north as well as the north-west—that existing industry has disappeared, fled the region or been destroyed. That is a nonsensical idea. The list of modern, high-tech companies, many of which are household names, that have remained successfully in the north-west through the recession is too long to recite in full.

Even more significant are the new companies, many of which I know personally, that have set up in the region within the past five years. They are trading and expanding successfully in the area. I shall give one or two examples. At the smaller end of the spectrum is a company called JEL, which has recently been associated with a larger conglomerate. However, 10 years ago that company did not exist. It now employs 150 people and has a projected expansion of 30 per cent. this year. Its turnover in 1987 was £6 million, but this year it is projected that it will be £9 million and that by 1991 it will be £20 million. It has just won a major contract for a shopping mall in Scotland. Another company of which I am aware in the north-west has recently won a contract that is worth £13 million from eastern Europe, which is welcome.

With regard to major employers that have been in the region a long time and are doing well, there is the example of Ferranti Ltd. Its turnover in 1987 was £629 million, and in the north-west the company employs about 6,300 people. More than 25 per cent. of the company's employees are based in the north-west and 30 per cent. of its business is in exports.

The north-west is doing a great deal for this country's export drive. British Aerospace employs 6,500 people in the north-west with a turnover in that region alone of £145,400,000, and is a major contributor to the economy not just of the north-west but of the whole country.

What is the north-west doing for exports and what is the evidence that industry is alive and well there? I could give many examples, but I will give just one which shines out brightly. The North West Pharmaceutical Group, a conglomerate of nine companies, in the past 12 months has invested capital expenditure of £64 million in its operation. It has put £57 million into the local economy through the services and materials that it purchases. United Kingdom sales are £1,290 billion and exports £2,499 billion. That is a tremendous contribution from a conglomerate based throughout the north-west.

There is no better barometer of the north-west economy and no greater testimony to its future than the commercial success of Manchester airport, which is now the largest airport outside London and the third largest in the United Kingdom. Quite apart from passenger transport, the most important aspect of its trading is its record in commercial traffic. In 1975, 37,360 tonnes of commercial traffic was shipped through Manchester. By 1980, reflecting the recession that had begun some years earlier, the total was down to 27,659 tonnes. By 1986, it was 42,449 tonnes—way above pre-recession levels. There has been a 32 per cent. increase in freight and mail services out of Manchester, and the airport must be confident indeed of the future of the north-west as it believes that the trend will continue.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

Given the importance of the airport for this region, will the hon. Gentleman impress on the Minister the stupidity of preventing American carriers from using Manchester airport rather than opening it up to the advantages already enjoyed by the south-east?

Mr. Day

The hon. Gentleman must not pre-empt me. I shall be coming to that in a moment.

The airport, on its own initiative, is developing a brand new cargo centre which will be the first of its kind in this country. It will bring together in one place the airlines, the bonding warehouses, Customs and Excise, freight agents, forwarders, brokers, transporters and everyone else. It is a unique development and a testimony to the confidence of Manchester airport in the economy of the north-west.

If Manchester airport needs anything, it needs recognition of its full international status, especially from the Civil Aviation Authority. We need more scheduled flights and fewer night charters. The demand and the potential are there, but we need less bias towards Heathrow and Gatwick by the Civil Aviation Authority.

The trend of unemployment in the north-west is significantly down. Since March 1986, there has been a fall of 74,121 in the number of unemployed.

If we consider the number of new jobs that are being created, the three areas that are doing exceedingly well are the west midlands, Wales and the north-west. February's figures show that there has been a fall in unemployment throughout the country, but apart from the south-east no area has shown such a significant fall in unemployment as the north-west. Those figures relate not to a region in decay, but to a region in a transitional period of vast expansion.

Mr. Tony Lloyd


Mr. Day

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I carry on. I am sure that he will have an opportunity to speak.

We should also note the extent of the Government's financial commitment to the north-west. Labour Members often accuse the Government of failing to invest in the infrastructure. The north-west's infrastructure has enjoyed massive investment. We have one of the most superb road networks in the country, which is the envy of other regions. Significant improvements are being made to the M6 and M62 in the north-west, representing a Government investment of £34 million. The completion of the outer ring road to the east of Manchester at a cost of £160 million was recently announced. Improvements have been made to local access to the national road network. The Manchester-Salford inner ring road is to go ahead and the Government have given a grant of 50 per cent. towards its completion. British Rail is spending £12.5 million on the Windsor link to connect north and south Manchester. All those schemes demonstrate that not only the Government, but private industry and British Rail are investing money in a region that they believe is expanding and where they believe that money will be wisely spent. Such investment demonstrates the turnround in the north-west's fortunes and there is no greater evidence to support it.

The north-west, with its airport, rail links, motorways and the facilities such as the fast-developing business parks, has a superb infrastructure. Manchester is the second financial centre in the land—the Manchester stock exchange is second only to London. Some 40 commercial and industrial banks are operating out of Manchester.

It is no accident that such expansion is taking place. Private money is being invested in the area because the success of the north-west is recognised. It is time for those of us who represent the north-west to proclaim that new expansion. Those who constantly point to the empty mills of yesteryear do no service to those who once worked in them. No amount of wringing of hands or crocodile tears will bring those mills back into life.

The only hope for those still unemployed and for those areas not yet sharing in the prosperity of the majority is for the success of the north-west to be encouraged and for enterprise, private investment to be encouraged. That is how the prosperity of the many will become the prosperity of all.

The constant representation of a recession-bound, socially-deprived north-west creates the image of a derelict, defeated, demoralised area—nothing could be further from the truth. I appeal to all hon. Members who represent the north-west, whatever their politics, to join together to encourage business to invest in the north-west. We should tell businesses that we have the facilities, that they should join those who are already making a success in the region and that we shall welcome them with open arms.

I do not believe for one minute that the north-south divide, as presented, exists. There is supposed to be a mythical line that goes from the Wash to the Severn. Below that line there is prosperity, full employment and happiness. Above it there is unemployment, despair and poverty. It does not work like that.

I will not be content until we assess the situation in a proper perspective. Those divisions that exist occur throughout the country. However, the majority are prosperous and commercially successful. We can only achieve such a change in recognition if we are prepared to stand up and trumpet the achievements of the north-west. That is the way to make the north-west the power-house and generator of the British economy once again. That is what it was and what it is becoming once more. I will do all that I can to present the achievements of the north-west in the House and elsewhere. I hope that other hon. Members from the north-west will join me in that.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. I appeal for short speeches so that all hon. Members who want to speak may do so before the debate ends.

1.59 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd

The only point of agreement between the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) and myself is that he has done a service to the north-west by choosing this subject for debate, even if the motion that he has tacked on to the debate is completely unrealistic and unrepresentative of the truth. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is a victim of the hype that the Government are presenting to the country. Obviously Opposition Members must concede that the Conservative party is very strong in the relatively prosperous south-east and is desperate to build up the case that some economic transformation is taking place elsewhere in the country. However, the reality is entirely different.

Over the eight or nine years that the Government have been in power, the north-west has lost more than 350,000 manufacturing jobs. That represents nearly one third of the manufacturing work force. Therefore, the Government's record is one of almost systematic atrocity against my region. That makes me extremely bitter, because I come from the region and I care very deeply for it. The way in which Government policies have been inflicted on manufacturing industry and their impact on my constituents can only be described as criminal insanity. The hon. Member for Cheadle should consider the 350,000 jobs that have been lost in the region.

I appreciate that the Government are trying to play a clever trick. They now con tend that unemployment is a thing of the past. They seem to admit that they got things wrong in their first two terms in office, but now everything has been transformed. The hon. Member for Cheadle quoted the mythical unemployment statistics and the Government's claim that unemployment is coming clown in the north-west.

The hon. Member for Cheadle is wrong. The Government's figures, published in the Official Report, show that last year the level of employment in the north-west declined by 3,000. I hope that the hon. Member for Cheadle will accept that that is not a recipe for reducing unemployment. The Government have fiddled the unemployment figures. They have driven people off the register—[Interruption.] If the Minister wants to intervene, will he tell me why last year in the north-west we lost 3,000 jobs, not just in manufacturing, but in all industries?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs (Mr. Francis Maude)

Unemployment has been falling now in every part of the country for a year and a half. That fall is now sharper in the regions than in the supposedly prosperous south-east.

Mr. Lloyd

I am extremely grateful for that intervention, as the Minister has revealed the real problem. The Government either simply do not understand their own figures or have become the victims of their own propaganda.

The Government's official figures of the level of employment in my region show that there was a decline of 3,000 last year. That does not lead to a decrease in unemployment. It may lead to a decrease in the figures that the Government portray, and it may do many other things, but there has been no reduction in the level of unemployment.

The Minister obviously does not realise that the people in my region understand the reality of unemployment. They also understand what it is like, even when they are in employment, to live on levels of pay that in many cases are below the Council of Europe's decency threshold.

In the north-west, one third of the work force are paid less than the Council of Europe's decency threshold. That is a tremendous indictment of the Government and society. It is also an indictment of the wage levels in the south-east, the richest part of the country. I say that with no sense of hostility towards the south-east. The sad truth is that the north-west is increasingly lagging behind. The south-east is disappearing out of sight with respect to wage levels.

That is profoundly disturbing to those of us who have the long-term interests of the north-west at heart. If that widening of the gap continues, the region will become part of a kind of economic colonialism in which we simply exist on the economic margins of the dominant region.

Perhaps the most worrying trends are shown, not in the Government's fiddled figures, but in reports by independent outside experts. A recent study by the department of land economy at Cambridge university suggested that, over the next 10 years, during which about 900,000 jobs will be created, all of them in the service sector, about half the new jobs will go to the south-east. The north-west does not stand a chance of getting an even share of that increase.

The figures for investment in manufacturing industry are also frightening. Nationally, levels of investment are still below those of 1979, which is an indictment of the Government's crass incompetence when responding to the needs of manufacturing industry. In the long term, it is worrying that new investment does not go into the regions outside the south-east. The 30 per cent. of businesses registered in the south-east manage to capture about 60 per cent. of all the funds available for venture capital for the regions. That shows a massive mis-cueing of venture capital investment.

Contrary to what the hon. Member for Cheadle said, investment for the future is taking place not in the north-west but in the south-east. In 1986, it was revealed that London and the south-east held more than two thirds of all invested pension funds, and the north-west as little as 7 per cent. The hon. Member for Cheadle should be worried that major capital investment in the country is going not to the north-west but to the south-east.

The figures for research and development are the most frightening of all. The north-west's share of DTI support for research and development was as low as 11 per cent. in the 18 months to September 1987, whereas the southeast received half of such support.

Mr. Day

But good things are going on in the north-west. Why do Opposition Members give the impression that they have nothing to describe about the north-west except things that are not as good there as elsewhere? There may be some, but that does not mean that the north-west does not have good things with which to attract people and thus reverse the position.

Mr. Lloyd

That is a point worth responding to, and the answer to it is simple. There is much that is good in the north-west—mainly its people, of whom I am proud. I am a little biased, but I regard it as the best region in the country, and my family and I live there. I am not trying to sell it short. Some good things are in my constituency —Trafford Park, which the hon. Member for Cheadle mentioned, is mainly there. It provides employment for some, but we would be negligent and derelict in our duty if we did not recognise the long-term problems and the incompetence of a Government who fail to deal with those problems and with the fact that the north-west is increasingly becoming a branch-plant economy, which depends at second hand on the successful south-east. If that trend continues it poses major threats to the economic viability of the region and to its employment and social structures.

We are being denuded of the economic resources that are necessary to control our destiny. The fact that the south-east has more than half the DTI assistance for research and development shows how dangerous it is to concentrate our resources in one region, which is already the most affluent and assisted. The Government thereby compound the problems of regional imbalance that already exist. We recognise that there are advantages in the north-west's industrial structure and skills, but we cannot live on those unless we invest in their future. We are not seeing that from the Government.

The hon. Member for Cheadle quite rigntly mentioned the role of Manchester airport. That airport is important for the regeneration of the region. As I have said, the Government are not prepared to allow fair access into Manchester airport by American carriers. As a south-eastern Government, that makes sense from their point of view because of the south-eastern airlines system that they have developed over the years. It makes no sense to me as a northerner to be told that I can fly from Manchester to London and pick up flights there. I am not a Londoner and do not live in the south of England, and my demand that the Government act fairly towards Manchester, the north-west and, indeed, the whole of the north of Britain is quite legitimate.

Another issue is the Channel tunnel. We have been pressing for some time for proper investment in British Rail freight services to our region. We were originally told that no public money would be invested in the Channel tunnel. Now we are told by the Government that the only public money to be invested will be on the strip that links Dover and the access to the tunnel to London. Nothing will be forthcoming to open up the north of England.

It is disgraceful for the Government to behave in that way, but they do it because they are responding to their south-eastern audience. No doubt the few Conservative Members who represent northern constituencies will be able to put up some propaganda barrage to hold the line.

The Government have given up on the north of England as a whole, and have certainly given up on the north-west. As long as there are amiable stooges on the Conservative Benches who represent those outposts and who are prepared to put down silly motions such as this congratulating the Government and trying to build up a case that all is well, the Government will be allowed to get away with systematic disinvestment in our regions.

Rather than putting down such motions, I hope that Conservative Members will join me in putting consistent pressure on the Government. They should say that even they, as Conservative Back Benchers, are not prepared to accept systematic disinvestment, indifference and ignorance by the Government. They should demand adequate public investment and recognition of the need for that investment into industry and into the skills of our people in order to make sure that we have the same access to future prosperity as that which is seemingly being planned for the south-east.

In the debate, we have heard about the low-paid, that third of people in the north-west who are low-paid by international standards. The Government must accept that the Budget does nothing for that group, but give massive rewards to those who are already well off. If they do not accept that, their total incomprehension about the real scale of social deprivation in and between the regions will be quite evident.

2.17 pm
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

Because of the shortage of time, I do not have an opportunity to reply in full to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). He said that he did not want to talk down the north-west. Thank heavens that we do not have to rely on publicists such as the hon. Gentleman to extol the virtues and achievements of the north-west.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on his wisdom in choosing this subject for debate and on his excellent speech. I am glad to have the chance to talk about another part of the north-west—Cumbria—which I have represented in the House for a long time. We have a heartening picture of progress and prosperity. I am delighted to see that since the February 1986 peak, when unemployment in Cumbria reached over 24,000, the level has fallen and the latest figures for January show that it has dropped to under 20,000. That means that almost one in five of the unemployed has found work. That is very good progress but there is still a long way to go because the figure is still too high. We must all work on that problem.

Cumbria has a mixed economy of industry, agriculture and tourism. Industry in the area is greatly helped by the partnership between the Government and private initiative. The hon. Member for Stretford said that the Government have given up in the north-west. He should visit parts of Cumbria where the Government's activities are crucial to the economy of the area. He should visit vickers submarine construction operation in Barrow, which is crucial to that town and has been supported stalwartly by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks).

The hon. Gentleman should go to see the massive investment programme at Sellafield, further up the coast, with its nuclear reprocessing development. I am delighted at the way in which the management at Sellafield has opened the plant to visitors. It has made it much more open so that people can go and learn about it, rather than relying on silly scare stories. We should congratulate Mr. Christopher Harding, the new Chairman of British Nuclear Fuels, on what he has done.

Apart from the industrial areas, there is a huge interior in Cumbria. Local enterprise and self-help have created many jobs. I applaud particularly the creation of the Cumbria rural enterprise agency, based in Kendal, and recently extended to Penrith and Appleby. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) recently opened the Appleby office. The scheme will shortly extend to Alston and Keswick. In its first year, the agency had 240 clients and created 40 new businesses. Another 20 businesses will follow shortly. That is an excellent local initiative.

The agency has done a great deal in other ways. For example, many hon. Members will remember the old railway centre of Tebay. One can see it as one goes north on the M6 through the dramatic gorge before one climbs over Shap fell. It used to be an important railway junction on the north-south line and there was a branch line across the Pennines to Darlington. In its heyday, Tebay employed 177 people on the railway. The station is now shut and many fewer people are employed on the railway. However, the M6 has come; most of my colleagues will have driven on that famous road. A motorway services area has been developed due to the efforts of a relatively small group of local business men. A new hotel has been built with a major heavy transport facility in the village.

The provision of those facilities has meant that, together with the 17 people employed on motorway maintenance by Cumbria county council, exactly the same number of people are now employed on the motorway as used to be employed on the railway. That shows what can be done by initiative and self-help. It is a wonderful story which shows how a motorway in a rural area can create a corridor of employment and prosperity.

Agriculture is one of the main industries of the area. Many people in agriculture will have welcomed the Budget. The reduced level of income tax will be well received, but the change of the base for calculating capital gains tax from 1965 to 1982 may be more important. It will be much easier for a young man to inherit the family farm from his father, and I very much welcome that change.

There is a growing interest in forestry in the north of England, particularly in Cumbria. We must not impair that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was right to make the change in the taxation arrangements for forestry, but none of us can offer a judgment on the changes until the level of the new planting grants is revealed next week. There is a potential difficulty for people with young plantations, because they have no money coming in and will not be allowed to offset the costs of managing those trees.

Tourism is an essential part of Cumbria's economy. It employs 25,000 people, representing 13 per cent. of Cumbria's work force. In 1986, almost 3.25 million visitors spent 11.8 million nights and £20 million in the area.

The great attractions of the Lake District are becoming much better known. It is an undisputed gourmet centre, although I can only describe the food as having been terrible 25 years ago. There has been a massive development of hotels, largely by private enterprise. There has also been the development of time share, a wonderful arrangement. It can be found in the Langdales in Langdale valley, in a proposed £20 million complex at Windermere marina, and at Backbarrow. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment is visiting Backbarrow today.

There has also been a massive growth in opportunities to visit houses of great historic interest and a great expansion of museums. There is a great deal for visitors to do and to see. These developments have been created largely by private enterprise, together with pump-priming help from Government agencies. The message from Cumbria is that the economy is doing well. I hope that the Government will continue to support it.

2.21 pm
Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South)

Once again I rise to report a booming economy in Warrington. Its succcess reflects the growing economic confidence of the north-west. It is significant that the Swedish company Ikea chose Warrington out of the whole of the United Kingdom as the place for its first store. When it opened, there were queues stretching back to the motorway. I am very glad that the store has been successful. It reflects the success of both Warrington and the north-west.

There are impediments to that success, and it may come as no surprise to Opposition Members that I associate them with Socialism. One of those impediments is the national dock labour scheme. I have a port in my consituency, the Manchester ship canal. I am sorry that the national dock labour scheme is still in existence, because it has played a very important part in transferring a great deal of the employment in the ports to the east coast. I wish that it could be wound up. I hope that the Government will look again at that scheme.

Another impediment to the success of the north-west is the seemingly rabid desire of Socialism to spend other people's money. Cheshire, which is run by an alliance between the Labour party and whatever the Liberal party calls itself now, has just imposed a 9.9 per cent. rates burden on ordinary people and businesses. There was no need for that swingeing increase, given the very generous rate support grant settlement this year. That increase has been reflected in the Socialist borough of Warrington, which has slapped on a 10 per cent. rates increase. Mike Davis, the finance director of Greenall Whitley, spoke for many businesses in the north-west when he said: We are all fairly aghast by the rate increase. The Council is doing nothing to get a grip on their spending … If our profits are depressed it means less for our investment programme and that affects jobs. Local Socialists in Warrington have been complaining about the state of the National Health Service in Warrington. It has some problems over its expenditure programme, but it is hypocritical of the Socialists to complain about the state of the NHS in Warrington after having imposed an additional £60,000 rates burden on the Warrington health authority area.

Roll on the uniform business rate. It will bring immense benefits to the north-west. It is a great shame that Opposition Members oppose it. It will involve the transfer of £700 million to the north. The Manchester chamber of commerce and industry has said: The probability of rate reductions for most enterprises in the Merseyside area when UBR is in force was reported to be already producing inquiries from potential developers. That makes an excellent case for the UBR.

In the north-west, the success of the nuclear industry is critical to the whole economy. In my constituency, I am surrounded by a constellation of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, the National Nuclear Corporation and British Nuclear Fuels plc. The National Nuclear Corporation is already in the private sector, and has played a full and successful part in the development of Heysham 2 and Torness. I hope that, post-privatisation, it will move to ever more successful heights when it deals with clients other than a monopoly.

There are other impediments to the economy of the north-west. One of them I again associate with Socialism—its policies towards the nuclear industry, which cast a pall on investment in the area. Last year, BNFL invested £638 million in this country, 90 per cent. of it with British firms; 46 per cent. was with firms in the north-west, including nuclear-free zones. They do not turn away the business that they receive from BNFL. Warrington, North, which is represented by a Labour Member, received the benefit of £77 million. I received only £500,000 in Warrington, South. I make no complaint about that, but I do complain about the hypocrisy and irresponsibility of Opposition Members when they seek to destroy the benefit of the largesse that we receive from the nuclear industry in the north-west.

2.26 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Like my hon. Friends, I feel very sad when I hear the Opposition running down the north-west. I feel that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right when she said that we must focus our attention more on success than on failure.

Over the years, the north-west has achieved great strengths for this country. In the industrial times before the great recession, it was producing our wealth. Sadly, through bad taxation, our entrepreneurs, inventors and risk-takers—in other words, the job providers—were driven out of the north-west and abroad, because they were having to surrender 98p in the pound on their investments, which was stupid. Now, with the new Budget, we see many of those people coming back, and bringing jobs back to the north-west.

My constituency runs around the outside of Oldham and Rochdale. Companies are flocking towards those areas to set up their regional, and sometimes national, headquarters. We are doing all that we can to encourage that. There is much going for the people of the north-west. They are independent folk, who like to work hard for a good day's pay. It is a wonderful labour market: it has shown that in the past, and it is showing it now. If any company is thinking about where to relocate, the north-west is the place to do it.

The area also has the most beautiful surrounding countryside in which anyone could wish to live. Housing is relatively cheap, but sound and solid, and recreation is very good. In fact, this is one of the major tourist areas of the United Kingdom.

But it is the brain power of the north-west that will pull us through. That is why the Education Reform Bill, again launched by the present Government, is helping the schools to match the skills that industry now requires. Members of the CBI came to the House a few weeks ago and talked to north-west Members. They said that their order books were bulging. If ever they needed something, it was the skills of the work force to match the job vacancies that they were creating.

This sounds to me like a success story; it does not sound like failure. All the talk of the north-south divide is nonsense. The north-west will overtake the south before long. Already, massive contracts from the Channel tunnel are coming up into the north-west. Sizewell B contracts are pouring in. It is success all the way. And the reason for that is the people—those fierce, independent border folk between Lancashire and Yorkshire. They are a very good labour force for someone to take on.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) on allowing us to debate the motion, however short the time. However, it aggravates me, too, when I find that some hon. Members are intent on running down the north-west. Conservative Members like to talk about achievements.

It was the Prime Minister who, when the Government came to power, said that industry had to learn to produce goods that people want to buy and of the right quality. They have to be delivered on time, sold at competitive prices and have a good after-sales service. One gets that in the north-west, and that is why the north-west will be successful. It is why, almost daily, I am welcoming companies into my constituency. I do everything I possibly can to help them come. I meet their chairmen in the midlands or the south, I bring them to lunch in the House of Commons and I do everything possible to solicit work for the north-west.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.