HC Deb 11 May 1988 vol 133 cc314-5
13. Mr. Henderson

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether his Department is planning any new initiatives to stimulate the economy in the regions outside the south-east.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

My Department's recently announced enterprise initiative includes a range of measures which are designed to take into account the needs of the regions and inner cities. The services provided under the initiative will change over time, as the needs of business change.

Mr. Henderson

Will the Minister confirm that at his various breakfast meetings in the north and the south industrialists have told him of the important link between industrial development and housing provision? Will he make representations to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on the need to prevent further housing development in the green belt in the south, thus preventing further congestion of the south and helping the north?

Mr. Clarke

North-eastern Labour Members arc ingenious. A moment ago the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) found gloom in the booming state of northern industry—or certainly its rapid expansion—but the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) now wants to change the subject to housing. It is certainly necessary to provide proper housing for the employees of industry in the north-east, and the proposals of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning to revive the private sector and encourage private investment in rented accommodation will benefit the north-east as well as other parts of the country.

Mr. Tim Smith

Is not the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) right? Would not one way of stimulating the economy in regions outside the south-east be to pursue tougher planning policies on industrial, commercial and residential development in the south-east, so that employers looking for more labour would be encouraged to go to areas of high unemployment? Then, perhaps, the housebuilders might be encouraged to go with them.

Mr. Clarke

If I am to be fair, I might apply to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) the strictures that I applied to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North. The nub of my hon. Friend's question must be directed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. As a midlands Member of Parliament and an Industry Minister, I certainly have an interest in prosperity spreading northwards. The sheer pressure of economics—the cost of land and the difficulty of recruiting staff in the south—is helping to stimulate the expansion of the economy in the midlands, the north and the inner cities.

Mr. Eastham

The rest of the country obviously recognises the seriousness of the north-south divide. May I impress that on the Minister in relation to the Channel tunnel project? Will he at least ensure that some of the contractual work, such as the consequential heavy engineering, will go to Scotland, the north-east and the north-west?

Mr. Clarke

As I understand it, quite an amount of work from the Channel tunnel project is going to the assisted areas, although it is not for the Government to place that work. I believe that the economy of the north has a great deal to gain from the Channel tunnel and improved communications with the continent. The recent actions of the National Union of Seamen underline the need for the rapid completion of the Channel tunnel, and we all hope that it is being dug even more quickly while present events continue.