HC Deb 02 December 1992 vol 215 cc260-2
11. Mr. Willetts

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will now announce the conclusions of his review of the assisted areas map.

Mr. Sainsbury

The Government's intention is to announce the results of the review of assisted areas as early as possible next year, taking account of the outcome of the coal review and after the necessary clearance of the European Commission.

Mr. Willetts

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he confirm that the shrinkage of the defence industry is a factor which will be taken into account in his review? In that context, may I draw his attention to the compelling case for assisted area status put forward by Havant and Portsmouth councils?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that any closures or job losses resulting from "Options for Change" will be fully taken into account, together with all other relevant factors, in the review. I am also happy to assure my hon. Friend that the particular presentation to which he referred will be very carefully considered.

Mr. Barron

In the letter that the Minister sent to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury dated 1 September, he said that the mining communities would be seriously hit by the closure programme and he suggested, as he has just suggested, that assisted area status may help. Looking at those areas now, before the closures, does not the Minister believe that there are good economic grounds for them to have assisted area status now and not to have to wait until more coal mines are closed?

Mr. Sainsbury

We are looking at all areas and we are taking into account the current unemployment situation and any known changes, including the coal review to which I have referred, which might affect that situation. We want to arrive at a balanced map that properly reflects the priorities across the whole country. I do not think that it would be very sensible in that context to try to anticipate the outcome of the review in respect of any single area.

Mr. Hawkins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while it would clearly not be wise, as he has just said, to anticipate the findings and the announcement of the redrawn map, one of the great strengths of assisted area status has been that areas that have benefited from it in the past have improved on almost all the criteria applied to the previous map? Will he note that areas such as mine in Blackpool have particularly welcomed the very careful analysis by Baroness Denton, my right hon. Friend's ministerial colleague in another place, of all submissions made by those areas?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that the submissions received from his area and all others are being carefully considered by my officials. That is why we want to ensure that they are all taken into account so that we arrive at a fair new map that is right for the whole country and not just a review that takes account of one particular area.

Mr. Fatchett

Is not it significant that the first demand for assisted area status should come from an hon. Gentleman who represents a southern constituency? Is not that an indication of how the Government, having ripped out the heart of manufacturing industry in the west midlands and the north of England in their first recession, have now done exactly the same to once-prosperous London and the south-east of England? Will the Minister give a guarantee that if he is to create new assisted areas in the once-prosperous parts of the United Kingdom, he will not do that at the expense of the north of England, the west midlands, Scotland and Wales, because those areas still need regional assistance?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is joining the usual catalogue of criticism of British industry that we hear from the Opposition Benches. I am also sorry that he feels that some parts of the country should be prejudiced in favour of other parts. The objective of the review is to determine which areas fall within the approximately one third that most justify the additional assistance that is available in an assisted area. If that reveals areas in the south, which may have suffered from changes in employment as a result of the defence review and "Options for Change", it is surprising that the hon. Gentleman should believe that those issues should not be taken into account and that they should be prejudiced at the expense of some others.

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