HC Deb 04 November 1992 vol 213 cc276-8
10. Ms. Quin

To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he next plans to meet representatives of industry and employees in the northern region to discuss the industrial situation in the region.

Mr. Eggar

My right hon. Friend has no immediate plans to visit the northern region, but I intend to visit the region again before Christmas. This should provide a good opportunity to discuss the local industrial situation.

Ms. Quin

Has the Minister seen the report, "Business Survey North" by the Northern Development Company and the Tyneside and Teesside chambers of commerce? It points out that the northern region's economy is falling back to the level to which it plunged so disastrously 18 months ago—and that prospects are even bleaker now. Can he persuade his right hon. Friend the President to have an urgent business breakfast with the authors of the report—or better still, to intervene to help our region before breakfast?

Mr. Eggar

I am aware of the concern in the north-east, a region which until recently has managed to cope with the general economic situation well compared with many other regions of the United Kingdom. I have had discussions with several leading business men from the region, and I believe that one of its strengths, which it did not previously have, is a much more diversified economic base over a number of different industrial sectors. That is of considerable assistance.

When I was in the north-east I was pleased by the determination, especially in the small business sector, to go ahead with new technology, and I was heartened by the response of many smaller firms and their interest in taking advantage of the considerable potential orders available in the United Kingdom continental shelf and the Norwegian North sea.

Mr. Devlin

As the report points out that 73 per cent. of goods manufactured in our region are exported to the European Community, and as our region has been one of the leading beneficiaries of inward investment from outside the Community, does my hon. Friend agree that when he next talks to business men in the northern region he should point out to them the importance of ratifying the Maastricht treaty at the earliest opportunity? Does he agree that all Members of Parliament in the region who support the Community should vote with the Government tonight?

Mr. Eggar

There will be no need for me to make that point to business men in the north-east. They have been in the forefront of pointing out to me the need for ratification of the treaty.

Mr. Clelland

Is the Minister aware that north-east business man of the year, Karl Watkin, told members of the Tyne and Wear chamber of commerce on Monday that if any of them did their jobs as badly as Ministers did theirs, they would all be sacked? As we have developed our own political and development agency structure in the northern region, does the Minister agree that it would be appropriate for him to hand over responsibility for his Department's budget for the region to people who represent the region, live in the region and better understand the needs and aspirations of the people of the region?

Mr. Eggar

I pay tribute to those regional organisations and, indeed, to a significant number of local authorities in the north-east who have developed a partnership concept and are working with central Government on regeneration projects. For example, I was struck by the positive action of the east Durham initiative, which deals with Easington and Vane Tempest collieries and other areas. I hope that we can get a proper partnership working there for the good of the region and especially of the coalfield areas.

Mr. Batiste

Is my hon. Friend aware of the advice given today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which represents much of industry in the north of England and many other regions? It said that the industry placed the utmost importance on the House giving a clear affirmation today of Britain's commitment to being at the heart of the European Community.

Mr. Eggar

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Almost all companies that come to see Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry which are considering inward investment or expansion see the market for their products as the whole of the European Community—not simply the United Kingdom. I hope that the whole House will bear that in mind and also bear in mind the views of leading industrialists in Britain.

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