HC Deb 17 February 1993 vol 219 cc317-8
14. Mr. Morgan

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the future geographical boundaries and funding of regional assistance to industry.

Mr. Sainsbury

We are carefully considering the many representations put forward on the review of the assisted areas map.

Mr. Morgan

Does the Minister accept our concern that, as well as having no industrial strategy, the Government do not appear to have a regional strategy? Or does he mean us to accept that the Government have sneaked out an unannounced regional policy of devastating the economy of the south-east of England so much that the old smoke-stack areas of Scotland, Wales and the north are made to look not quite as bad by comparison? Will there be a budget for regional policy when the review, which is three or four months late, is eventually announced or has the Chief Secretary to the Treasury persuaded the Minister that we do not need a regional policy or a regional budget any more?

Mr. Sainsbury

The hon. Gentleman is as wrong about regional policy, as he is about industrial strategy. If he looks at the many documents available on the Government's expenditure plans, he will see plenty of evidence of a budget to support industry regionally.

Mr. Knapman

Is there a danger that regional assistance will distort trade? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that business should always be based where it is most efficient?

Mr. Sainsbury

I very much agree with my hon. Friend that it must always be in the interests of business to seek to make itself as efficient as possible, including when it takes location decisions. When we consider applications for regional selective assistance, we take into account any possible displacement of activity elsewhere.

Mr. Fatchett

With unemployment just about to go above 3 million and with once prosperous areas in the south-east and the south of England now facing record levels of unemployment, is not it clear that the Minister is unable to draw a map for regional assistance simply because his Government's economic failures have hit every part of the country? Is not that the reason why Conservative Members, who were previously against Government intervention and who used to call regional aid "Government handouts", are now crawling to his Department asking for assistance for their constituencies?

Mr. Sainsbury

We believe that regional selective assistance should be targeted accurately to where it is most needed. In determining where it is most needed, we should take account of a wide number of factors, including long-term and current unemployment and peripherality. We are considering the matter carefully and we shall not be rushed into making decisions that might mean that the map is less accurate than it should be.

Mr. Barry Field

Does my right hon. Friend understand that the reason he has heard so much today from hon. Members representing constituencies from Dorset to Dover, including the Isle of Wight, about assisted area status and the Government's regional policy is that we are fed up with having businesses hijacked to Wales and to Scotland, which get a disproportionate amount of British taxpayers' money? What we want is somebody to speak for England.

Mr. Sainsbury

My hon. Friend speaks most effectively for the Isle of Wight.

Mr. Wigley

May I speak for Wales? Does the Minister agree that the drawing of the map for regional purposes in the United Kingdom can have a critical effect on the eligibility of certain areas for finance from the European Community? Will he confirm that his Department has made direct representations to the European Commission in Brussels to ensure that whatever the outcome of the map, areas that have been dependent on European finance will not miss out in future?

Mr. Sainsbury

We are waiting for the proposals from the Commission for the review of the objective 2 areas. They are expected later this year. We have made representations to the Commission with regard to objective 1 status.

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