HC Deb 20 July 1994 vol 247 cc297-9
1. Mr. Bates

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the work of the regional development organisations.

17. Mrs. Lait

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the work of the regional development organisations.

The President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr Heseltine)

The regional development organisations make a significant contribution to the overall success of the United Kingdom in attracting inward investment. In 1992–93, the last year for which figures are available, they were significantly involved in attracting 54 investment projects by foreign firms to the United Kingdom, involving some 6,000 jobs.

The work of the regional development organisations will be further strengthened by my recent appointment of a senior business man as head of the Invest in Britain Bureau.

Mr. Bates

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he join me in thanking the Northern Development Company in particular, which has succeeded in attracting some £3.5 billion-worth of inward investment to the north-east, creating or safeguarding some 35,000 jobs? Will he compare its successful efforts at industrial regeneration with the record of the National Enterprise Board, which made 100 investments, 35 of which went bust and 37 were sold at a loss to the taxpayer?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend is wise to remind the House of the disastrous experience of the National Enterprise Board, but he is also right to point out that the north-east has been particularly successful in attracting inward investment to this country, a significant amount of which I have had the privilege of seeing.

Mrs. Lait

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the north-east shares with areas in the south-east the problem of endemic long-term unemployment. When he considers the regional development map in due course, will he bear in mind the fact that the causes of that regional endemic unemployment will not have been solved because we will not have the new roads? Will he ensure that the Department is generous in the timing of a new map?

Mr. Heseltine

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. We are obliged to review the map from time to time and we will do so, but against a statistically accurate background. I know that my hon. Friend will share my pleasure at seeing the overall levels of unemployment now falling consistently month by month.

Mr. Wigley

Does the President of the Board accept that, despite the recent difficulties of the Welsh Development Agency, in the period from 1976 until now it has performed a remarkable job? It now needs every support, not only from the Welsh Office but from the Minister's Department and the Treasury, to maximise inward investment into Wales and the UK generally and to help self-regenerative growth within the area?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the great success that the Welsh Development Agency has had, but he will remember that it has enjoyed that success against the background of fiscal policies that have made this country extremely attractive to inward investment. The most constructive thing that he and his party could do is support the Government's determination to avoid the on-costs of the social chapter, which would undermine Welsh competitiveness.

Mr. Gunnell

Will the President of the Board of Trade acknowledge the good work done by the Yorkshire and Humberside development corporation, particularly in south Humberside, where he will recall opening the Kimberly-Clark plant? Will he guarantee that, whatever boundary changes the local government review comes up with, the Yorkshire and Humberside development corporation will still have responsibility for attracting inward investment to south Humberside and Scunthorpe, where it has had so many successes?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out the considerable success that Government policy has had in attracting inward investment to this country. I assure him that we will continue with those policies. Indeed, we are increasing our efforts to support them.

Mr. Streeter

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the number of overseas companies that have decided in the past six months to invest in Devon and Cornwall has risen sharply compared to previous years, thanks largely to the efforts of the Devon and Cornwall development bureau? Does he agree, however, that that is not just a reflection of growing confidence in the UK economy but a new recognition that the south-west, with its skilled work force and improving communications, is now firmly open for business?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend makes a remarkable and eloquent point on behalf of the south-west. I have visited his part of the country recently. The transformation that has taken place since I was last a Member of Parliament for that area is remarkable.

Mr. Beggs

The President of the Board of Trade will be aware of the excellent work done by Scottish Enterprise. Recently, jointly with a constituent of mine in manufacturing, it had identified major possible small hydro projects in Vietnam. Unfortunately, no overseas aid was available. Would the President welcome greater influence over the distribution of overseas aid in his Department?

Mr. Heseltine

I should certainly welcome any increased influence if it were available, but that does not mean to say that I shall be allowed to get it.

Mr. Bell

We welcome the presence of the President of the Board of Trade today and congratulate him on keeping his post. It must be the first Government reshuffle that prepares for opposition.

However, the Opposition heard nothing but smugness and self-satisfaction from the Dispatch Box in response to the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates). The hon. Member could have referred to the inward investment of Dupont on Teesside. It bought the ICI fibre business to close it down and move to France, and 520 jobs were lost. Eight hundred and twenty jobs were lost at Pontypool by the same firm. When we speak about the north-east of England, Swan Hunter has just been, or will be, closed down. How is that for smugness and self-satisfaction?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman is playing the traditional Labour party game—singling out an example of something that has gone wrong in order to generalise, to the maximum damage of the British economy. Unemployment is decreasing in the north-east, as it is in the economy at large. Instead of trying to find ways of explaining that away, the hon. Member should get to his feet and praise it.