HC Deb 17 April 1996 vol 275 cc709-10
18. Mr. Barry Jones

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what percentage of Great Britain is now designated an intermediate development area. [23934]

Mr. Oppenheim

Development areas cover 16 per cent of the working population of Great Britain and intermediate areas cover a further 17.75 per cent.

Mr. Jones

Why did the Government strip my constituency so unnecessarily of full development area status? Will the Government please restore it, bearing in mind our employment problems and the fact that we are encountering problems with inward investment as a result of the lack of development status? Does the hon. Gentleman know that it was noted in my constituency that full development area status was given to a neighbouring English constituency that is represented by the former Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt)?

Mr. Oppenheim

The hon. Gentleman's constituency has benefited, and still does, from a certain amount of regional aid. Since 1983, that has helped to safeguard 10,000 jobs and attracted a number of new companies to his constituency. In November 1995, we announced that the map would not be revised again this Session. It is only just under three years since it was last revised. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would accept that we need some stability, especially to allow investors to make their long-term decisions. The other point that he should remember is that the EU limits the total area to which we are able to give coverage, and if we were to give further coverage to his constituency, it would mean a reduction in another area.

Mr. Michael Brown

I take issue with the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) for this reason. Like him, I had a development area in my constituency; but we lost it when the map was last revised—thank goodness. The fact that we lost development area and assisted area status is a tribute to the growth in the economy in my constituency. Will my hon. Friend take it from me that industry now comes to my constituency not because it has the begging bowl of development area status but because unemployment has come down? Will he tell the hon. Gentleman that the real benefit that comes when a constituency no longer has development area status is that it has a growing economy and is therefore successful?

Mr. Oppenheim

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. His constituency lost jobs in the early 1980s, and it was a difficult time. The steel industry, for example, employed a lot of people in his constituency. That industry lost billions of pounds a year under Labour. It was the world's largest loss maker, and we had a £1 billion a year deficit in iron and steel products. Now British Steel—in a country where the manufacturing base has supposedly been devastated—is the most profitable steel company in Europe, and we have a £1 billion export surplus in iron and steel products. That shows the difference between our policies and the dead hand of old Labour's industrial policies in the 1970s.