HC Deb 04 June 1996 vol 278 cc385-6
1. Mr. Hutton

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his policy towards establishing new enterprise zones. [29769]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir Paul Beresford)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State apologises to the House for not being present for questions today. Madam Speaker, as you and others are aware, he is representing the United Kingdom at the United Nations Habitat II conference in Istanbul.

In December 1987 the Government announced that the enterprise zone scheme would not be extended other than in exceptional circumstances.

Mr. Hutton

Given that the Government's economic advisers, Cambridge Economic Consultants, recommended in 1992 that the Government establish a new enterprise zone in Barrow and that, since then, the number of people out of work and claiming unemployment benefit has increased by 45 per cent.—more than in any other area which is at present covered by an enterprise zone—is the Minister now prepared to accept the principal recommendation of the Furness 2010 conference report, of which he has a copy? The report makes it clear that it is absolutely critical to establish a new enterprise zone in the Barrow travel-to-work area.

Sir Paul Beresford

I am very aware of the hon. Gentleman's interest in the matter. We have discussed the issue with the Government office for the north-west, and I anticipate being able to meet the hon. Gentleman and a delegation to consider the matter. I suggest that we approach the issue with some caution.

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, EZs have been successful in the past. However, the European Community rules on state aid mean that there are delays—sometimes of up to three years—between announcement and implementation, and that can cause a dearth of investment in the area and prove counter-productive. I will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter, but I ask him to think carefully before progressing.

Mr. Dover

Does my hon. Friend recall that he replied to my Adjournment debate on Royal Ordnance and the possible establishment of an enterprise zone at Chorley in my constituency? Will he confirm that the exceptional circumstance that would justify an enterprise zone application through the European Union would be a massive rundown in traditional industries, such as the coal mining and the ship building industries in Barrow and the armaments industry in Chorley, which have been designated since 1987? Will he confirm that even a three-year delay would be more than acceptable to the areas in question?

Sir Paul Beresford

I am aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend has expressed on several occasions. However, as I have told him before, he must think very carefully before progressing further.

Mr. Vaz

Why will the Minister not admit that fatal flaws lie at the heart of the Government's regeneration policy? There is a lack of cohesion and coherence in the Government's strategy, whether it is enterprise zones or any of the 29 schemes that they have launched in the past 17 years. Will the Minister accept the views of the public and private sectors and implement long-lasting policies rather than the quick-fix solutions that the Government advocate?

Sir Paul Beresford

The hon. Gentleman does not learn. If he looks around the country, he will see that any flaws and difficulties are created by the neanderthal Labour authorities in many of our cities.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that enterprise zones are successful only if this country can offer competitive economic conditions to internal investors? Does he believe that those conditions would be improved by the adoption of a national minimum wage and the social chapter or by the abolition of the Government's industrial relations reforms?

Sir Paul Beresford

As ever, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. He has touched on the point that Labour local authorities consistently and persistently fail to see.

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