HC Deb 24 June 1996 vol 280 cc6-8
7. Mr. Jamieson

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when he intends to visit Plymouth and the southwest of England to discuss the competitiveness of the region. [32610]

The Deputy Prime Minister

I shall be visiting the south-west to discuss competitiveness in a few weeks' time.

Mr. Jamieson

During that visit, will the Deputy Prime Minister tell us whether he agrees with the Prime Minister that there should be a grammar school in every town? Or does he agree with the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, who apparently voted to close the grammar schools in Norfolk? How will competitiveness in the south-west be enhanced by reintroducing secondary modern schools—a system that declares that 80 per cent. of children aged 11 have failed?

The Deputy Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point: divisions on education are not among Conservative Members; they are among Opposition Members. The Leader of the Opposition does one thing for his children and tries to stop the rest of the country doing the same for theirs.

Sir Peter Emery

When considering competitiveness in the south-west, will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the great need of businesses in the area to have their mail delivered? Although we may not always have seen eye to eye on this, it is obvious that if strikes continue to upset businesses in the south-west or anywhere else, the Post Office's monopoly will have to be broken.

The Deputy Prime Minister

I welcome my right hon. Friend to a cause on which I failed to persuade him a few months ago—it just goes to show that they all come around in the end. I am concerned, as are the Government—

Mr. Lewis

Another Tory cover-up.

The Deputy Prime Minister

I am answering the question, not the hon. Gentleman.

The House should be preoccupied with the customers—with the people who are waiting for letters, with the people who expect to get a decent service. It should not be preoccupied with the understandable, but regrettable, commitment of the Labour party to defend the unions whenever they take action that threatens the interests of the wider public.

Mr. Caborn

I convey the thanks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) to the Deputy Prime Minister for the witty get well message that he sent to him earlier today. My right hon. Friend wants also to convey the message that it has brought a whole new meaning to hop-along deputy.

I am surprised at the answer that the Deputy Prime Minister has given about competitiveness in the south-west region. That region is now well below average in gross domestic product per capita terms. When will he set out a positive programme of regeneration for the regions, which clearly was not in his recent White Paper? I am sure that he acknowledges that regeneration will come through the regions. Will he take seriously the recent Confederation of British Industry report on the south-west, which posed a number of questions about competitiveness? Will he also take on board the recommendations of the Bruce Millan commission—which was set up by the Labour party—which has just reported on regeneration of the regions? When will we have a debate on the competitiveness White Paper?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Member for referring to the message that I sent to the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) when I received the news that he had fractured his foot and had been taken to a major hospital in the area. I hope that he gets well soon, and I am delighted that he is receiving excellent treatment in that hospital. As I pointed out to him, Tory government works.

As to the specific issue of the regeneration of the south-west, I believe that the Government are taking that matter seriously. We have asked my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration to take a special co-ordinating role to focus Government support. I had the opportunity to lead in the creation of the urban development corporation in Plymouth which, as hon. Members will know, made available some £41 million for the regeneration of the Royal William dockyard and its environs.

In addition, £170 million of European rural development funds have gone to Devon, Cornwall and west Somerset; £79 million has been levered in by £13.5 million of regional selective assistance; there have been £72 million-worth of projects in the south-west in the first two rounds of the single regeneration budget; and £23 million of European funds have gone to the regeneration of Plymouth. I am delighted to see the support that has been given to that by the excellent newspaper, the Western Morning News.

Mr. Mans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way to destroy competitiveness in the south-west region—or in any other region—is to introduce the minimum wage, as is suggested by the Labour party? It would result in lost orders, businesses going under and jobs being lost.

The Deputy Prime Minister

I am delighted to have another chance to refer to the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East who, on the subject of the minimum wage, referred to the loss of jobs and said. "Any fool knows that." If he knows it, it proves the point.