HL Deb 17 December 1981 vol 426 cc275-7
Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many enterprise zones are now in operation and what response there has been in areas where they have been set up.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, 11 enterprise zones have been announced across the United Kingdom; 10 of them are now in operation. The Isle of Dogs zone, in London's Dockland, is likely to be designated early in the New Year. While it is still too early to draw firm conclusions about the impact of the zones, the initial response by the private sector has been encouraging, and a wide range of development is already taking place in the zones.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for his reply. May I emphasise my concern particularly over the one in the Isle of Dogs. Can he comment on whether he believes that the present Labour GLC's legalistic opposition to the whole idea of the enterprise zone in London has prevented progress of that scheme, as I believe it is the one that the noble Lord mentioned as being not off the ground yet? This scheme being so important to London, and any delay in it possibly affecting the Docklands redevelopment, does the noble Lord think that the GLC under its present administration is opposing this, or does he think that any opposition is futile and that it is progressing in spite of it?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, in fact the GLC has very little role in this matter now, other than in regard to certain planning aspects of it. The reason why this particular zone is behind the others is that it had to be part of the urban development corporation, the London Docklands Development Corporation, which in fact is the enterprise zone authority, and they had to go through the timescale of the Select Committee in your Lordships' House which took some 50 days, and then there were other statutory requirements before they could proceed. Indeed, a certain amount of statutory form is still going on, and that is basically the reason for the delay. But in answer to my noble friend, I should not have thought that the GLC, whatever its views may be, is in fact in a position really to do anything that would hinder or delay what is planned to be done within the zone.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, have any cases been reported to the noble Lord of enterprises immediately outside the enterprise zones moving into them in order to incur the smaller overheads that would be applicable there? Would not such a move, from the immediate vicinity of an enterprise zone into it by firms which want to establish that position, be contrary to the whole purpose of the establishment of enterprise zones, which we on this side of the House, of course, entirely support?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, was it only yesterday that I covered the same point? I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who raised it. I said then, and repeat again, that there may well be cases such as the noble Lord has mentioned, but I would hope they would be very few in relation to the other benefits that will flow from the establishment of the zones. Just as yesterday I was slightly reluctant to reel off a list of what might be terms the "goodies"—and some of them are impressive—as to what is happening within the zones, I feel it would be better to wait a little while until we can see a clearer picture. So, conversely, I would be reluctant to comment on the extent, if any—well, there is a little we know, but I do not think it is significant—of the action that the noble Lord refers to.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, would the Minister consider whether the number of these enterprise zones should he increased so that Downing Street might be included in that category?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I am not sure what the impact on the Exchequer would be of that concession in terms of rates. I think, if I may make a serious point on what the noble Lord says, there are building up now some very interesting, and hopefully I think your Lordships will all ultimately agree considerable, success stories within the zones. But it is too soon, and I do not want to say much more about it at the moment.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, in order to put the record straight, is it not a fact that the Tower Hamlets Borough Council, in the area of which the Isle of Dogs is situated, themselves accepted the principle of enterprise zones and have put in an alternative bid, and if the Docklands Corporation had not been set up that would have been there for consideration?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his helpful comment. I think that that is absolutely right. There is great enthusiasm. Indeed, your Lordships may recall the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, yesterday pressing me to say when we might be considering one for the area in which he is interested; but we have to wait and see.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister with regard to these imaginative schemes whether, if the enterprise zone allowance—which is now a pilot scheme—is successful, that will be able to be used in the Isle of Dogs, to which I believe this question refers?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, if I understand my noble friend aright, I think that the answer is, Yes, but again we shall have to be very careful. I think I said also yesterday that we are having a special monitoring. A special survey of this is being set up so that we can assess the situation carefully, because before we consider any extension or anything else, quite apart from all the financial implications, which are quite considerable, we have to be absolutely certain that the benefits are on the scale that we hope for.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister for one further comment. I know that he has covered this subject very much in the last few days. Is there yet any way of assessing how many jobs will be created through the enterprise zones? Also, is there any mechanism for interchange of ideas so that each zone may benefit from the experience gained in other zones?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I would not want at this stage to give any figures of jobs created. I think it is too early to do so. I have some information which is interesting, but 1 would rather wait for it to be confirmed. Therefore, I would ask my noble friend to excuse me from being too specific on that point. My noble friend's other point about interchange of experiences and ideas is important. It is something that is happening at the present time and I think will happen much more as experience within the zones builds up.

Back to