HL Deb 26 July 1983 vol 443 cc1425-6

3.2 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will say what progress is being made by the Quinlan review of regional policy.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Cockfield)

My Lords, I understand my noble friend is referring to a review by officials for Government. Further work on the matter will then be considered in detail. We will make a Statement in due course.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he recall that in the party manifesto and during the election campaign the Conservative Party made much of its support for regional development and the jobs that would go with that? Can my noble friend give the House some indication of how much money is currently being spent on regional development, and also some indication of whether the Government announcement on regional policy is likely to come during the current year or next year?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for what he says. We did say in our election manifesto that we would continue to maintain an effective regional policy. I can assure my noble friend that we are firmly committed to promoting industrial and economic development in the regions. The amount of money spent last year was £912 million. I am afraid I am not in a position at present to say when the promised Statement will be made.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that during the tenure of the previous Conservative Government regional aid was cut by about 44 per cent., with consequent difficulties for Scotland, Wales, the North-East and other affected parts of England? Will the noble Lord tell the House a little more about the Quinlan review, with which we are not too familiar? Will the noble Lord be good enough to tell us what were the terms of reference and who comprised the Quinlan Committee, or whatever it was? May I further press the noble Lord to ask his right honourable friends in the Government to make a Statement about this fairly soon in view of the implications of high unemployment, especially in the areas affected?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, the important fact about regional aid is to ensure that the money available is spent effectively, and it is that to which we are turning our minds. As regards the present consideration, what my noble friend has in mind is advice tendered to the Government by officials. It is not the practice to publish such advice. I note the point that the noble Lord makes about the desirability of an early Statement, and I will draw my right honourable friend's attention to that.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, may I press the noble Lord on the issue of how early this Statement should be? Is it not the case that we are now in a situation, and have been for some time, in which there are some areas suffering from high unemployment which have no grants to offer incoming industry and some areas in the assisted areas, with much lower unemployment, getting automatic grants for incoming industry? In other words, the policy is to that extent out of date and has been so for two or three years. Therefore, is it not important to get the matter cleared up soon?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I am aware of the criticisms which the noble Lord makes about the operation of regional policy. Indeed, that is the reason why the Government have been considering the matter in detail. It is important to get this right. I note the noble Lord's view, which is the same as that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, that an early Statement is desirable, and I shall draw my right honourable friend's attention to that.

Lord Blyton

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the regional policy in that part of the country from which I come—the North-East—is totally inadequate? Ship repairing and shipbuilding are being decimated; and unemployment is 18 per cent. When are the Government going to do something for the North-East of England?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I have already made the point that it is important to ensure that the money available is spent effectively, and that is what the present review of policy is directed towards.