HL Deb 19 December 1991 vol 533 cc1463-5

11.25 a.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to establish a northern development agency.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the Government have no plans at present to do so.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, I am pleased to hear the words "at present". It is the first time we have heard that. Is the Minister aware that the northern region has had the highest rate of unemployment outside Northern Ireland since the keeping of such records began? As the Government regard the Welsh Development Agency and the Scottish Development Agency as highly successful—which indeed they are—will the Minister bear in mind that the northern region has a higher population than either of those countries? Is there, therefore, not a strong case for establishing a northern development agency in view of the continuing chronic unemployment in the area?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we believe that the creation of development agencies for the English regions would require significant legislative and administrative changes. There is no evidence that the result would be more cost-effective than the present arrangements.

We already have structures which work well in England. The services which are provided in Scotland and Wales by the respective development agencies are provided in the regions of England by the main economic departments and the English Industrial Estates Corporation.

Perhaps I may add that the reason why there should be development agencies in Scotland and Wales is that those countries both have a Secretary of State with responsibility for the country as a whole. In England, therefore, it is natural that regional policy should be carried out through government departments.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the success of the development corporations in areas like the North East of England has done a great deal to re-establish employment and industrial advance? These, together with the financial aid which already exists to the northern region, helps it enormously to recover full manufacturing and industrial potential.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. The Government are committed to an effective regional policy. The assisted areas are concentrated in Wales, Scotland and the North; 83 per cent. of the northern region, going by population, has assisted area status.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we object to the imbalance in the public money available per head for promotional purposes? As my noble friend said, the four northern counties have the highest unemployment; they have more industrial problems, more social problems and more environmental problems than any other part of the United Kingdom except Northern Ireland. However, there is a great disparity in government funding of promotional work between the northern region and Scotland and Wales. We are not saying that Scotland and Wales receive too much. They do not. But the northern region receives far too little and we object to that.

Lord Reay

My Lords, a very high proportion of regional expenditure goes to the North. For example, in 1989–90, of the £280 million spent, about £120 million was spent in the North East and £75 million in the North West. In addition, the North West received £157 million for expenditure on inner city programmes in that year and the North East £123 million. In total, the North East has received no less than £1.5 billion in regional industrial assistance since 1979. That is very substantial assistance indeed.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, in view of what my noble friend has just said and in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, has said, is it not extremely unfair and a false approach to the problem when the Isle of Wight, which has exactly the same problems as regards unemployment—I notice smiles on the faces of noble Lords opposite, but I expected to see that—as Wales, let alone the North, and has a lower GNP per head of population than those regions, is subjected to poor treatment by my noble friend's department? He and his predecessors have turned down all the efforts that have been made in the past on behalf of the Isle of Wight. Will he give fresh consideration to according assisted area status to the Isle of Wight?

Lord Reay

My Lords, my noble friend's question goes somewhat wide of the Question on the Order Paper. I am sure noble Lords opposite will, however, wish to digest my noble friend's comments.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his replies have been extremely interesting? First of all he said there were no plans at present to establish the agency we have been discussing. Will there be such plans in the future and will those plans appear in the Conservative Party manifesto before the next election? Is the Minister aware that he said Wales and Scotland have their own development agencies because they each have Secretaries of State? Can we expect a Secretary of State for the North?

Lord Reay

My Lords, the noble Lord may expect anything. However, I personally do not expect that a Secretary of State for the North will be appointed.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, will the Government consider asking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, to pay another visit to the North East? At least when he last made a visit to that region he showed there was a need to do something for the North East and he achieved much more than the present Government have done. If the Government would only send the noble and learned Lord to the North East again, that would offer some encouragement to the citizens of the region.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I do not wish to detract from the achievements of my noble and learned friend. However, I have already pointed out that the present Government have done a great deal for the North East.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, I hope the Minister will forgive me if I make a small correction in his reply. I am talking about the northern region while he talked about the North East. The North East excludes Cumbria and I assure the Minister that the people of Cumbria would take great exception to that. I confirm what my noble friend Lord Williams has said. The Minister's reply has confused the position between the existing system of regional aid for the northern region compared with the aid offered by the development agencies. We all welcome the fact that there are Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales, but that matter is not relevant to the case I am discussing. Is the Minister aware that the Northern Development Company was set up by the CBI, employers, trade unions and local authorities and is a magnificent example of self-help?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we are fully aware of the problems of Cumbria. In June this year we announced a special £16 million programme of support for the area. In addition my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced only this month that he had commissioned a study to examine the case for an enterprise zone to be established in the area. Therefore the area is not being excluded from aid.

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