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Advance Factories

Volume 927: debated on Monday 7 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry how much advance factory space is currently under construction; and what is the total value of the contracts in progress.

The area under construction in England is 1·5 million sq. ft. at a contracted cost of £13·2 million.

Will the Minister tell us what benefit he sees in spending that amount of money and adding to the 50 million sq. ft. of vacant factory space in the 200 or so unoccupied advance factories which have already been completed?

I am sure that it will have been noted in the North of England that, in a speech last week from the Opposition Front Bench, the Conservative spokesman on Welsh affairs deplored the fact that new factories had been approved for the North of England. The hon. Gentleman asked about the value of such a policy. I should point out that 60,000 workers in England already work in Government-owned factories. I should also point out that, in the nine months between 1st April last year and the beginning of January this year, the rate of letting of advance factories was double what it was the year before and was double what it was in the last 12 months of the Conservative Government. Therefore, I think that our policy is thoroughly vindicated as an investment in the future.

Does the Minister recall that in the last day or so he has written to me about the letting of an advance factory in my constituency? Is he aware of the immense benefit which this programme has in the upland, rural areas where there is depopulation and rural decay? In view of the high level of unemployment over which the Government have presided, will the Minister ensure that upland, rural areas will not lose out in this factory development in comparison with other parts of the country?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his earlier remarks and for his vindication of my Department because we reply to letters as soon as possible. Of course I take his point, but his criticism about the Government presiding over the highest level of unemployment is unjustified. The Opposition must face up to the fact that we are experiencing the biggest world recession since the last war.