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Northern Region

Volume 933: debated on Monday 13 June 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry what recent representations he has received about the need for a Northern Development Agency.

This subject has been raised on a number of occasions, and views both for and against such an agency have been expressed.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that there is now growing support in the Northern Region for a Northern Development Agency along the lines of those in Scotland and Wales? Does he agree that if we now had a development agency in the Northern Region we might be less worried about what happens at C. A. Parsons?

I am not sure that my hon. Friend's conclusion in any way arises from his basic premise. An agency is not a magic formula. Unfortunately it is being seen as such by many people. We must bear in mind that the creation of an agency can do nothing in itself to further advance the cause of the North and that it would lead to demands for similar agencies from hon. Members who fight for Merseyside and the North-West. The demand would not be in only those areas. Similar demands would arise from most areas, and I suspect that the North would lose out to wealthier areas.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the regional policy—of which the proposed Northern Development Agency is but a part—has as one of its objectives the comparative discouragement of economic activity in once prosperous areas and that, therefore, regional policy can partly be blamed for the high level of unemployment in the West Midlands?

That does not follow. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that when world economic activity is at a normal level the West Midlands and certain industrial parts of London suffer a substantial inhibition on industry because of the lack of skilled labour. The correct economic objective, which has been recognised by both parties when they have been in office, is that we should get a better and more even distribution of industry, and that is what regional policy is intended to attain.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one part of that even distribution is the even distribution of headquarters functions and senior jobs? Is he aware that there are now only six major companies based in the Northern Region compared with nearly 40 at the end of the war and that this decline is another reason why many of us are concerned about the future of C. A. Parsons and Reyrolle Parsons, which are locally based in the Tyneside area?

My hon. Friend is right in saying that there is a problem in all regions when there is a concentration of industry and headquarters functions move out. However, there is no evidence to suggest that at a time of closures there is greater vulnerability among branch units than among units in non-assisted areas.