asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will make a statement on the proposal of the Hitachi company to establish a new factory in the North-East.
No decision will be taken until consultations have been completed.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that, whatever the decision, what is important is to take a decision? At present, conditions are favourable for foreign investment in this country, and that has been prejudiced by the delay in coming to a decision.
I think that my right hon. Friend will know from the discussions that he and his colleagues from the Northern Region have had with me that we have to balance a whole series of conflicting interests. After a meeting with Hitachi in September, the company suggested that it would welcome a little more time so that it could present its view of its intentions to those who in its opinion had misunderstood its intentions. As yet, the company's representatives have not come back to us from the consultations.
Is it not the Government's aim to encourage investment and employment in the North-East? Is not that exactly what Hitachi is proposing to do? What is wrong with that?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on a simple view of the situation. The diffi- culty is that in the discussions that we have had it has been suggested by the unions and the management that the net balance could be adverse. Therefore, I have been having considerable discussions with the sector working parties, with the unions and with the employers. Mr. Akerman of Mullards has seen me in the past fortnight. Sir Richard Cave saw me last week before he went off to Japan. The discussions are highly intricate, and I am trying to evaluate the precise balance of advantage.
Has Hitachi indicated in the discussions whether it will set up its operations elsewhere in the Common Market and export to us from there if it cannot get into this country?
That is one of the serious implications that has to be considered. The company has never put that point to us categorically, but it is undeniable that its intention is to set up a base from which it can operate within the European Community. The balance that we have to try to establish is whether the protection for British industry with Hitachi set up in Britain under conditions that have been agreed with the British Government is greater than if the company goes into another member country where there may be no conditions and from which base it can still attack the British market.
Whatever benefits the North-East may face, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the immediate effect of establishing a factory in that area would be to put 400 people in Plymouth out of work? To shunt pockets of unemployment around the country is a dubious practice at the best of times, but least of all should it be done when the result is to further Japanese economic penetration of the industry.
I do not accept that that is a necessary conclusion. In any case, the circumstances in Plymouth are unrelated to the problems. Hitachi would not be in operation here for another two years and would not achieve full production until five years after that. At the end of that period the impact on the British market would be an increase of 20,000 sets, because of import substitutions and exports.