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Factory Units

Volume 975: debated on Monday 3 December 1979

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3.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many new factory units have been built by the Welsh Development Agency since its inception.

Two hundred and twenty-seven, with a total floor area of 1ยท6 million sq ft.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the great majority of those factory units have been occupied or allocated? Will he also confirm that those that have not yet been allocated will shortly be so? Does he agree that this makes a real contribution to industrial expansion in Wales?

I agree with my hon. Friend. A high proportion of those units have been taken up by small companies and newly established companies. The Welsh Development Agency will continue to give that sort of priority.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the need for the Welsh Development Agency will become greater in the future? Has anyone told him about the proposal to make over 6,000 people redundant at the Llanwern steelworks? Does he appreciate that that will put Newport and the surrounding areas back to the 1930s in terms of unemployment? Has he any contingency plans in his locker to turn that area into a special development area?

I do not doubt that the WDA will have a great deal of work to do, but it is absurd to talk about specific proposals for a particular area before the British Steel Corporation has made any final plans for that area.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the shortage of advance factory space could prove a bottleneck in dealing with the problems arising out of unemployment in the Deeside area? Will he give urgent attention to that matter?

I am visiting Deeside on Wednesday to discuss with the local authorities and those involved the plans for advance factory building and other measures around the Shotton area. I assure my hon. Friend that I am well aware of the need for a major programme, and I am already discussing with the WDA the details of that programme.

Is it not sheer industrial and economic madness, given the thousands of job losses that are at least pending, possibly in steel and coal, as well as the general level of unemployment, which will rise in 1980, for the Secretary of State to cut investment grants to the WDA and to remove grants from special development areas in South Wales? Will he consider suspending those cuts in light of the terrible dangers facing the Welsh economy and the serious prospects for unemployment in Wales?

I notice that the hon. Gentleman is once again advocating higher public expenditure without telling the House how he proposes to finance it. No doubt he will also criticise the Government for high interest rates. He must recognise that the two go together.

I have already told the House that I attach great importance to the work of the WDA, and I believe that there is great potential for using its substantial existing assets far more widely than hitherto.