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Northern Region

Volume 990: debated on Monday 4 August 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will take steps to encourage the development of new industry in the Northern region.

Much of the Northern region already qualifies for the highest rates of regional and other industrial assistance.

Is the Minister aware that last Friday, 1 August, will be known as "black Friday" in the history of the Northern region, because the Government's new policy on downgrading much of the Northern region was implemented on that day? What percentage will unemployment have to reach before the Department of Industry and its Ministers consider re-establishing the special development area status that exists in much of the Northern region?

Of the Northern region, 88 per cent. is to remain an assisted area. As regards the precise percentages, the hon. gentleman will know that we are guided by the Industry Act and by the criteria that it sets out. They include a series of factors other than the level of unemployment.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those who live in the Northern region and in other depressed regions can take comfort from the fact that the Government have recently made several decisions, such as investment in Inmos and investment through the NEB, in biotechnology, and have shown that they are not bound by the dogmatism of which the Opposition accuse them? The Government have shown that they are willing to intervene and to help the regions where it is felt appropriate.

We shall take into account my hon. Friend's remarks. He will appreciate that the role of the NEB is to help those areas in which sufficient incentives have not yet been created for the private market system to finance modern technological development on its own. In due course we hope to create such circumstances.

Does the Minister appreciate that his answer will give no satisfaction and bring no joy to the many thousands of unemployed in the Northern region? Has not the time come for the Secretary of State to make a decision about the establishment of the Northern Development Agency? Together with his team of Ministers, will the Secretary of State encourage the Treasury to reduce the minimum lending rate, in order to assist small industries in the Northern region and other development areas.

I shall pick one of those questions for reply, in accordance with your suggestion, Mr. Speaker. We are considering the arguments put forward about the Northern Development Agency.

Does the Minister stick by the damned nonsense that he trotted out on Tyne Tees television—

Order. However strongly hon. Members may feel, there is no need to use anything other than parliamentary language.

If the word "damned" offends you. Mr. Speaker, I withdraw it. I apologise. Does the Minister stick by the arrant nonsense that he trotted out on Tyne Tees television, to the effect that the only way of getting new industries into the area was for redundant workers to spend their redundancy payments on opening new businesses?

If the hon. Gentleman had paid more attention to what I said on that television programme he would have realised that I did not say that that was the only way of doing it. I said that there were parallels between those who used their post-war credits to start businesses that are now quite substantial and the opportunities for redundancy pay to be taken collectively by groups of workers, in some cases, to create new businesses and jobs. It is not a panacea, and I did not suggest that it was.