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Greater Manchester

Volume 12: debated on Monday 9 November 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry if, in view of the changes in the employment situation, he will review his predecessor's decision on the loss of assisted area status for Greater Manchester.

On present evidence I am satisfied that the changes in assisted area status, announced in 1979 and due to be completed by August 1982, remain justified. However, we have always made it clear that we are ready to consider new evidence of significant long-term change in an individual area's circumstances, relative to the general position.

Is the Minister aware that Greater Manchester has a higher unemployment rate than Scotland and more unemployed people than the whole of Wales? Is he aware that the position is deteriorating rapidly, despite the actions of local authorities and trade organisations? Is not the July 1979 policy completely out of date, inconsistent and inequitable? Will the Secretary of State meet representatives of the area at an early date to consider these changes?

Ministers are always ready and willing to meet representatives who wish to talk about the status and problems of their areas. The hon. Gentleman's constituency has an unemployment rate that is below the average for intermediate areas. I do not see the case for changing the decision to downgrade the status of his constituency, although I recognise that parts of the Greater Manchester area have considerable problems.

Is it not clear that the situation that prevailed in July 1979 is quite different from that which prevails today? Is the Minister aware that in Tameside in particular there has been an increase in unemployment almost unparalleled in the country as a whole and that manufacturing industry in this area is suffering greatly from the loss of assisted area status? What does he intend to do to restore the modest incentives that used to exist?

The level of unemployment has certainly risen considerably in the Greater Manchester area. The Government, however, must consider not just the current position, but the long-term trend, the effect upon the industrial structure, the state of communications in the area and the likely prospects of the area as a whole when recovery comes. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's constituency, I repeat what I said to his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks). In the travel-to-work area in which the right hon. Gentleman's constituency is situated unemployment is below the average for intermediate areas.

Does the Minister acknowledge that this is not just a temporary phenomenon, but that much of the problem is structural unemployment, which cannot be cured in a short period? Will he accept the genuine point made by my hon. Friends, that since 1979 the relative unemployment rates of many regions have totally changed in relation to one another? Do not the figures that my hon. Friends have given show that the examination upon which the Government based their conclusions in 1979 must now be fundamentally revised?

What the hon. Gentleman has said is true of some areas but not of others. The position remains, as we have said, that the Government are always prepared to consider new evidence of significant long-term change, but we must be satisfied that it is indeed long-term change.