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South-West Assisted Area

Volume 21: debated on Tuesday 30 March 1982

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12.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the current level of unemployment for the South-West assisted area; what was the corresponding figure in March 1980; and if he will make a statement.

At 11 March 1982 the provisional number of people registered as unemployed in assisted areas in the South-West region was 59,351 compared with 34,770 in March 1980.

Future job prospects in this area, as elsewhere, will depend largely on continuing improvement in the country's economic performance. Our special employment and training measures continue to protect those hardest hit by the recession, and the Government's policy of focusing regional assistance specifically on areas in greatest need, such as Cornwall and parts of Devon, is of general benefit to the South-West.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the South-West assisted area is essentially non-industrial in character and therefore more dependent on the level of public investment than most? Therefore, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a strong case, notwithstanding the Chancellor's recent announcement, for further assistance, particularly for the building and construction industry? Is he aware that this is especially the case since 90 per cent. of those contracts to the public sector go straight into the private sector, which means that there should be no worry on doctrinaire grounds on this point?

I take note of my hon. Friend's penetrating and analytical point. I remind him that, apart from the good news in the Budget, which he himself noted, nearly £30 million worth of Government assistance has gone to the South-West over the past three years, and that about 90 Government factory units have been completed in an attempt to redress the balance in the direction of manufacturing.

Is it not a fact that there has been a calculated neglect of the South-West by this Government over a long period, and do not the figures show that? Is it not also a fact that Government policy is to deprive the South-West of real work in an effort to keep wages low? Will the Minister take account of the lobby that was made of this Parliament by construction workers, and yesterday by the group of eight, calling for a massive injection of capital goods into the South-West?

I can only assume that the hon. Gentleman composed his question before he heard the reply that I gave my hon. Friend, which showed that an enormous amount of Government expenditure is going into the South-West.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that this Government have done more for the South-West than the Labour Government ever did? Does he also accept that there are parts of the South-West and Devon where there is 13 or 15 per cent. unemployment—much more than in parts of assisted areas? Does he realise the strong feeling that exists because work is siphoned away from those areas into assisted areas? What can he do to assist certain parts of my constituency, which have 15 per cent. unemployment?

I know that my hon. Friend is clearly taking a close interest in the assisted area problem because of the high unemployment in his constituency. He should pursue the matter, as I am sure he has done in the past, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, who is responsible for assisted areas.