asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to announce his final proposals for changes relating to assisted area status; and if he will make a statement.
The Government hope to complete their current review of assisted areas next month. The outcome will be announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. The Scottish Office is taking part in the review and the representations of local authorities and others in Scotland are being taken into account.
Is the Secretary of State aware that I am increasingly worried that a number of new firms that have come to the Borders under the development area schemes are now transferring their expansion plans elsewhere? Does he feel any obligation to such new firms to exercise a continuity of policy, or shall we be wasting our time when I and the local authorities meet the Under-Secretary on Thursday?
I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is looking forward to meeting representatives from the Borders and will be glad to receive their representations. As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, I met the Borders regional council on Monday, when many of these points were made to me. In the past couple of years we have made great efforts to bring to the notice of firms already in such areas that in future those areas may not qualify for grants. We have therefore encouraged them to submit any expansion plans quickly to avoid the effect of the change.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend's statement about the announcement to be made next month will be more than welcome in Grampian and particularly in East Aberdeenshire. However, in his discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, will he take into consideration the critical increase in unemployment in areas such as the Grampian region because of the cessation of oil and gas related work? Will that be taken into account in the final adjustment of assisted area status?
That is a very valid point. I am keeping my right hon. Friend closely informed of such changes, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us of the position.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that he and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry gave an undertaking that before any final changes in status were made they would be prepared to meet local authorities in the light of the changing circumstances? As Mid-Lothian has the largest parliamentary electorate in Scotland and there have been many problems, will he agree to meet the local authorities there in accordance with his undertaking?
As I have said, I have met one or two people of that kind. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make a request for me to meet representatives from his area, I shall of course be delighted to see them.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that while the last change in the development area structure was of great benefit to Scotland, problems will be created for areas that may move from assisted to non-assisted area status? Is he aware that this will cause particular problems in future dealings with the European regional fund?
I agree that, inevitably, if such changes are made they will cause problems for the areas concerned. However, everyone must come to terms with the fact that if one is to have a regional policy it must be concentrated on the areas of greatest need. Otherwise, we have no chance of dealing with the bad problem areas.
Will the Secretary of State give a categoric assurance that the review of assisted area status will include the city of Aberdeen, as the Under-Secretary of State recently suggested that Aberdeen would be excluded?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are including in the review all the authorities that we said we would include—that is to say, those areas that have been downgraded by more than one degree. We shall, stick to that undertaking and we shall of course, be glad to receive representations from anyone who is affected.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, which affects my constituency, I beg to give notice that I shall seek leave to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.