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West Midlands

Volume 35: debated on Monday 17 January 1983

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he now expects an improvement in the industrial position in the west midlands; and what increase in industrial activity is to be expected.

There are no official forecasts relating solely to the west midlands, but Industry Act forecasts predict a rise of about 1·5 per cent. in United Kingdom output in 1983, which will benefit the economy of the region.

Is the Minister aware that at least 1,000 jobs a week are being lost in the west midlands and that unemployment in that region has been rising faster than in any other part of Britain? When will we see an industrial revival and recovery in the west midlands instead of constant redundancies, closures and the return of mass unemploymentf?

I agree that industry in the west midlands is in a difficult position. The Treasury forecast is that total output this year will increase by 1·5 per cent., which will obviously benefit the west midlands. The introduction of the small firms engineering scheme has benefited the west midlands by £6 million. Much of the aid that has gone to British Leyland, Rolls-Royce and the aerospace industry has benefited the west midlands. However, I recognise that the area faces difficult problems.

Despite the measures taken by my right hon. Friend's Department, will further help be given to those who start new businesses, which are urgently required to replace older industries, in that area? Is my hon. Friend aware that bank lending is still limited and that interest rates are still quite high?

As my hon. Friend knows, a wide range of measures are available for the start-up of new industries and to help existing small businesses. Further decisions will no doubt be considered, but I must not anticipate what my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor may do in his Budget.

Has the Minister forgotten that one of his hon. Friends told us that the west midlands would see the results of the Government's policies by the end of 1979? Is he pleased with the results?

The west midlands will benefit as British industry becomes more competitive. The motor industry and the steel-using industries will benefit most from our policies to reduce inflation.

Will my hon. Friend consider the need for industry in the west midlands to become more competitive, and the means to help it to become more competitive, by removing discrimination against it in trade inside and outside this country? Will he further consider the need to give the west midlands a better technological base, with research and training facilities?

I understand precisely what my hon. Friend is getting at. We have made several changes in regional policy which benefit the west midlands by removing discrimination against it. My hon. Friend will have noticed the references made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to a review of regional policy.

I know that my hon. Friend is extremely oncerned about Spain. He knows that we regard the present position as grossly unfair, stemming as it does from an archaic agreement. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that we expect changes in the situation, and the Commission has made a fresh approach in this connection.