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Cumbria And The Northern Region

Volume 113: debated on Tuesday 31 March 1987

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asked the Paymaster General what effect he expects the Budget measures to have on employment in Cumbria and the northern region.

The Budget will help to sustain the pace of economic growth, enterprise and employment creation throughout the United Kingdom, including Cumbria.

Is the Paymaster General aware that in the northern region, in Cumbria, and in my constituency the general view right across the political spectrum is that, if the Government had the money to give away in the Budget, they should have spent it on supporting schemes, supporting public services and developing real jobs instead of throwing away taxpayers' money on imports? Why does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not understand that the majority of people believe that personal greed should come second to solving the problems of unemployment, especially in areas such as mine where people simply cannot find work?

This year, because of the growth in the economy, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to combine reductions in taxation with restraints in public borrowing and increases in public expenditure, particularly on education and health. My Department has had its biggest increase in public expenditure during this Government's period in office and more than £3 billion is now spent on employment and training. I am glad to say that unemployment is falling faster in the northern region than in almost any other region. The major threat to jobs in Cumbria, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, comes from the policies of the Labour and Liberal parties on nuclear power and Trident.

When my right hon. and learned Friend visits Cumbria on Friday, and my constituency, he will see for himself that unemployment in Cumbria is falling faster than in any other part of the United Kingdom— as a result of former Budgets. Will he reflect on the disastrous consequences for jobs in Cumbria if our main industries are closed down— I refer to Sellafield and Trident at Barrow and Furness—and if agriculture is rated for tax as the Labour and Liberal parties propose?

I am looking forward to being in Carlisle on Friday and to visiting Penrith and the Border and seeing what is being achieved there. I can only endorse my hon. Friend's remarks. There would not only be a direct effect on jobs in Cumbria. Many northern engineering firms with contracts under the defence, or the civil nuclear programmes, are threatened by the policies of the Labour and Liberal parties.

Is the Paymaster General aware that the collapse of the engineering industry in the northern region has left many people, who have worked in that industry throughout their lives and are now aged over 50, without any prospect of ever gaining employment again in their lives? What hope will any of those schemes give to those people?

Of course, I appreciate that parts of the north-east have been especially badly hit by the rapid changes that have taken place in steel, shipbuilding, to some extent coal, and heavy engineering in this country. That is why I take encouragement from the way in which new jobs are being created in the region, from the rapid increase in self-employment in that part of the country, and from all the attempts that are being made through enterprise zones and inner city task forces to stimulate new investment. Jobs are being created in retailing. For example, the biggest retailing development in this country is in the north-east.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that about 6,000 new small businesses were set up in the northern region last year? Will he come up to the north-east and explain to my constituents the way in which the Labour party would help the unemployed by taxing them more heavily as soon as they found their first job?

I remain bewildered by those proposals. I agree with my hon. Friend that, having passed through a difficult period, one can now find all the signs of a regeneration in industry and employment in the northern region, for which we have been waiting for some time, since we came out of the recession. I see no hope for employment in the north if we return to policies of higher taxation, borrowing and inflation, and measures such as the expensive training levy which would be imposed on the turnover of every firm in the region.