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Regional Policy (Competitiveness)

Volume 268: debated on Monday 11 December 1995

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To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans he has to make regional policy more sensitive to the objective of competitiveness. [3280]

The White Paper "Competitiveness: Forging Ahead" described a wide range of regional initiatives to promote competitiveness, and I recently held a seminar with the regional directors of the Government offices to review developments. The Government intend to report progress in a further competitiveness White Paper next year.

I hear what the Deputy Prime Minister has said, but does he agree that it would be much better to direct regional selective assistance towards investment in research and development and possibly product innovation? That would help to secure industries in particular regions and at the same time be a structural initiative which would strengthen competitiveness more effectively.

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that regional selective assistance is a major engine that has attracted the very remarkable success in inward investment that we are now achieving in this country. Some 40 per cent. of all inward investment in Europe is coming here.

I believe that the very exciting announcement made today about the success of regional challenge is a further example of the success of Government policies. Some £160 million of European money has been put up for competition, and has produced 34 winners. That has attracted an additional £351 million of private sector money to add to the already substantial investment that the public sector is making in the regions.

I very much welcome the news of £6 million that is coming to west country tourism as a result of regional challenge. That is particularly welcome in the light of my right hon. Friend's speech on tourism in the south-west recently. Will he nevertheless kindly consider what many of us still regard as the major disadvantage that the south-west faces in attracting industry—the offers that Wales is able to make? That ability gives the Welsh a tremendous advantage over the south-west. Many of us think that that is a very unfair advantage.

My hon. Friend is a doughty fighter for the causes of the south-west. I have been pleased by the response from the south-west to the speech that I made recently during a visit there. There is a determination in the south-west to enhance its competitiveness and to continue to attract an increasing flow of inward investment. I intend to take an early opportunity, with the agreement of the editor of the Western Morning News, to return to the subject because the Government are determined to give every possible support.

The House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.] Thank you. The House will be very pleased to know that there has been a meeting of the integrated regional officers. That is to be welcomed. Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us when the officers will produce their regional strategies, which were requested by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry some six or seven months ago? Can he tell us when those integrated regional officers will be accountable to the House for co-ordinating the spending of £6 billion, which makes the figures that were mentioned earlier pale into insignificance? Those officers are important civil servants—when will they be accountable to the House?

Would not the competitiveness of that most important region of the United Kingdom, Scotland, be put in jeopardy were it to have an Assembly? Politicians at such an Assembly would spend much of their time inventing new regulations that would damage the competitiveness of Scotland.

As always, my hon. Friend is extremely perceptive. The imposition of a tartan tax would be seriously damaging to the Scottish economy, as an increasingly large number of Scottish industrialists are beginning to realise. If ever a Labour Government were elected and added the imposts of a minimum wage and the social chapter, that would bring to an end the remarkable recovery that the Scottish economy has undergone recently.