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I am not yet in a position to make a statement on the various smelter proposals. As regards the E.F.T.A. aspects, I have nothing to add to the reply given by my right hon. Friend, the Minister of State, to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) on 7th February.
Meanwhile, can my right hon. Friend confirm that aluminium companies have shown an interest in the location of a smelter in the North-East, and will he assure the House that this interest will receive every encouragement from the Government?
Whilst hoping that the right hon. Gentleman will go ahead, may I ask him what recent representations he has had from E.F.T.A., and particularly Norway, who are very concerned about the effect of investment grants?
The position as to E.F.T.A. is that a special working party was set up to discuss the Norwegian complaint against us, and that working party has, I understand, nearly finished its deliberations now and will be reporting in the next few days.
Does my right hon. Friend understand that individual Members of Parliament from the Northern Region have made representations and application from an aluminium smelting company has been made for a particular site and that the northern group has been interested, and that we do not understand why the Press seems to have more information than we or this House?
I have a great deal of sympathy with the last part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. The fact is that in a case like this where discussions have to go on with the companies concerned it is almost impossible, apparently, to avoid leaks of that character which I personally find extremely deplorable.
It has been a long and inevitably complicated business involving major questions of the best use of our national resources, of import policy, of regional policy, E.F.T.A. and the like. So the fact is that it has been since—I believe: I speak subject to correction—last summer that the matter has been under discussion. As to when a statement will be made, I hope in the near future, but I cannot be more definite than that.