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Orders of the Day — Regional Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:35 pm on 8th July 1981.

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Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , Newton 5:35 pm, 8th July 1981

I hope that my hon. Friend is right. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has taken up my challenge by catching the next train to Warrington.

I should like to discuss the need for regional policy. Some hon. Members, on both sides of the House, have tried for many years to argue the need for a coherent regional strategy. We have tried to argue that if one is serious about these subjects one has obviously to work to a basic plan. It was evident from the Secretary of State's speech that he has abandoned all hope of any plans and that he is banking on such nonsenses as enterprise zones, the odd urban development corporation and a bit of money from the Home Office for inner city areas to solve some of the major and, as the last few days have unfortunately shown, dangerous situations that exist in many areas.

A classic example of the error of Government policy exists for all to see in Warrington. As events have shown over the past 10 to 15 years, Warrington is a natural growth point. The expertise, experience and drive of Warrington new town in attracting industry to the area over the past few months have been first-class.

It has been shown that the development of road and rail networks and airports has brought prosperity to regions. Although far from moving ahead, Warrington had been able to maintain employment, despite all the problems created in the traditional industries and despite the effect of natural rundown. That was due to the expertise, drive, care and planning devoted to the area around Warrington. There has now been a substantial increase in unemployment.

One factor that the Secretary of State and the majority of the Tory Party will not recognise is that a natural growth point is crucial to any regional policy. Warrington is a natural growth point. One would have assumed that any sensible, rational Secretary of State would have recognised the value of a natural growth point and would have put money behind it. The Secretary of State's answer is to remove all assistance from Warrington.

The right hon. Gentleman argues that crude unemployment statistics alone do not warrant assisted area status. I am waiting, as I have waited for two years, for the Secretary of State to inform the House of the other elements of his regional policy. Does the Minister who will be replying to the debate intend to inform the House of the elements of the Government's regional policy strategy? The only element that I can see is the crude unemployment figures. There is no rational analysis of emigration from areas, immigration into areas, or the shortage of skills in areas. All these are factors that affect the decisions of firms to go to certain areas.

There are some areas—Warrington is again a classic example—that can offer a wide variety of skills. Even now, we are told by some Tory Ministers, there is a shortage of certain skills in certain trades. A place like Warrington can offer plenty of skills. Yet we gel nothing from the Government. We get an increase in unemployment. The announcement today by the Minister for Consumer Affairs is another kick in the teeth for Warrington. One of the largest gas cooker factories in the country, TI New World, is situated in Warrington, producing nearly 20 per cent. of the market in gas cookers. We know that there will be massive redundancies in the TI factory. The Tory candidate must be delighted when he hears the news coming from the House of Commons that further redundancies face the work force in Warrington.

I listed during a recent debate on the North-West no fewer than 17 firms that had declared over 4,000 redundancies in Warrington in the last 18 months. It was significant that the redundancies in Warrington all occurred in industrial manufacturing and mainly in the private sector. All were good firms with a good reputation. They were turning out good products. However, because of Government policies, they face closure in some cases or redundancies in others. It is a tragedy that so many towns in the regions should be left only with the platitudes of the Secretary of State for Industry, often aided and abetted by even more platitudes and crocodile tears from the Prime Minister, about the problems of the unemployed.

I asked the Secretary of State to give way when he posed the rhetorical question to my right hon. Friend "What will the unemployed do?" after my right hon. Friend had made the point about the growth in unemployment. The question "What will the unemployed do?" sums up the attitude of the Tory Party. I should like to pose a question to the Tory Party that I hope will be answered honestly. Like every area, Warrington has terrifying problems of youth unemployment. When the Secretary of State for Employment comes to the House to propose schemes to give all youngsters places in youth opportunities schemes, will Conservative Members have the guts to pose the question "What will they do?" That is the question that should be asked.

The Government have no policy. They are now doing what they used to accuse the Labour Government of doing. They are simply throwing money at the problem, hoping that the problem will somehow go away. The problem will go away only when we have a Government who recognise the absolute necessity for regional policies that are meaningful and who take account of the terrifying problems that exist in many areas where long-established industries are going to the wall and nothing is offered in their place. It is hardly surprising that there have been outbreaks of violence recently. No one condones them, but when young people react violently in our inner urban areas all that we get from the Government are platitudes arid cries about law and order.

I have a final question for the Government. What about some justice for the young people who recognise that they have no hope as long as this incompetent Government are in office? I hope that the Warrington by-election, when the Tory canditate will be humiliated, will be the signal for a massive revolt by our people, who will put the Government where they belong—into the dustbin of history.