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Orders of the Day — Regional Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:04 pm on 8th July 1981.

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Photo of Mr James Craigen Mr James Craigen , Glasgow Maryhill 6:04 pm, 8th July 1981

I shall not discuss Wales, but I wish that the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) had taken on board the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. Hamilton) that, although inducements exist for people to move into a particular area, the problem is that of sustaining the people already there.

This afternoon we listened to a clapped-out Polonius. The country needs more than a tired philosopher in charge of the Department of Industry. The Government have no regional policy. Moreover, I gained the distinct impression that the Secretary of State does not even believe in the need for a regional policy. It is no wonder that the consulate offices are busy with people who are thinking of emigrating to Canada and Australia. Young families see little hope of assured employment prospects in Britain.

The Government's regional policy is one of drift and despair. I am glad to see that the Minister responsible for industry at the Scottish Office is on the Front Bench., because the industrial style of the Scottish Development Agency has been cramped since the change in Government. I welcomed the way in which the agency encouraged environmental work. Many derelict sites in Glasgow were improved as a result of the agency's work.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) referred to a non-person and to that expensive chat programme on the radio last week. I did not disagree with many of the points made by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) during that chat show. However, I say that the show was "expensive" because we have such a thrawn woman at No. 10 Downing Street that she will be even more determined to pursue her lunatic industrial and economic policies if only because her predecessor made those remarks.

There has been a dramatic decline in manufacturing employment, but many inner city areas such as Glasgow are also facing a decline in service employment. The main problem is falling demand. Companies find it difficult to obtain orders. Companies are desperately taking on orders that two or five years ago they would not have looked at because they are so small. The Government cannot ignore that problem. Falling demand is beginning to feed the recession.

I visited a careers office last week to ascertain the latest jobs position of young people leaving school. I formed the impression that our careers offices are becoming placement agencies for the special programmes division of the Manpower Services Commission. I do not fault it for the work that it is trying to do, but such is the paucity of employment prospects for young people that the careers offices are busier than ever. More of their time is spent assisting fewer young people into employment. Much of their time is spent helping qualified and unqualified youngsters to join youth opportunities programmes.

In Clydeside, we are particularly affected by the drop in demand for apprentices. I hope that when the Government eventually produce a policy for traineeships they will realise the need to underwrite the cost of training for young people, because otherwise we shall be paying out money for special temporary employment measures when we could more effectively assist employers to take on young people for permanent jobs. At present the youth opportunities programme is effectively becoming a pre-employment course for far too many young people.

This morning I received in my mail—as I think most Scottish Members did—a circular from the Scottish Construction Industry Group, which claims to represent all sectors of the industry in Scotland—and it did not strike me as having come from Walworth Road. It is an all-party organisation and, if anything, it is slanted towards the employers. The circular points out that over 50 per cent. of the work load of the construction industry comes from the public sector. It does not draw a distinction between the public and private sector but realises the interrelationship in employment. The circular asks: Must this be our future? It talks about the need to rebuild many of the "Victorian sewers" and of the need to renovate thousands of homes and to repair many of our motorways. That is becoming a problem in Scotland, and I dare say in England and Wales, too.

The problems of our inner cities have been starkly drawn to our attention more than once this week. I think of the tenement properties that could be renovated this year if it were not for the fact that the Government are not providing sufficient money.

Conscious of the time available, I shall simply put forward two points. First, if the Government want to give immediate help to firms in special development areas—I go so far as to include the whole of Scotland—the cost of abolishing industrial rating in Scotland would be £152 million. At a stroke, the Secretary of State could assist many industrial firms by doing what he already intends to do in the enterprise zones and abolish rates. Incidentally, I note that in South Wales that has led to an increase in the rentals that are being looked for in the enterprise zones.

In the West of Scotland we know only too well that when the good times come, and the tide comes in, we are the last to get the benefits, but when the bad times are here we are usually the first to know as the tide goes out.

On Monday, when I attended a meeting of the Inner London Employment Consultative Group, my arm was twisted. The inner London boroughs are worried about the rise in unemployment as it is higher there than it is in Wales. It is even higher in Scotland, for we now have over 300,000 unemployed people. There has been a decline in office employment in London, and as that trend continues the importance of regional policy will be borne in on the minds of the politicians in the South-East. But the tragedy is that by that stage the possibilities of effectively doing anything about regional policy will largely have dissipated, because it is now a matter of dog eating dog over obtaining major industrial developments in any part of the country.