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Orders of the Day — Regional Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 8th July 1981.

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Photo of Mr Robert Ellis Mr Robert Ellis , Wrexham 6:30 pm, 8th July 1981

I shall try to complete my remarks in five minutes. It will be difficult for me to do so because the Secretary of State made an outrageous speech that needs to be answered. It is clear that he does not believe in regional policy. If he does believe in it, he probably thinks that it should amount to nothing more than a few cosmetics. The right hon. Gentleman was not honest enough to say openly that he believes that regional policy does more harm than good.

I shall concentrate my remarks on one of the many factual errors and misconceptions in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He said that it is important for the regions that the whole country should prosper. He claimed that if the country prospers the regions will prosper. I accept that the regions would prosper to the extent that there would be fewer unemployed than otherwise, but we are talking about relative deprivation. The real test is not how rich a region is but its degree of wealth when it is compared with the rest of the country.

It is relevant to quote some figures that appeared in Cmnd. 6058, which was published in 1975. The figures relate to 1960–70, a decade during which the world was booming. The economies of the developed world were developing faster than at any time hitherto. It was a time when the United Kingdom was prospering. Against that background, what happended in the regions? The White Paper states: Had Scotland, Wales and Northern England secured 42 per cent."— that is, their share of Great Britain employment in 1960— of national employment growth during the 1960s, they would have experienced a growth of 270,000. In fact, employment in Scotland, Wales and Northern England fell by 100,000.

The White Paper continues: Of the deficiency of 370,000, 180,000 was attributed to developments within the service sectors; 120,000 was attributable to the primary sector"— largely because of the closure of the coal mines— and 70,000 due to the manufacturing sector. During the boom period from 1960 to 1970, when there were both Conservative and Labour Governments, there was a loss of about 370,000 jobs in the regions. At the same time, the increase in jobs in the South-East and Midlands was about 390,000. In the decade, there was a net transfer of 370,000 jobs.

What is the price of regional policy? We have had regional policies for 50 years. When the Industry Bill was being considered in Committee, I said that I travelled by car from Genoa down the leg of Italy for about 100 miles to a place called Lerici. We passed through rural country—for the most part it consisted of vineyards—and mountainous land. Soon after starting the journey, we entered a tunnel that passed through a large mountain. We emerged from the tunnel after about a mile. We were travelling on a large double carriageway road. Having passed through the tunnel, we crossed a huge ravine on a marvellous bridge. The road ran straight and level. We passed through another mountain and crossed another bridge. That was the pattern for about 100 miles. When we reached our destination, I told the driver "In my country we cannot have a road from Conway to Cardiff because the mountains are in the way."

Regional policy must not always be considered on the ground of investing to make money. The various economic indicators tell us that Wales is the best region in the United Kingdom in terms of investment and per capita production. The Secretary of State argued that if we are to attract investment we must do better. Wales is already the best in the sense of narrow and technical economic assessments. I should like to have an hour or two hours to teach the right hon. Gentleman what regional policy should mean. If he does not believe in it, let him say so openly and pursue his policy of looking after the rich parts of the country.