Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Orders of the Day — Regional Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:50 pm on 8th July 1981.

Alert me about debates like this

The Under-Secretary of State for Industry Mr. John MacGregor):

The right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) is very long on hot air but very short on facts, and I shall give him one fact immediately. He talked in some detail about the need for capital investment, with which I agree, but is he aware that capital investment in real terms in the nationalised industries this year is up 14 per cent. on last year? The Opposition have been wrong in a wide range of matters, as I shall hope to demonstrate.

I assumed that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley)—and I say this in a kindly way—had been put up to speak for the Opposition instead of the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) in order to make amends for the emptiness of the speech by the Leader of the Opposition in the recent unemployment debate. I was looking forward to a serious and constructive contribution from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield because he is a serious and constructive man. But he seems to have been affected by his colleagues and, alas, he was just as empty and sterile today as the Opposition have been in their policies. Like other Labour Members, he made a few subtle references to Warrington, but his speech contained very little else.

As many of my hon. Friends have said, in the right hon. Gentleman's speech there was no serious analysis and there were no policies—not a word. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) mentioned in a very interesting speech, there was not a word about whether the regional policies that have been pursued by all of us over the last 20 years or more have been effective in achieving the objectives that we have all set ourselves.

As the Public Accounts Committee—an all-party Committee—recently pointed out, in the last 10 years £5,000 million has been spent in budgetary terms on regional policies, and we cannot be certain whether that money has been effectively and wisely spent in every respect, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) said. The House should address itself seriously to this question, in the interests of the regions alone.

At least the right hon. Member for Chesterfield refrained from urging more Government spending, perhaps because he knows the dangers of that. In that respect he was markedly different from the Leader of the Opposition, who put forward his prescription in a recent speech in Cardiff. He did not expose them to the House of Commons, because that would have shown the emptiness of his policy. His prescription was to cut income tax massively, reduce indirect taxes, reduce the minimum lending rate, increase public expenditure, encourage major infrastructure programmes, and to have big decreases in taxation and big increases in public expenditure.

Such a policy would have disastrous effects on the public sector borrowing requirement, and hence on minimum lending rates. I agree with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield that we want to see a policy of declining interest rates, but we have an international problem there as well. The Leader of the Opposition's policy would have disastrous effects on the exchange rate, about which the right hon. Member for Chesterfield had a good deal to say in the opening part of his speech.

There was no recognition by any of the Labour Members of the effects of the increase in unit labour costs in this country as a whole—