The electronics industry is now considered to be one of the growth sectors of the northern region's economy. There are 120 companies in the region involved in electronics employing some 16,000 people. Of special importance is the growing number of smaller companies which have a positive attitude and are eager to expand into new markets, products and technology.
Is consideration being given to the location of the next Inmos factory? Is a decision about the location to be made by the summer? If so, will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the northern region will be given full consideration? Could not a direct Government decision have an effect on the high level of unemployment in the north?
The immediate problem for Inmos—although I hope that it will not be a problem for much longer—is the ramping up of production on its current site. There are no decisions on the locations of future plants. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be proud—at least hope he is—of the record of electronics companies in the northern region and the northeast, which have made a magnificent response to some of the Government's schemes, because they are moving into new markets in areas where there is a positive and growing balance of payments.
I do not detract from the point made about the northern region, which I fully accept, but does my hon. Friend agree that there is also a very good case for persevering with the electronics industry in the midlands, which should form one of the main springs of future growth in the second industrial revolution?
The midlands region—in particular, the west midlands—is conscious of the fact that there is an imbalance in the representation of industries in the region. The Department of Industry's regional office is conscious that more can be done in that respect, and we are anxious to help in any way we can. However, it must be remembered that these are demand-led schemes, and the response from the regions depends on the number of applications received from the companies within the regions.
The major reason for the deficit is the imbalance predominantly in VRCs. There are examples now of companies wishing to come here and manufacture video recorders, but in regard to the main thrust of our policy, particularly in the areas where we can pall through new companies and technologies, such as the minis and the main-frame computers, the Government's record is nothing to be ashamed of. We have introduce some new growth in those areas.
There is always a difficult balance to maintain in public purchasing orders. We have to balance the needs of users and the specifications they lay down in public purchasing policies with the capabilities of the United Kingdom industry. Wherever British companies, on merit, can win contracts, we are in favour of it, and will do everything to encourage it within the GATT and EC obligations placed upon us.