Orders of the Day — Co-operative Development Agency and Industrial Development Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 7th February 1984.

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Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West 7:15 pm, 7th February 1984

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, it is nonsense to suggest that the market will solve all the problems, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West suggested. There has always been interference in the market. The great difficulty between the wars was to make successive Governments recognise that the free market system was not perfect. My goodness—how the nation suffered from the misbegotten monetary ideas of the 1920s and 1930s, of returning to the gold standard. Those people said, "We shall face the dollar at $4·866 to the pound." What a crisis of confidence that was. That is what the market dictated. The people of the nation were to suffer because of the market.

However, all the time there have been some people with a little more foresight, not just Labour men but Liberal men such as Keynes, who said that the market did not work. They said that we must interfere with it because they could not bear the terrible unemployment. In the 1930s, there was a succession of commissions. In the 1940s, the Barlow commission considered the distribution of the industrial population. It was said that the growth of the metropolis in the south-east was wrong and had to be halted. That is the touchstone of regional policy.

The Government, by the Bill, the White Paper and their statement on 13 December, are saying that they want to go back to a market situation, if that is possible. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West let the cat out of the bag. I hope that I am not misinterpreting him. He said, "We would end the regional policy if we could except for political considerations." I discount the view expressed in the statement on 13 December that there was a social case for the regional policy. The real considerations are politics and the fact is that there would be pressure from both sides of the House if the policy were completely abandoned.

The Government are moving slowly by salami tactics of a thousand cuts. That is being done against the background of Europe. The real writers of the policy are the European Commission. The Minister said that we must satisfy the European Commission. On what grounds? Perhaps on narrow grounds, that we shall not give grants for replacement. However, we are not sure about that. We do not know what the replacement of machinery and modernisation mean. Because we are unsure, we are holding back.

If we could be sure that everybody else's regional policy in Europe was transparent, perhaps there would be grounds for going along in that direction. However, the French farmers are supporting the common agricultural policy and undertaking "illegal" actions. The CAP is political. No economist could justify it on economic grounds. It is justified on political and social grounds. The French are willing to take such action in the Community, but our supine Government run away from the implication that we are a peripheral area. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), who is not here, spoke about the dangers of peripheral areas. Scotland is such an area.

The Minister must take cognisance of what has happened in Scotland. An authority on regional policy is Dr. Gavin McCrone. I shall not quote someone who cannot reply in the Chamber, but I shall take bets, although I am not a betting man. I bet only on certainties such as Glasgow Rangers at the moment. It does very well. I shall take a bet that Dr. Gavin McCrone would not endorse the view of regional policy expressed in the White Paper and the Bill. The reason why Scotland has stood up better under the impact of the present recession is—