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Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre) rose--

Mr. Collins: I do not have time to give way.

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The Bill is bad because it splits up England; it represents a clapped-out, dated and archaic theory of how to generate wealth and economic growth and, above all, it threatens the success of genuinely local, genuinely business-led, successful organisations--the TECs. For all those reasons, it should be rejected.

8.19 pm

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate--a debate which is vital for the economic future of my constituency and of the Teesside region. I unreservedly welcome the central thrust of the Bill, although I should like to ask one or two questions about some of its provisions. The people of Teesside and of the north-east will also welcome it.

The Bill is necessary. Over the years, and especially in the past 18 years, the people of Teesside have suffered greatly from the Tory party's boom and bust policies. Many thousands of jobs were lost in the steel and chemical industries, and people on the Tees saw the end of shipbuilding. The wider local economy, which depended on the good health of Teesside's core industries, collapsed.

In 1977, the Cleveland county area was one of the more prosperous regions of the United Kingdom. It was third in the GDP per head table in the UK, behind only Greater London and Berkshire. By 1987, it was 34th. In 1989, according to the Royal Bank of Scotland's index of prosperity, it was the 61st poorest of the UK's 63 counties and regions.

The north-east's regional economy was the wider economic casualty of Thatcherite restructuring. Proportionately, the northern region lost more of its manufacturing base in the late 1970s and 1980s than any other UK region. In Teesside, we lost about 67,000 jobs in two to three years. Such facts show the necessity of the Bill and of the other important legislation that is now being steered through the House--to ensure that we have a coherent approach to development and a welcome concentration on policies that are in tune with what the people want, rather than with what the Tory party thought was good for them. It is because of such attitudes that the north will soon have a regional development agency.

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning will not need to be reminded that the north-east was in the vanguard of the movement for proper development agencies. The new RDAs will mean that, at long last, our demands will finally be met for a regionally based voice and a regionally controlled tool to ensure the creation and nurturing of sustainable development policies.

The northern region did not only demand RDAs; in the early 1980s, the north-east anticipated such agencies by establishing the Northern Development Company. That was a unique agency, based on a tripartite partnership between the region's local authorities, private business and trade unions. It has worked very hard to promote inward investment opportunities, to build good and lasting supply chain networks and to facilitate indigenous business growth across the region.

In recent years, the NDC's work has meant that much of the inward investment from the Pacific rim and elsewhere has located and prospered in the north-east. The

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names of those inward investors is a roll-call of the world's leading-edge companies: Fujitsu, Siemens, Samsung and, in my constituency, Caterpillar. The NDC's success shows that, from April 1999, the north-east is well placed to have the first fully fledged RDA. We will, after all, only be building on what we have already achieved.

Although we are geared up and ready to establish our new agency, we should ask one or two questions. There are specific concerns, particularly in the north-east, that have to be answered in this debate. We have to ensure, first, that each agency is allowed maximum autonomy in determining regional economic policy, because what may be right for Middlesbrough may not be right for Manchester, and vice versa. We must particularly ensure the growth, technological competence and diversification of our indigenous industries. Perhaps we should give those objectives far more weight, rather than merely compete to win the perceived goal that may lie at the end of the inward investment rainbow.

There is a need for well-developed and robust regional economic strategies that deal with the need for both economic and social regeneration. Those strategies must take account also of sectoral strength and not be afraid to take robust long-term decisions to encourage high technology and inward investment. We have to ensure that there is a correct balance between the pressing need for urban revitalisation and the equally pressing demands of deprived rural areas.

As an hon. Member who represents a partly rural constituency--Conservative Members have been talking about such constituencies throughout this debate--comprising former ironstone mining villages where unemployment has been a fact of life for far too long, I shall need particular reassurance that those demands will be met. I shall be very interested to hear my hon. Friend the Minister's comments on that matter.

I note that the RDA will subsume the work of the Rural Development Commission, and I do not dissent from that objective. I note also, however, that the Bill states explicitly that one of the RDA's core functions will be to promote rural regeneration and that at least one RDA board member must have specific knowledge and expertise in rural development issues.

The Cleveland area will have to know very soon whether the RDA will continue with the vital socially based work of the RDC. In our village communities, this work--based on initiatives such as providing volunteer-run nursery provision, local collective projects based on housing needs, and conservation and environmental activities with a specific rural remit--fits somewhat uncomfortably in the RDA's proposed portfolio.

Such activities underpin and complement the economic development work being done by the borough council and by other bodies. I should very much like my hon. Friend the Minister properly to reassure my constituents that the machinery for continuing those activities--within the ring-fenced boundaries of an RDA area that still has the highest unemployment of any such area in England and Wales--will be established with proper and democratic funding channels.

I should like also to be assured by my hon. Friend that there are proper safeguards for European funding arrangements. My constituency has been the beneficiary of many projects backed by structural and social funds,

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which have been accessed by a variety of organisations and agencies. All those agencies have experienced problems with the previous Government's cherry picking and ruthless top slicing of European funds for their own pet schemes.

It is proposed that RDAs should distribute European funds. I welcome that, but I should like to be reassured that the funds will still be handled fairly and that arrangements will be made to prevent RDAs replicating those previous top-slicing practices.

I commend the Bill. Its success will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and my hon. Friend the Minister will gain a place in the United Kingdom's history books and a special place in the heart of the people of the north-east.

8.28 pm

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) said that Labour Members have had a somewhat schizophrenic approach to this debate, sometimes talking about the great success of the English regions and sometimes talking about their enormous poverty and failure. That schizophrenia has been highlighted by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar).

In the past 10 to 15 years, inward investment has helped to create the important success enjoyed especially by the north-east. There is a telling contrast between the years in which the north-east's old industries declined and its recent development of new and successful industries. I know that from personal experience in the north-west in the years before prosperity spread to the north-east. The Conservative party and the previous Government can be justly proud not only of the inward investment that put Britain at the top of the league table for inward investment, but of the enormously successful regeneration of some of our great cities. Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle are fine cities with a proud history and a great heritage and they are once again prosperous places where people love to live and work.

How do we take forward that success? That is a challenge which the new Government must face. I do not know whether it will be taken forward by a new breed of centrally appointed quangos. Nor do I believe that it can be taken forward by additional bureaucracy and the mistaken extrapolation of some of the successful enterprises of the previous Government to a new regional level. Although TECs and development corporations have achieved a great deal and have been effective in certain areas, that does not mean that a similar exercise will succeed at a regional level or, still less, across the whole of England. We risk developing a new generation of quangos too far removed from reality, too far away from any particular town or city and certainly too far removed from democratic control, as they will have no direct relationship with the elected local authorities.

We are told that local business men will be appointed to the boards. Local to where? In the north-west, will they be local to Liverpool, Manchester or Carlisle? It makes an important difference. The introduction of a new regional tier is a misguided attempt at economic planning over very large areas.

It may be appropriate to introduce a regional body for the north-east, where there has been a long-standing call for such a body and which has a far greater regional

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identity than most parts of England, but it is an absurd suggestion for the north-west. The north-west is not one region, but three or more. The previous Government recognised that by creating separate Government offices for Merseyside and for the rest of the north-west, but even that overestimated the extent to which the north-west can be coalesced into particular regional groupings. Merseyside and Liverpool, the Manchester area, the area north of Manchester and Cumbria all have completely different natures. There is a completely different feel to them and I see no logic in treating them as a single region.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) remarked on the wasteful competition that could be introduced between regions which may be competing for inward investment or companies to move into their areas. I shall focus on some of the difficulties that could arise within the regions. What planning and distribution of effort and benefit might there be within a region such as the north-west? Would a regional development agency have a role to perform in deciding what should go to Liverpool, Manchester or elsewhere? On what criteria would those decisions be based? The distribution of income, European grants, investment and the effort of marketing a region may differ greatly between urban and rural areas, but there are equally broad differences between the cities of Manchester and Liverpool and between those two great cities and the rest of the north-west.

Cumbria may be a special case. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said that in his constituency there was no clamour to be ruled from Newcastle. I can understand that, but nor is there any great desire to be tied to Manchester or Liverpool. Cumbria is a distinct area with its own interests and a far more rural heritage. There is no logic or sense in tying the north-west together under one regional development agency.

All that leads to a more important conclusion. If it is wrong to have a regional development agency for the north-west because the region has no collective identity, there must never be any suggestion of a new tier of regional government. If an RDA for the north-west is absurd, an elected assembly for the north-west is even more so. Nor is there any demand for it. Although I doubt that an RDA for the north-west will achieve very much for my constituents or the region, I very much hope that we will not have a further costly and unnecessary level of bureaucracy through the establishment of a regional chamber for the north-west.

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