HC Deb 03 May 1971 vol 816 cc986-9
7. Mr. McBride

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what estimate he has made of the possibilities of regional planning expansion in Wales if Great Britain enters the Common Market.

Mr. Peter Thomas

A wide range of development policies are pursued by member countries of the E.E.C. The Government have no reason to think that if the United Kingdom enters the Community we should not be able to continue to pursue a vigorous regional development policy.

Mr. McBride

Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that that answer shows a lamentable ignorance of the facts? Is it not the case that if we were to become a member of the E.E.C., under the monetary agreement Britain would have only partial control of her regional policy? Is it not the Secretary of State's clear duty to fight full time against this inhibiting threat to the future of Welsh regional expansion, which we all want? In other words, will not the threat of joining the Common Market militate against the interests of the Welsh people?

Mr. Peter Thomas

No, Sir; I do not agree. Regional policies in this country are compatible with membership of the E.E.C., and there is no reason to believe that as a member this country could not pursue a regional policy which met our circumstances. Co-ordination of the regional policies of member countries in Europe is at a very early stage, and the European countries are pursuing individual regional policies. If we entered the Community, we should be in a position to participate in the evolution of those policies.

Sir A. Meyer

Has not the European Economic Community been extremely successful in assisting the modernisation of areas where there is an unduly high proportion of run-down industry, as in Belgium, and is it not also a fact that the European Development Fund offers tremendous potentialities for regional development throughout the whole of an enlarged E.E.C. area?

Mr. Peter Thomas

It is true that it has had great success in Europe—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"]—but at the moment each country in Europe is pursuing its own individual policy, and coordination of policies has not yet taken place.

Mr. William Edwards

Is it not a major problem with these policies in Europe that the Government never thought about the problem of entering Europe when they changed the successful regional development policy which the Labour Party gave them when they came into office? Would not the Secretary of State undertake to examine various investment policies in countries in the E.E.C? If he thinks that the policy which he is now pursuing is inferior, would he undertake to change it?

Mr. Peter Thomas

The hon. Gentleman is not correct. Although a variety of measures are used by individual members of the Six, the general trend is towards infrastructure provisions, assisted loans and tax reliefs rather than straight grants, and that is generally in line with the British Government's regional policy package.

33. Mr. Denzil Davies

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he will make a statement regarding the discussion which his officials have had in Brussels with the officials of the European Economic Community.

40. Mr. Gwynoro Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many of his Department's officials have visited Brussels; and what was the outcome of the discussions in relation to the effect on Wales of possible British entry into the European Economic Community.

Mr. Peter Thomas

Three officials of the Welsh Office had talks with the Commissioner for Regional Affairs and with senior staff of the Commission of the European Communities. Regional policies in the community and their likely future development were reviewed.

Mr. Davies

I welcome those discussions so far as they go, but is the right hon. and learned Gentleman not aware that there is considerable apprehension in Wales that entry into the Common Market would lead to an even greater concentration of industrial development in the South-East and, in particular, that the freedom of movement of capital and assets which would follow entry would render the policy of refusing or granting industrial development certificates completely worthless and impracticable?

Mr. Peter Thomas

The discussions with officials brought out clearly the importance which the Community attaches to issues of regional policy, and show that there is a lively awareness in the Commission of the particular problems of the peripheral areas of the Community.

Mr. Gwynoro Jones

Did the discussions circle around the question of agriculture and the effect of possible entry on agriculture, especially on the Milk Marketing Board and its functions? Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman not agree that if the present policy of the Board over the transport costs system is to be disbanded as a condition of entry, this will be a damaging proposal in all rural areas?

Mr. Peter Thomas

The interests of Welsh agriculture are receiving full consideration, along with other Welsh interests. Agricultural policy is being dealt with, as the hon. Gentleman knows, in the negotiations.