HC Deb 17 July 1974 vol 877 cc444-6
34. Mr. Tom King

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he is taking in the course of the process of renegotiation to encourage the establishment of a European Regional Fund.

Mr. Hattersley

The Regional Development Fund does not form part of renegotiation. We are willing to take part in further talks on it in the Community. As I told the House on 26th June, discussions about the fund are continuing at official level, aimed at identifying what prospects there are for progress.—[Vol. 875, c. 1570.]

Mr. King

Has the hon. Gentleman seen the speech which was made by one of the British Commissioners, Mr. George Thomson, in which he expressed concern about the delay in setting up the Regional Development Fund and said how helpful it would be if the British Government would make clear that the fund was an essential part of a Community of which Britain remained a member? Why do not the British Government make a statement on those lines now?

Mr. Hattersley

I saw the speech, and I share Mr. Thomson's hope that quick progress will be made with the Regional Development Fund and with matters concerning a regional policy for the Community. The British Government, like any Government renegotiating the terms of membership or simply remaining in the Community, have to take decisions on the fund and regional policy which are in the best interests of the people of this country. Therefore, examination of the fund proposal has to be a detailed and, I fear, protracted business, and there is no alternative to that.

Mr. Spearing

Does my hon. Friend recall that the document on the Regional Development Fund which we recently debated in the House makes quite clear that, whilst the fund is supposed to be auxiliary to member States' own resources, it shall be based on criteria and that its objective shall be towards furthering economic and monetary union? As we have made some reservations on that policy, should not we make similar reservations on the document which the House has debated?

Mr. Hattersley

We have made clear time after time that we hope and expect that the Community will apply criteria for regional policy which are in conformity with the regional policy that the Government wish and intend to operate. I have no doubt that that will continue to be our policy.

Mr. Churchill

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Transport House study group, under the chairmanship of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, said that it was important that the advantages accruing to Britain from Common Market membership should be played down? Will he also advise the House why the Secretary of State for Industry took over as commissar supervising European affairs?

Mr. Hattersley

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman regards that as a serious contribution to the European debate. I do not.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does the Minister agree that one of the principal factors which caused the House to vote in favour of membership of the Common Market was the Regional Development Fund, which would benefit Wales, Scotland and the North-East? That proposal never went through. Does my hon. Friend agree that the country which will have to make the biggest contribution to the fund is Germany, and that Germany has made perfectly clear that she is not prepared to bail Britain out? In those circumstances, in answering the supplementary question put to him by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), will my hon. Friend say what advantages have so far accrued to Britain as the result of membership of the EEC?

Mr. Hattersley

It is not a matter of bailing Britain out. If the Community is to be effective, the more prosperous areas within the Community must give economic assistance to the least prosperous areas, or the least prosperous areas within member nations. Regional policy makes that possible. The advantages of membership come under two headings—greater political influence and potential greater economic strength.

Mr. Russell Johnston

In his original answer to the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), is the Minister saying that there is no reason why agreement on the Regional Development Fund should not be concluded before the conclusion of the renegotiations?

Mr. Hattersley

Some aspects of the Regional Development Fund have to form part of the renegotiation. We have said that we need substantial alterations to the budgetary régime. How much goes into or comes out of the fund has an influence on our attitude towards our budgetary contribution, so the two things are very much connected. On the other hand, it is not the case, as is constantly implied and sometimes written in British newspapers, that because of our renegotiations we are intentionally and wilfully holding up progress in this area. We are not.

Forward to