HC Deb 28 October 1987 vol 121 cc283-4
2. Mr. Speller

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will seek powers to offer access to European Community funding to rural areas of deprivation like north Devon which do not have assisted area status.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Robert Atkins)

North Devon is entitled to support from the European agricultural and social funds. The assisted areas must have prior claim on the regional development fund.

Mr. Speller

Does my hon. Friend accept that although agriculture is a vast and important industry in the west country it is not the only one and that many areas are desperately disappointed that, despite good ideas, they get no assistance with pump priming, which is so necessary to get outside private capital? Many of us feel that for the wrong reasons European money is not available to us. It is not right that all the money should go to inner cities or to other areas. Good ideas should be supported, wherever they come from.

Mr. Atkins

I am aware of my hon. Friend's commitment to solving the problems that he so cogently argues. As the House knows, in its proposals for the reform of EC structural funds the Commission proposes concentrating on structurally less developed and declining industrial regions. What this means in practice for particular regions has yet to be fully worked out. I shall, of course, negotiate strongly for United Kingdom interests, especially those of my hon. Friend.

Mr. Wigley

Will the Minister make sure that any changes in United Kingdom regional policy do not create a reason for the European Community not making available for development in rural areas that are suffering from deprivation the funds that have been coming forward? Will he give an assurance that if the Government pay more attention to inner cities that will not be at the expense of the rural areas?

Mr. Atkins

As the hon. Gentleman knows, although we in the Department of Trade and Industry have ultimate responsibility for regional aid, in the first instance we accept the advice, after consultation, of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. The points made by the hon. Gentleman will have to be looked at. We have said that in any review which entails asking questions and seeking answers, a number of answers may come to a number of questions. We shall have to wait to see what they are.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that drawing lines on a map in any rural area, particularly north Devon, in no way indicates the situation on either side of the map? Does he accept that frequently one finds that areas that do not require assistance receive it and that other areas that on any fair basis should receive assistance do not? Can we get away from this nonsense of drawing lines on maps?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend will be aware that there was a considerable review and that the final map, produced in 1984, incorporated representations from Members of the House and from various regions. At the moment it is not in my mind to change that map, which is based on travel-to-work areas, which, although they have their limitations, none the less are the best building block that we have available at the moment.