HC Deb 03 July 1991 vol 194 cc308-9
10. Mr. Ron Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he last met representatives of the European Commission to discuss regional policy.

Mr. Leigh

On 25 April.

Mr. Brown

Obviously, I am not a fan of the European Commission. Will the Minister tell us, however, when RECHAR funds will be used to help Britain's mining communities? Will those funds provide direct and immediate relief, and will they be separate from any additional grants that may be available from either the EEC or the United Kingdom Government?

Mr. Leigh

I assure the hon. Gentleman that additionality will apply. What that means, in plain English, is that the funds that we receive make a real difference—that public spending is higher than it would otherwise be.

It is true that Commissioner Milian wants more transparency in the arrangements. On 25 April, we held a very helpful and constructive dialogue with him. Our officials are proceding on the basis of those discussions, and we hope to reach a final agreement soon.

Mr. Ian Taylor

Has my hon. Friend noted that all the contributor nations to the European Community budget have said that they would not fund more substantial structural, and therefore regional, funds to other countries in the Community that might need them if there were too rapid a move to a single currency? Although we would not eliminate the possibility that in the long term a single currency might arise, does my hon. Friend agree that that would mean that any party in Britain that advocated increased structural funds would effectively be making an extra expenditure commitment? Therefore, is that not what the Labour party is doing?

Mr. Leigh

My hon., Friend is tempting me into dangerous territory for a junior Minister when he talks of European monetary union and so on. Being a junior Minister is a little like being a lower order batsman—the wicket is a bit difficult so perhaps I should put a dead ball on this one. However, I cannot resist saying that we give £1,800 million a year in structural funds, we receive about £900 million back in grant and we receive £600 million a year rebate under Fontainebleau. Therefore, on a Europewide basis, we give to the structural funds some £300 million a year. When Opposition Members talk in facile terms about moving quickly to a single currency, they should bear it in mind that we already give £300 million a year and that an immediate single currency would result in a substantial increase in what we contribute to structural funds.

Mr. Pike

When the Minister meets representatives in Europe, how does he explain the fact that the Government have so neglected the manufacturing regions of Britain over the past 12 years that investment, jobs and output in the north-west are, in constant terms, 30 per cent. lower than in 1979?

Mr. Leigh

I do not know by what extraordinary statistical device the hon. Gentleman reached that result. Over the three-year public expenditure survey round the Government are giving £567 million in regional selective assistance, for which I am responsible. To argue that the Government do not care about the regions when they are giving that much money—probably as much as they would be allowed to give by the Commission—is absurd. The Opposition have to answer the question whether their regional policies would be allowed by the Commission. They would not. Investment, output and productivity are all considerably higher than in 1979.

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