HC Deb 27 November 1991 vol 199 cc905-6
10. Mr. Patchett

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

Mr. Leigh

I met other European Ministers responsible for regional policy and Mr. Bruce Milian, the responsible member of the Commission, at The Hague on 18 and 19 November.

Mr. Patchett

Will the Minister act immediately to unblock the RECHAR money for Britain's coalfield areas such as South Yorkshire? Does he realise that France and Germany are already benefiting from the scheme, but that we are denied it because of the Government's obstinacy?

Mr. Leigh

The person who needs to unblock the money is not a member of the Government but Commissioner Milian. He is blocking the money. I remind the House that we pay £1,800 million into structural funds and receive only £900 million back. We make clear provision for RECHAR in public spending. We want our money and we want it now. We want to stop Opposition Members conniving with the Commission to withhold our money.

Mr. Andy Stewart

Contrary to what the Labour party is saying, I have a letter from Commissioner Millan dated 8 November that makes his position clear. He said that it is not about additionality, but about the way that the Government are targeting the money. Is not it time that he stopped playing party politics and gave us our money for our constituents?

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend is right. He speaks as a Conservative representing a coal mining area and he truly speaks up for the industry. France, Spain and Italy have much the same system of additionality as we have. Why is not Commissioner Milian withholding their money? Why is he withholding our money when, although the structural funds are doubling, we are likely to receive less? The legal position is clear. He should stop shilly-shallying around and mucking about and ensure that that £100 million of our money is released to our coal mining areas.

Mr. Gordon Brown

Will the Minister confirm—yes or no—that it is not only the local authorities that are demanding that the money be unblocked, but the Secretary of State for the Environment?

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman knows that the constitutional position is clear. Ministers cannot disagree with each other and, therefore, they never do so.

Sir Teddy Taylor

What on earth will the Government do about the irresponsible and scandalous actions of Commissioner Millan who is withholding money, to which we are legally entitled, on the basis of a bogus bureaucratic point? Is not it time that the Government, who pay in a massive amount of money—equivalent to a net contribution of £3 a week per family—simply deducted £109 million from the vast amount that they send to Brussels every month?

Mr. Leigh

I cannot promise to do that immediately. I agree that it is an absurd position for Commissioner Millan to take. Why have not the Opposition considered the serious point that I have made—that structural funds are doubling, yet we shall receive less? Our rules on additionality have not changed. Opposition Members are cutting off their noses to spite their own faces by encouraging Mr. Milian to withhold our money. We want it, and we want it now. The legal position is clear, so can we please stop this nonsense? I tell Opposition Members that we shall not give way; we shall retain control over public spending. We will not tolerate a situation in which the Government are treated like a county council and a county council treated like the Government.

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