HC Deb 20 November 1997 vol 301 cc448-9
13. Mr. Andrew George

What progress is being made in the designation of United Kingdom regions for the latest round of European objective 1 aid. [15402]

Mrs. Roche

On 16 July, the European Commission published some suggestions for the future of structural funds after 1999 in its communication "Agenda 2000". We expect the Commission to publish detailed proposals next year, which will then need to be negotiated in the Council of Ministers and approved by the European Parliament. The final regulations will determine how individual regions and areas become eligible for structural funds.

Mr. George

I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. What assurances can she give the people of Cornwall and other regions with economic and structural difficulties that negotiations on the designation of NUTS—nomenclature of units for territorial statistics—level II regions will be brought to a speedy conclusion? Is she prepared to prioritise potential objective 1 regions on the basis of need? Is she prepared to recognise that the future of economies such as Cornwall's, which has suffered a great deal, very much depends on a speedy and effective conclusion to the negotiations?

Mrs. Roche

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concern and I recognise that Cornwall, like many other UK areas, faces specific economic and social issues. The Government's statistical service examined United Kingdom boundaries used for European regional statistics because of recent local government changes and made proposals to Eurostat for changes during the summer. One proposal was to separate Cornwall from Devon at NUTS H level. The Government's statistical service is still in discussion with Eurostat. The hon. Gentleman will also be interested to know that the United Kingdom is pushing the Commission to take into account gross domestic product in assessing eligibility for structural funds.

Mr. O'Neill

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the clarity with which she has expressed the Government's concerns. Will she go beyond the issue of the map and tell us whether there is any prospect of the sums involved in attracting industries into the United Kingdom being reviewed? I understand that they have not been looked at since the 1980s. It has been suggested that the figures—£17,000 for objective 1 areas and £6,000 for objective 2 areas—are out of date and put us at a disadvantage compared with other parts of the European Union. Will the Minister look at the sums involved, as well as the map, because they are important in influencing where companies invest?

Mrs. Roche

I assure my hon. Friend that the United Kingdom is looking for fairness and equality in the process. We also want to ensure that the procedures are as fair and as simple as possible so that there can be a clear understanding of the policies.

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