HC Deb 09 December 1998 vol 322 cc304-6
2. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

If he will meet the Commission of the European Union to discuss the Principality's eligibility for EU structural funds under the EU financial perspective for the years 2000 to 2006. [61560]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain)

Over the past year, Ministers have been fully involved in discussions at the United Kingdom level and in Brussels, and will continue to be so in the new year.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is it not the case that west Wales and the valleys have a gross domestic product per head of 72 per cent. of the national average? That is significantly below the threshold of 75 per cent., which is eligibility for objective 1 status for structural funds. How is it that it seems likely that that eligibility will not lead to any award of structural funds for this region, which is the second poorest after Cornwall? How is it that huge tracts of the country will not have objective 2 status? Is it not the case that the people of Wales would be much better off if they gave less of their money to Brussels, because they get so little back?

Mr. Hain

I have always known that the hon. Gentleman is bonkers on Europe; however, this question has taken the biscuit. The hon. Gentleman has it wrong. The proportion of European average gross domestic product of west Wales and the valleys is 71 per cent., which will mean that the region will qualify for structural funds under objective 1 status. We shall be negotiating with the European Commission and with our European partners through the British Government, who strongly support Wales's bid, to ensure that we achieve the maximum possible benefit.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)

Will my hon. Friend give some account of the work of the task force that was set up to gain objective 1 status and to make good use of the money? Does he agree that local authorities have a critical role to play in developing a raft of schemes that will qualify for objective 1 funding so that we shall be off to a flying start if the funds come through in 2000?

Mr. Hain

Yes. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend that the work of the task force will be critical in mobilising maximum resources from public funds and from the private sector working with local authorities. He makes a good point. The task force should be working now to ensure that Wales is well able to take the maximum opportunity available to it when the funds come in from 1 January 2000. We can learn from Ireland, which has been extraordinarily successful in this respect. Wales can emulate Ireland and regenerate the whole of west Wales and the valleys, which have been so badly decimated by nearly 20 years of Tory rule.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)

With reference to new structural funding, is the Minister able to reassure us that agricultural decline and sparsity of population in areas such as Powys will be considered fully in relation to their attaining objective 2 status in future, at the same time as other parts of Wales attain objective 1 status?

Mr. Hain

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. The Government are seeking to persuade the European Commission to alter the eligibility criteria for objective 2 funding in particular, which focuses far too narrowly on unemployment rates. A variety of additional factors should be taken into account, including the one to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and Powys's situation is of particular concern to us.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

First, will my hon. Friend confirm—there have been many newspaper reports about this—that the valleys and west Wales have now been designated for objective 1 status? Has that been decided? Secondly, we read in the newspapers about the sum of £2 billion. Over the six years, will that sum be available to south Wales, the valleys and west Wales?

Mr. Hain

My right hon. Friend raises some important points both for his constituency in Llanelli and for the whole of the designated NUTS 2 area, which has been accepted by Eurostat as qualifying for objective 1 status. As it meets the below 75 per cent. of GDP criterion, it will qualify, but we must negotiate with our European partners. The negotiations will take place in March to ensure that the status is confirmed and to agree the figure that my right hon. Friend mentions. We hope to get the maximum benefit, and it has been suggested that west Wales and the valleys could be entitled to some £1.5 billion to £2 billion.