HC Deb 19 December 2000 vol 360 cc190-3
2. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

If he will make a statement about trends in European Union regional aid for Scotland over the last five years. [141565]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. John Reid)

In the period 1994–99, projects worth £2.4 billion were approved, involving £1 billion of structural funds money. The total funds available for the new round of programmes in Scotland will be £960 million—a reduction of approximately 5 per cent., reflecting a relative increase in Scotland's prosperity.

Mr. Steen

I am sure that the Secretary of State is not aware that over the past six years, for every £200 from the European structural funds that has gone to Scotsmen, only £60 has gone to west countrymen. Does he think it fair that in the next six years the Scotsman will receive 50 per cent. more per year than every west countryman? Bearing in mind that the west country is as deprived and poor as many parts of Scotland, does he not agree that it is wrong that there should be such a loading for Scotland against the west country?

Dr. Reid

I shall say two things to the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, the funds paid through the structural funds are based on an assessment of need, meeting an agreed criteria. If there is a greater need in Scotland after 20 years of Tory Government, perhaps he should reflect on that.

As far as the settlement at the United Kingdom and the Scottish level is concerned, I am utterly convinced that Scotland has had a fair allocation, and no more than that. We will have achieved that fair allocation because of the need in Scotland and the partnership in the United Kingdom, which has given us a strength in negotiations with Europe that we would never achieve under an independent or separate Scotland. While it is true that 40 per cent. of Scotland gets objective 2 status, I think that I am correct in saying that the hon. Gentleman's constituency also has that status and I should have thought that that was a reason for both of us to be pleased with a Labour Government.

Mr. David Stewart (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber)

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the important role that European structural funds have played in the highlands and islands, not least in the new city of Inverness? On that note, will my right hon. Friend congratulate the students of Cauldeen primary school in my constituency, who fought for that bid? Does he agree that city status will provide a great boon for tourism and inward investment to the highlands and islands?

Dr. Reid

Yes, I agree on all those points. I think that I speak on behalf of the whole House when I say that we are delighted about the millennium city status that has been conferred on Inverness, which won against stiff competition. Other areas, such as Ayr, Stirling and Paisley, where my hon. Friends also fought hard, will have another opportunity in 2002. My hon. Friend played a widely appreciated role, both before he came into Parliament and outside it. That has been a major contributory factor, along with the presentation work done by the children of Cauldeen primary school—most of whom I met yesterday—in achieving city status for Inverness. We are delighted. That shows what a Member of Parliament can do. Who knows, with Eric Joyce in Falkirk, perhaps it will be in for city status in the not too distant future.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

Is there any scope for utilising European regional aid to deal with the problems of the beleaguered fishing industry, in particular the fact that the quota reductions that have been announced will affect the whole fleet, not least the village-based sector of the industry that is substantially represented in my constituency? Can the Minister say whether European regional aid might, for example, fund a proper decommissioning scheme to ensure that effort is reduced to a level at which it is equivalent to the resources available?

Dr. Reid

In terms of the general problem that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised, of course we face some desperate problems with fish stocks in the North sea. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House appreciate that. I am convinced that the fisheries talks in Brussels last Thursday secured the best possible deal for Scotland.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

What about the Danes and the whiting?

Dr. Reid

We achieve more in the fisheries talks and in everything else that we negotiate in Europe from a position of strength in the United Kingdom than we would ever do if the Scottish National party was trundling along there, particularly as the matter is determined under qualified majority voting. We would have a much reduced power and share in that voting if we got a separate Scotland.

I take the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point about financial provision. That is a matter that Fisheries and Agriculture Ministers will be considering as the implications of the agreement achieved last week are worked through. I appreciate the difficulties that his constituents and many others face.

Mr. Douglas Alexander (Paisley, South)

In view of my right hon. Friend's earlier answer, will he confirm that the effect of last week's summit in Nice was to increase considerably the number of votes that Britain enjoys in the European Union? Will he also confirm that the summit will further undermine the credibility of any party that argues that independence in Europe is a credible alternative to the strength of Britain's negotiating position?

Dr. Reid

Indeed, I happily agree. The vast majority of people in Scotland realise that too. The result of the talks in Nice and their implications are that the United Kingdom will maintain a major role under qualified majority voting and the new figures for an enlarged Europe. We would be much reduced in a separate Scotland—we would be left much less powerful and much more isolated. That leaves the independence strategy of the SNP in shreds.

That does not surprise me, however, because almost every policy and strategy that the party has tried to devise during the past few years has been left in shreds. Hopefully, by Friday morning we shall see that for yet another one. I pay the SNP one tribute, however: it is on course to do something that the major Scottish teams never managed—to get 10 in a row—but in the case of the SNP that will be 10 by-elections in a row that it is liable to have lost.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Finance Committee of the Scottish Parliament has suspended an inquiry into regional aid, because it cannot obtain the information that it requires from the Treasury in Westminster? Will the Secretary of State communicate with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor so that the information can be provided, or does he stick to his position that Westminster Ministers should not appear before Committees of the Scottish Parliament?

Dr. Reid

Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman starts his question from the wrong premise. It is not my position that Westminster Ministers should never appear at Holyrood; my position—and, incidentally, the position agreed between the two Parliaments and in the concordats that we have all agreed—is that the first responsibility of any Minister is obviously to their own Parliament. Of course, we will provide sufficient information to satisfy the Scottish Parliament and its Committees.

On the eve of a very important by-election in Scotland, where we have the highest employment since 1960, the lowest unemployment since 1976 and the lowest inflation, where youth unemployment has been slashed by 79 per cent. and there is strong growth in the economy and rising living standards, it is extraordinary that the major question the SNP chooses to ask is on a matter of protocol in one of the Committees of the Scottish Parliament. That speaks volumes for the confidence of the SNP as well as its politics.

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