HL Deb 23 November 1972 vol 336 cc1039-41

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of what transpired in the debate on the E.E.C. Budget for 1973 at the European Parliament at Strasbourg, they would wish to modify the statement made by the Minister Without Portfolio on November 15, 1972 on the European Regional Fund (Hansard, col. 592).


My Lords, I apologise to the House for the length of this Answer. The answer is not "to modify" but, I hope, clarify. There have been two quite separate proposals to which the term Regional Development Fund has been applied. The Council of the Six, in their resolution of March 21, 1972, on economic and monetary union, agreed in principle that a Regional Development Fund should be set up and asked the Commission to make proposals. One of the proposals made was for a modest fund to give interest rebates on loans for regional development purposes and this became known in the Six as the Regional Development Fund. The Council of the Six failed to reach agreement on the proposals by the October 1 deadline which they had set themselves and postponed the deadline to December 15, 1972. This postponement was criticised at the European Parliament of the Six. Then came the Summit at which the Nine agreed that a Regional Development Fund should be set up by the end of next year. This is quite a separate proposal for a fund the form and priorities of which are to be worked out next year. It is not the interest rebate fund. Thus the Summit communiqué was not related to the previous proposal of the Commission.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for his clarification, which was very timely after his first reply. May I ask him why he does not now modify the statement that there has not been a postponement? The Finance Ministers of the Six failed to agree on the establishment of the Regional Development Fund proper in September, and thereupon this matter was again taken up and the establishment of the fund was postponed from December 31, 1972, to December 31, 1973.


My Lords, the noble Lord asked me on November 14, … whether the cornmunique of the meeting of the Heads of State or of Government of countries of the enlarged Community means that the date of the implementation of resolutions that we are talking about has been postponed. What I am trying to point out is that it does not mean that. The resolution in question will be considered, anyway, on December 15.


My Lords, the Minister has said that there are two separate decisions in connection with the Regional Development Fund. Is he suggesting that the first one is a comparative tiddler and that the one that emerges from the Nine will be a slightly bigger fish?


My Lords, the first was devised by the Six for the Six; the next one will be devised by the Nine for the Nine. I admit that I said that the first proposal was modest. The amount of the fund suggested by the Commission was £20 million. There is no doubt at all that the second one will be very much larger than that.


My Lords, is it not quite clear that if the Finance Ministers could not agree on the small fund, they are much less likely to agree on the large fund which they have to prepare? Therefore, my question was very pertinent indeed.


No, my Lords. It is not a question of agreeing on a small fund or on a large fund; it is a question of agreeing on the purposes for which that fund should be set up. I would hope that once the Community has been enlarged we may be able to act as a catalyst in some of the differences which have existed within the Six.