HL Deb 03 March 1999 vol 597 cc1663-4

3.14 p.m.

Lord Islwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made towards securing Objective 1 status for areas of Wales suffering from high levels of unemployment, poverty and lack of investment.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, the European Union has confirmed that the gross domestic product of the West Wales and the Valleys NUTS II area for the period 1994–96 is around 71 per cent. of the European Union average. If the Commission's current proposals for NUTS II eligibility are approved by member states, this area will qualify for Objective 1 status. The subsequent approval of an Objective 1 programme for the area will be subject to the satisfactory conclusion of further negotiations with the Commission.

Lord Islwyn

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that most helpful reply. Can he confirm that Objective 1 status is only given to areas suffering considerable deprivation and that West Wales and the Valleys fall into that category? Can he give the up-to-date position regarding matching Treasury funding, bearing in mind that without that funding there will be no Objective 1 status? That would be a tragedy.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Islwyn is quite right in his description of the Objective 1 categorisation. Matching funds will be required at present. The question of funds on a matching basis after the year 2000 remains for negotiation. I can tell your Lordships that the timetable looks promising. The European Council should come to a conclusion this month, and the European Parliament should do so by the end of June.

Baroness Ludford

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the claims made by London to EU structural funds are not disadvantaged by the recent statistical exercise? That exercise gave a distorted picture of inner London as the wealthiest area in Europe by attributing the entire wealth of the City of London to the citizens of some of the poorest boroughs in the country such as Hackney, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, and so on. The income of a City trader living in Surrey, at £1 million, was attributed to council tenants living in one of those deprived boroughs. Can the Minister ensure that that exercise, which pictured inner London as the wealthiest area in London, despite the deprivation, does not prejudice London's claims to EU structural funds?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, such question as I could disentangle does not seem entirely focused on Objective 1 status for West Wales and the Valleys. I see that the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, is about to ask a most helpful question. He will be able to confirm that some people who live in inner London are extremely well off!

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, pace! Will the Minister go further and give the House an assurance that the Government's financial contribution to Objective 1 status will be met in full by the Treasury and not deducted from the Welsh block grant?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I cannot give that assurance. I am sure that the noble Viscount did not expect me to fall into that particularly well-laid trap. We are adamantly determined to secure the very best possible advantage for a deprived area, as the noble Lord, Lord Islwyn, described it. The area suffered very intensive, historic consequences of the rundown of heavy industry. It is in need of, and a worthy candidate for, such funds as are available from our friends and donors in Europe.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords—

Lord Brookman

My Lords

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, if we do not all confine ourselves to asking short questions and watching the clock, no one will get in. I suggest it is the turn of my noble friend.

Lord Brookman

My Lords, maybe that is because I am Welsh. I was assured by the Minister's reply. However, can he confirm that massive job losses resulting from mining and steel industry closures in Wales have had a dramatic effect upon unemployment and, therefore, the old subject of Objective 1 status is extremely vital as of now?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, yes. That is one of the bases for the conclusion, an unhappy one, that the GDP of the West Wales and Valleys NUTS area is only 71 per cent. That is part of the necessary qualification for Objective 1 status. The recent history of Wales, with job losses, contributed to that. I do not know why everyone gets so excited about Questions on Wales.