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European Community (Regional Development Fund)

Volume 975: debated on Monday 10 December 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry what is the total value of grants made towards projects in England by the European regional development fund since 1975.

The sum of £146 million. This includes £58·5 million in respect of industrial projects and £87·5 million in respect of infrastructure projects.

Does my hon. Friend agree that these are beneficial to the United Kingdom and provide further evidence of the advantages that accrue to us through our membership of the Common Market? What steps are the Government taking at the Council of Ministers to develop the European regional development fund, as this would be greatly to the advantage of the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the benefits to the United Kingdom arising from this fund. The regional fund is one of the few parts of the Community budget to give us a modest net benefit and is one that is guaranteed because of fixed national quotas. As to further opportunities that may come in the future, in view of the current state of flux I hope my hon. Friend agrees that that is another question.

Is not it true that if the regional fund is made larger we shall simply have a larger proportion to pay? Will the hon. Gentleman look at the whole machinery, which at the moment is simply being used for some parts of the infrastructure and not for industry at all?

It is perfectly true that, within the totality of the Common Market budget, there seems to be a lack of balance at present. We shall continue to pursue the United Kingdom interest in that connection.

Will my hon. Friend consider moving away from the discredited doctrine of additionality in the distribution of these funds, particularly now that the areas in which they might be helpful are being reduced by Government policy?

Is not it a fact that the Minister can no longer take refuge in euphemisms about lack of balance? Are not we paying £1,000 million more than anybody else, although we are far behind in our gross national product? Is it not time that the Prime Minister fought it out and told the Europeans bluntly that if we do not get the money back we shall come out of the Common Market?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not in the House when the Prime Minister reported that she had been doing just that.