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European Regional Development Fund

Volume 14: debated on Monday 30 November 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the value of the grants allocated to Wales from the European regional development fund since 1975.

Grant commitments from the fund total £111·5 million.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an impressive figure? What steps is he taking to ensure that the people of Wales know the extent of the assistance being provided by the EEC?

The figure is perhaps even more impressive, because the total of identifiable grants and loans to date is £805 million. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I take every opportunity to draw the attention of the Welsh people to the importance of the assistance, and also to the damage that would be caused if Britain withdrew from the Community.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the Hungarian company that is about to complete a factory in Eire, no doubt supported by EEC grants? It is designed to put 27 million light bulbs into the British market. Will that not cause enormous damage to the jobs provided by Thorn at Merthyr and other British light companies? Instead of praising the EEC, what action will the right hon. Gentleman take to defend the jobs threatened by such Hungarian-Irish fiddles?

The hon. Gentleman's remarks emphasise the importance of making every possible effort to encourage inward investment in Britain so that jobs are created for Welsh workers, not elsewhere in the Community. If we withdrew from the EEC we would still face competition from the factory in Ireland, but without the possibility of attracting similar investment for Britain.

Does the Secretary of State know whether Welsh business people are taking full advantage of EEC funds?

There is general awareness of the availability of such assistance. We recently took the opportunity to advertise and draw attention to the low interest schemes that have been introduced in both steel closure and rural areas. We shall continue to do everything in our power to make companies aware of the existing advantages.

Does my right hon. Friend know how many people in Wales are currently employed by transnational companies? What would be the probable reaction of such companies should Britain withdraw from the Community?

At least 55,000 people are employed in overseas companies or their offshoots. There is no doubt that a considerable number of such companies are established in Britain solely because they see this country as a base for entry into the European market.

How much of the £111 million is additional to what would have been spent anyway, and how much is mere replacement and, therefore, of no net benefit to Wales? As Northern Ireland has overcome the additionality hurdle, will the Minister ensure that Wales also has those funds additional to other expenditure?

The funds are additional to the resources available in the United Kingdom. Therefore, they enable us to reduce the total of public spending that would otherwise exist. It is right that Britain should retain control of where that assistance is directed and not surrender it to others outside this country.