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Textile Closure Areas (Aid)

Volume 78: debated on Wednesday 8 May 1985

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10.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how much European regional development fund non-quota aid for textile closure areas available for infrastructure investment has been spent so far; and how much he anticipates will be spent in 1985–86.

The proposals for £60 million worth of aid during the next five years were approved by the Commission in January. My Department is responsible for £21 million of that, and we are still examining the applications made by various qualifying authorities.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a shocking waste if that £21 million were lost to the textile closure areas? Will he undertake to monitor the position in conjunction with the local authorities involved to ensure that that money is spent sensibly and fully within the four-year period?

I fully support what my hon. Friend has said, and I am sure that it meets with agreement on both sides of the House. It would be helpful for some textile areas where the textile industry is rundown to apply for this aid, which is primarily used for the conversion of old textile mills into smaller units for enterprise workshops and so on.

Is the Minister aware that almost a year of the time allotted by the European Community for spending this money has past fruitlessly? Where local authority schemes are produced in textile closure areas, will he undertake that the use of the EC money will hot be frustrated by his rate capping or other limitations on local authority spending?

In reply to the hon. Gentleman's first point, the Commission approved the money only in January 1985, and we saw the applications in February, March and April. I assure him that we are processing them as quickly as we can.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that some excellent schemes have been put forward in the north-west, not least by my city of Lancaster? Does he appreciate that it is extremely important to get the money on the ground as early as possible? We want to beat unemployment now.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I cannot comment on individual schemes, as we are still assessing them in the Department. I accept the pressures from both sides of the House to get on with the matter and approve the schemes.

Is the Minister aware that the Silberston report has predicted that even if the multi-fibre arrangement is approved, a further 156,000 jobs could be lost in the textile areas during the next five years? Does he accept that, against that background, the expenditure of only £60 million to meet the social and economic consequences of closures is peanuts? What efforts is the Minister making to increase the resources available to those hard-pressed areas?

I cannot comment on the outcome of the MFA discussions and the possible continuation of the scheme, because that is the responsibility of another Department. However, I accept entirely what the hon. Gentleman said. There has been a rundown in the industry. This contribution will help. Other schemes in the urban programme help his constituency and others across the country, and, of course, the Department of Trade and Industry has some programmes.