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European Funding

Volume 301: debated on Wednesday 26 November 1997

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If she will make a statement on the amount of European funding that has been secured for Northern Ireland over the last five years. [16235]

European structural funds support secured during the past five years comes to 1,632 million ecu, which is about £1,200 million. All the programmes negotiated with the European Commission have been funded for the period 1994 to 1999, with the exception of the special support programme for peace and reconciliation, which, so far, has had funding approved for 1995 to 1997. That reflects Northern Ireland's objective 1 status. The structural funds allocation has made a significant contribution to addressing the region's needs and circumstances.

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the work of the district partnerships set up to distribute European peace and reconciliation money? Does my hon. Friend agree that that important work has been further enhanced by the bold decision of the House's Standing Committee A in the early hours of the morning to end, once and for all, the appalling practice of internment without trial?

I welcome my hon. Friend's remarks, in all directions. Recently, I visited two partnerships, in Ards and in Newry. I have been impressed by the work done by those bodies. All parties and those outside political parties such as trade unions, business and commerce, engage with each other in the interests of everybody in the community. They are very encouraging in terms of what they want to do to improve the situation in Northern Ireland with funding and in helping the peace process. It is a complete innovation in the way that funds are distributed and I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue.

The European Union's financial support is very much welcomed by the people in Northern Ireland and we thank the Government for the effort that they are making to attract more European Union funding to the Province. However, I want to get the figures into context and avoid any misunderstanding. The Minister referred to £260 million a year that comes from the European Union. What is the comparable figure coming from Her Majesty's Government to Northern Ireland?

The right hon. Gentleman has experience of European matters as a former Member of the European Parliament. Structural funds and other money that we receive from the European Union are important for peace and reconciliation. He is absolutely right to draw the attention of the House to the £8 billion that comes from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who know how important it is for Northern Ireland to be properly funded. The right hon. Gentleman's point is important, because health, education, transport and security are funded by the British taxpayer.

I thank my hon. Friend for his response. I share his admiration for the grants that are channelled into Northern Ireland: I fully support that. However, will he have regard to the fact that some of those grants could have a devastating effect on other parts of the United Kingdom? The recent announcement of a grant to develop glass manufacture in Northern Ireland could affect the industries in my area, particularly in Knottingley where my constituents work.

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I assure him that full account was taken of the points that he made about the glass industry in his area. I also thank him for referring to the fact that Northern Ireland is a special case. Peace and reconciliation money does not have an impact on the way in which funds are allocated in the rest of the United Kingdom.