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Rechar

– in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 17th February 1992.

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Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade 3:34 pm, 17th February 1992

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the European regional development fund.

I am pleased to announce that, following discussions with Commissioner Millan, the European Commission has said that it will release the money—about £121 million —due to the United Kingdom under RECHAR programmes. The Government will continue to maintain proper control over public spending. We will make it clear that priority will be given to projects funded from the European regional development fund, and we are taking steps to secure better value for money by increasing competition for Britain's share of the fund.

To achieve this increased competition, the Government want to encourage application for ERDF money from a wider range of United Kingdom spending authorities, including grant-aided bodies. Organisations such as British Coal Enterprise, UDCs and regional enterprise agencies make a valuable contribution to regional development. We are therefore initiating new arrangements which will place them on an equal footing with local authorities.

The Government have representatives on the partnership programme committees which decide on the allocation of European regional development grants. Those representatives will press for greater attention to value for money. The composition of the programme committees will also be reviewed to take account of the wider range of applicants.

To contribute to the RECHAR programmes, the Government will shortly be announcing new business support measures of our own to assist small firms in coalfield areas.

The present system for public expenditure control will remain unchanged. European regional development fund receipts have always been taken into account in determining forward expenditure plans which are in consequence higher than they would otherwise be, but in future published expenditure plans will show forecast receipts separately for each expenditure programme. The Commission has said that this will meet its requirements for transparency and enable it to be satisfied that the European regional grants have a genuine economic impact in the areas concerned. It will demonstrate that public expenditure cover will be clearly available for forecast ERDF expenditures. We shall be discussing with the Commission ways in which the present arrangements for forecasting structural funds expenditures can be improved.

The new arrangements will be introduced at the first opportunity. They will be applied in the 1992 round of expenditure discussions and will thus be reflected in expenditure plans from 1993–94 onwards. RECHAR receipts will, of course, begin to flow in the near future. Transitional arrangements will be made to provide public expenditure cover to accommodate this.

The House will be pleased to know that the threat to future regional fund receipts has been removed, the block on RECHAR funds has been lifted, and that the coal mining areas will receive the money to which they are entitled. The implementation of the RECHAR programmes can now proceed immediately.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

Everyone will welcome the fact that the Government have now abandoned their plans——[Interruption.] Everyone will welcome the fact that the Government have now abanndoned their plans to divert European grants intended for Britain's coalfield communities to other areas, including keeping down the poll tax in Wandsworth and Westminster. The Government were caught with their hand in the till. The principled stand of the European Commissioner, Bruce Millan, has ensured that this RECHAR money will be invested, as was always intended, in creating new jobs, better training and a better environment in areas where Government policy has meant that mines have been closed.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that RECHAR money will go to the coalfield communities, including former coalfields such as west Cumbria, and nowhere else? Will he confirm that local authorities which receive RECHAR funds will not face reductions in their capital or revenue allocations by the Government? Will he confirm that this is what Commissioner Millan and the coalfield communities wanted all along? Would it not have been better to agree all this in the first place so that the RECHAR money would already be creating jobs, instead of which we have had a ludicrous 18-month delay followed by this humiliating climbdown?

Is it not true that the Government have accepted Commissioner Millan's requirement that, from 1993–94, RECHAR, and other regional grants, shall be separately identified in allocations to local authorities? Importantly, will the increased allocations to the RECHAR-receiving authorities be offset by reductions in British Government allocations to all local authorities, or will this be new money? Is it not true that the release of RECHAR money in 1992–93 is conditional on the Government's agreement not to allow local government spending rules to reduce the benefits to the mining areas?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the British Government, who are trumpeting the RECHAR decision as a triumph, played absolutely no part in setting up the RECHAR fund which will bring an extra £121 million to coalfield communities? Is it not true that the Government's position has been, in their own words, "positively neutral"?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that his belated acceptance of the European rules for regional funds to which Britain signed up in 1988 justifies the view of the Secretary of State for the Environment that what the Government were trying on was no longer viable, and that what has been announced today is plain contrary to the Prime Minister's assertion that Commission Millan was in the wrong?

As Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, will the right hon. Gentleman now turn his attention to reducing the need for RECHAR in future? Has he noted that British mines have been closed while coal imports rise to levels that severely damage the balance of trade; and that, unless some change is made, Britain will soon be importing more than 30 million tonnes of coal a year? Will he press his colleagues to abandon their stupid and short-sighted plans to reduce Britain's 52 collieries to just 14, throwing 40,000 miners out of work and leaving Britain dependent on coal imports? Would it not be better to keep British mines open?

Why does the right hon. Gentleman accept this rundown of the British Coal industry, which is twice as efficient as any coal industry in the European Community? Would he countenance the rundown of any other industry that was twice as efficient as its German counterpart—if there is such an industry left in Britain?

Finally, is the climbdown over RECHAR the first step towards ending the Tory party's mean-minded vendetta against British miners, their families and the coalfield communities? If it is, the about-turn on RECHAR will be doubly welcome.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) clearly does not understand the contents—[Interruption.]

Mr.Speaker:

Order.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

The hon. Gentleman began by saying that he welcomed the announcement and then made it clear how disappointed he was by the release of the RECHAR money. The fact is that there never were any plans to divert this money elsewhere: it was always going to the coalfield communities. The proof of that is that the delays in releasing the money have delayed programmes in the coalfields. The sooner the money is paid over, the sooner those programmes can go ahead.

I can confirm that there will be no reductions in other funds to local authorities; there never were any, and none was ever intended under the existing arrangements.

It would have been better if these arrangements had been agreed earlier and the Commission had released the money earlier. We have sought throughout to be as positive and co-operative as possible, and we have sought to make our arrangements as transparent as possible. I am delighted that this has at last been accepted by the Community.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the release of RECHAR moneys in future. I can assure him that there will be transitional arrangements to allow for the fact that moneys which ought to have been spent this year will be carried forward into future years, and that extra provision for expenditure in those future years will have to be made.

The hon. Gentleman said that we played no part in setting up RECHAR. I remind him that the structural funds were set up at the behest of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of the day in 1972–73.

The hon. Gentleman said that we ought to reduce the need for RECHAR in future. I can assure him that we are making the pits in this country into the most efficient coal mining industry in western Europe. That is the best guarantee for their future. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to confirm the admission of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) that at no point has any Opposition Front Bench spokesman pressed Commissioner Millan to speed up the release of these funds, which we wish had been released earlier.

Several Hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I hope that it will not be in vain for me to ask hon. Members to ask questions about RECHAR and not to make electioneering points.

Photo of Mr Andrew Stewart Mr Andrew Stewart , Sherwood

Many congratulations are in order to my right hon. Friend for showing the European Commission the error of its ways in releasing our money for our hard-pressed coalfield areas. Commissioner Millan is as popular in Sherwood as the sheriff of Nottingham. He has denied my constituents the opportunities for new job creation and leisure facilities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that at no time has the European Commission had any reason whatsoever for withholding our money?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I think that congratulations are due to my hon. Friend for the vigour with which he has consistently pursued the interests of his constituents and of this country in seeking the early release of this money. I am glad that his voice as well as mine has been heard in the Commission. It is not in the interest of this country that I should stir up problems with the Commission at this stage, but I note the point that my hon. Friend has made. I think that it will be recognised as valid by his constituents and by people throughout the coal mining communities of this country.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Will every penny of this RECHAR money be additional to what the Government had originally intended to spend in these areas, will local government spending and capital limits prevent any of the money from being spent in this or future years, and is any credit due to the Secretary of State for the Environment for changing this Secretary of State's mind?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

The answer to the first question is yes and to the second question no. The answer to the third question is that my right hon. Friend and I are always in accord on all matters.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Warren Mr Kenneth Warren , Hastings and Rye

Will my right hon. Friend accept that I warmly welcome the statement that there are no more problems now on either side of the channel regarding the RECHAR distribution? Can he tell me, however, to whom the money will be paid? Will it be paid to a Government Department, or direct to the recipient who is due to receive it? Can we be assured that there will be absolutely no delay in disbursing the money?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

It is funnelled through central Government, but I can assure my hon. Friend that there will be no delay. I believe that we shall also have co-operation from the Community for the speedy release of this money, and its transmission through, as soon as the particular projects are agreed.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone

When the money is paid to each local authority, will it be listed in the Official Report showing what authority it has been paid to, when it has been paid, and how much?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I will certainly consider that request, but it has not been the practice up to now.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this country puts about £300 million into this kitty, that it is therefore clear that the £121 milllion we are now receiving is indeed our own money, and that Labour Members would have done much better over the last 18 months if they had worked with hon. Members on this side of the House to get that money to this country instead of bolstering their own socialist appointees in Europe?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

In fact, this country pays into the structural funds something like £300 million more than we are entitled to draw out, even after allowing for the excellent Fontainebleau rebate which improved the situation very considerably, compared with that left by the last Labour Government. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall do all that we can to enhance the amount of money that we receive from the fund whenever we have reason and claim to do so, and that we shall also do all we can to ensure that it reaches the communities concerned as rapidly as possible.

Photo of Mr Terry Patchett Mr Terry Patchett , Barnsley East

Does the Minister agree with me that there is nothing like the prospect of a general election to make a Minister address his mind to his own faults?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I had thought that the imminent approach of a general election might make it seem wise to those who sit on the Opposition Front Bench to support the British Government in securing the early release of the money. The fact that they did not do so probably shows poor judgment electorally, but certainly it shows a lack of loyalty to the coal mining communities.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Selby

May I join in congratulating my right hon. Friend on the persistence and success with which he pursued these elusive funds from Brussels? I remind him that he secured them on exactly the same terms that Bruce Millan would have sought when the was Secretary of State for Scotland.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, on 22 January, Bruce Millan said that he would be prepared to consider additional funds, over and above the £120 million, specifically for Yorkshire in the light of the recent announcement of 1,100 redundancies, affecting particularly Kellingley and Whitemoor colleries in my constituency?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks. I assure him that I will press for additional funds wherever there is evidence of additional job losses after the original requests were made. That will, of course, include his constituency and the areas that he has just mentioned.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru

Is the Secretary of State aware that the coal mining communities of Wales that were being cheated of £19 million will welcome this belated decision? Will he give a firm assurance that, in relation to all future EC funds, the Government will adhere to the principle of additionality and, in particular, that there will be no clawback of money issued to rural authorities in Wales under the LEDA programme, which is now under question?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this will be particularly welcome in Wales, which has many areas suitable for RECHAR funds. Moneys will continue to be additional, and we have always insisted that they should be. This makes it absolutely transparent that they are and will continue to be additional, so there is no question of clawing back.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this decision will be very popular in Scotland, particularly in the coalfields that require recharging, which is what the money is for? Is he further aware that Scottish people have been totally amazed that the Labour party, which aspires to form the next British Government, should constantly attack the British Government for trying to get our money back to carry out projects in our constituencies?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

My hon. Friend is quite correct. There will be much scepticism about the position that the Labour party has taken—not only the parliamentary Labour party but a number of Labour-controlled local authorities. To be fair, some realised that they were cutting off their noses to spite their faces and were only too anxious to seek a settlement. They will be delighted that one has been achieved, and that will be particularly true in Scotland.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

Is the Secretary of State aware that, as one who was a Scottish Office Minister with Bruce Millan, I have always considered that Bruce Millan was the finest Secretary of State that Scotland has had in the post-war years? Is the Secretary of State further aware that, even in 1992, I still believe that Bruce Millan is the finest Secretary of State, because, by battering some sense into the thick heads of Ministers and by forcing the Government into this position, he has done more for Scotland than the three Tory Secretaries of State that we have had in the past 13 years and the conveyor belt of junior Ministers who have wrecked Scottish industry? Bruce Millan is in the process of rebuilding our industry.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I have considerable respect for Commissioner Millan, and I am sure that he has respect for the hon. Gentleman, who, as a Scottish Office Minister, was responsible for administering the very system to which Commissioner Millan has been objecting. He would have been responsive to a plea from the hon. Member for early release of the money, and I am sorry that it was not forthcoming.

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the much-needed £5 million Lancashire programme can now go ahead, and that it is no thanks to the Labour party that the Government have been able to get back what was our own money in the first place?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

Agreement will have to be reached on specific projects, but as soon as it is, the money will flow through and, I hope, go to the project in Lancashire that my hon. Friend mentioned.

Photo of Mr Martin Redmond Mr Martin Redmond , Don Valley

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the delay occurred because of the stupidity of the Government's policy? In view of the 18 months time-lag that has taken place, will he inform us what time scale will now be involved for schemes that will come about as a result of the Government's climbdown?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

We would have liked to achieve settlement a long while ago. I had a meeting with Mr. Millan in the company of my fellow Secretaries of State who are involved in the issue, and we sought to achieve agreement back in May. We thought that we were within a hair's breadth of getting it then; only the issue of transparency was identified by him. Consequently, things slipped back. Now that they are settled, we should welcome it.

The second part of the hon. Gentleman's question was, how soon would the money flow through? As soon as individual projects receive agreement, money will come from the Community and at this end, the Government will not impede the flow of that money to the relevant projects. I can assure him of that.

Photo of Mr Donald Thompson Mr Donald Thompson , Calder Valley

Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of his right hon. and hon. Friends and, in fact, of all fair-minded people? Now that my right hon. Friend has made this breakthrough, will similar or the same rules apply to all regional development grants—for whatever purpose—coming from Europe?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

That is quite correct. All European regional development fund moneys will be separately designated in the public expenditure accounts, but we shall, of course, in all cases retain overall control of public expenditure, so not only RECHAR but all ERDF moneys will be treated in this way. That is why the threat of withholding that money as well as RECHAR money has disappeared.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

Is not the Secretary of State aware that, while he has dodged and delayed, the Deep Navigation pit in my constituency and Penallta next door have been closed, leaving us with the huge problem of unemployment as well as that of clearing up the mess left behind? Will he give us a categorical assurance that, as RECHAR was meant to serve directly the needs of the mining communities, the money will be directly spent in the communities where jobs have been lost?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have neither dodged nor delayed. We have had every interest in getting the money back into this country. After all, throughout this period we have to continue to pay our contribution to the Community. We wanted the money to come back and I can assure him that, now it is to be released, it will flow individually to the projects in constituencies such as his where it should be and where it should have been all along.

Photo of Mr Michael Brown Mr Michael Brown , Brigg and Cleethorpes

Will my right hon. Friend stop beating about the bush'? Is it not the case that an unelected Commissioner in Europe with a loyalty to the European Commission has been trying to withold funds contributed to RECHAR by the taxpayers of this country? Is it not the case that my right hon. Friend has tried time and time again, month after month, to ensure that what should go to coal-mining areas gets there? Is it not a simple straightforward fact that the Commissioner has tried to prevent it and that my right hon. Friend has tried—ultimately successfully—to get the money back to the mining areas of this country?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

My hon. Friend will know that I am a compulsive moderate in these matters, so I would not put it in quite the same language as he does. He is right to recognise that the British taxpayer puts very large sums of money into the Community. Naturally, there is much stronger feeling when any delay is incurred in our share, which is only a minority of that money, coming back to this country, and delight when it finally comes through as it has now done. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North

When the Secretary of State next meets Commissioner Millan, will he convey to him the grateful thanks of coalfield authorities such as that in St. Helens for his splendid victory over the long-running, mean-spirited intransigence of the British Government? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government have been holding on to substantial ERDF sums for a considerable time? Will he consider repaying to authorities such as St. Helens the debt charges that they incurred in honouring schemes which they have had to fund because of the lack of funds from his Department?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

One gets the impression that the hon. Gentleman would almost have preferred the impasse to endure longer. We have managed to persuade the Commission to release the money. It will come through and will go to local authorities, which will deal with the problem that he mentions.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

Will my right hon. Friend reflect that, in spite of his great success today in ensuring that the Commission backs down from its absurd stance on the matter, and although the British Government included my constituency in the RECHAR programme, the Commission took my constituency out of the programme? Will my right hon. Friend address the matter again today, so that the money can come into my constituency in Nottinghamshire? Will he also reflect on the great pity that, throughout this long-standing saga, the Labour party never sought publicly to attack Commissioner Millan to ensure that he made the money available to this country?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I assure my hon. Friend that I shall give close consideration to his request to make representations on behalf of the coal mining areas in his constituency. Any arguments that I can deploy to that effect I will deploy, and I will try to get funds to flow to his constituency which may be additional to those about which we are talking today. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks.

Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell , Blyth Valley

May I welcome the statement by the Secretary of State today? Will he take a keen look at my constituency of Blyth Valley, in which, over the past five or six years, we have lost thousands of mining jobs?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I offer the hon. Gentleman the same assurance that I will look at the matter, and that I will see what programmes are designated for his constituency and whether there is a case of further funds to be sought.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Does the Minister accept that the vexed question of additionality has run for a long time? Does he also accept that, like his Government, the previous Labour Government had the problem firmly on their plate? Will he now tell us that, for all time, this hideous corpse has been buried and that, in future, we shall get our own money back for the schemes that it is appointed to finance?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I am afraid that we have not buried the concept of additionality, which, as the hon. Gentleman says, is a difficult one, because it involves determining what would have happened if what did happen had not happened. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we seem to have got agreement in the area. The threat to British money being paid back to us has receded, which is as much good news for Northern Ireland as it is, for all other parts of the kingdom.

Photo of Mr John Hume Mr John Hume , Foyle

May I put a straightforward question to the Secretary of State? Does he accept that the principle that underlies all regional funding in Europe is that it is additional to Government spending to harmonise living standards between the richer and poorer regions of Europe and that it should not be treated as a subsidy to existing Government expenditure? If it is, it undermines the purpose. Will he now tell the House that he at last accepts the principle of additionality?

Does the Secretary of State agree that a similar serious mistake was made when signing the Maastricht treaty and agreeing to set up a cohesion fund for transportation and the environment, in that no region of the United Kingdom will get a penny out of that fund? That is especially damaging to a region such as Northern Ireland. After the channel tunnel, it will have more serious transportation problems, because it will be the only part that has no land link with the rest of Europe.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we have always accepted the principle of additionality in respect of Community funds, and it often features in other programmes. As I should have mentioned to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), the STRIDE programme funds which affect Northern Ireland are also being released. I note the right hon. Gentleman's point that we should not have signed the Maastricht treaty.

Photo of Mr John Hume Mr John Hume , Foyle

I did not say that.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

As the 1988 regulations to which the Secretary of State referred called for the doubling of structural funds compared with the 1987 level by 1993, is it true that the Government believe that that will lead to no increase in the British allocation of funds? Do the Government agree with the Commission's proposal that the allocation of Community structural funds should be completely separated from other central Government allocations in the United Kingdom public expenditure system? As that is one of the most important points of principle for us for 15 years, will the Minister give us an answer—yes or no?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I can confirm my hon. Friend's point that, although structural funds are to be double what they were in 1988, we do not expect that to lead to any increase in real terms in disbursements to the United Kingdom. That is one reason why the dispute about additionality arose. The regulations said that additional funds flowing from the doubling should be reflected in additional expenditure in the United Kingdom, over and above the normal additionality inherent in the way in which we accounted for that all along. As we were not to receive any additional funds, we found it rather difficult to display that those non-additional funds were additionally being spent. That difficulty, which I described as metaphysical, has now been resolved, and we are back in the world of the substantial.

On the second point, we are simply separately designating as a separate line in respect of ERDF funds for each programme in the public expenditure counts. That is not very different from what we have done in respect of the European social fund moneys, so it is not so much of a precedent as my hon. Friend fears.

Photo of Mr Derek Enright Mr Derek Enright , Hemsworth

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on his grovelling apology to Commissioner Millan, who has acted correctly throughout? I also thank the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs, who, by his presence today, admits that he was wrong in his legal interpretations on RECHAR. Two questions that I would wish to ask—[HON. MEMBERS: "One."] One question that I would wish to ask is this: now that the Secretary of State has lost my constituency a considerable number of jobs through this delay, will he make it clear to us what discussions took place with Commissioner Millan on the Court of Auditors report, published last December, which rebuked Commissioner Millan for his laxity in not having placed sufficient requirements on member Governments? Are there now sufficient requirements under the Court of Auditors report published on 13 December in connection with structural funds?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

If the hon. Gentleman has been hearing grovelling apologies, he has been hearing voices and should seek attention in the appropriate quarter. He should let us know whether he made any representations in an attempt to have the money released earlier. If not—

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

In that case, the hon. Gentleman deserves the respect of Conservative Members. He is almost alone among Opposition Members in having done that. Certainly no Front-Bench Member did it, and I congratulate him. As far as the Court of Auditors report is concerned, it always seek financial, but not, I think, doctrinal, rigour.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, having served on the Regional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, I know only too well how mean the Labour Government —including Mr. Millan—were? Does he further accept that, when the European development fund was discussed in the European Parliament last week, a mere 13 Labour Members were present? The rest thought that nobody could see them and did not bother to turn up.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

My hon. Friend's knowledge of these matters is second to none. She has told the House an important fact, which reveals that the Opposition shed crocodile tears not only in this House but in Strasbourg. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for revealing how little concern Labour Members really have about Britain getting a fair return from European funds.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

The Secretary of State has referred specifically to increasing competition and expanding the number of organisations that may apply for ERDF funds. Will he tell us when he will be publishing the new arrangements, how the information will be disseminated, what qualifications, if any, will be placed on the type of organisation that may apply and how he will ensure that there is a co-ordinated strategic approach by any area in receipt of such funds, given that, in Scotland, at least, our regional authorities have a major responsibility for strategic planning, which we would not wish to be undermined?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

The hon. Lady makes an important point, and homes in on something to which we may not have devoted enough attention today. One of the key features of the arrangements that have been brought in at our initiative is to increase the number of organisations that can compete for the given amount of money from Europe so that we can choose the best projects from a wider range and obtain the best value for money. We shall be announcing guidance on how to do that as soon as possible.

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is rather sad to hear sounds of regret from the Opposition that such a good and sensible agreement has been reached? Is it not a good thing and would it not be better for the Opposition to recognise that at long last a Secretary of State has come here with good news about a good story about a good settlement?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

My hon. Friend highlights a tendency on the Opposition Benches to believe that what is good for Britain is bad for Labour. The Opposition respond in a way which shows that that is their basic feeling here as in economic matters.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara , Knowsley South

I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State's statement of the high regard in which he holds Commissioner Millan. Will he here and now repudiate the disgraceful aspersions cast on the integrity of Commissioner Millan over the withholding of RECHAR funds, and will he give a commitment that he will call on his right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to immediately withdraw the scurrilous accusation that Commissioner Millan has been acting out of party political considerations?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

My right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is noted for his fastidious language. It is inconceivable that he would have said anything implying that. If any aspersions are due, they should be cast on those Labour Members and Labour local authorities which put pressure on Mr. Millan to prolong the withholding of that money.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

What impact will additional RECHAR money have on district councils in coalfield communities in respect of their capital allowances and standing spending assessments? Will North-East Derbyshire be able to move up from being 335th of 336 district authorities in terms of standard spending assessments per poll tax payments?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

The money will be transmitted effectively to local authorities through borrowing approvals rather than through standard spending assessments to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I cannot tell him how that will affect individual local authorities, but I will happily try to get my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to transmit that information to the hon. Gentleman when it is available.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

I am grateful for the statement from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. However, he could have made that statement earlier. It clarifies the situation: there are now two wallies in the Cabinet. After the fight that we have put up, how much of the RECHAR money will go to Nottinghamshire, bearing in mind that the Nottinghamshire Tories supported the Government in blocking the money going to the areas where it was needed?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have the same high regard for him as he has for me. He may have failed to realise that his Conservative colleagues from Nottinghamshire were among the most vigorous in seeking the early release of that money. I believe that quite significant sums will go to Nottinghamshire and will benefit the coalfield communities in those areas, which will probably return more Conservative Members at the next election.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal , Staffordshire Mid

In welcoming today's announcement, which is long overdue for the people of mid-Staffordshire and elsewhere in Staffordshire who desperately need the money to regenerate the local economy, I must ask the Secretary of State to confirm that, as a result of the announcement, there will be no reduction in the general level of Government expenditure in 1992–93 and 1993–94.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady's remarks. Far from there being a reduction in Government expenditure, because of the transitional arrangements necessary to accommodate the expenditure delayed from this year and deferred and passed over into next year, there will be slightly higher spending than would otherwise have been the case, because we will accommodate that expenditure which has unfortunately been delayed by the withholding of the money until now.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

Would the Secretary of State confirm that the money which will come to St. Helens, as the last two coal mines have closed in the past five years, will come as quickly as possible, as we have many thousands of people who need to be put in work and who formerly worked for the coal mining industry?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I shall certainly do all that I can to bring that about.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Is not the Secretary of State telling the House rather a lot of porkies today?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I think that we will not have that word. It escaped my notice last week. I had to look it up in the dictionary, but now that I know what it means, the hon. Member should please withdraw it.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

In so far as you and the I-louse know what I mean, Mr. Speaker, perhaps I could proceed.

Is not the truth to be found in the leaked Heseltine letter? It says: We cannot afford such an own goal in areas which are politically important to us. West Cumbria was important to the Government. That is why they have caved in.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I do not comment on leaked drafts, but I will comment on Cumbria. I can understand the insecurity that the hon. Gentleman feels. This measure will be welcomed in the coal mining areas in that part of the world. They will note that little pressure has been exerted by Labour Members to achieve it. It has been achieved by a Conservative Government, and they will be pleased with it.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Since this money is coal-related and, in a sense, pollution-related, will the Government consider with local authorities what could be done in the situation that now arises in Scotland where there is serious evidence from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that a massive ozone hole—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. This is a hit wide of the statement.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

No, it is precisely on this matter.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

It is precisely on the point. It is pollution-related. The Scots are now faced, so we are told on page 1 of our national newspaper. The Scotsman, with —[Laughter.] It is not funny to have 300,000 skin cancer-related cases. That is the possibility. The evidence from NASA is no laughing matter whatsoever. I am asking a serious question. Will Government Departments consider this alarming—[Interruption.] If cancer is a laughing matter—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The whole House knows that the hon. Member has a great interest in this serious matter. It would probably be better raised in the Adjournment debate which I have offered the hon. Member, because he would then get a fuller reply.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

I would ask simply for an acknowledgement of the concern of the Department of Trade and Industry in this ozone-hole-related matter.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the distribution of these funds will involve the Scottish Office and mining communities in Scotland? If that is the case, will he impress upon Scottish Office Ministers the need for parity of treatment in the distribution of RECHAR funds and RENAVAL programme funds? Many people in my constituency are deeply unhappy and disappointed with the performance of the Scottish Office in respect of the RENAVAL programme. I hope that mining communities in Scotland are treated better and more humanely than my constituency in respect of the RENAVAL programme.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this settlement applies equally to funds flowing through the Scottish Office to Scottish constituencies and local authorities. If he is asking for parity of treatment in the flow of funds from the Community, of course that will exist. On the flow of funds from the taxpayer, there is more generous treatment in Scotland than in other parts of the United Kingdom. If the hon. Gentleman wishes it to be reduced, perhaps he will spell that out a little more clearly.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain , Neath

Surely the Secretary of State should be apologising to the people of south Wales for the scandalous way in which he has blocked all that money —perhaps as much as £30 million—while thousands of jobs have been lost in my constituency and in other mining communities in south Wales. How much money will now come to us, and what will the total be?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

The message seems to have been lost in the post as far as the hon. Gentleman is concerned. We have not been blocking this measure; it has been blocked by the Community. That block has now ended, and everybody is satisfied by that. Significant and substantial funds will flow to south Wales coal mining areas via my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

That will depend on the amounts specifically agreed on specific projects by the Community, but we will be acting to try to get agreement at the earliest possible stage and for the money to flow through accordingly.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton

The success of the RECHAR initiative was brought about because local authorities argued with the Commission that some special treatment should be given to the areas in question. The fact that the Minister of State, Department of the Environment was present until a few moments ago demonstrates the need for local authorities and the Coalfield Communities Campaign people to be involved in immediate talks.

Will the Secretary of State assure me that the Coalfield Communities Campaign people will be included in talks about the distribution of RECHAR and the fact that there are further resources to be obtained? It is because of Labour-controlled authorities that we have got this far. Can we have further support for the initiative, with the co-operation of local authorities, in distributing the funds and requests for further funds to help rundown coalfield community areas?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that local authorities will continue to play their part on the committees that oversee the programmes.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

The Secretary of State talks about victory, but is it not true that today we have seen a victory of all the scale and dimension of Dunkirk? Does the Secretary of State remember Churchill's words, that victories are not composed of evacuations and withdrawals? Rather than talking about having moved the Commission, will he apologise to people in my community in Harthill and Shotts, and people throughout Lanarkshire, who have been devastated by coal closures and hit by steel closures for 18 months but have been refused urban aid? Will he apologise for the fact that, for 18 months, the money has been prevented from being distributed to them and he is going to them now only by virtue of the fact that he has withdrawn and the Commission has won? Will he join me and the people of Harthill, Shotts and Lanarkshire in sending our congratulations and those of the whole House to Commissioner Bruce Millan on the fight that he has fought?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

The hon. and learned Member—

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

Well, philosophical—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I withdraw that slur an the hon. Gentleman's character. The hon. and philosophical Member has misheard if he thinks that I have talked about victory. I have assiduously refrained from such talk, so obviously people have drawn their own conclusions. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the sooner that the money can flow through to areas which have been deprived of it the better we will all be pleased. That is what we all want.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I am neither learned nor gallant, as you know, Mr. Speaker.

Is it not true that Cumnock and Doon Valley, which will receive a substantial amount from the RECHAR fund for the west of Scotland, and which now has an unemployment level above 20 per cent., has had its money delayed entirely as a result of the intransigence of the British Government in coming into line with other Governments in Europe, who were happy to accept the rules?

It still worries me that the Secretary of State said earlier that "some guidance" about applications would be issued later. In Cumnock and Doon Valley, the local authority, the enterprise trust and other groups have already put a detailed, comprehensive scheme to the Scottish Office. Can I have an assurance from the Secretary of State that there will be no delay whatever in considering the scheme, so that people do not have to wait any longer than they have already waited?

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. Any guidance will be issued only to those who need it because they have not already learned how to make such applications. We want to encourage the widest range of organisations to put forward projects so that we get the best choice of schemes to which we can allocate the money.

Several Hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I thought that the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) had a point of order. [Interruption.] We have not yet reached that stage. I believe that Ms. Quin wishes to ask a question on the statement.

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin , Gateshead East

The Secretary of State used the statement to announce changes to the way that European funds that are not connected with the additionality dispute with the European Commission would be administered in future. He mentioned the increased competition for funds that he was hoping to establish. Can he assure us that those areas that do not win competitions will not be abandoned, and that the criteria by which areas are judged to be eligible for European funds will be based on need, not simply skill in filling in applications or succeeding in certain competitions?

Can the Secretary of State assure us that the measures set out in his announcement will not weaken the role of local authorities in European funding? He said that he wishes to widen the composition of the programme committees to urban development corporations and others. Can he assure us that this will not simply be a way to put his own nominees on committees rather than having elected local representatives who know the needs of their own communities?

As the Secretary of State has given way to the European Commission on the main substance of the additionality dispute, will he take the opportunity, as my hon. Friends have asked him to do, to make a public apology to Commissioner Millan for the way that his integrity has been impugned over the past year? Several of my right hon. and hon. Friends referred to the timing of this decision and of the Government's climbdown. Surely the electorate would be wiser to trust the Labour party, which has campaigned for the release of these funds all along under the terms that Commissioner Millan wanted and which were of direct benefit to the areas concerned, and to realise that the Government have proved themselves untrustworthy in this matter.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Secretary of State for Trade

I can assure the hon. Lady that there is no change in the eligibility rules for areas, projects and programmes, which are essentially Communitywide. We are trying to encourage more organisations to apply within those rules for funds. I can assure her that there is no question of removing from the committees that organise these funds existing local authority members and other members.

As to an apology, I think it best just to express the delight of the House that the money has been released, and the hope that it will move speedily to the areas where it is required to help those who are afflicted by coal-mining rundown.

The hon. Lady concluded by referring to the Labour party having campaigned for this money. That is what it has conspicuously failed to do. It sought to make a party political point out of this. It refused ever to make representations to the Commission on behalf of the coal-mining areas and it has shown a two-faced response to the good news that the money is being released. That good news is the message of the day, and that: is the response that we shall see on the ground in the areas that we all care for.