EU Committee of the Regions

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 1:41 pm on 5th March 1997.

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Photo of Mr Hartley Booth Mr Hartley Booth , Finchley 1:41 pm, 5th March 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his policy in respect of Scottish representation on the European Union Committee of the Regions. [17314]

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Scotland is well represented on the European Union Committee of the Regions.

Photo of Mr Hartley Booth Mr Hartley Booth , Finchley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Labour party's proposals for Scotland would reduce a proud and fine nation to a mere region in the European Union?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I agree with my hon. Friend. The shadow Foreign Secretary has made it clear that a Scottish Parliament would be represented by someone with observer status at the Council of Ministers, meaning that Scotland's fishermen and farmers would no longer be represented by a Secretary of State able to speak for the whole United Kingdom.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

The Secretary of State will be aware that many areas of Scotland benefit from European Union objective 2 funding, which is due to be revised in the next 12 months. Will he assure us that he will give what support he can to the alliance that has been formed to ensure continuing objective 2 funding for areas in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom that have been badly affected by the decline in the steel or coal industries, or that are liable to be affected by a decline in the defence industries and are eligible for Konver funding?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I am most grateful for the hon. Gentleman's confirmation that he thinks that I shall be here in 12 months to conduct the negotiations. I am happy to give him the assurance that he seeks. We had a good Highlands and Islands Convention meeting on Monday in Stornoway, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), at which we discussed how to tackle objective 1 status.

The hon. Gentleman's comments about objective 2 are also true. It is important to have a united and firm front in the negotiations, which are not about getting money from Europe but about getting our money back from Europe, because we are net contributors.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, under the present system, Scottish Office Ministers sometimes lead United Kingdom delegations to the Council of Ministers? Does that not underline the significance of the downgrading to observer status proposed by the Labour party?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I agree with my hon. Friend. At the most recent Agriculture Council, my noble Friend the Earl of Lindsay spoke and led for the United Kingdom. Given that the two common European policies that we have relate to fisheries and agriculture, which are both important to Scotland, it seems an act of sheer crass stupidity to abandon having a strong voice for Scotland in Europe on issues on which the prosperity of our rural areas and our fishing communities depend.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

Does the Secretary of State agree that the efforts of hon. Members of all parties to represent Scotland's interests in the Committee of the Regions are undermined by the shambles of the Government's European policy, not least their equivocation on a single European currency? How does he respond to the alarm bells rung by Locate in Scotland earlier this year, which suggested that there was growing anecdotal evidence, particularly from Japanese inward investors, of concern about the level of debate and the equivocation about Britain's future role in Europe? The Secretary of State is a leading arch Euro-sceptic. Are not his policies and the attitudes towards the European Union that he supports more damaging for the future of the Scottish economy than any of the issues of constitutional change about which he talks?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

It would be wrong for me to comment on leaked documents, but, as the hon. Gentleman is relying on a report from a Scottish newspaper, I had better set the record straight. The said document, which I have studied, makes no reference to economic and monetary union, but it does warn about the dangers of the social chapter to our competitiveness and our ability to attract inward investment. I have a feeling that the hon. Gentleman will not refer too much to that document in future, as he and the crowd opposite are committed to saddling Scotland with the millstone of involvement in the European social chapter, which would put it at a disadvantage when attracting inward investment.

The hon. Gentleman represents the party that would do most to fragment our country into regions in a Europe of the regions. It is committed to a European super-state, and the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will be sent packing at the election as a result of those irresponsible policies.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

My right hon. Friend will no doubt be aware of recent press reports that money is made available through the Committee of the Regions to be spent in Scotland on promoting the cause of the so-called euro. Will my right hon. Friend look into the matter and ensure that that does not happen?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

As a general principle, I believe that public money should be spent sensibly. I am not sure that it would be particularly wise to commit any money to that expenditure at present, as public expenditure could be spent more wisely in many other areas. I certainly wish to see resources used where they will be most effective and most directly relevant to the prosperity of the people of Scotland. This project does not seem to be consistent with that requirement.