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Mr. Hancock: How do the Government propose to support the President of Montenegro and his democratically elected Government, who will be subjected to enormous pressure from Milosevic and his regime now that he does not have Kosovo to boss around? Will NATO and the Ministry of Defence give support to the President and his regime?

Mr. Spellar: As I have told the hon. Gentleman, we are concerned about stability in south-east Europe and in the Balkans. As we pointed out to those who were critical of our operations in Kosovo, Milosevic's recent actions were simply the last in a long line of atrocities perpetrated by him and his regime. The countries of Europe--particularly the countries of the region--are anxious to put a stop to that instability and those atrocities. That view is shared by the international community. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the Serbian forces retreated into Serbia--and that was indicated clearly in the documentation.

Secondly, our forces' successes have displayed their capabilities and proved that their effectiveness is second to none. Hon. Members will not be surprised if I join all of those who have this evening paid tribute to our forces. We are not unusual in doing so. One has only to talk to a hurricane victim in central America, a Kosovar refugee or a service man from another country to understand why our armed services are held in such high regard across the world.

Thirdly, while we have rightly heard about the difficulties associated with our forces' levels of activity, we should not forget the up side--to which the hon. Member for Blaby drew attention. As he knows, our service personnel are never more satisfied than when they

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are actively engaged on operations: when they know that they are doing the job they are trained for and making a real difference to the world.

Mr. Robathan: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I am listening carefully to his speech. British personnel also want to return to their families and have time off at some stage.

Mr. Spellar: We certainly understand that. That is why the Secretary of State has introduced several policies that will make the services more family friendly and help our armed forces personnel to move more easily into the outside world when they finish their service. The adult learning services have provided a great advantage. I visited RAF Cosford two or three weeks ago and I talked to several service men who are taking part in training using their training credits. They greatly appreciate that opportunity, which not only adds to their value to us but gives them portable skills to use in the outside world.

As hon. Members know, the new format of the defence debates, which differs from the previous single-service debates, was devised as a result of a bipartisan discussion about how we could more effectively debate defence roles in the Chamber. I think that it is working, and it will no doubt evolve.

The format raises a deeper issue, to which I alluded when I referred to the speech by the hon. Member for New Forest, East. In the previous Parliament, my colleagues and I argued repeatedly that we needed a more mature and consensual approach on defence matters. For reasons that I shall not go into tonight, the Conservatives did not take that up. We repeated that request from the Government Benches and attempted to accommodate other opinions in the strategic defence review process. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House who take an interest in defence have responded, and we shall continue our endeavours to change the way in which we deal with defence issues. That will be good for Parliament, it will be good for the country and, most importantly, it is the right thing to do for the men and women keeping watch tonight in the hills of the Balkans.

Question put and negatived.

COMMITTEES

Ordered,

Public Accounts


Ordered,

Public Administration


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Scottish Borders (EU Structural Funds)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mrs. McGuire.]

6.51 pm

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): I am pleased to be able to follow the wide-ranging debate that the House has just had on the important issues on defence in the world. I make no apologies for trying to refocus the attention of the House on the important issues facing the Scottish borders in relation to the distribution of the next programme of European Union structural funds. It would be difficult to exaggerate how important that is to south-east Scotland.

Before I embark on the main body of my remarks, I state my hope that, if my hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will allow him to contribute briefly to the debate.

This is an appropriate day for a debate on European funding because we are having a European election, and the importance of the European Parliament in distributing structural funds in future is an essential part of the political argument that has been raging--or not, as the case may be--in the campaign.

Will the Minister say a few words about the consultation process that has been undertaken in recent weeks? Will that process continue? I fully understand that he may not be able to say as much as he would like because the consultation process has to be concluded, and we look forward to that. I heard a rumour, however, that there were early indications of proposed lists that might be published in the next few weeks. Will the Minister comment on that, if he can? I do not seek state secrets, although if he would like to reveal any state secrets, I should be quite happy to hear them. If he has any advance information about that consultation process, it would be good if he could put the Government's position on record.

If the Minister has an opportunity to have constructive meetings with colleagues, then no doubt colleagues not only from south-east Scotland but throughout the world will be beating a path to his door. Such meetings would be useful, and my hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale and I would like to underline the earlier request for a meeting that we made in a letter.

As I said, it is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this issue to the future economic well-being of the Scottish borders region. The next programme of European funding will run from 2000 to 2006. Before I turn, briefly, to that programme, I shall, even more briefly, refer to the situation in the remainder of the current funding year.

The Scottish borders is coming to the end of a very constructive and important period of objective 5b funding. I would argue that the money that we have received since 1994--a crucial £24 million or £25 million--has been put to very good effect. The benefits are there for all to see. I hope that, in the remaining months of the current period, we will be able to make the best use of what money there is, and, in the dying days of the existing programme, construct a bridge between it and the new programme, which will take us into objective 2 territory once the reforms are implemented on 1 January next year.

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The Secretary of State and, indeed, the Under-Secretary, have said that they will use their good offices to divert at the last minute any unallocated funds from other parts of the country. A carefully worked out and detailed programme in the borders would put any unallocated funds that the Under-Secretary might be able to find to very good use. Ministers promised to do their best. I understand that the task is not easy, but anything that the Under-Secretary might be able to say about the process would be extremely valuable to local people, who would then know whether the projects on which they have worked will be confirmed and can proceed. That would be a very valuable bridge from the current programme, as it winds down, to the new one.

We all know that, under the new set-up, objective 2 funds are designed to try to deal with a process of conversion in areas of the European Community that are suffering difficulties. They are supposed to address difficulties in areas facing economic change in manufacturing or service industries, or changing social backgrounds. Declining rural areas are particularly mentioned as targets for objective 2 work over the next six years, and--appositely for the coastal communities in Berwickshire that I represent--depressed fishing areas are specifically referred to as deserving help. Such factors are important and all applicable in diverse ways to south-east Scotland, which puts us in a good position to qualify for objective 2 help.

In passing, I again congratulate the Government on the cushion of the safety net, as a result of which the amount of money available under the current objective 5b status may be reduced only by a maximum of one third. That is a valuable cushion, of which I hope we shall make very good use.

As the Under-Secretary will know, any area of the United Kingdom cannot automatically or easily meet the core criteria. To that extent, the deal was bad for the UK. There is no automatic eligibility for areas such as south-east Scotland, although I would argue that the Scottish borders area has a very good case in many respects. However--I underline this--we need central Government support. Co-operation at ministerial and official level between the Scottish Office and our professionals in the local enterprise company and the local authority has been excellent, and we are grateful for that, but we need some political support from the Government--and we need it now.

I have two or three further points to make--none of them will be new to the Government or the Under-Secretary because they are well aware of the case that has been submitted. I endorse the excellent written submission made by the local enterprise company and the local authority. I shall highlight one or two points of the submission in reinforcing the case.

I should like the Government to look particularly at the new work being done by the Centre for Educational Sociology at Edinburgh university, because it has identified something that I did not realise. The reason why local unemployment is artificially low is that such a high proportion of young people leave the area just after leaving school. Given that many would not find jobs if they stayed in the area, unemployment would be higher than the Scottish average if such people were added to the count. That important factor is argued at some length in the official submission.

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Secondly, I draw attention to the part of the submission about difficulties facing agriculture, given that 33.3 per cent. of businesses in south-east Scotland in 1996 were based on the primary sector. That is a crucial factor for us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale and I spent Monday afternoon with people from our local National Farmers Union, and they reinforced the fact that was clearly shown in the local authority survey conducted earlier this year--that the agricultural sector in south-east Scotland is having a very difficult time.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mrs. McGuire.]


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