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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52 (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with Bills),

Question agreed to.


Radio Mast (Caersws)

4.47 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): This petition comes from residents of Caersws, Llanwnog and the surrounding area. It

12 Jan 2005 : Column 372

To lie upon the Table.

Public Halls (Castle Point)

4.49 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): This is a most important petition. At a time when the Government are forcing a ridiculous 4,000 additional houses on our already overdeveloped borough, we need more, not less, investment in infrastructure and public facilities. Our public halls belong to the people of Castle Point, not to the council, and must continue to be made available to all user groups—from Eddie Stacey's caring Phoenix club for the disabled to the spectacularly successful Rock-Ola rock 'n' roll club; from Richmond Hall mothers and babies group to George Hogbin's club for the blind. There are many worthy and hard-working councillors who are doing all they can to ensure that our access to our halls is guaranteed to all groups who use them, at no increased cost. I thank and congratulate each and every petitioner.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.
12 Jan 2005 : Column 371

12 Jan 2005 : Column 373

EU Objective 1 Regions

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

4.51 pm

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): I am delighted to have a good amount of time in which to explore the future of EU objective 1 regions. This issue is of concern to many Members, particularly those representing constituencies on Merseyside and in South Yorkshire, in West Wales and the Valleys, and in the Isles of Scilly and in Cornwall, where my own constituency lies. Indeed, I hope that the Minister will take on board the concerns of people living in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, a region whose needs I particularly want to emphasise. Unlike other existing UK objective 1 regions, it would clearly be eligible for a further round of objective 1 funding under the next programme. I hope that the Minister recognises that fact and will reflect it in her response.

The purpose of this debate is to explore the UK Government's negotiations with other EU member states and the Commission concerning plans for the future of EU objective 1 regions in Europe as a whole, and in particular how those plans will impinge on the UK's existing objective 1 regions. The Minister is well aware of my concern, which is shared by all existing UK objective 1 regions and other regions that might be eligible for transitional relief under the next programme, after 2006. Under the Government's existing proposals, there is no certainty about the duration of the funding regime or the extent of funds available under future regimes.

It will help the House if we remind ourselves of the EU's proposals following publication of the third cohesion report last July. Full objective 1 status—to be called convergence status—is proposed for regions that fall below 75 per cent. of the average gross domestic product of the EU 25. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which has a GDP of 65.3 per cent., looks set to qualify as it is well below that level. Significantly, no other existing objective 1 region falls below that level. However, within convergence there will also be a lesser package for regions affected by the so-called "statistical effect". It will perhaps be worth about two thirds of the value of current programmes. As I understand it, West Wales and the Valleys, Merseyside, the Highlands and Islands, and Tees Valley and Durham would qualify for that, according to currently available figures. However, Merseyside and Tees Valley and Durham could, with just small increases in their GDP, fall outside the scheme.

As the Minister knows, there is also a smaller transitional package within objective 2, to be called competitiveness, for national growth regions. It is perhaps worth about half of the current programme value: South Yorkshire is currently eligible and Merseyside may become eligible in future. There is also the money via national Governments for all other parts of the UK in respect of national employment policy.

The Government, of course, want to engage themselves in the question of the EU budget as a whole. The EU proposals are based on a budget of 1.14 per cent. of the member state's gross national income, but the UK and five other large contributors want a budget
12 Jan 2005 : Column 374
of just 1 per cent. I know that the Minister and her colleagues are pressing for that. It would leave a hole in the EU budget of about €115 billion. As the Minister knows, if the EU budget is reduced, structural funds are likely to be in the firing line.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): A simple way to reduce the budget would be to have a substantial cut in agricultural support under the common agricultural policy.

Andrew George: I have a great deal of sympathy with that. I believe that many aspects of the common agricultural policy are unjustifiable and I certainly hope that Ministers, as well as considering the structural funds, are looking into renegotiating the overall CAP budget. As I understand it, negotiations are carrying on in their usual form, so I presume that the whole budget is in the air. The previous agreement on the future of the CAP was hard fought and hard won two years ago, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the CAP should be brought into the negotiations again now.

Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne) (Lab): Are the Liberal Democrat Front Benchers making a pledge to match the Commission's proposals in the next manifesto?

Andrew George: The hon. Lady knows perfectly well that the Liberal Democrat shadow Chancellor has made a commitment to honour the eligibility of existing EU objective 1 regions in any future programme. That commitment was made only a few weeks ago, as I am sure the hon. Lady is aware. I am grateful to her for allowing me the opportunity to make that clear.

The Government have made alternative proposals, which the hon. Lady supports. She is on record as agreeing with the proposition that the UK should take back the currently available money—

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