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Lembit Öpik: I would. My point is not primarily partisan, although others may have sought to make this a partisan debate. Where others speak the language of war, I sow the seeds of peace and hope that we harvest collectively the benefits of European funding. In that context, I recognise that this Government have done far more than a Conservative Government would have done in achieving the benefits of European funding.
What we are discussing is the way in which funding mechanisms would be best structured. It is a simple debate for me. I and the Liberal Democrats believe, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives explained, that the long-term stability of funding is best secured by an objective 1 system that rests primarily on the shoulders of the European Union. To respond to one part of the earlier comments, that would create political pressure, as we have seen in Wales, for the United Kingdom Government, or the Welsh Assembly Government, to
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respond in kind. Clearly, others in the House think that we should leave it more in the hands of the UK Government. We are saying that that is a relatively unreliable way to maintain long-term funding. Each of us must draw our own conclusions, but that is one reason why this is an interesting debate.
While, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) highlighted, many deprived areas of Wales have benefited, some parts of my constituency have not, even though, by the normal measures, they suffer substantial deprivation. I want a more flexible approach, with more localised support than under the current broad-brush regional assessment of poverty.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is beginning to touch on an important point, albeit at the end of his contribution. Leaving to one side the issue of funding, does he agree that it would be better for the European principle of subsidiarity to apply, for Brussels to have less say about how funds are spent in Wales and to have more localised and regional determination about how money is spent, addressing real needs?
Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman is right that subsidiarity and flexibility are important. I believe that they can best be achieved through a more guidelines-based approach to how funds are spent and clarity about the outcomes required from the expenditure. A Europewide debate about that in the months ahead would be constructive. The hon. Gentleman's constituents, and mine, would benefit from the localisation of some investment, rather than money being invested in wealthy areas that do not need it so badly.
I am pleased that the Government have shown more commitment to this funding programme than I think would have been shown by a Conservative Government, although I am sad that they have not shown as much commitment as the Liberal Democrats will after the next general election, when we form the Government. Let me end on a positive note. The foundations laid by Labour will certainly be built on by the Liberal Democrat Government in a few years, and I thank the Government for the work they have done, but I make them a promise: they ain't seen nothing yet.
Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to speak. As many Members on both sides of the House know, I have taken a particular interest in objective 1. I was delighted when the debate before this finished early, because it meant that this debate could continue for longer. It is a critical debatealthough whenever we have such debates I experience a sense of déjà vu. The doom and gloom mongers always emerge and say, "It is never going to happen; we will never get what we need."
I well remember when Cornwall first set out to achieve objective 1 status. I entirely accept that many people were involved in the campaignthe Liberal Democrats, the Labour MP, the Liberal Democrat MEP of the day, the county council and the community. We all stood
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together and we all argued the case, but the fact that we were statistically linked with our colleagues and friends in Devon constituted a barrier preventing us from obtaining stand-alone regional status in the European Union and receiving the money. The critical moment occurred when the Prime Minister instructed senior civil servants and fellow Ministers to make the case for decoupling us from Devon.
I remember the Liberal Democrats saying, "It will not happen." There was much beating of breasts. They said, "We must go to Berlin to make sure that this Labour Prime Minister does not forget Cornwall. It will be forgotten among the great mass of other issues." But the Prime Minister delivered for Cornwall. Then what did the Liberal Democrats say? They said, "We will never have the match funding."
The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) smiles, because he knows that that is absolutely true. Every time we have done anything involving objective 1, the Liberal Democrats in Cornwall have said, "It will not happen." Four years ago, almost to the day, the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor)who is not presentaccompanied me to the launch of Combined Universities in Cornwall, which was also attended by the regional development agency, the higher education partners and all the people who had worked so hard on the project. Having been briefed on it, he told the media that the British Government would not come up with the match funding. And what has happened? The buildings have been built, the staff are in post, the students are there, and we have a fantastic icon for Cornwall.
I applaud what the hon. Member for St. Ives says about ensuring that we secure the best possible deal for Cornwall. I will stand up for that and fight for it. We must look at the history, however, and the history is that this Government and only this Government have really invested in Cornwall. Ten years ago, unemployment was soaring. A journalist to whom I was talking the other day said, "We could not wait for the unemployment figures 10 years ago, Candy. We used to snatch them off the fax machine. It was always a great story for us because the figures were so awful. We do not even report them now."
The challenge for phase 2 of objective 1or son or daughter of objective 1is to ensure that we raise wages in the county and do not have to fight for more money in the future because the economy is vibrant and dynamic and we are standing alone. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that earlier.
I wanted the hon. Lady to hesitate at least for a while, although I appreciate that she was, in fact, in full flow. I think that she has rather overstepped the mark. Not only have many who were involved in the achievement of objective 1 status been airbrushed out of history, but there has been a certain amount of rewriting. She claims, among other things, that it was all doom and gloom and we said that we would never receive match funding. She must understand the distinction between saying that that would never
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happen and saying, as my hon. Friends and I did, that we needed to campaign for the match funds and the projects. We realised that we had to campaign hard to achieve those things.
Ms Atherton: I realise that there is a difference between a press release in Cornwall and what is said in the Chamber. However, as history showsand as even this week's press releases showsuch comments constituted a lot more than simply the raising of issues; they were a lot more certain in tone than that.
Ms Atherton: Opposition Members laugh, but that is not what the people of Cornwall do when such comments have their impact. Anything that causes uncertainty and hesitancy, and places a question mark over future investment, has a real impact on the business community. Many people in the business and public sectors have come to me and said that such comments have a bad effect. I am not saying that only the Liberal Democrats are to blame. There is a regional
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend think that it does us any good when these negative press releases appear in the Western Morning News, which then lands on the desks of potential inward investors?
Ms Atherton: Speaking as a journalist, I take my hat off to any campaigning newspaper. However, I know that one or two potential investors in the wider west countrynot necessarily in Cornwallhesitated and decided not to invest as a result of such press releases. They thought that some parts of the media in the south-west were not to their taste. That is very regrettable and I hope that they will think again.
I return to the central issue and challenge, which is where we go with objective 1. The Commission has come up with its plans, but they are neither agreed nor funded. Having another tranche of objective 1 for seven years, plus objective 2, sounds very nice in theory, and it might seem as if everything will be rosy at the end of that process. However, we do not have that certainty. The Commission has put its plans on the table, but it does not have the money. It is the Council of Ministers, representing 25 countries, that must come up with a deal, so unanimity is going to be very difficult to achieve.
As a Labour Member of Parliament for a Cornwall constituency, I felt it my job to make sure that Ministers know that ours is the only area that stands to get objective 1. I am very pleased that the Chancellor pledged, during a meeting with me, to ensure that Cornwall will not lose out and, critically, that it will do better than under the EU proposals. That is a very fine pledge, which I have never heard from the Conservatives or, I fear, from the Liberal Democrats. When I last debated this issue in the House and I challenged the Liberal Democrat spokesman, he refused to commit to funding objective 1, as the Labour Government have pledged to do.
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