|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Haskel: My Lords, is the Minister aware that recently I have visited most of the stations on the extension of the Jubilee Line? Will the Minister share with me the feeling that the architects and the builders ought to be congratulated, because truly the stations are quite magnificent?
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I am not reading. In view of the Government's ill-judged effort to give Railtrack a single contract for the subsurface lines, will the Minister assure the House that in the next round of contracts he will obey the EU contract rules on such major contracts?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I have indicated on previous occasions, the tenders for such contracts will comply with the EU rules. The EU rules provided for a single contractor in the case of Railtrack. However, the situation now is that all three contracts will be let on the same basis and in compliance with the rules.
Lord Ampthill: My Lords, does the Minister recollect that the Channel Tunnel was in no way a PPP project? It was entirely privately financed, contrary to the belief that is apparently rampant on the Liberal Democrat Benches.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, with regard to the initial stages the noble Lord is correct. However, it was necessary for my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister to step in during the early months of this Government to ensure that government backing was maintained for the project and therefore the Government were taking an element of the risk.
The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, current structural fund programmes have until the end of 2001 to spend the money allocated to them at the beginning of 1997. Structural funding will therefore not be lost, provided that programmes have contracted with final beneficiaries by 31st December 1999 and payments are made over the following two years.
The Government share the concerns of some regional partners about the problems of identifying final beneficiaries by the end of this year. We discussed this with the European Commission. However, the Commission argued that the deadline was legally binding and well known. We have therefore issued instructions to partnerships through the government regional offices guiding them through the final phase of the current programme. We also agreed with the Commission that local partnerships can draw up reserve lists of beneficiaries to replace any which fall out.
Lord Newby: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, is he aware that regional development agencies are anxious not simply about identifying projects, but also, and more importantly, about receiving an assurance from the Government that the funds available to them over this year and next are not reduced? High quality projects, which are of great significance to these regions, will not then be put into jeopardy with regard to their funding because of government parsimony.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I presume that the noble Lord is referring to "match funds", which have to be provided from other areas. The government regional offices are in a position to help with advice on sources of match funding, and that can include the Single Regeneration Budget, English Partnerships or, indeed, New Deal money. Match funding for 2001 and beyond is currently being considered as part of the overall spending review.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, bearing in mind that the United Kingdom pays the European Union many billions of pounds a year for this sort of purpose, of which the European Union is graciously pleased to give back only a part, does not the Minister agree that there is no such thing as "EU funding"? If he does not agree, does he not believe that the Government, in all their wisdom, could spend all those billions much more wisely than when they are passed through the corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy in Brussels?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the term "EU funding" simply means funds which come from the EU. At the same time, we pay into those EU funds. There is nothing mysterious or difficult about that. Clearly, we could also fund this money ourselves through a different route. I have no evidence that there is any such corruption. It is an endlessly repeated point, but I do not see that there is any cause for alarm.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, given the great effort that was made to include Cornwall in Objective 1,will the Minister consider indicating to the regional development agencies that they should do their best to try to help find matching funding? Otherwise, some of the poorest regions in the United
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, regional offices do everything they can to support RDAs and other bodies in finding funds. As far as I am aware, the money goes to where the needs are greatest through local partnerships rather than simply from where the matching funds can be most easily found.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I was simply making a point in relation to this programme. If noble Lords want to pursue the general question of the amount of corruption in the European Union, there are opportunities to do so. I was referring to this specific programme.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how much regional aid funding has been lost to the UK by the levying of fines on the United Kingdom by the Commission for what it believes is irregular use of the money in various parts of the country?
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the effect on rural areas where some of the crucial partners are local authorities which are still suffering from the Government's lack of recognition of what is known as the "sparcity" factor? The Government also brought in more targeted funding which particularly hit other services, including all of the projects which fall under some of the Objective 2 funding. Targeting specific areas which the Government wish to pursue is likely to prevent local authorities taking a full part in some of the partnerships.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the funds are developed for regions or areas on the basis of local partnerships which involve, in most cases, all of the participants, whether they are local authorities, regional development agencies or other bodies. As I said, as far as I am aware, the funds are targeted by the groups on the areas of greatest and most urgent social need.
Lord Bowness: My Lords, can the Minister give the House an assurance that there is no danger at all of any European funds being lost because the Government do not provide matching funds by the appropriate date?
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what proportion of funds collected in the United Kingdom in the way of taxes and transferred to the EU actually comes back to the United Kingdom in the way of grants or other benevolent manner?
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be helpful if I explain that the usual practice of the House on these occasions is to debate together the Motion standing in my name and any amendment--in this case, the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. That means that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will speak immediately after me and, at the end of the debate, I shall respond and the noble Lord will reply on his amendment. When he has replied, the Question will be put, first, on the amendment and then on the Motion without any further debate. That will avoid the need for two debates and a third speech from me--two will be quite enough, if not more than enough.
The Offices Committee considered carefully and thoroughly the question of privileges for former Members of the House, most recently at its meeting on 30th November. The committee's report records the decisions reached at that meeting, but it is based on work done by the usual channels with the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. I express my thanks and those of the committee for the considerable amount of work and thought put into that. It is based also on the work of the committee's sub-committees. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, and his Refreshment Sub-Committee and to the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, and his Library and Computers Sub-Committee. I express the same thanks to them.
As noble Lords will remember, the subject also received an extensive airing during the passage of the House of Lords Bill. It is fair to say that the usual channels and the committee were united in thinking that the House would wish to approach this matter in a forthcoming way, perhaps if anything, erring--if "erring" is the right word--in a relatively generous way. So the question is: what privileges should be granted, bearing in mind that the working of the House must not be impeded and that any privileges must not make a charge on public funds? I think the committee's recommendations represent a good balance.
The proposals are set out in the report, so I do not intend to outline them. However, I should point out that this is a complete list, as suggested. The House and, indeed, former Members should be clear that anything that is not expressly stated is not included. Former Members will not, for example--this is my only example--be entitled to use the car-parking facilities of the House. In view of that, the House may expect that many hereditary Peers will not wish to make extensive use of the proposed privileges. Finally, I should like to say a few words on the proposal to allow excluded hereditary Peers to sit on the Steps of the Throne. This was debated at length in the Offices Committee. In reaching its decision, the committee was mindful of the fact that other former Members have already been granted this privilege. Bishops who are no longer, or are yet to be Members--Bishops in waiting, as it were--are allowed to sit on the Steps of the Throne as are Peers of Ireland. This represents a total of around 150 people, yet I am not aware that it has ever caused any problems for the House.
As the report makes clear, the committee agreed that the use of the privilege should be watched closely, so that it could be withdrawn if it proved inconvenient to the House. We bear in mind, too, that this privilege would not apply to the heirs of former Members.