HL Deb 07 February 1985 vol 459 cc1209-10

3.20 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have examined the report of the EEC Court of Auditors on the accounts of the Commission for the year 1983 which indicated that approximately £3 billion was "missing" from the accounts in connection with capital projects and that no provision had been made for some £4.2 billion losses in respect of agricultural surplus stockpiles; and what representations they have made in the Council of Ministers, and to the Commission itself, for urgent investigation into these questions and for remedial action.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Arts (The Earl of Gowrie)

My Lords, the Government have consistently welcomed the annual reports of the Court of Auditors as an important contribution towards improving financial procedures within the Community. Due in large part to the efforts of the United Kingdom, procedures have now been set up in Brussels to ensure that the court's recommendations are considered in detail by representatives of the member states, with a view to discussion of major issues arising from the report in the Council of Ministers. Consideration of the 1983 report is currently taking place.

The two points raised by the noble Lord will be considered in this context. I should stress however that the court's remarks refer to the suitability of the accounting procedures used by the Commission. There is no suggestion of fraud.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the House will welcome the noble Earl's assurance contained in his reply to my Question. Is the noble Earl aware that in the report specific mention was made of the refusal of the Commission to account for in its accounts some £4½ billion of losses in connection with the storage of surplus stocks, together with storage costs of over £1½ billion, which represents nearly £2 billion of British contribution out of the pocket of the British taxpayer? Will the noble Earl give the House an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will pay very serious attention to this matter, because it is not right that the accounts of the Commission should be of a standard lower than is normally acceptable within the commercial community?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, as I hope my original Answer made clear, Her Majesty's Government are in the lead in a commitment to more rigorous financial procedures in the Community. We have insisted on detailed consideration of the report by representatives of Community member states and discussions about the report are now taking place in Brussels with a view to high level—that is to say, ministerial level—discussion during March.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, if my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington has his facts right—and I have no reason to think otherwise, because he has considerable experience in these matters—this is a very important question. They have been interfering in our affairs for some considerable time, issuing from time to time instructions which we are bound to obey, according to the treaty that was entered into. Therefore, it is a very important question and we ought to know how they are spending their money and our money at the same time. Can we have an assurance that the Minister will look into this matter with the closest attention and will take the opportunity to report to your Lordships' House on some other occasion?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord and the House the assurance that the United Kingdom will continue to be in the lead in demanding more rigorous financial procedures.

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