HL Deb 15 July 1988 vol 499 cc1032-51

12.11 p.m.

Baroness Serota rose to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Staffing of Community Institutions. (11th Report, 1987–88, HL Paper 66).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I first thank the eight noble Lords who so kindly agreed to undertake this ad hoc inquiry in addition to all their other responsibilities both on the Select Committee and in the House generally. Each one of them was uniquely qualified to take part in a broad review of this kind across the whole range of institutions that comprise the European Community, the Council, the Commission, the European Parliament, the Court of Justice and the Economic and Social Committee. We did not include the Court of Auditors and the European Investment Bank in our detailed inquiry. I am extremely grateful to them all for their continuous encouragement and support throughout the inquiry.

I also express the thanks of the committee for the co-operation and assistance that we received from all our witnesses. Most particularly, we were impressed by the welcome that we received at all levels of the institutions themselves during our visit to Brussels and indeed by the frankness with which our many questions were answered. I have no doubt that our path, for what was a difficult and sensitive inquiry, had been greatly smoothed in advance by Sir David Hannay, the United Kingdom permanent representative in Brussels, who kindly made the arrangements for our visit. We owe him and the staff of his office a very real debt of gratitude.

In the introduction to our report we set out the two main objectives of our inquiry. The first was: to assess whether the Community institutions' recruitment procedures, staff management methods and career structure allow them to carry out their functions effectively and to attract high quality stall from all the Member States". Our second objective was: to consider whether the development and implementation of Community policy is being hampered by the present stalling levels of the institutions. We also expressed the hope that our report would help to improve public understanding of' the role and structure of Community institutions, of the importance of their staff to the efficient development and execution of Community policy, and of the small size of that staff in relation to the tasks that they perform.

While it was not our intention to concentrate on specifically British considerations, we were concerned that there should be sufficient and appropriate participation by British staff in the operation of the Community and hoped that the report would also be of assistance to young people who are considering careers as European civil servants.

Part 2 of our report explains the origins, the unique character and the particular features of the development of the different institutions of the Community. All the evidence that we received, which is printed at the end of the report, is analysed in Part 3. We set out our findings in Part 4 of the report. Having examined all the evidence that we received on the impact of recruitment methods, career structure and staffing levels on the development and execution of Community policy, together with the replies to our questionnaire (which we sent to all the institutions and which is printed in Appendix 2 of the report) requesting factual information, I believe that it is fair to say that we were all inclined to recommend a single, fully-integrated service for all the institutions.

However, our witnesses took the view that as all the institutions have very different roles and are on occasions required to check, scrutinise or judge one another's acts, this was neither practical nor desirable at this stage of the development of what is by any standards a very young and a very rapidly changing institution. We recognise this view and accept that the separation of powers within the Community structure is more complex than within a single national state. But we still feel that certain joint services and especially joint recruitment and training services, will greatly improve both administrative efficiency and the career prospects of the staff.

I turn now to three specific aspects of our conclusions; first, staff numbers, then recruitment policy and procedures, and training; and, finally, to some of the particular difficulties that are experienced by British personnel working for the Community or wishing to work for it. When the Minister comes to reply at the end of a fairly short debate, I hope that he will comment upon those three particular areas of concern. I know that both the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, and my noble friend Lord Murray (two members of the committee) who will be speaking after me in this debate will be raising other important questions upon which we shall also be interested to hear the views of the Minister.

I also hope that the recommendations that the committee has made will be given serious consideration by the Community institutions themselves. The House will be pleased to learn that the initial reaction to our report from M. Delors, the President of the Commission, has been very encouraging.

To begin, then, with staff numbers. In its inquiry, the committee found no evidence of general overstaffing. On the contrary, the public image of idle bureaucrats living it up in Brussels is far from the truth. In the Commission we found evidence of serious shortages of staff in certain areas which cannot be made good merely by redeployment, especially when specialist skills are required in new fields of Community activity. Implementation of policies agreed by the Council is often hampered by lack of staff, and the situation will only worsen as the responsibilities of the Commission grow with the years. To give two examples that we came across during our visit to Brussels: with the new spirit of openness in Eastern Europe, more countries are requesting to enter discussions with the European Community and we learnt during our visit that the Commission's Directorate-General for External Relations is unable to meet all these requests because of a shortage of staff. Somewhat closer to home, the Select Committee reported to the House some two years ago on the important issues involved in the mutual recognition of higher education diplomas. Such recognition was increasingly important in our view for the free movement of people in the Community if a true internal market in professional services is to be achieved by 1992.

We were amazed to find that in the Commission only two-and-a-half people were employed on the complex negotiations involved in the development of this crucial aspect of the completion of the internal market. As Member States require the Commission to discharge even great responsibilities, so we concluded that they must accept the consequences in terms of extra staff for that institution. The committee was told repeatedly that there is not sufficient correlation in the Council between decisions on new policy and decisions on granting additional staff resources. The committee therefore urged the Council to pay closer attention to the staffing implications of the proposed policies, and to consider staffing requests by the Commission in the light of the impact of such policies. I hope that the noble Lord. Lord Glenarthur, will he able to give us some assurances on that point. We also recommended that to assist the Council in future the fiche financiere, which accompanies Commission proposals. should always include an assessment of the staffing implications of the policy changes involved.

The second area to which I wish to refer briefly and upon which we concentrated a great deal of our attention during the inquiry, was that of staff recruitment procedures. At present each institution conducts its own individual recruitment. Open competitions are often not well-publicised; they take place irregularly and infrequently; and candidates are often kept waiting, in our view, for an unreasonably long time before being informed of their success or otherwise. Even then, and much to our surprise. candidates who pass the whole of the competition are not guaranteed employment as a result. Individuals are recruited from a reserve list of successful candidates only as and when vacancies arise. The whole process can take anything up to four or five years. By way of illustration, perhaps I may cite the case of a former member of the staff of this House, now employed by the European Commission, who applied for a post in September 1984 and only finally received a firm offer of employment in June 1987, some three years later.

Perhaps I may give another example we came across during our visit. In the Council a competition advertised in July 1984 had by January this year resulted in only six appointments, while other successful candidates remained on the reserve list. The committee feels strongly that such long periods of uncertainty must inevitably deter good candidates from pursuing career opportunities in Community institutions. It recommended that the period between the announcement of a recruitment competition and the establishment of a list of successful candidates should be reduced to a maximum of nine months. Competitions should be held annually whenever possible to allow candidates to plan their applications.

As I have already indicated, the committee considered that the best way to achieve these improvements would be for the institutions to establish a joint service to organise recruitment for them all. By pooling their efforts, they could reduce costs and reduce the overall length of time taken by the recruitment process and the interval between selection rounds. A joint service could establish what were the requirements of the institutions for competitions each year, administer the selection process and draw up lists of successful candidates. The institutions would still have power to appoint for themselves from those lists. To ensure the success of such a joint service, the institutions would need to standardise their initial grading of newly-recruited officials. It would also be necessary to devise procedures so as to allay the fears that undoubtedly exist among the smaller institutions that a larger Commission would play too dominant a role and recruit the best candidates. However, given effective co-operation neither of these obstacles seemed to the committee to be insurmountable.

The last aspect of our report to which I wish to draw attention concerns the experience of British staff in the Community. This is the area that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, our former Minister of State at the Foreign Office, would have wished to deal with had she been able to take part in our debate today. She has asked me to give her apologies and to say how much importance she attaches to the recommendations in this field.

The committee heard that British candidates for Community posts were sometimes discouraged or confused by unfamiliar procedures. In particular. they often felt reluctant to adopt the entrepreneurial approach and the practice of pistonnage—the canvassing of personal contracts—which is an accepted part of life in the Community but is so alien to accepted British practice in the public service. We therefore recommended that Her Majesty's Government should establish a co-ordinating unit within the Cabinet Office to act as single source of advice and guidance on careers in the Community. The unit should publicise career opportunities, encourage applications, advise candidates and monitor the effects of these activities.

The committee was also concerned about arrangements for existing British civil servants who spend a period of their career in the service of the Community. Their right of return to the British Civil Service is limited: more importantly, they are rarely reinstated at a grade higher than that they held when they left. Considering the wide and valuable experience which service in the Community gives, it seemed to the committee unfair that such experience should not be more usually recognised. Talented people will be encouraged to contribute to the service of the Community only if they feel sure that their career will be enhanced rather than hindered by such experience.

Another specifically British experience on which the committee heard evidence was the difficulty in getting a grant for a period of European studies abroad. It was apparent to the committee that a period of such study did much to fit a candidate for European service. It would prefer therefore that more young people could benefit by such an experience and urges Her Majesty's Government to make more funds available for such grants, or failing that, to divide them between more applicants. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some assurance on this point, particularly in relation to young people seeking a career in the Community.

I could not conclude without expressing thanks to our excellent specialist advisers, Sir Christopher Audland, former director-general for energy in the Commission, and also Professor David Edward, Salvesen Professor of European Institutions at the University of Edinburgh who advised the Select Committee in two of its previous inquiries and is well known to us all. Their experience and direct knowledge of the Community institutions were invaluable throughout the inquiry. That, together with the continuous help and support of our most efficient Clerk. Mary De Groose, has enabled us to make this report to the House.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Staffing of European Institutions. (11th Report, 1987–88. HL Paper 66)— (Baroness Scrota.)

12.26 p.m.

Lord Nathan

My Lords, I had the honour of serving on the committee which produced the report that is being debated today. It is appropriate that I should start by referring to the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, who has just spoken and say with what awe and admiration those of us who sat under her chairmanship did so. Her formidable knowledge of public administration was extremely helpful to the committee as well as her capacity to assemble in her mind and sort out the wealth of detailed information which we were given in the evidence, which appears in the full report. In saying these things I believe I am speaking for all other members of the committee.

My time as a member of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities is coming to an end. I cannot forbear to reflect on this occasion that it was formed to ensure a measure of parliamentary control in relation to government and the Community and yet its influence in Europe, effected through its reports. is, I believe, as great in the Community as it is here through your Lordships' House. On a recent visit to Brussels I gained the impression that our report is being widely and carefully considered, so I hope that it will serve a useful purpose there as well as here.

I should like, however, to focus my remarks today on the need for appropriate numbers of United Kingdom members of the staff of the institutions. At present we are under-represented. I hope I shall be forgiven if I touch on certain matters mentioned by the noble Baroness under the third of her headings. Mr. Delors, President of the Community, has predicted that in a decade 80 per cent. of the economic and perhaps also of the tax and social legislation will be directed from Brussels. That is provocative and is no doubt intended to be so. But in a week in which the problem of Rover has been much in the news, it cannot be regarded as far-fetched or fanciful.

The need for full representation among staff in the institutions derives not from the idea of inserting a mole in the heart of Europe— -if I may he forgiven for mixing my metaphors —but to ensure that United Kingdom modes of thought and attitudes will make a contribution to the development of the Community. It is a matter of concern to the Commission, not just to those of us in this country, that proper representation should he seen there. In category A the United Kingdom is underrepresented, as appears on the table at page 8 of the evidence. One might expect that we would have rough equality not anything exact—in Grade A with the larger members of the Community—namely, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy and France. Yet we find on consideration of those figures that the numbers we have in Grade A in the Community service are far less.

It seems that insufficient attention was given to recruitment when we joined the Community, now many years ago. That is one reason which we were given for this shortfall. But the deficiency has persisted. and it is urgent and important that it should be remedied.

One disadvantage which perhaps we have suffered has been the practice until recently of recruiting graduates with around three years relevant work experience. That does not fit in easily with our recruitment practices because by then a potential recruit has settled upon a career. For instance, what normally happens in recruitment by the professions in this country is that those at university are offered positions about a year prior to graduation. conditional upon obtaining an adequate degree. Even now that the institutions are seeking Grade A8 recruits—that is the starting point of Grade A—without work experience, they' must have a degree before they will he considered. However, that is a welcome move in that it enables a career in Community service to be started without previous work experience and will avoid graduates becoming tied up in other careers and thus being unavailable.

The reasons which struck me most forcefully for the continuing lack of UK applications to join the staff of the Commission at Grade A were, first, that there is inadequate publicity and information with the careers advisers at universities. I believe that it is rare for an undergraduate even to think about a career with the Community. That can easily be remedied.

There is great advantage in having had a brief' period as a stagiaire, or temporary pupil or student, within one of the institutions. It is quite common to meet young people from countries on the Continent who have done this—and I have met quite a number. They have then joined the Community service, gone into private practice in one of the professions or, indeed, gone into business. It is rare to find someone from the United Kingdom who has done so.

The advantage of a stage is that by contact within the Commission, or another institution, you gain some idea of how it works in practice and of the personalities and their relationships. In the report we refer to that sinister word, pistonnage, as the noble Baroness mentioned earlier. To get a job in the Commission it is an immense advantage to know the right people and to press your claim forward. It seems strange to us with our background and customs here, hut it is so. To he accepted as a stagiaire you need to exercise those techniques. Having completed the stage, you are far better equipped to take your career there further. So guidance and help, perhaps by those with experience in the institutions and by the UK representative office in Brussels and those who have served there would be enormously helpful at universities if they would make visits and talk to students there.

Finally, I refer to the advantages to a student of having a rather broader experience than is normally provided in a UK university. Therefore I wonder, with the noble Baroness, whether some form of joint degree could be developed in European studies—and perhaps also in other fields—between the universities here and those on the Continent. The question of grants is of course essential to such a project.

It is not just the linguistic advantage that I have in mind, but enlarging understanding. That is of the first importance to enable relationships, not only within the Community but between the Community and those outside, to prosper. There is perhaps a tendency for courses related directly to the Community to be inward-looking. We heard of the arrangements made by the Cabinet Office for seminars for British candidates for Community posts. But, for the reasons I have mentioned, far more needs to be done.

Surely the prime responsibility for instigating action to ensure proper representation of the United Kingdom among the institutions rest with the Government. Therefore I hope that the Minister will he able to indicate what steps might be taken.

12.35 p.m.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, I shared with the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, the good fortune of serving on this inquiry. I should like to join with him in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, not only for the extraordinarily able way in which she led the inquiry but also for the original happy thought of having it at all. It is quite clear from the response of the Commissioners and also of the staff whom we met in Brussels, both formally and informally, that they were warmed by the thought that we should have considered their role in the Community and should have devoted some time to examining their contribution to the success of the Community.

Like the noble Baroness I hope that the report will help to dispel some of the mythology which surrounds the staff of the Community institutions. The perception of these fat cats, Eurocrats or these lofty and rather arrogant individuals who take little heed of national bodies is. I believe, entirely wrong. The common perception is that they are overstaffed, overpaid and "over there". If the report does something to correct that and to underline the point that the noble Baroness made about the remarkably small size of the staff, then I think we shall all have a better perception of the Community to which we belong. Certainly, as the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, said, any such impression is quickly dispelled by direct contact with the staff. Among the senior staff, the best of them—there is no doubt some dead wood—are to be compared with the best of British civil servants. I cannot give any higher praise than that.

As I said, the size of the staff is remarkably small. The Commission and the Council are, I think, properly stringent in considering future increases and I hope that that attitude in general will be maintained—although given the new responsibilities under the Single European Act, as has been said, some judicious increases will be necessary.

Much of our discussion lay in the area of improving the effective use of the staff in recruitment, in training and in the development of management skills. It was very evident that the staff had thought carefully about such matters and were more than willing to discuss them with us. It reflects the extent to which the staff, through their staff associations, are involved in the management of the Community institutions. For example, they take part in the joint committees which oversee the competitions and they are represented on the three-member selection boards. Thus they have indeed experienced involvement in that whole range of activities. They strongly supported the idea of a single service of recruitment and a single training service for all institutions, although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scrota, mentioned, it will be most important even in that single service to bear in mind the difference between the roles of the different institutions as a consequence of the delicacy of the relationships between the Parliament, the Commission, the Council and the other institutions.

Outside the formal methods of recruitment to which the noble Baroness has drawn your Lordships attention, there are the less formal methods of recruitment. For example, it has been suggested that more use might be made of secondment—there are mutual advantages both to the Community and to national governments in that area—and that Her Majesty's Government might look at their own procedures, especially at the question of reinstatement of people when they return.

I share that hope. I also hope that Her Majesty's Government will use that provision sparingly. It should not he made too easy for people to return. Some of them might benefit from having to concentrate their minds on coming to terms with the activities of the Community rather than think too readily about returning to our service.

One point upon which the staff associations rightly laid great emphasis was the need to improve career development inside the institutions. Their practices compare unfavourably with the British system. Their system was summed up by one of the staff association representatives who said that the individual managed his own career. One consequence of that is graphically, on both senses of the word, illustrated in an analysis of the Community's top management. The analysis was made by two Community officials based on information given in the 1986 edition of Who 's Who in the Community which deals with senior staff in the Community institutions.

In their section entitled "The Influence of Experience in Certain Community Units on Community-Careers", they say: It is obviously career enhancing to work in the Communities external relations Directorate Generals. it is even more recommendable to work in the Cabinets or as a party official in the European Parliament … the best Community career start is in a Cabinet (for those who did not know already)". That takes us to the kinsman of pistonnage, to which reference has already been made; that is, parachutage, which is referred to in paragraph 56 of the report.

As is said in that paragraph, there are different forms of parachutage. There is the recruitment of outside experts to fill a specific need or provide a specific skill; and the other form of parachutage is finding a job on the Community staff for officials who have been recruited on a temporary political basis to the staff of a commissioner. Clearly that is a case for exceptional recruitment to meet exceptional needs. I do not believe that there is any case for finding jobs for former members of the staff of a deposed or retired commissioner.

In evidence to us the Chairman of the Central Staff Committee said: This is a practice which is very generally condemned by just about every official". He continued: Every four years, we have the Olympics. In order to arrange parachutage, we go along doing some incredible gymnastics, rearranging structures of services, putting new labels on, and one often frankly does not see very well the need for rearranging the structure just to place somebody". The committee recommends that careful reconsideration should be given to that practice. My view is that the principle is indefensible. Former members of cabinets compete on merit for places on Community institution staffs. Their knowledge, and the judgment they derive from their experience, may well be taken into account in that process but automatic entitlement cannot be justified.

The noble Lord. Lord Nathan, referred to the practice of pistonnage. It may be a French word, but we understand what it means. It is a fact of life in Brussels. What is worrying is where pistonnage is coupled with, and reinforced by, the clear fear that a move from one directorate to another will prejudice promotion prospects. That contrasts unfavourably with the arrangements in our Civil Service. The committee has made recommendations to try to remove some of those fears. I hope that they will bear fruit in the staffing of the institutions.

As I said, the word may be French, but it is clear that British entrants are capable of adapting to the Community environment. It is, as was said by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, clearly advantageous if able British men and women can he encouraged to take up posts in Community institutions. That applies to people drawn not only from our public service but from industry, the trade unions, the professions and the academic world. It is highly desirable that we should encourage such people to enter the service of the Community, of which Britain is an inextricable part. I hope that among other things the report will help to achieve that desirable aim.

12.46 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, I believe that mine is the only critical voice about the report today; but that must not detract from my belief in its excellence or the wisdom of its recommendations. I am reminded of what happened on The Times a few years ago when there was a competition among sub-editors as to who could write the least attractive headline. The winner was: Small Earthquake in China Few Killed''. If I were to award a prize for the least attractive title it would be: Staffing of Community Institutions That may account for the fact that we have no one taking part in this debate, except for the two Front Bench speakers, who did not serve on the committee. It could have been given a title such as: The Community Civil Service: its size, its structure, its selection and its rewards". The report contains about 180,000 words, As things go today, at £12 that is not expensive for so much paper and print. Any old parliamentary hand or Fleet Street hack could evolve 1,500 relevant and entertaining words of comment merely by using the page and a half summary of conclusions; or a more conscientious commentator could explore the report in depth, having mastered the first 37 pages. I went further. I read most of the many thousands of words of evidence.

I did that not out of a sense of duty or responsibility, but merely because I was fascinated and happy to look again into the organisations on which I had served during the four years that I was a Member of the European Parliament. We were unelected and unpaid, and even threatened with British income tax. We would have had to pay it except that my noble friend Lord Bruce brought his political and professional skills to bear on the case. There may he a touch of ambient cupidity in my studies, when I read of the rewards of those who serve the Community today.

In one way, the report is a model of' its kind. It is a patient exploration in depth by a small and most distinguished sub-committee which included not only those who have spoken this morning but the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, who was once chairman of the advisory committee on the pay of our Higher Civil Service, and the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, who was head of the Home Civil Service. I like to think of those two great public servants looking with a fraternal but discerning eye on the new breed of civil servants, men and women of 12 nationalities and nine native languages working together to create the Community.

The only criticism I have to make is a minor one. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Serota will forgive me, but it concerns the presentation of the report, not of the content of its conclusions. Of the five or six hours that I spent poring over it, some were spent re-editing it for the general reader. I can well understand that it has gone down very well at Brussels and will have been well read in Whitehall. But it will not do very well what it sets out to do—that is, to improve public understanding of the role and structure of the Community institutions, of the importance of their staff to the efficiency of the Community and of the small size of the staff in relation to the task they perform.

There is certainly a need for an improvement in public understanding, since, as my noble friend has pointed out, for years the opponents of the Community, have accused it of being weighted down by an excessively large, stupid and overhearing democracy. The odd, bizarre idea thrown up has been treated as if it were an edict, a diktat. Noble Lords may remember that it was once put about that British drinkers were to be prevented from having their own warm beer but would have to drink Continental lager beer. It was not true, but the odd thing is that the British, including the Army, have since freely taken to lager beer in a big way.

The Community is on the march again under the banner of the Single Act. During the next few years the Community will do things which people will resent. It will cause an outcry for a return to national sovereignty in particular areas. Therefore it is most important that they should know how the Community works and how well it is staffed. The report provides this knowledge; it contains incontestable evidence that it is not excessively staffed; that it is pretty efficiently staffed but that the new responsibilities, as we go towards 1992, and as we double the structural funds, will require some increases. The new task can only be partly accomplished by redeployment of existing staff. The Committee arc to be commended for the bold way in which they put that unpopular point.

The committee heard much convincing evidence, they tell us, that in the Commission a number of services are significantly understaffed, circumstances which will have an increasingly negative impact on these services. Furthermore, Member States which require the Commission to discharge even greater responsibilities must accept the consequences in terms of extra staff. That is well said. If we need a reminder of the need for an excellent or a sufficiently high quality staff, it has been provided in recent days by the British Aerospace case.

The committee also recommend that sideways mobility of staff should be encouraged. From other sources I know that some people in the Commission have been in the same job for 15 years and are longing for a change, while others who have been in jobs for a long time have now got to the stage of dreading that they might be changed. The words the committee has to say on parachutage seem to me to be very wise but still moderate. We really cannot have a good career structure if too many of the top jobs are for people drafted in from Whitehall or the Quai d'Orsay.

The views of the committee are clear enough, but we have to work hard to get at some of the written evidence. The vital questionnaire sent out to the institutions appears on one page and the answers are given eight pages later. So one has to he turning back all the time to see what questions are being answered. Officials and temporary agents are classed as A, B, C and D, but their range of responsibilities is inadequately described. Some of the tables throughout the volume lack consistency. In one place Denmark is DK and in another place DA. Germany is De or D, Spain is E (for Espagne, no doubt) and Es. Greece is Gr or H, presumably for Hellade. I is for Ireland or Irl, though I in another place is for Italy. The rewards are most unhelpfully put into Belgian francs or sometimes into sterling, without any clue as to their current value. All this is acceptable in a report for insiders, as this was primarily intended to be. But it had a secondary objective. If we are looking to a wider public, say Members of this House or the other place, then some greater effort should be made.

I am aware that my strictures could apply to some other reports, they are not unique to this one. I was going to suggest that there should be, for example, a preliminary chapter, a foreword or preface, designed for the outsider, describing in simple terms what the report is all about. In this case it was necessary not only to describe the function of each of the institutions but also the work of the civil servants who staff them, their qualifications, their national origin, their rewards, their pensions, their permanence or impermanence, the system of recruitment and choice and their unions and staff associations. All of this could be done in about 600 or 700 words. The chapter headed "Background to the Inquiry" attempts that in great depth, but a bit too stiffly, too formally, for somebody coming new to the problems.

I was going to suggest that my noble friend should persuade the Select Committee on European Communities to discuss this subject. I wondered whether I was asking for too much but then quite suddenly there fell into my hands the report on farm prices which had all the virtues for which I had been going to ask, including statistics which even a fairly innumerate person like myself was able easily to comprehend, even the statistics about the green pound.

The one disturbing piece of evidence in the report comes from Mr. Richard Hay, director general of personnel and administration in the Commission. I wish to go a little more deeply into the selection procedure than our chairman has done. The Community institutions are required by law to recruit by competitions open to candidates from all member states. Knowledge of those is spread through advertisements and contacts with the universities, We then get together a large number of candidates, frequently, 5,000, 6,000 or 7,000 candidates, and, if we are,lucky in a sense, 10,000 candidates for competitions. Those who have minimum requirements take a written examination in their own member state. Those at the A-level, the top level, get three papers, a multiple choice paper, an academic paper on the subject of the competition—economics, law or agriculture —and a file containing a bundle of papers on which they write a letter to another department or a memorandum to the Commission. Then the multiple choice paper is examined and those candidates who do not pass it are eliminated. Their other two papers, painfully and conscientiously completed, are not read at all but are painlessly and ruthlessly thrown away. This is apparently because there is high degree of correlation between success in the multiple choice questions and the final result. Then the much smaller number of candidates who pass the next stages are admitted to an oral examination, and 7 per cent. of the total number who started out are successful. Then the departments are asked to bid for individuals. The list is left on the table until the time it is exhausted. Then it is on to the next six, seven or 10,000 European aspirants.

Only half the successful candidates get appointed because the others have taken other jobs or have a specialisation that the Commission does not want. The process between first applying and getting an offer of a job can he four or five years. It is no wonder that there are not as many British candidates as we might hope. That is hardly surprising if they have any inkling of what goes on. Candidates must he as amazed as Members of the committee were to discover that old examination papers are not even available to them. They do not have a clue about the kind of examination which they are being asked to pass. I have a feeling that even the Tang Dynasty in China which introduced competitive examinations for the Civil Service in about the 6th or 7th Century must have had a better system than this one.

However, the problem is being worked on. The committee recommends that: the institutions should take urgent steps—including if necessary increasing the number of officials dealing With recruitment—to reduce to nine months the period between the announcement of the competitions and the establishment of the reserve list". The committee also recommends that there should be a joint recruitment service which would make it possible to hold annual competitions. The committee recommends that the Cabinet Office in Britain should have a special unit to furnish advice and guidance on careers in Europe, and that the universities should do more to prepare students for service in Europe in the private as well as in the public sector.

I recommend anyone who has not read the report to read the evidence of the first witness Sir David Hannay for its philosophic wisdom. I also recommend that the evidence of the last witness should be read; that of Madame Renee van Hoof-Haferkamp who is the Director-General of the Joint Interpretation and Conference Service. I recommend that evidence for its panache.

I wish that people who want to argue that the Commission is modest in its use of' manpower would stop comparing it favourably with Wandsworth or the Scottish Office. The Commission employs 4,368 people at Grade A, not counting the linguists. The official Scottish Office figure of their equivalents, the administrative officers, on 1st July—noble Lords should note how carefully they manage these things in Scotland—was 895½! It is essential for such comparisons to take quality and not just quantity into account.

The witnesses speculate on the reasons why the British have a greater propensity for earlier retirement than nationals of other member states. There is such a thing as the Brussels blues. Whoever called that city "a little Paris" cannot have been to the big Paris for a long time. The culture of Brussels is pretty thin. The restaurant culture is, of course, absolutely superb. But if one is to survive for very long one must certainly start counting the calories and cutting down on the cholesterol; otherwise, one will not survive.

However, there could be a deeper reason for the early retirement on the part of the British. If one is French, one can get a fast train from Brussels to one's home, or one can get on to the motorway and drive home, or one's extended family can drive out to Brussels. Of course the British have to cross the Channel. As people in the service become older they do not want to be separated from their young married children and they want to return home.

I have been a little scornful of the shortcomings of the selection system, but we must acknowledge that they spring from the desire to be fair to all aspirants in 12 countries where nine languages are spoken, and that does not include Welsh. Anybody who has run even a small international conference knows how much more time, staff and money it consumes by comparison with a national monoglot conference. Moreover, the Community has had to swallow six new member states in two batches. It has had to suffer years of stagnation as the member states have fought the domestic battles of inflation, unemployment and a natural wish to keep their budgetary contribution as low as possible. It is remarkable that the civil servants of the Community have kept their morale, as I believe they have, and are able to find a new élan to meet new challenges, such as that of 1992.

1.5 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, we are all most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, for introducing this subject so clearly, for the other useful interventions that we have heard today and for the care with which the committee of the noble Baroness approached its task. I wish to say at the outset that the Government very much welcome this penetrating and timely report on an important matter. I am not sure that I am qualified to answer the points of the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, on the style of the report itself. It certainly uses familar terms with rather unfamiliar applications. I am thinking of such terms as parachutage and pistonnage. But perhaps I can leave the technicalities of style to the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, to deal with.

As the European Community evolves—and especially with the completion of the single market, which we believe will be of great benefit to this country—the Community institutions will face new demands. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, brought out that point very well. It is essential that these institutions should be able to recruit people well qualified for the posts in question, to deploy them to the best advantage and to ensure that they are well motivated.

As the report points out, the institutions are still very young. The creation of a cohesive and unified European civil service with people of different languages and from different educational backgrounds and administrative traditions is inevitably a gradual and complex process. The successive enlargements of the Community from the original Six to the current Twelve have made this process more difficult still. Spanish and Portuguese officials are new settling into posts in EC institutions.

This is a good time to take stock. As the report points out, the institutions are recognising the need for more active and sophisticated management and training techniques. The Government welcome this and the steps being taken towards more flexible deployment of staff and better career planning. Those improvements arc crucial in meeting our main objective in relation to the staffing of Community institutions and to promoting the most effective use of staff in order to ensure that each institution operates efficiently and economically. We also welcome the considerable efforts already being made by the Commission to improve recruitment procedures—in particular to reduce the time taken, which I know is a problem for United Kingdom candidates. As the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, made clear, this is an area where improvement really is needed.

The Government want to see a proportion of high quality British personnel in the staff of the institutions commensurate with the United Kingdom's weight in the Community. In particular, United Kingdom nationals should have an adequate share of key senior and middle range posts. We believe that a proper spread of nationals from each member state throughout the institutions is very much in the interests of the whole Community. That should ensure a good institutional understanding of traditions, circumstances and needs in each member state.

The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, referred to under-representation of United Kingdom nationals in EC institutions. It is fair to say that the United Kingdom is satisfactorily represented at the most senior levels—that is Grades A1 and A2. But United Kingdom numbers are barely adequate at A3 and some lower grades.

There are several reasons for United Kingdom under-representation at those levels. The procedures for the United Kingdom's accession to the EC gave insufficient time for proper recruitment at every level at that crucial initial stage; natural wastage through retirement of the generation of staff who joined at accession; relatively high wastage before retirement age (which is a worrying phenomenon of which the Commission has been made aware); long and complicated recruitment procedures, to which the noble Lord referred (and as I have said the Commission is committed to improving them); and the need to be able to work in at least one Community language other than English.

I hope that with improved recruitment and publicity efforts in the United Kingdom, some of which have been prompted by the report, we can increase the numbers of good quality UK officials in key jobs and bring the overall UK staffing level up to that of the other major member states.

Your Lordships have mentioned the question of parachutage. I accept that this can make it more difficult to maintain a proper career structure and sustain staff morale. The Commission itself has rightly a very restricted policy on this, but it is important, in the Government's view, to keep the possibility of parachutage where necessary to ensure that really good candidates are available at the most senior level, thus helping us to maintain our share of key posts.

I turn now to the recommendations in the report on which this morning's debate has concentrated. We have considered very carefully the report's conclusions. I should like to reply now to the points directly addressed to the Government. I have to some extent referred to the matter of staffing levels and deployment. The noble Baroness, Lady Serota, referred to this issue in particular and I should like to take up her comments.

The Government believe that efficiency is best served by tight staffing and have encouraged flexibility in staffing patterns. New demands will arise from stalling priorities but those should generally be met by rationalisation and reallocation of resources from areas of lower priority. The committee believes that scope for redeployment is limited, but I note an important admission in evidence given by the Commission—that it is not really very good at moving people around.

I should like to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, in the context of the point she raised concerning relations with Eastern Europe, that relations between the EC and Eastern European countries are progressing well. An EC—CMEA declaration was signed at the end of June and a trade and co-operation agreement with Hungary has just been initialled. Negotiations with Czechoslovakia should soon be concluded. The Community is also considering how to respond to a request from the Soviet Union for a bilateral agreement.

The Government therefore urge the Commission to implement rigorously its management modernisation programme. We regard as useful the committee's suggestion that a staffing impact assessment be incorporated in new policy proposals put forward by the Commission. But it would be still more helpful if the assessment identified lower priority areas from which staff could be redeployed to meet new needs.

The Government would very much welcome a reduction in the number of commissioners to one for each member state, and we have proposed that. However, as I think the noble Baroness will be aware, other member states will not agree.

The noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, raised the matter of career development. One way in which that can be achieved is through the exchange of officials between European Community institutions and the member states. The Government are in complete sympathy with the recommendations in the report along those lines. We shall continue to play our part in releasing and accepting officials for secondment as far as practicable and as far as resources permit. The EC's 1988 budget provides for a large number of new posts to be filled by experts from national administrations on a temporary basis. Work is already in hand to identify suitable UK candidates.

The noble Baroness, Lady Serota, referred to the recommendation for a special unit within the Cabinet Office to act as a single source of advice on EC careers, a point which the Government have noted. The Cabinet Office already provides help on the lines proposed by the committee; for example, alerting the universities and polytechnics, the professions and public sector organisations to the opportunities available, and, as was welcomed by the committee, briefing candidates who have entered particular competitions. We are considering what more we can do to provide the best possible information and guidance to potential candidates within the resources available.

General publicity and advice are of course provided by the EC press and information offices in the UK. The Government welcome the committee's separate recommendation that they should be more active in this respect.

The recommendation on promotion in absentia for civil servants working in EC institutions— another point raised by the noble Baroness—is also an important one. The House will be aware that the Government are keen to increase the number of exchanges with the world outside Whitehall. It is important that those spending such periods outside the Civil Service incur no penalty for so doing. A review of in absentia promotions is to be carried out. The results will be made available to the committee in due course.

The noble Baroness referred to the fact that the committee recommended that more grants be made available for students to study in other EC member states. There are extensive opportunities for undergraduates to spend part of their course in another member state. The Education (Mandatory Awards) Regulations 1987 provide for assistance with the additional costs of such study where this forms a necessary part of the student's UK-based course. Depending on the country of study and the student's financial circumstances, a higher grant may be payable and travel costs may also be met. In appropriate cases, postgraduate awards may also be used to support a period of study abroad.

Under the recently established European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (known by the acronym ERASMUS), grants are available from Community funds to meet mobility costs arising from student exchanges lasting up to a year and involving institutions in different member states. It is estimated that in 1988–89 over 3,000 UK students will be eligible for support. I hope that that gives some encouragement to the noble Lord, Lord Nathan.

The Government fully endorse the committee's view that UK students need to be better equipped to take advantage of the opportunities to work in and with public and private sector organisations in other member states. The content of higher education courses is a matter for the institutions concerned. But we are pleased to note that UK higher education institutions have shown considerable commitment to that goal.

The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, made an interesting suggestion about joint degrees and I am sure that the higher education institutions will take note of that point.

The Office of the UK Permanent Representative in Brussels is involved in every step of the recruitment process for stagiaires (details were submitted as part of the written evidence to the committee). The main area of difficulty for stagiaires seems to be the "lobbying" process that they are required to undertake in Brussels to secure selection. Following the committee's recommendation, United Kingdom representatives are now working to increase further their involvement in this part of the process by expanding their contacts in the directorates-general where the stage posts lie.

I am happy to confirm that—as many of your Lordships will have noted—many of the committee's recommendations are entirely consistent with our own thinking. We shall do all we can to promote action on those lines. Several recommendations relate to action that can only be taken by the institutions themselves. The Office of the UK Permanent Representative in Brussels has discussed the committee's report with the Commission. I am glad to say that the Commission regard the report as positive, noting that it usefully highlights areas where the Commission itself is seeking to improve existing arrangements. The Commission has asked to be kept informed about this debate. I shall arrange for that to be done and for other institutions also to be made aware of it.

1.20 p.m.

Baroness Serota

My Lords, after the lengthy sittings that we have all endured in recent weeks, I am sure that the House would not wish me to reply in great detail to the debate. However, I must thank my two colleagues, the noble Lords, Lord Nathan and Lord Murray, for their support and for their very interesting comments on the report today. With regard to the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, I must confess that on a Friday morning at the end of a very heavy week I hardly expected this topic to raise the political passions that would have been engendered by, for example, a debate on the common unit of currency, the European financial area or even the subject of a central bank for the Community.

However, I accept some of his strictures. I was particularly interested in the point that he made about the presentation of the report. That is a matter to which the Select Committee might well give thought. The committee's prime function is to report to the House, though we hope that it has an impact on public thinking as well. Possibly the Foreign Office would like to rewrite our report. and I was not very clear whether the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, was offering to produce a more attractive version that would be more saleable, which I am sure would greatly appeal to Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

Finally, I must thank the Minister for his very careful and detailed comments which reflect the time and trouble that he has taken to study the evidence that we received during our inquiry and the conclusions to which we came. I was a little disappointed that Her Majesty's Government are still standing on the thought that all will be well if only the existing staff of the Commission were more flexibly deployed. We deal with that subject in our report.

I think also that we all recognise that governments of all kinds and colours are not anxious to extend the staffing of institutions, let alone Community institutions. Having said that, I hope that the Government, while recognising the need to be reasonable and economic in staff, also appreciate the point on which we all felt very strongly; namely, that it is absolutely no good to continue to demand increasing activity in the Community institutions and not give them the staffing resources.

So we are grateful that our suggestion about the fiches financiéres has been accepted. One recognises that such an addendum to the material before the Council quite rightly should include the possibilities of stair redeployment. Nevertheless, we believe that overall an increase in staff will be needed if increased activity is expected.

I conclude by saying that I believe all noble Lords will agree that any organisation is only as good as the staff whom it employs. If our report has helped the House, and indeed Her Majesty's Government, to consider the staffing needs of the institutions of the Community, particularly in relation to the development of future policy, I think that we would all feel that we had done a useful job.

On Question, Motion agreed to.