HL Deb 10 May 1990 vol 518 cc1463-5

3.1 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the number of senior officials employed by the European Commission from the United Kingdom is comparable with that of officials from other member states such as France, Germany and Italy; and, if not, what steps are being taken to rectify the imbalance.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the proportion of European Commission officials from the United Kingdom is generally lower than those for Germany, France and Italy, although at senior levels there is a broad national balance. While staff appointments are a matter for the Commission, my honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs met the Commissioner responsible on 17th April and agreed measures to increase the United Kingdom's representation. We are also acting to encourage more United Kingdom candidates to apply for employment in the Community institutions. We and the Commission will continue to work closely together to remedy the present situation.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer, from which I conclude that a conscious attempt is being made to reach parity with similar countries. Why is there a shortage of applicants from the United Kingdom when the remuneration should be rewarding enough with the tax benefits?

Lord Reay

My Lords, the remuneration has not been rewarding enough to attract a sufficiency of United Kingdom candidates, which has been the main reason why the situation exists.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, to what extent is our under-representation due to our candidates' lack of language skills? Are the Government supporting the Community Lingua scheme? Will the noble Lord be good enough to have a word about this matter with his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science? The evidence points to our poor record on language as being at least partially responsible for our performance on applications.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is right in saying that, traditionally, languages have been an impediment to recruitment. However, one of the measures that the Government are now introducing is the development of a European stream within administration grade recruitment to the Civil Service. This will increase the number of good quality officials fitted for work in the European Community institutions. Language training will be provided.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the problem, which is to some extent a real problem, does not exist at the most senior level? It hardly could as Britain has had one out of the only two Secretaries General of the Commission, and two out of the last three Directors General of.DG1, the external affairs directorate. The problem exists much more at A3 level and below, which is the rough equivalent of the assistant secretary or under-secretary level in our terms. In order to meet this need one has to have people anxious to make a career in the service of the Commission. The position is not greatly helped if the Commission is constantly represented, sometimes by Her Majesty's Government themselves, as being an inflated group of interfering busy-bodies.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that at the very senior levels —at grades A1 and A2—there is a broad national balance. Overall, the United Kingdom has approximately 12 per cent. of A-grade posts, which is well below our broad geographical share of 15 per cent. On the other hand, in grades A7 and A8 the proportion of United Kingdom nationals is only some 8 per cent.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, my noble friend referred to the tax position of United Kingdom officials serving in Brussels. Can he say whether by that he meant that they were liable or not liable to United Kingdom income tax or any income tax?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I made no deliberate reference to taxation matters. I have no information, but I shall look into the matter and let my noble friend know.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, can the noble Lord explain in a little more detail how the Government will encourage British recruitment to the Commission? How will people know how and where to apply in order to be considered?

Lord Reay

My Lords, in addition to the creation of a European stream which I mentioned, it is the Government's intention to increase the number of secondments to the Commission and also to establish a special unit in the Cabinet Office to co-ordinate the British recruitment effort and to take up individual issues with the Commission. This package of measures will, we hope, address the problem

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the timescale for making an appointment to the Commission is unduly long? Can anything be done to reduce it?

Lord Reay

My Lords, in addition to what the Government intend to do, the European Commission also intends to introduce procedures which should assist with the problem. One of those is to bring forward from the reserve list more United Kingdom nationals awaiting jobs, where those were successful in competitions.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, can the Government make it clear that career prospects in the British public service will not be impaired by a period of service with the Commission?

Lord Reay

Yes, my Lords. The Select Committee of your Lordships' House which reported in 1988 made a point of this complaint. However, it has now become increasingly accepted that a spell in Brussels benefits the United Kingdom as well as the Commission. Individual career prospects should therefore become enhanced as a result, and such postings are now seen much more as an integral part of career planning.

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