HL Deb 14 July 1992 vol 539 cc102-4

3.18 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they consider that the proposed revision of the common agricultural policy is likely to lead to a reduction in the levels of fraud against the Community reported in 1991.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, CAP reform will reduce the scope for fraud in a number of sectors. We will also be working to ensure that the detailed implementing measures contain controls to minimise the risk of fraud.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that encouraging reply. Is it the Government's intention during the United Kingdom presidency to make a determined effort to eliminate this fraud? Can my noble friend comment on the phenomenon of moving olive trees which, if reports are correct, would have made even Macbeth dizzy after his experience with Birnam Wood?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, the Government are always concerned to reduce fraud in all sectors. We shall make use of our presidency to push forward our concerns. In particular, we are aiming to have fraud fully considered at the ECOFIN council in September. As for the latter part of my noble friend's question, I have, indeed, heard about transportable olive groves. On the subject of olive oil, a register and specific control agencies have been set up in the producing member states.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Earl give the House an assurance that the Government will give the most careful consideration to the report of the Court of Auditors (Opinion No.2 of 1992 of 15th May) which, contrary to the impression given by the noble Earl in his reply, suggests that the facilities for the continuation of fraud may well be much greater under the new CAP reforms than before? Will he see to it that due attention is given to this matter and that the appropriate representations are made to those members of the Commission in Brussels who do not yet appear to be taking it seriously?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I shall certainly give the noble Lord an assurance that the opinion he stated will be fully looked at. These criticisms were based on the Commission's original proposals. The measures in the final package were a considerable improvement on those. They will be easier to administer and less open to fraud. For example, regional base areas in the arable sector will be simpler to administer than the individual base areas proposed by the Commission, and will provide a ceiling on spending.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that, by and large, the more complicated the regulations the easier it is to carry out fraud? Does he not further agree that one of the problems of the common agricultural policy is that it is so detailed? The more detail one has the greater the scope for fraud. Would it not be better, as has been suggested from these Benches on a number of occasions, for the Government to press for the Commission to confine itself to the broad lines of policy and leave the regulations to internal administration?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, once the Commission has introduced detailed implementing rules, it will be for member states to ensure that the new schemes are properly implemented and controlled. The Commission proposal for a Community-wide integrated administration and control system will, if agreed in a suitable form, help ensure full and effective implementation.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, would not a few successful prosecutions be of assistance?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, there certainly have been some prosecutions, but I do not have the figures with me today.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, can the noble Earl tell the House whether the Council of Economic and Finance Ministers is proposing to consider further the Court of Auditors' special opinion on measures to combat fraud under CAP reform and whether such consideration will take place before the proposed measures begin in the autumn of this year?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, the draft text provides for the integrated system to apply from 1st January 1993 in the case of annual statements and aid applications, and from 1st January 1994 for other matters. It is not yet clear whether agreement on the framework regulation—and the more detailed implementing arrangements which have yet to be introduced—can be reached in time to allow introduction by 1st January 1993.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that frauds by olive tree growers are absolute peanuts—if that is the correct expression—compared with the money which is achieved by swindling in the export subsidy market? Secondly, can he tell us how many extra civil servants the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of the Environment and other government departments will need to apply the new diverse and numerous regulations?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, perhaps I may answer the noble Lord with a statistic. In 1991 574 irregularities were reported in the EC as a whole. The amount involved was £47 million and the amount recovered was £6.56 million. In answer to the second part of the noble Lord's question, I am afraid that I do not have the figures for that either.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the noble Earl has said quite frankly that he does not have the figures on a number of subjects. As I understand The Companion to the Standing Orders, Question Time has the purpose of eliciting information from the Government. Therefore, in reply to his noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, can he find out how many prosecutions have been made, and in regard to all the other questions on which the noble Earl has failed to give information, will he kindly write to noble Lords and place copies of the letters in the Library?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

Yes, my Lords.