HL Deb 14 May 1992 vol 537 cc445-7

3.4 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the total staff of the EC in Brussels; and what is the total salary bill in the current year.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, the total number of statutory staff posts in the Commission is currently set at 13,975. The appropriations entered in the amended 1992 budget for salaries and allowances total 923.5 mecu (around £644 million). There are also statutory staff based in Brussels in the other Community institutions. The Council, including the Economic and Social Committee, has 2,725 staff, with a budget for salaries and allowances totalling 173 mecu (about £120 million). In addition, some of the 3,641 statutory posts in the European Parliament are based at Brussels.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that extremely interesting Answer. In the second half of this year, when Her Majesty's Government will be in the lead on the Commission, will action be taken to restrain growth both in expense and in numbers of staff in Brussels?

The Earl of Caithness

; My Lords, yes, As usual we shall continue to look at the budget with very great care. Our primary task will be to adopt a budget in December which represents budget discipline and does not prejudice decisions on future finance.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the figures he has given are alarming. Are we getting value for money?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we continue to look for value for money. The noble Lord will be aware that one of the great benefits of the Maastricht Treaty was that for the first time it has written down that there should be sound financial management in the Commission.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the members of staff of the European Community do an immense amount of work and that in the Commission in Brussels, which deals with about 370 million people, the number of staff employed is about the same as for Lambeth Borough Council?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I believe that many in the House would not have known the information in the second part of my noble friend's question. It is very revealing. Yes, there are many people in the Commission who work extremely hard.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, am I correct in understanding that, in relation to the British Civil Service, it is the Government's promise to put many functions out to tender? During their presidency will the British Government propose the same arrangements for the civil service in Brussels and elsewhere?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, no, because it is the Commission in the first instance which has to decide that. The budget and the work that people will do in the Commission are then checked by the Council and the European Parliament.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, during our presidency will Ministers not confine their activities to restraining numbers? Will they also seek to restrain some of their activities?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we consider priorities and urge the Commission also to look at priorities, as does the Court of Auditors.

Lord Aldington

My Lords, do the numbers that my noble friend has given include interpreters and those responsible for translation? Having regard to a memorandum from the Foreign Office that has been published to the Select Committee, am I not right in thinking that two-thirds of the Commission staff are engaged in translation and interpretation? Therefore we can expect the total figures to be large and to increase as enlargement gets under way.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I do not know the answer to my noble friend's question. I shall write to him on the subject.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Earl give an undertaking that when Ministers examine the Commission's budget they will pay more personal attention to the details comprised within it? Will he take steps to ensure that the current practice of allowing the bulk of the Commission budget to go through on the nod on the advice of COREPER will stop, and that we take direct ministerial responsibility for our approval of the Commission's budget?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the budget process is complicated. However, where we can take action we do. But the noble Lord has a good point about getting greater transparency within the Commission funds.

Baroness Young

My Lords, given that there will inevitably be civil servants in Brussels, and that the number needs to be restrained, are we doing all that we can to ensure that a correct proportion of those civil servants comes from Britain so that we can use our influence?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, yes, my noble friend is absolutely right. It is very important for this country and for the good functioning of the Community that we have good British civil servants in Brussels.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, made a good point when she stated that the number of staff was equivalent to the number running a large borough. Will the noble Earl tell us how the total number of staff compares with the number of civil servants in Scotland?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, no, that is a different question. However, if the noble Lord cares to put a question down I shall try to answer it.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, it is not a different question.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, with respect, it is a different question. The Question on the Order Paper is about staff in the EC in Brussels, not Scotland.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will my noble friend say what proportion of civil servants in the EC are engaged on activities which are intended to direct the people of Europe to do things that they already do very well such as making sausages, cutting flowers and smoking smokies?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it is difficult to give a precise answer to my noble friend's question. It is important that we continue to ensure that only those matters best done in Europe are undertaken in Europe and that the principles of subsidiarity now enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty are followed carefully.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I was not clear from the noble Earl's Answer whether he considered that the figures he gave regarding the number of people and the amount of money were a little or a lot. Despite the reference to Lambeth, the number of people and the amount of money sound enormous to me. Those of us who occasionally visit Brussels see a vast amount of people —many more than those in offices in Whitehall —who have incredible facilities compared with those in your Lordships' House. I do not speak as a Euro-sceptic. But if those people are working hard it is not obvious what they do.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, if the noble Lord cares to have a word with my noble friend Lady Elles, who has considerably more experience than I have of the work of the officials in Brussels, although I have seen quite a lot of it, it might help to solve his problem.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, does my noble friend appreciate that the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, comparing the EC staff with those of the Lambeth borough is a damaging association, and will he seek to protect the staff of the EC from imputations of that kind?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I take careful note of my noble friend's remark.

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