HL Deb 23 July 1993 vol 548 cc897-900

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many staff are employed by the Commission of the European Communities in Brussels, and how many of those staff are British citizens.

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

My Lords, there are 14,802 officials employed by the European Commission in permanent and temporary positions. Of those, 1,190 are British. In the administrative grades, 527 out of a total of 4,534 officials are British.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that interesting information. Can he say who is responsible for the size of the establishment of the Commission, and whether whoever it is seeks to achieve economies by effecting reductions?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it is up to the Commission within the budget agreed by Ministers of ECOFIN to decide the amount of permanent and temporary staff it requires. It does of course consider that specific issue. My noble friend may be interested to know that although there are 14,802 officials employed by the European Commission, there are 14,400 staff in the Department of Transport. There are 12,800 serving the London Borough of Croydon; 15,000 serving Gloucestershire County Council; 17,600 serving Fife region; and 14,800 serving Gwent County Council.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the House has the greatest admiration for the borough of Gloucester and the way it goes about its task? Is he further aware that if the European Commission had to deal with the problems created by the exodus of mentally ill people from hospitals into the community, the number of staff at the Commission would probably have to treble? Will he state why the preliminary draft budget of the Community for 1994 indicates an increase in administrative expenditure by the Commission of £143 million despite the fact that Maastricht has not yet come into operation?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, no. I regret that I was not at the appropriate meeting at which the matter was discussed, but I shall find out.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will my noble friend say how many officials administer the common agricultural policy; and how does that compare with those employed in our own Ministry of Agriculture?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Renton asks a question to which I do not know the answer. I shall find out.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that as a country we have somewhat below our share of civil servants in the Commission? Does he believe that that may have something to do with the relatively low level of language skills of officials? A recent survey of the European Companion indicates that of the British civil servants who work in the Commission at Brussels, we and the Irish share the position of being the worst linguists? The Dutch are at the top of the table. Does he believe that that reflects on our foreign language teaching in schools?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, overall, in percentage terms, we should have about 15 per cent. of officials working for the European Commission. In the A grades, we have about 11.6 per cent. In total, we have about 8 per cent. We seek every way possible to increase that percentage. We hope that a number of people will come forward at the next round.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, with regard to the British employees of the Commission, will the Minister say whether any measures are taken to prevent them going native like our British cornmissioners?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I thought that being British was being native.

Lord Howell

My Lords, will the noble Earl tell us how many British officials are working on the social protocol? Related to that, does he agree that they are doing excellent work?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, every British official is doing excellent work.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the noble Earl answer my noble friend's important question on the linguistic ability of the Brits compared with our European counterparts, or does he not understand English as well as French?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we hope that a number of people will come forward and obviously, to some extent, linguistic skill is necessary. However, the grade of French which an applicant needs is somewhere between GCSE and A-level.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is there not a general law that the linguistic ability of a country is in inverse proportion to its size? May that not explain why the Netherlands and Ireland have the lowest linguistic ability?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords. I listened with care to what my noble and learned friend said. It may also have something to do with geographical position.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, can my noble friend give the proportion, approximately, of the staff who are engaged full-time and part-time in interpreting and translating documents? Can he say whether any attempt is being made at rationalisation, with the prospect of more languages within the Community within the next three years?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, there are 1,576 linguists working for the European Commission, of whom 188 come from the United Kingdom. However, as my noble friend rightly points out, there will probably be a need for more when other languages are introduced.

Lord Richard

My Lords, as a native who has returned—if I may put it that way—I am grateful to the noble Earl for putting the size of the Commission's bureaucracy in context. Does he agree that it is likely that in this country the Department of Agriculture employs as many people as the Department of Transport? If that is so, since the Department of Transport employs 14,000 people, as the noble Earl told us this morning, and since the Commission as a whole employs only 14,000 people, it seems likely that fewer people are employed in looking after the agricultural policy of the whole Community than are employed in looking after the agricultural policy of the United Kingdom.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Holme, is it not true that Britain is under-represented, particularly in the higher ranks of the Commission's services, the A grades? Can the noble Earl tell us whether anything is being done to try to redress that?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is right to mention MAFF. There are several departments such as MAFF, the DTI, the Home Office and the department of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor whose staff number between 10,000 and 13,000. Some other departments are bigger.

With regard to the under-representation which the noble Lord raised, yes, we are under-represented. We seek in a number of ways to encourage people to take up employment in the European Commission to continue the good work for Britain.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the gratuitous information which he added to his Answer in respect of the number of staff in organisations in this country. Can he say whether any of the staff whom he enumerated are paid at anything like the rate of the Brussels bureaucracy?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the information may have been gratuitous, but I also hope that it was helpful to my noble friend. No, I do not know what the wage level comparison is.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, does the low number of English people employed in the Commission also account for the fact that we have the least number of directors general in the 23 directorates, while the French, I believe, have four and the Germans five?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I do not know the number of people from England who are employed in the Commission, but I have been able to give the British figures to my noble friend. I know that there are some extremely good Scots, as usual doing a wonderful job, and also some Welshmen. I say that for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos. We are better represented in the A grades than in the lower grades, but we wish to see more British people in all grades.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for what he has just said. However, in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, said in his supplementary question, can the noble Earl give me an assurance that the Welsh, Scots and English are reasonably represented on the Commission—the British element of the Commission?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I certainly believe so.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, can the Minister say who appoints the A grades and how they are appointed?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, there is a quota for the A.1 and A.2 grades. How the appointment is carried out I do not know, but perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Richard, as a former Commissioner, would be able to help me on this occasion.

Lord Richard

My Lords, that is one of those slightly arcane areas which successive governments over the years have felt should be a little shrouded.

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