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Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I regret that I cannot entirely share the unadulterated enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, on the results of the Essen conference. I should have thought that they contain nothing which gives rise to the jubilation better expressed as game, set and match.
As the noble Viscount has been good enough to mention, I have a particular interest in the whole question of fraud and irregularity. I have not had the opportunity yet of seeing the Statement. However, I gather from the noble Viscount that there was wide agreement at the Essen conference as to the increased and more effective steps that are to be taken within member states to prevent fraud and irregularity and to enforce the law within each individual country; and the Commission concurred.
I regret to say that it is quite evident that the Government have not read the report of the Court of Auditors covering the year 1993. There are precedents for Ministers of high office not reading important documents. In particular, I refer to the Treaty of Maastricht which was not read at the time by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the noble Viscount will recall. The report mentions the necessity for preventing
However, one matter is quite clear. The Government have not assimilated the fact that the main part of the 1993 report of the Court of Auditors dealt with the very serious shortcomings of the Commission itself. There has been no indication from the Government that the stringent criticisms that have been made over the past 10 years by the Court of Auditors, and reiterated with even greater emphasis in the more recent report, have been understood, assimilated, or even supported by Her Majesty's Government. I therefore hope that by the time the European finance Bill comes before your Lordships' House, on, I believe, 9th and 10th January, Members of the House will have assimilated the contents of the report. I assure the noble Viscount that many of us in all parts of the House are quite determined that the Commission shall be forced to take the action which has been pressed upon it for many years by the Court of Auditors, but which has not so far been forcefully supported by Her Majesty's Government.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, until the noble Lord uttered the last few words of his intervention, I thought for one glorious moment that I should be able to agree with almost everything he said. If I may say so, he is less than fair to Her Majesty's Government, particularly in view of the assurances which I gave his noble friend Lord Richard. The United Kingdom has been at the forefront in making sure that fraud has leapt to the top of the agenda in the administration of European matters. The Court of Auditors was given power by the much derided Maastricht Treaty, which was derided by the noble Lord himself. The Essen summit called on the Court of Auditors fully to exercise those powers, as I made clear a moment ago. He will know as well as I do that tackling fraud is a battle which will never come to an end. It is up to us to ensure that we put the machinery in place which will tackle it effectively. Time will be the judge and I am reassured that the noble Lord himself will be up there in the front line with us making sure that fraud is tackled in the way that he and I want.
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, instead of a five-minute speech I should like to ask my noble friend a simple question. Is there any further news of the dissidents, representing about a quarter of the membership of the Karadzic Assembly of Parliament at Palé, who came to Belgrade last week and declared their support for peace?
Viscount Cranborne: No, my Lords, I can assure my noble friend that I have nothing to add to what my noble friend Lady Chalker said last week. However, if there is any change I am sure that my noble friend will come to the House and inform it.
Secondly, I note that the Commission will contribute £240 million to Northern Ireland over three years. I make that £80 million a year. Does that mean that our estimate of our net contribution of £3,500 million a year for the next three years will be reduced by £80 million for each of those years?
Finally, on the matter of subsidiarity, can the Minister assure me that the Government are more concerned about it than they appeared to be when they answered questions last week on the British double-decker bus? Can the Minister assure me that the Commission will now ensure that it will not bring forward the kind of regulations and directives that would force Britain to phase out double-decker buses or do anything else quite so stupid?
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, taking the last question first, I can assure the noble Lord that the aim of any directive should be to have an open European market in all buses and coaches, including double-deckers. That will not only increase our chances of preserving a valued symbol and an extremely efficient form of transport in this country but it will also enable us to have a better chance of exporting such vehicles abroad, including to the countries of Western Europe. I believe I can give the noble Lord the reassurance that he needs on his question.
As regards crime, the noble Lord will be well aware that there are already a number of proposals in place which will be further explored, particularly during the coming French presidency, to try to ensure that there is co-operation between nations on crime, as opposed to the supranational arrangements which the noble Lord fears. I am also sure that we shall be able to keep him informed on the matter, as negotiations develop.
As regards the money for Northern Ireland, I do not believe I have anything to add to what I have already said. I can reassure the noble Lord and others who asked about it that this is new money both from the Government's point of view and from the point of view of the European budget.
Lord Cockfield: My Lords, on Northern Ireland, will my noble friend confirm that it was Jacques Delors who took the lead in the Commission and the Council in pressing that the £240 million should be given to Northern Ireland?
Secondly, will he also confirm that, on fraud, the most interesting point in the communiqué, if one reads it carefully, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, encouraged us to do, is the admission there that fraud is primarily the responsibility of the governments of the member states? When we come to debate the issueas I hope we shallI propose to prove that point. Is it not the position that in an incautious remark on Radio 4 recently, the president of the Court of Auditors said that
Perhaps I may raise a third point. I am greatly in favour of further enlargement of the Community. Will my noble friend confirm that, before that enlargement can take place, it will be necessary to have a total reconstruction of the finances of the Community? That reconstruction will necessarily carry with it a root and branch review of many of the policies of the Community, including the common agricultural policy.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, whose expertise in such matters is very much greater than mine. I can confirm that the Essen conference received an initial proposal from M. Delors that the Commission should provide the money which I have described. We are duly grateful to him for his help in that.
On enlargement, I can also confirm that there will need to be a reconstruction of many policies before an enlarged Community can hope to work effectively. That point was made by both the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. One aspect, if not the most important aspect, of that reappraisal will be a further look at the common agricultural policy.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I too thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in the other place. I was particularly glad to hear the references to the Channel Tunnel rail link and the west coast main line. The noble Lord, the Leader of the House, will be aware that many Members of Parliament of both Houses have for a number of years pressed for the modernisation and improvement of these essential elements of infrastructure to enable the manufacturing heartlands of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow to get their products into the centre of the European market. We are glad that the Heads of Government of the European Union nations believe that these transport infrastructure elements are essential parts of the trans-European network. Bearing in mind those factors, I ask the Government what efforts will be made to ensure that these projects are brought to an early conclusion. The delays up to now have been scandalous. What urgency do the Government now place upon these public infrastructure projects?
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