Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are two aspects to this problem? The first is the anxiety about the possibly excessive concentration of the burns service over such a large area of the south of England which will cause problems were, for any reason such as accident or infection, the one remaining unit which will serve this huge area to go out of service.

Secondly, is the noble Baroness aware of the progressive increase of concern among the team of specialists and researchers about where they will live, and where their children will go to school, if the service is broken up and if it is not possible for them to continue their work at Mount Vernon? That is resulting already

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1017

in a progressive disintegration of the ability of the charity to provide funds for the work which has been done at Mount Vernon which is of such importance.

Baroness Hayman: Yes, my Lords, I recognise the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, raises. There is a range of options as to the eventual location of the services, including Mount Vernon itself. Other options involve not necessarily concentrating services at an existing site. The review of national burns care, which is being undertaken by the British Burn Association, will help us to determine the right catchment area and access to those specialised services.

However, I recognise what the noble Lord says about the importance of keeping that team together wherever it is located. The further the distance that any potential move involves, the more difficult that may be. Together with issues about the right support services, the specialist imaging and the paediatric services, those factors are being taken into account by the advisory group.

Earl Howe: My Lords, is the Minister aware that alongside the review to which my noble friend has rightly drawn attention there are three other reviews into specialist services in north-west London? They relate respectively to cancer, cardiothoracic care and orthopaedics. Can the noble Baroness confirm that despite the close connection between all four of those clinical disciplines, the reviews are being conducted in complete isolation from one another? Does she agree that if that is true it is a ridiculous state of affairs?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, one must balance having the right kind of specialist expertise in reviews of specialist services against taking an overall strategic view of major centres. One cannot look at, for example, cancer services without looking at Calman-Hine and the implications of its national implementation. It is the responsibility of the regional office to ensure that when exercises are run in parallel, there is proper integration of thinking so that the consequences of recommendations for other services are taken into account. It is difficult, but it is right provided that the co-ordination is correct. That must be the job of the regional office.

European Commission: Reform

2.50 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they intend to take to reform the European Commission "root and branch".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Government have already shared specific reform ideas with our partners. We believe that the Commission should be

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1018

guided by efficiency, transparency and accountability. Achieving this will require changes in financial control systems, personnel management and structures.

Heads of Government met Mr. Prodi, the European Council's nominee for Commission President, on 14th April to discuss Commission reform. They agreed to take forward the reform process at the European Council in Cologne on 3rd and 4th June on the basis of more detailed plans drawn up by Mr. Prodi.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Can she confirm that under the terms of the Amsterdam Treaty the Government gave the President of the Commission absolute power of veto over nominations to the Commission? Bearing that in mind, and the fact that Mr. Prodi has a serious federalist agenda, does she believe that there is any chance of reforming the Commission by so much as a twig, let alone root and branch?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords, I believe that there is a great chance of reforming the Commission. I am sure that the noble Lord will be pleased to know that some of the ideas put forward by Mr. Prodi are similar to those which I am sure your Lordships will approve and which the Government will be pursuing. It is true that the President and member states nominate commissioners by what has been described as "common accord". I am sure that there will be a good deal of accord in those nominations.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in Brussels two years ago the member states passed a Convention on the Fight Against Corruption Involving Officials of the European Communities or Officials of the Member States of the European Union, a copy of which was placed in the Vote Office yesterday? Will she explain why this is not yet in force? Will she also bear in mind that the speech of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister referred not only to a reform of the Commission but also to a reform of its mandate and method of operation? What steps are being taken at our governmental level to ensure that that is proceeded with by the Council of Ministers or the European Council, whose meeting on 24th and 25th March in Berlin did little except congratulate the Commission on its past record?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that the meeting in Berlin did a little more than that. My noble friend raises some specific points. I must examine exactly what was placed in the Library yesterday, but I am sure that my noble friend will be pleased to know that on 15th March the ECOFIN Council agreed to the creation of a new European fraud prevention office which will replace UCLAF, the existing anti-fraud body which my noble friend has criticised in the past. The important point is that the new office will enjoy the broadest possible operating autonomy, including the power to initiate investigations,

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1019

and will have full access to documents and officials. The Government have long advocated that course of action and are pleased to see it coming into force.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the expert group made it plain that no charge of corruption or bribery lay against any commissioner? Will she also confirm that much of the management weakness that it found arose directly from requests from the European Council and the Council of Ministers, the effective meeting of which went beyond the capacity of the Commission's staff or its budget? Therefore, will she say how far a reform of the Commission can be extended to examining the interrelationship of the Union's institutions to make the load and the resources balance one with another?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can confirm that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is right that the Committee of Independent Experts did not complain about either corruption or fraud on the part of any of the commissioners. Other criticisms were made, but not about that.

The point the noble Baroness makes about the restructuring is important. Her Majesty's Government believe that the Commission will have to set in place management structures to deliver an effective and flexible service. That must be informed by accountability and transparency. We shall wish to see a wide review of the present structures of the directorates-general. We shall also wish to see mechanisms for adjusting to changing priorities and better organisation of the political direction provided by the College of Commissioners. We discussed a number of detailed points in the meeting with Mr. Prodi on 14th April, which I mentioned in my original Answer.

Lord Renton: My Lords--

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, would my noble friend--

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords--

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, as always, I am in the hands of the House, but I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, should ask his question first.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, having regard to the extremely urgent matters affecting the European Union, not least Agenda 2000 and matters affecting unemployment, will my noble friend indicate when she hopes the new Commission will be in place? In doing so, will she bear in mind the fact that the Commission will remain a vitally important feature of the whole constellation of European institutions?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the timetabling of the appointment of the new Commission depends on a number of factors during the course of this year. The European elections are to be held on 10th and

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1020

13th June. Some time after that, in June or July, member states must agree with Mr. Prodi the nominations for the Commission. We expect the new Commission to be in office in September or October this year.

Lord Renton: My Lords, will the Government bear in mind that the harmonisation of laws of the 15 European Union countries, with 11 different languages and many different legal systems, has placed an impossible task on the Commission's lawyers? If the European Union were to be further enlarged, that task would become even more impossible. Therefore, will the Government make representations to abolish the duty to move towards harmonisation?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page