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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Another change is that the term will be renewable. It used to be for just six years. Under the new wording it will be renewable.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: And why not, if they are good?

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: In that case, will the Minister respond to my suggestion that perhaps the members of the Court of Auditors should consist of the donor countries only. Does he not believe that that would do much to stamp out fraud and so on? Does he believe that that is a good idea that Her Majesty's Government can put to their partners in Brussels?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I did not think that I was required to take that seriously. I am sorry. If there is one way to introduce disharmony between member states it is to say that the rich have the ability to override the wishes of the poor.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: The rich would merely have the ability to follow their own money. Many of the problems that we face would not be there.

Lord Bruce of Donington: Can the Minister say how he regards the apparent distinction between fraud and irregularity? It would be useful to be informed of where the line is to be drawn between them. An irregularity is an irregularity. Therefore, the dividing line between that and fraud may be a question of intent. It may be a whole question which merits the decision of extremely skilled lawyers in the field. But it perhaps is a little dangerous—I put it no higher than

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that—to regard an irregularity as something that can be tolerated rather than checked and taken to its source and remedies for the "irregularity" instituted.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The rules of this House and the rules of this Committee do not provide for any sanctions against noble Lords asking questions or making points which are outside the area of the amendment that we are supposed to be considering. Self-denial says that I will answer questions about the amendment and not questions that clearly have nothing to do with it.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: In that case, if we are to decide whether the Court of Auditors is to be appointed in future on a system of qualified majority voting, with all the disadvantages that I have enumerated, would the Minister care to answer the question that I put to him, and which is well within the amendment, as to how the Court of Auditors' report this year compares with its previous reports? We are talking about the performance of the Court of Auditors whose composition we are asked to change. Also, how is Mr Kinnock getting on with his reforms which concern the Court of Auditors?

Lord Howell of Guildford: We all applaud the spirit of self-denial in which the Minister speaks.

It is right and proper that we should focus on the amendments without excluding some of the reasoning—often the great edifice of reasoning—and events that lie behind the proposals in the Nice Treaty and the wish of the amendment that they might disapply in our own legislation.

What we have established from the short debate is that while our amendment is unlikely to change anything very much, neither will the provision. This therefore is change for change's sake. In addition, Article 248 states:

    "The Court of Auditors shall draw up its Rules of Procedure. Those rules shall require the approval of the Council, acting by a qualified majority".

That change is in heavy type. So there, too, is a tiny grandmother's footstep forward in directions as regards which we are right to be on our guard. Bearing in mind the need to make progress and that this is perhaps not a central provision either way, although there are questions left hanging in the air—Why bother? Why do it? Why sign up to it?—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Howell of Guildford moved Amendment No. 25:

    Page 1, line 9, after "10," insert "other than Article 2, paragraph 41,"

The noble Lord said: These are similar provisions concerning the addition of QMV to other interesting and important areas in the structure of the European institutions. Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 refer to the extension of QMV to choosing the membership of the

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350 member-strong Economic and Social Committee. Its members are appointed for four years. Amendment No. 30 concerns the Committee of the Regions.

Both bodies are valuable institutions. I have heard them criticised. People have said that they are only talking shops and so on. Talk and the airing of opinions and views from certain interests in addition to those of the citizens of Europe through the, sadly inadequate, general democratic system—an envelope of democracy encasing the European institutions—should not be dismissed. The institutions form a part of the pattern of exchange and dialogue from the grass roots. They are rather like the buttresses of a cathedral that has not been built because the democratic deficit is so obvious at the centre of the system. But around the edge are institutions where hard work is done by people from the various member states who offer their expertise and views. Apparently, that is all to be governed by qualified majority voting. I wonder why. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: I rise to support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Howell. I would like to find out more about the Committee of the Regions. It was established in the Maastricht Treaty. It seems to have areas of compulsory consultation—economic and social cohesion, trans-European networks, public health, education, youth culture and so on. What has it achieved? My noble friend said that it was not a talking shop. If it is not a talking shop, what has it done? If it is a talking shop, why do we need it at all? If it is not, perhaps we could be told why it is so important that it needs to be dealt with by qualified majority voting and not by unanimity.

It may be that the Minister can tell me this in a letter rather than in a debate, but it would be interesting to find out its remit and what it has done. I have not seen a report on the Committee of the Regions. I do not know whether it has a budget, whether its members are paid or unpaid, whether it gets its expenses, and where and how often it meets. I know that there is a so-called "bureau" of 40 members including a president and a vice-president, and so on. It seems to have a great deal of work to do. But I wonder whether it is worthwhile. What has the Committee of the Regions done? Perhaps a member of it can tell me. My old friend the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, is here. He was a member of the Committee of the Regions. We may be further enlightened. I wait to hear if we get some information from a member of the very committee about which we are talking.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: One could ask other members of this House who are members of the Committee of the Regions. These things are not secret. There seems to be a view that the entire European Union is a conspiracy against Britain which, to my great surprise, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, along with the noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Stoddart, and others, appears to share. There seems to be a view that somehow there is a great secret plot going. The

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noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, referred to all these secret groups which now meet under the common and foreign security policy.

I am happy to give—

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I do not think that I used the word "secret". I just believe that they exist and I was asking who they report to, what they do and whether we take any foreign policy decision without their agreement.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I can refer the noble Lord to some extremely boring academic articles—the first one written in 1977 by a dreadful character called William Wallace—to show that this is not secret. It has been much studied. These things are all out in the public domain if one wishes to learn. Trying to use this Committee to suggest that we need to be told at great length by the Government things that have been in the public domain for a very long time seems to be a little excessive.

Lord Bowness: I was tempted by my noble friend to rise to speak about the Committee of the Regions. I shall resist the temptation to speak at length, but implicit in my noble friend's remarks was the suggestion that the committee was a waste of time.

I had the honour to be a member of the Committee of the Regions in its first mandate. I am no longer a member, but there are two Members of your Lordships' House who are still members of the Committee—the noble Lords, Lord Tope and my noble friend Lord Hanningfield. The committee is representative of local and regional government from the member states of the European Union. The number of its members is determined according to the size of the member state.

There is obligatory consultation by the Council and Commission on proposals put forward by the Committee of the Regions. I should have thought that noble Lords would be pleased to hear that members of the Committee of the Regions always hold a local mandate within their respective member states. Many of the initiatives of the European Union are implemented by local and regional government within the European Union. I know that this may bring shock and horror to some of my noble friends, but I was a member not only of the Committee of the Regions but also of the European People's Party group on that committee, and it seemed to me that it was entirely appropriate that local members who ultimately had to implement European legislation should have the opportunity of commenting at an early stage.

In order not to take up too much of the Committee's time, I shall say only that within the first mandate when I was a member, the results of the committee's work were carefully monitored. At least two reports were produced, showing the areas in which members of the Committee of the Regions, through the opinions that they produced in open plenary session before the public, influenced proposals put forward either by the

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Council or the Commission. I am sure that since I have ceased to be a member, and as the committee has gone from strength to strength, its influence has grown.

That committee is certainly not a talking shop. I can assure my noble friends that its members are not paid; they are given subsistence and a daily allowance. They meet principally in Brussels, although I believe that some members of the commissions and the bureau meet elsewhere from time to time. Certainly the bureau meets once in the country that holds the presidency.

I see no reason why members of the Committee of the Regions should not be appointed on a qualified majority vote. They go forward on a slate from the member states. Local government in this country does not decide who they should be. It may forward names to the Secretary of State, but it is the Council which makes the appointment.

I regret taking up the Committee's time, but it seemed that some of the work of the Committee of the Regions was being called into question and it was suggested that it was in some way secret. I thought it appropriate that somebody who served on that committee for four years, with other Members of your Lordships' House, should make it clear that that was not the case.

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