European Communities (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:48 pm on 20th November 2001.

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Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:48 pm, 20th November 2001

Once again, we are dealing with changes in the procedures by which important officials of the European institutions take office. On this occasion, the amendment concerns the Court of Auditors. I confess that, having read the details of the treaty, I am not 100 per cent clear as to how the QMV system now introduced into Article 247 operates. The details are set out in that article. In replying to the inquiries behind the amendment, perhaps the Minister will clarify some of the issues.

It appears that member states produce a list of people in accordance with the proposals of each member state. Those people are then appointed for six years, but the Council,

"acting by a qualified majority after consulting the European Parliament, shall adopt [that] list".

However, if the list already exists, what does the QMV adoption process involve? It is possible that, as in relation to other matters, that process will not make very much difference. In that case, the same question arises: why do we bother?

That aside, the work of the auditors is of vital and central importance to the processes, decisions, actions and activities of the European institutions. If there was any doubt about that in the past—I do not believe that there was; we and, indeed, all parties in Britain have always favoured very much the work of the auditors—it will have been eliminated or wiped out by the latest report from the auditors. That report, regrettably, found that a further £5 billion had been lost through fraud and mismanagement in the dispensation and implementation of Community programmes.

That is extremely disturbing. It indicates that the Court of Auditors is doing a very good job indeed and that someone else is doing a very bad job. It indicates that the Court of Auditors provides a mechanism that really works and, therefore, again raises the question of why it needs to be changed or why we came to agree in discussions on the Nice Treaty that it needed to be changed. I make those short remarks simply to explain why the amendment has been tabled. I beg to move.