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 Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour 5:48 pm, 20th November 2001

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, I have had the benefit of obtaining a copy of the Court of Auditors report on the last financial year, which was published last week. I do not pretend that my bedside reading has necessarily led me to read it cover to cover but I have read it substantially. There is no reference to fraud amounting to £5 billion. As ever, there is a fairly substantial reference to irregularities and the continuing reminder to member states in the Court of Auditors that 90 per cent of the EU budget—primarily the budget for the common agricultural policy and structural funds—is expended by the authorities of the member states. It states that most of the irregularities occur within member states, where accounting principles are inconsistent with those that are laid down at the centre. We should not put too much credence on the bold figures that have been quoted. There should be an attempt to distinguish between fraud and irregularity, and the report by the Court of Auditors does that.

I agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Bruce on the valuable report by the European Union Committee. It has now been around for several months—I believe that it was published in April or May of this year—and it should have been debated in your Lordships' House. It does not heap paeans of praise on the Court of Auditors; it makes substantial criticisms of the court—about the way in which the court is structured and works, about the lack of professional audit capacity in it and about its unpreparedness for enlargement, which is the major challenge for the EU. I am sure that the proposal about applying QMV in this case makes no substantial difference whatever to the competence of the Court of Auditors or its role.