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House of Lords

Tuesday, 7th November 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark

Lord Norton—Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

EC Committee System

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the activities, broad areas of competence, legal basis and annual cost of the committees established by the European Commission and whether they will report to Parliament on these matters.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, the system of committees, which was established by a Council decision in 1987, ensures that the member states can oversee and influence the exercise by the Commission of implementing powers delegated to it under Article 145 of the EC treaty. The Government consider that there may be scope for procedural and other improvements. That is being reviewed in advance of the Inter-Governmental Conference.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that there are no fewer than 424 such committees at present and that they operate at an annual cost of £15 million? There is no indication in the budget for 1995 as to whether the committees—they are all listed between pages 197 and 213—are consultative, advisory, regulatory or management. In short, no one knows anything about them. Will the noble Lord undertake to inform the House as to the real nature and function of the committees and who appoints them? Alternatively, are we in for a series of everlasting quangos?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord asks a number of questions. There are three principal kinds of committees: advisory, management and regulatory. All the committees are chaired by a member of the Commission and all the member states have a representative on the committees—often officials—depending on the subject matter before that committee. As the noble Lord said, there are a good many committees although I cannot confirm the exact number. Very many exist to manage, for example, various parts of the common agricultural policy and to regulate important aspects of the Single European Act.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister further aware that the regulatory committees have powers which have been delegated to them by someone—either the Council or the Commission—to bring into operation laws that do not even go before the European Parliament, let alone the national parliaments?

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Will he please look into the matter again? In addition, will he say whether the expenditure by the Commission in the current year's budget of £400 million on propaganda to inform the public in Europe of the advantages of a single currency will be administered by a committee? Will the Minister give further details in the interests of greater transparency— the "Eurospeak" term, I believe?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, again the noble Lord asks a number of questions. I cannot confirm that £400 million—it seems an amazing amount of money—has been set aside to try to persuade us of the merits of a single currency. We do not need to be persuaded about the problem because my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has taken steps to ensure that we will only involve ourselves in it if we decide to do so at the time. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, will talk to his own party about its need to have matters explained.

As to other aspects of his question, the committees can only act on the basis of secondary legislation under the instructions of the primary legislation agreed by the Council of Ministers. The committees are there in an advisory, management or regulatory capacity, based on the primary legislation passed by the Council of Ministers.

Lord Cockfield: My Lords, if the common agricultural policy were to be abolished, can my noble friend say how many committees it would save and how much agony it would spare the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, in having to ask questions.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I do not know whether it would spare the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, much agony because he would probably find some other matter on which to expend it. I understand that something like 70 per cent. of the committees are involved with the common agricultural policy. As I said, when one considers that each product—sheep meat, for example—has a committee to manage the regime which has been set up, one can easily understand why a fair number of committees is needed to run the common agricultural policy.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend not right to agonise about these matters? Does he not do a great service to this House and the country by bringing these matters before the Chamber? Is it correct that these kinds of committees cause great difficulties by introducing regulations—regulations which make things difficult for British industry, close down abattoirs, make it difficult for growers of lettuce and other vegetables and indeed close down cheesemakers who have been in operation for many hundreds of years in this country?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the answers to the first two questions of the noble Lord are yes and yes. With regard to the last question, we come to some of the fables that are put about concerning the European Community. We must bear in mind that, as a country, we want a single market where rules and regulations are not used by one particular country in order to keep out the products of another. It is in our interests as a great trading nation to have that single

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market in Europe and, whether or not we like it, those committees are part of the structure for making sure that rules and regulations run that important single market.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how many quangos there are in this country? Can he also say how the number of civil servants in Brussels compares with the number in this country?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, that is a long way from the committees and the original Question.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the difficulties about the committee structure of the Commission and indeed the structure of the European Parliament is that there are 15 countries involved and 10 or 11 different languages? Is he aware that it is extremely difficult to operate a single market with so many different languages, involving rather heavy costs in interpretation and translation? Is there any chance that the European Union might move towards adopting, say, three basic languages for its working practices?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, here, too, the noble Lord moves away from the original Question but not so far as did the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. There is no doubt that one of the problems in producing the various proposals that go to the committees is, as my noble friend Lady Chalker mentioned yesterday, that of having to translate them into all the languages of the Community. Some of my noble friends behind me appear to be suggesting that I should go further than the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and go for one language; namely, English.

Sudan: Human Rights

2.47 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their latest estimate of the human rights situation in Sudan and its effect on the well-being and development of the people; and what action they are taking in international fora to ensure that any problems are effectively addressed.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, we continue to express our concerns about the abysmal human rights situation in Sudan to the Sudanese Government bilaterally, with EU partners and through the United Nations. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary raised the subject with the Sudanese ambassador on 13th September.

Lord Judd: My Lords, have the Government had time to read the disturbing reports by the noble Baroness and most courageous lady, Lady Cox, following her recent visits to that country? Does the Minister agree that, while there is still too much evidence of brutality on all sides, not least in the south and the Nuba mountains, it largely negates any prospect of effective humanitarian or development programmes? Can he

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assure the House that the Government are working together with other governments in the European Union and the UN to persuade the parties to the conflict to invite a human rights monitoring team to go unimpeded to that country to watch the situation and safeguard the interests of the ordinary people?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, there are disturbing reports continuing to emerge from southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains about the bombing of civilian settlements, massacres of civilians and systematic slavery. We are concerned about the continued obstruction by the Sudanese Government of humanitarian aid to areas of Sudan, including the Nuba mountains. We shall continue to push bilaterally, through the EU and through the UN, to increase humanitarian access to those Sudanese in need.

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