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House of Lords

Tuesday, 21st 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 Chelmsford.

European Parliament Budget

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What powers are available to (a) the member states of the European Union acting as the European Council, (b) the Council of Ministers acting unanimously or by qualified majority decision and (c) the European Commission, in order to limit the expenditure proposed in the European Parliament's own budget (Section 1 of the draft General Budget of the European Union) or to effect changes in the budget's individual titles.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord's three questions; first, the European Council is not part of the budgetary authority, secondly, there is an understanding between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament under which neither amends the other's draft budget--the reason being that since the parliament has the final word on all non-compulsory expenditure it would otherwise be at liberty to amend the Council's administrative budget as it wished--and, thirdly, the Commission may attach a divergent opinion to the estimates for expenditure put forward by each institution at the beginning of the budgetary process.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that that is a thoroughly unsatisfactory reply? It reveals that Her Majesty's Government, who pay some £6.5 billion into Europe as their contribution, have absolutely no control over parliamentary expenditure despite the fact that on page 30 of the draft budget the total expenditure of the parliament is revealed. Can the noble Lord explain why one of the leading contributors at the heart of Europe--the United Kingdom--does not interest itself in the gross extravagances that have taken place in the European Parliament as regards buildings, expense, missions and informational expenditure?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the total amounts of money spent by the European Union are controlled by the own resources provisions and so on. The total is controlled. But the noble Lord is right in saying that within that total the European Parliament must look after its own budget and make its own decisions about its expenditure. One would hope that the parliament would bear in mind when it makes those decisions that it has to take the people of Europe along with it in approving not only of the decisions but also

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of the parliament itself. I am happy to tell the noble Lord that I am not answerable for the individual decisions the European Parliament makes.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, my noble friend may be surprised to learn that I agree with him about the need to influence the level of expenditure in Europe but he may not agree with me when I ask the Minister this question. If the words in the gracious Speech about participating in the IGC are to be at all meaningful they mean that the Government have in mind to participate more fruitfully and more fully in seeking to influence what goes on in Europe. I hope that that is indeed what they have in mind. Can the noble Lord reassure me that the Government intend to play a greater part in European affairs?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, of course I can give the noble Lord an assurance that we will play a major role, as we have always played a major role, in the considerations within the European Union. We are a major player. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, pointed out, we are also a major contributor. We will play that part. But we believe that to play a fruitful part means not just that we play a part in the Community itself but that we do so on behalf of, and in the interests of, the United Kingdom.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, the noble Lord has told us a lot about formal regulatory arrangements but he has not told us what is the Government's view concerning the European Parliament's budget. Do the Government regard that budget as being appropriate in size and composition? If they do not regard it as appropriate, what would they like to see changed?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I thought that I had made it clear, but obviously I shall have to spell it out in words of one syllable. We are not responsible for the individual decisions of the European Parliament. As I said very clearly, we hope that the parliament will keep in mind the need to spend sensibly and to make sensible decisions about its own budget in order to give the peoples of Europe confidence in its procedures. It is separately and democratically elected and it is answerable for its affairs and its expenditure. I believe that that is the right way.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, we are accustomed to the noble Lord not quite understanding economic questions so perhaps I may repeat my question in words of one syllable. What is the Government's view as to the scale and composition--I am sorry, that is too many syllables--of the budget?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I thought that I had made it quite clear that we believe that the budget of the European Parliament is a matter for that parliament. I was interested to hear from the learned Lord opposite--by "learned" I mean as an economist--that he may take a different view. I did not actually mean that in the way that some noble Lords have taken it, although it can be taken both ways. The noble Lord may take a different view and feel that we

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should intervene in the detailed running of the European Parliament and its budget. I do not believe that we should.

Lord Shaw of Northstead: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that under the new powers given to the European Court of Auditors, there is now much greater scope for that institution to examine much more closely the affairs of the European Parliament?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, yesterday, the European Court of Auditors presents an annual report on the way in which the European Community spends its money. It highlights those places where spending is abused or misused or where there is fraud. If any of the expenditure fell into those categories, I imagine that would include expenditure by the European Parliament.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, can the Minister explain who determines the amount of money which the European Parliament is able to spend and whether the Government have a view on the totality as opposed to the apportionment of that money within the totality?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, of course we have a view about the totality. We have fought very hard to make sure that there is a ceiling put on the totality. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Thatcher, in her days as Prime Minister, fought and won a very considerable battle at Fontainebleau in order to make sure that we did not overpay in our contributions to the European Union. The point about the parliament is that it has to respect the treaty provisions on the rate of growth of expenditure and on the expenditure ceilings, not only as regards the whole budget, but on the different parts of it. The amounts inside the totality are agreed between three Community institutions.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, given the incredible waste, the democratic illegitimacy and the general irrelevance of the European Parliament, can my noble friend tell us whether he would invent it if it did not already exist?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I do not believe that I would be nearly clever enough to invent it if it did not already exist. The point is that it is democratically elected. The Members of the European Parliament come from constituencies in this country and throughout Europe. I believe that it is one of their responsibilities to listen to the democratic views of the people who elected them and to remember that they have to take them along with them, not just for the sake of the European Parliament which, frankly, is a lesser concern of mine, but for the whole institution of the European Union.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, may I give the noble Lord notice that I shall return to this matter again?

Lord Tordoff: My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that when we talk about democratic legitimacy, it

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comes somewhat strangely from Members of your Lordships' House when compared with Members of the European Parliament who are directly elected?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I thought that, but I would not have dared to say it. In reply to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, I have no doubt that he will return to this matter. If he did not, I would be the first Minister who had managed to silence him on European matters.

Young Offenders

2.47 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they propose to prevent repetition of crimes by young people who are too young to be detained after arrest and conviction.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, custodial powers are available, regardless of age, for serious offences. The introduction of the secure training order for young persistent offenders will widen these powers, and we have taken steps to strengthen community penalties and ensure their effective enforcement.

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