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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as I have explained from the Dispatch Box before, we have seen unemployment fall by around 750,000 as we have come out of this recession and our unemployment is still falling in contrast to many of our friends in the European Union--using the EUROSTAT standardised unemployment rates, just in case the Opposition demand to know whether the rates I quote are standardised, as indeed they always are. In December, the last month for which we have these standardised figures, ourselves and Germany were both at 8.6 per cent. The Germans will now be above us. The French were at 11.6 per cent.; Italy at 12.6 per cent.; and the European Union average was 10.9 per cent. So we seem to be doing rather well.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that regarding unemployment figures he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land? The unemployment figures, which are now renamed "claimant unemployment", are about 1.25 million lower than the actual figure at the present time. If unemployment were calculated and reported on the same basis as in 1979, it would today be standing at 4 million. Sooner or later, the country will become aware of that, and then the noble Lord will be smiling on the other side of his face.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, it is rather a pity that the noble Lord, who is always very careful in these matters, did not listen carefully to what I said before I explained the figures. The figures I used were not the figures we collect monthly; they were the EUROSTAT standardised unemployment figures which are collected and put on a standard rate. That is why, at 8.6 per cent., they are higher than the figures we produce every month.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, we welcome the favourable judgment of the international observer missions on the elections on 26th-27th February and look forward to the run-off vote for the presidency on 15th March. We also welcome the opening of talks between the Revolutionary United Front and the Sierra Leone authorities. Political progress is essential if there is to be lasting peace in Sierra Leone.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the noble Baroness join me in congratulating Brigadier Bio on his commitment to democracy and express the hope that the second round of elections, which are to be held, I believe, on Friday, will be as peaceful as the first, although they were marred by a certain amount of violence? Can the Minister explain why the observers have been withdrawn and will not be present to witness the run-off of the presidential election on 15th March? Will she also join me in congratulating President Bedie and Foreign Minister Essy on their successful diplomacy which brought the RUF to the conference table? Does she agree that it is best to leave further measures of negotiation to the Cote d'Ivoire and not to muddy the waters by interfering through the Commonwealth or the United Nations?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, Brigadier Bio and the council are to be congratulated on the elections. We hope that the run-off will be free and fair. We are very grateful that the Cote d'Ivoire has been positively helpful. It is now critical that the RUF continues in discussions with the National Provincial Ruling Council. That is one of the things that we hope to see happening.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, accepting what the Minister has said about the election, as I do, can she tell the House what the Government intend to do to support the new government in Sierra Leone? Does she agree that resources from the international community to support a good governance programme are vital and that the disarming of the rebels and the demobilisation of the Sierra Leone army are now absolutely vital as a first priority, preferably with a jobs programme for former soldiers?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. It is a little early to go into this in some detail. We have obviously helped with the elections to the tune of £3 million to make sure that they
Lord Avebury: My Lords, can the noble Baroness say how she believes that the peace process can be continued in the interim period between now and the handover to the incoming president on 27th April? Will those negotiations be conducted as heretofore by Brigadier Bio or will there be some way of associating the winning candidate on 15th March with any further talks that take place?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the report of the external auditors on the accounts of the Court of Auditors for the financial year 1994 was published in the Official Journal of the European Communities OJ C 298 dated 11th November 1995. A copy is available in the Library and the Government are content with these findings.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that he will probably regret his endorsement of Coopers & Lybrand's audit report on the Court of Auditors because in Brussels at present there is very little talk of anything other than the gross extravagance which the Court of Auditors, which should be the guardians of expenditure, has incurred in the year in question and is likely to incur in 1996, with the approval of the Government? Will the Government give an undertaking that they will examine this matter a little further and thus avoid a rather more detailed ventilation of the matter, which they will surely get unless they do so?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, is putting far too much faith in a recent press article in the Observer. Perhaps I can recommend that he reads the Official Journal and the conclusion of the Coopers & Lybrand report which says:
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that nobody is questioning the accuracy or reliability of the accounts that have been prepared? The question relates to what the accounts themselves truthfully disclose. Does the Minister agree that they disclose an extravagance which, in modern times, ought to be entirely denounced by a government that are bent on achieving the utmost economy in public expenditure?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we are dedicated to achieving the utmost economy in public expenditure. I am a bit disappointed that the noble Lord has gone very quickly from the Court of Auditors being a collection of heroes when it comes to criticising other parts of the European budget, to today being, so to speak, the villains of the piece. I do not believe that the noble Lord's generalised remarks bear any resemblance to the actual truth. As I said in my answer, they are taken heavily from an article in the Observer. I commend the noble Lord not to believe everything that he reads in newspapers.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, yes indeed, and my noble friend is quite right about that. The Court of Auditors undertakes a very important function, normally backed by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. Its members have to do quite a bit of travelling as the money is spent and has to be checked in the member states and, in many cases, outside the European Union where we spend money as a community. That is right and proper. I believe that the Court of Auditors and its officials would be attacked if they did not go to the places where the money is spent to check the audit trail right through to the final user.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, as I understand it, the Court of Auditors audits the expenditure of the European Union centrally. Coopers & Lybrand seems to have audited the Court of Auditors' accounts. Can the Minister say who audits Coopers & Lybrand's accounts?
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