Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the noble Viscount is absolutely right. Efficiency is a very good quality, and that applies in running a lottery, as in almost everything else.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that of all the lotteries in the world, Camelot contributes more to good causes and to government than any other single lottery?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, that is right. As the recently published La Fleur research pointed out, the British lottery, Camelot, contributes more to good causes and government than any other lottery in the world and also contributes a higher proportion of its total sales.

EU Anti-Fraud Measures: UK Position

3.18 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, on 3rd June, ECOFIN considered a draft regulation providing additional powers for the Commission to carry out on-the-spot checks against fraud in member states. My right honourable friend the Chancellor indicated support in principle for this measure. However, he made it clear that, in line with the policy outlined by the Prime Minister in another place on 21st May, the United Kingdom would be unable to agree to the draft regulation until there was an

6 Jun 1996 : Column 1357

agreement to lift the export ban on beef derivatives and until there was agreement on a clear framework leading to a lifting of the wider ban.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, the Government have taken a leading role in the fight against fraud in the Community, encouraged by your Lordships' Select Committee. Therefore, is not this policy to block and veto proposals to take action against fraud the most absurd, self-defeating policy that we have so far supported? Has the Minister seen the article by the chairman of the CBI European Committee, Mr. Niall FitzGerald, who speaks about a "European nightmare" if the Government pursue such a policy? Would it not be wiser to take advantage of the good will of the Italian Presidency and of the modest concession that the Government made yesterday in connection with recognising Slovenia, in order to retreat from this cul-de-sac which they have got themselves into instead of announcing in the press today that they will be proposing another nine vetoes on Monday?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, if I understand the noble Lord correctly, he is suggesting that one should block only those measures with which one does not agree. That is no different from what happens anyway. To make the point to our European partners, we have to block even those measures with which we do agree, including the regulation on fraud. The result is that we now have a decision from the Commission to lift the ban on beef derivatives. We recognise that that was not an easy decision and we are grateful to the Commission and to the Italian Presidency. Because of the interest of the Italian Presidency in Slovenia, we have indicated that, as we are prepared to review all such cases on a one-to-one basis, we shall not block that case when it comes up.

Lord Healey: My Lords--

Lord Barnett: My Lords--

Lord Taverne: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Healey!

Lord Healey: My Lords, I thank you. I congratulate the Minister on the noble example of self-sacrifice which the Government have set by vetoing measures with which they agree in order to achieve what they wish. However, does not the Minister find it a little odd that a government who oppose the power of the bureaucrats and the possibility of qualified majority voting should rely entirely on bureaucrats and qualified majority voting to get rid of the ban on beef derivatives?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord understands full well that we are grateful to the Commission for the sensible view that it has taken of the ban on beef derivatives. We are equally grateful to those member states, including the Presidency, which have supported us so far. However, the fact remains that other member states are determined to prevent any progress being made on the difficult

6 Jun 1996 : Column 1358

question of beef. We believe that it is important that we stand up for the UK's interests and the interests of our important farming industry.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the British Government's stance is to protect the beef industry in this country plus our abattoirs and food processors? Does my noble friend further agree that it is extraordinary that HMG should be criticised for adopting a policy which has been adopted by France and Italy when the European Union has never criticised those two countries for it?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, my noble friend is correct to point out that in the past other member states have taken even more drastic measures than that which we have felt obliged to take on behalf of the UK's farming industry and the many people whose jobs have been put at risk in industries which are downstream of the beef industry. My noble friend is right. We believe that it is as a result of our policy that we are beginning to see progress. The decision to lift the ban on beef derivatives is one step in what we firmly believe to be the right direction.

Lord Barnett: My Lords--

Lord Taverne: My Lords--

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords--

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I am aware that this issue arouses great interest. Perhaps we can proceed expeditiously and in an orderly fashion, and begin with the noble Lord, Lord Barnett; I am sure that we can then fit everybody in.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I pay tribute to the Government for what they have done to attempt to reduce fraud in Europe? However, given that the beef ban could well last for years not months, is it not now a question of the Government doing what they have done in relation to Slovenia and conceding that at least in this area they should agree with the rest of the European Community?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I think that the real point came in the second part of the last sentence of my Answer when I referred to,

    "agreement on a clear framework leading to a lifting of the wider ban".
That makes it clear that it is not just a question of waiting for the wider ban to be lifted, but of waiting for agreement on the methods and the steps that will be taken along the road to the lifting of that wider ban. No such framework is yet in place. We firmly believe that it is important for our industry that such a framework is put in place. That is why I am afraid that we shall have to continue our blocking policy--except, as I said earlier, in the case of Slovenia--until all our European partners see some sense.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, will the Minister now confirm or deny that the Government might apply the same convoluted logic to all the other 60 non-European

6 Jun 1996 : Column 1359

nations which have imposed a ban on our beef? Are we to seek to disrupt our relations with those countries also in order to have the ban lifted?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am sorry to have to point out to the noble Lord that if another country bans imports of our beef, that is something that we shall have to negotiate with that country. The current ban is a ban on this country being able to export its beef and beef products anywhere in the world. I should have thought that there was a significant difference which even the most Euro-phile of noble Lords would be able to see.

Lord Renton: My Lords, may we get away from the beef ban for a moment and return to fraud? To what extent is fraud in the Community considered to be due to abuse of the common agricultural policy?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the common agricultural policy is a fairly rich source of fraud in various parts of the Community, and measures are already in place for dealing with that part of the European budget. The current regulation relates to a broader area than merely the question of the common agricultural policy. It would allow the Commission to go into member states to help them to detect fraud by on-the-spot checks.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I have with me a copy of the proposal to which the Question refers, together with the Government's explanatory memorandum. Are we to take it from the Minister's Answer that the Government have abandoned the queries that they raised in paragraph 30 of their memorandum which states that before the Government can agree the proposal, they require further explanation and reassurances? Have the Government had those reassurances? If so, they must have received them within a remarkably short time since the memo is dated 9th May.

Is the Minister aware that in any event the regulation gives quite undesirable powers to the European Commission in connection with powers of inspection, but that it ignores the specific question of the possibility of irregularities occurring within the Commission itself or the rights of the Belgian police to be able to gain access to the documents that they require?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page