Select Committee on European Communities Twelfth Report


Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to The Hon Phillip Oppenheim, MP, Exchequer Secretary, HM Treasury

11951/96 - Request for transfer of appropriations between Chapters of the 1996 Community Budget (Section III - Commission Part A)

  I am writing about the above document, which was considered by the Select Committee yesterday. As you know, we do not normally scrutinise transfers of appropriations in any detail. On this occasion, however, the Select Committee asked me to raise two points with you.

  The first concerns the length of time this document took to reach us. The Commission's cover note was dated 21 November, with the date in brackets indicating that it cleared translation on 26 November, but the Treasury's Explanatory Memorandum was not deposited in Parliament until 17 January. The Committee would be grateful if you could explain why this delay occurred.

  The second point concerns the substance of the document. The Committee noted that the proposal was considered by the Council's Budget Committee on 26 November 1996 and 6 December 1996, and that the Budget Committee gave a negative opinion on it.

  The Select Committee noted that the proposal would have involved a transfer of 40.4 mecu, but would have led to savings of at least 3.0 mecu per annum. I would welcome an explanation of the reasons for the Council's rejection of this proposed transfer of appropriations.

19 February 1997

Letter from The Hon Phillip Oppenheim, MP, Exchequer Secretary, HM Treasury, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 19 February.

  I do regret the time it took for the official text of the Transfer to reach your Committee. I can assure you that we try to deposit documents as soon as possible after their receipt in the UK, but in this particular instance they were not received until just before Christmas and consequently the EM was prepared as soon as possible thereafter. In general, the Council Secretariat and the Commission are well aware of the importance the UK attaches to prompt transmission of the official texts of legislative proposals to Member States.

  You ask why the Council gave a negative opinion on a proposal which would have led to future savings. The content of Transfer 44 was closely related to the Commission's building plan for 1997 and 1998. At its first reading of the proposal (on 26 November), the Budget Committee asked the Commission to provide a copy of the building plan, so as to be able to see how the purchase of two new buildings fitted into the whole strategy, and in particular whether the purchase of more property was the most efficient use of resources or whether further savings could be achieved by an alternative arrangement. The Commission failed to provide a copy of the plan for the second reading discussion (on 6 December), and, in the absence of information setting the savings in a wider context, the UK (among others) felt unable to support the transfer. As a result, the proposal did not receive a qualified majority in Budget Committee.

25 March 1997

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