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The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords—

Lord Marsh: My Lords, I speak as someone who passed his test some 50 years ago. Does the Minister not have doubts about the desirability of encouraging people, on the basis of passing a simple test, to get involved in serious road accidents?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is certainly so, although I would counsel all of us who took the test quite a long time ago—and I have no doubt that there are several of us in this House—to be aware of the demands of the modern test. If there is a moral obligation, it is that as road users we are up to the standards of drivers who pass the test at present.

Of course, it is the case that an adequate first aid test that guarantees that the individual gives proper help, while at the same time not being guilty of complicating matters enormously by giving the wrong kind of treatment at a serious accident, would be an extensive one. That is why I said that it would lead to extra charges for the test, extra time consumed, and probably would not really be acceptable to the public.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I am in favour of formal basic first aid training for all citizens and not just for drivers. I am concerned that including that in the driver training process might make it into a certificate of attendance rather than a certificate of competence. Should not that sort of training be undertaken universally in the last year of school?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that point is well made. We all recognise that we want schoolchildren to be able to cope with first aid issues, and certainly school offers that opportunity. The difficulty, as the noble Earl will recognise, is that the curriculum is a crowded place, certainly during exam years and the final years at school, so there are difficulties in that respect. Nevertheless, citizenship education, which is now part of the curriculum, does have a dimension of awareness and safety of one's fellow citizens.
 
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I agree that almost certainly it would not be sensible to include it in the driving test, but is it not an area where public service broadcasters could play a role in ensuring from time to time that our skills as a nation are updated?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is certainly a thought, although I would not be the first person to rush to a television producer with the bright idea that he should put on half and hour on first aid testing in his next programme. Nevertheless, there are certain programmes concerned with the public weal in the general sense—informative programmes—where perhaps a first aid dimension ought to be emphasised rather more than it is at present.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, further to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, and the Minister's answer, we live today in a blame culture. It is not highly likely that if first aid went wrong the motorist would be sued?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is a danger. By definition, after any serious accident a great deal of activity follows from insurance companies. If one applied the wrong methods and caused deterioration in the person being treated, or even death where it might not have occurred if one had not attempted to be helpful, that might render one liable.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a blocked airway causes death within four minutes, and that all you have to do to clear it is to tip the head back? Is he aware that Slovakia has first aid as part of its test? Surely if Slovakia can do it, we can do it.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am reluctant to comment in great detail about the Slovakian test, as I have not experienced it recently. Our driving test is one of the most stringent in the world, but the noble Baroness's point is entirely valid. One would be in danger of not passing the test if one did not have the elementary knowledge to which she referred, which is so valuable. A range of questions are asked in the test about first aid, so that dimension is likely to be covered. A serious person submitting themselves for the driving licence test will know that fact.

EU: Financial Management

11.16 am

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have taken a leading role in efforts to improve the financial management of the Community
 
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budget in recent years. Commission Vice-President Kallas announced on 15 June proposals for achieving an "integrated internal control framework". That should improve the depth and quality of financial management information on the Community budget, hence informing further measures to address any shortcomings. The UK fully supports the initiative and will take forward substantive discussions during its presidency of the EU.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. However, in view of serious criticisms in the report for 2003 and doubts about previous years, would it not be helpful if the EU had a single senior officer comparable to the Comptroller and Auditor General to verify the direct spending of the Commission? Furthermore, each member country might have a similar officer checking that part of the EU spending that is channelled through member countries.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I understand the thrust of that proposal, but it does not really meet the current requirements. What is important is that proper financial controls and systems are in place throughout all countries. Part of the challenge in getting a sign-off on the budget is that much of it—something like 80 per cent—is managed at individual member state level. In recent years there have been improvements to financial controls. There are proposals for further improvements to that, as I have outlined. Indeed, a significant improvement is the somewhat belated introduction of a proper accruals accounting system.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, why does the Council continue to recommend to the European Parliament that it should not refuse a discharge on the Commission's accounts, even though those accounts have been qualified year after year? Why do the Government not insist that the qualification of the Commission's accounts be taken seriously?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the Government insist that the qualifications are taken seriously. When the Council makes its recommendations to Parliament, it does so with a whole string of points and recommendations attached. When Parliament responds, it similarly has a long list of recommendations that need to be addressed by the Commission. I readily accept that the situation is far from satisfactory, but processes are in train to make it better. The Government take the matter seriously; indeed, we have been at the forefront of some of the reforms in recent years to improve matters.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, surely there is a big question to be raised over a situation that has existed for something like nine to 10 years. The answer is that every year we qualify the accounts.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am trying to explain that it is important that we move on from that. The processes that will enable us to move on include a better accounting system, which has been in place from
 
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the beginning of this year. All will not magically happen overnight, because the change from a cash basis to an accruals basis produces some challenges. It is important that we get an integrated system of financial controls throughout all member states. If they can properly sign up to that, we will have laid the foundations to avoid these qualifications in subsequent years.

Lord Newby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the UK would be in a stronger position to put pressure on the Commission if the accounts of the Department for Work and Pensions in the UK had not been qualified for no less than 15 years?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I do not think that that situation precludes the UK from making a strong case. As I have outlined, I am sure that it will continue to do so.

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, while agreeing with the Minister, does it remain important to distinguish between the types of expenditure—some of it made directly by the European institutions and some by the member states? In the 2004 report the Court of Auditors stated that it,

Does the Minister agree—I am sure that he will—that it is necessary to concentrate on those areas such as agriculture and structural funds, where there were problems? Overall, the result was much better this year—in fact, it was relatively satisfactory.


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