HL Deb 21 October 1998 vol 593 cc159-60WA
Lord Swinfen

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they take to ensure proper accounting for the United Kingdom's share of the European Community Aid Budget; and following recent reports of fraud and misuse of this budget, what further measures they intend to put in place. [HL3379]

Baroness Amos

The Government consistently support measures to improve the financial management and control of the Community budget. In particular they support measures to strengthen the role of the European Court of Auditors which were agreed at the Amsterdam Intergovernmental Conference last year. Improving financial management and strengthening the fight against fraud were priorities of the UK Presidency of the EU.

The Government are very concerned at allegations that there has been fraud or misuse in the EC Humanitarian Office (ECHO). The indications are that the fraud consisted of recruiting and paying for extra staff through false contracts, with the aim of supplementing over-stretched Commission staff. We will need to await the outcome of investigations before reaching firm conclusions.

The lead in these investigations is taken by the Commission's anti-fraud unit, UCLAF. The Government take a close interest in the work of UCLAF. The European Parliament has called for UCLAF to be transformed into an independent anti-fraud office, and the Commission has undertaken to bring forward proposals on this. We will look carefully at these proposals and will support them if they are the best way to prevent fraud in the future.