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European Commission Information Office: Director

Volume 477: debated on Friday 27 June 1986

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what contacts they have had with the European Commissioners with regard to the post of Director of the Commission Information Office in London.

My Lords, decisions about staff changes at Commission offices are for the Commission. The Government have neither sought to intervene with the Commission in decisions to make changes in the staff of the London information office nor expressed views on potential candidates.

My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that the Government have some responsibility for ensuring in relation to this post that the proper procedures of job application are gone through? Are the Government satisfied that the Commission has taken the right course?

My Lords, the Government regard such an appointment as the one in question as a matter for the Commission alone. We have not offered support for any individual candidate and will not do so. We have no reason for thinking that all proper procedures have not been gone through in the Commission in the appointment of a candidate for this post.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, while one understands not wanting to interfere with the domestic arrangements of the commission, the Government ought to be interested up to the point of seeing that the nationality balance is kept; for that is not always the case in all of the Commission appointments, or, at least, it does not appear to be so.

My Lords, I cannot comment on what may have happened in other appointments by the Commission, but on this particular appointment, as I indicated in my original Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, it is a matter for the Commission; and it is a matter for the Commission why it chooses to move its staff. I would add one further point for the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and your Lordships: that it is for the Commission to decide what this particular individual does next. But I can assure your Lordships that we shall be concerned that he, like any other British subject in Community service, should be treated fairly.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware how important it is that whoever gets this important job does a good job of work and sends out some decent information about the Common Market; because up to now we have not had any?

My Lords, I note the point of the noble Lord, Lord Mellish. I have no doubt that the Commission offices will note it, too.

My Lords, could the noble Baroness at any rate inform us as to whether the post was advertised externally and whether it was known among those who might have been qualified that the post was available? Can she say whether the advertisement was distributed nationally so that people of whatever part of the United Kingdom would know about it? It is a very important appointment.

My Lords, as I understand it, the position was first advertised internally in the Commission in accordance with normal Commission rules. It was advertised in several national newspapers—the Guardian on 7th May and The Times on 15th May. The closing date for applications was 26th May. No appointment has yet been made.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that some of us are rather puzzled by this episode? As far as many of us are concerned, there is no vacancy for this appointment, given the fact that Mr. Scott still holds this office and, so far as any of us are aware, has not been dismissed. That being so, may I ask her whether she is aware that Mr. Scott is known by many of us as a person who treats people of different political parties with scrupulous fairness? May I also ask her whether she is aware that many of us who have known him for a number of years know him to be a man of outstanding ability and integrity? Is she aware that there are most disturbing reports that the reason he is being forced out of this job is exclusively political? In that situation, is she not aware that many of us would regard such an outcome as deeply discreditable to those concerned?

My Lords, first of all, I think that I should like to confirm what I said at the beginning: that in the case of Mr. Scott the decision to move him is a decision for the Commission. I am aware of the report that appeared in the Observer newspaper but I should like to make it absolutely clear that there is no substance at all in the allegations that have been made; that the question of the appointment is one for the Commission, as I have said, and, as he will be aware, that it has been made quite plain in the exchange of correspondence between my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary and the honourable Member, Mr. Steele, that the British Government have not intervened in any way in this appointment, which is properly a matter for the Commission alone.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the reference in one of her replies to the acceptance by the Government of responsibility for the welfare of British citizens employed by the Commission has been noted and also her assurance that the Government will continue looking at this from that point of view? Is she aware that that part of her answers, at least, is satisfactory?

My Lords, I can give that part of the answer satisfactorily because it could be construed as something which we properly should look at. But I want to make it absolutely clear that the appointment of people to Commission posts is the responsibility of the Commission: it is not a responsibility of the British Government.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness this question: would a Member of your Lordships' House with long newspaper and dissemination of information experience be eligible for this post?

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, is thinking of applying for the job, I am sure that, although it may be rather late in the day now, his application will be noted by the Commission.