HL Deb 23 July 1979 vol 401 cc1669-72

Second Reading debate resumed.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may make an uncovenanted intervention in the European Assembly pay Bill. When it was originally proposed to pay Members of the European Parliament the same salary—the same miserable salary—that Members of this Parliament received, I was very scathing about it, but since then the salaries of the Westminster MPs have been considerably improved. They are going to be further improved. We know that for the European MPs there are going to be generous allowances. I think that none of them is going to suffer the pangs of poverty over the next five years. Indeed, there are some ways in which they are going to be better off than Members of Parliament here, because they are guaranteed five uninterrupted years. That is, we are guaranteeing them something between £50,000 and £60,000, and perhaps more than that So if there were a delay of a few weeks in receiving their salaries, I think they would be able to take that without any hardship or hard feelings.

What I regret is that there is no link between salaries and attendance. I was not thinking only of this country, I was thinking of the general European situation. Obviously Members of the European Parliament are not under the close surveillance of their constituencies, and the Parliament is remote. Indeed, in the European Parliament there has not even been a gauge such as published division records. What is going to happen if a Member neglects his duties? I am thinking generally, and not just of Britain. If the new MEPs are as assiduous in their duties as the old ones were they will be among the most assiduous in this Parliament. I am quite sure that they will be good attenders.

It is a question of what happens if a Member neglects his duties. How will his dispersed electorate know what he is doing, how he is responding and how he is earning the money being given? Suppose a Member never goes at all, either through a degeneration of character or some mental illness, or perhaps out of a desire politically to boycott the Parliament? Have the electors any kind of right of petition? If so, whom do they petition? Do they petition this Parliament? It is a curious position. This Parliament pays the piper, and the other Parliament calls the tune. Are there to be any sanctions at all to see that an MEP performs his duties? If so, how would they operate? Would they operate here, or operate at Strasbourg?

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Boston, Lord Shinwell, and Lord Ardwick, who have spoken on the Second Reading of this Bill. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boston, for the welcome which he gave to it, and particularly for his acceptance of the abated salary proposal, and for the order-making power to be found in Clause 2 to allow expenses to be paid within the United Kingdom if necessary. As I said—and I think it is right to repeat it since there has been a long interval since the beginning of this Second Reading—the Government believe that it is for the European Parliament to pay expenses within the United Kingdom. I should like to thank the noble Lord for his support for that point of view.

The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, has just asked me a direct question. The answer is that this is not provided for in the Bill before us. I think that the noble Lord would probably agree with me that if the sort of situation began to develop which the noble Lord said could develop—and he made it clear he did no0t necessarily suspect that it would, but he hazarded a guess that it could; namely, that a representative to the European Parliament might, either through force of circumstances or deliberately, absent himself or herself from the European Parliament—then it would be for the Parliament to take cognizance of that, and it would no doubt be necessary for a proposal to be made which would have to go to the Council of Ministers. I do not think I can go further than that in suggesting what I think the reply would have to be, but it is not provided for in this particular legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Boston, asked about the payment of allowances between the date of the European election and the date when the Assembly first met, which was 17th July. He will be aware that Article 3 of the Decision of the Council of Ministers relating to the holding of the elections provided that the term of office began on the day when the European Parliament met, and when the noble Lord has been so helpful to me I feel that I should not, but nonetheless I cannot resist, pointing out that that decision was negotiated by the last Administration, in which he himself served. That is the position at the moment and, as with my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, we must see what effect that has on representatives to the European Parliament before anyone, either in Europe or the United Kingdom, feels he wants to make a change in it.

That leads to the next point, which is the payment of expenses for the period from 7th June to the opening of the European Parliament. That of course would be for the European Parliament to consider; there is no way in which the United Kingdom authorities could meet those costs. However, let us bear in mind that very realistic expenses for secretarial help and office expenses have now been proposed by the European Parliament and, as Lord Ardwick rightly said, there should not be any hardship because of this period of about six weeks during which representatives to the European Parliament will have had to wait for receipt of those expenses.

Lord Boston asked—and the question was implicit in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell—how close relations would be between those who would represent us in the European Parliament and Parliament here at Westminster. The Government hope that relations will be close and cordial. The Government have already announced, and have told the leaders of the United Kingdom parties in the European Parliament, what Government can do by way of briefing, by giving access to Ministers and in such ways trying to assist, from Government level here in London, those who are representatives in the European Assembly.

As for relations between this Parliament—your Lordships' House and another place—and the European Parliament, the Conservative Party's election Manifesto promised that there would be full consultations, and we intend there will be a full opportunity for Parliament to discuss this question in whatever way each House thinks is the best way to go about it. Liaison between the representatives to the European Parliament and your Lordships' House is highly desirable and one of the reasons why this House is so valuable is the fact that we have rather easier rules in your Lordships' House and it is possible for the representatives to the European Parliament who are Members of this House to attend here whenever their duties allow and of course to speak whenever they wish.

Lord Shinwell asked your Lordships to " reconsider the whole thing "—I think those were the words he used—but I hope that at this stage of the Bill your Lordships will do no such thing. Much as I enjoy listening to Lord Shinwell, I do not agree with him on that point. This Bill is fair and right and I hope the House will now give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.