HC Deb 16 July 1979 vol 970 cc1223-49

1. 30 a.m.

Mr. Brittan

I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 5, line 29, at end insert— (a) any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in providing allowances or facilities in pursuance of any order made under section (Allowances)."

The Chairman

With this it may also be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 21 and 22, Government new clause 2, new clause 1—Expenses—and Government amendment No. 23.

Mr. Brittan

It may assist the House if I describe briefly the background to the amendments and the new clause introduced by the Government on the subject of allowances and facilities for Representatives, and to the new clause on the same theme, which is in the names of the spokesmen for the official Opposition.

The understanding which was reached by the Council of Ministers in December 1978 and which was communicated to this House by the previous Administration was that the obligation to pay the remuneration of Representatives from national funds, subject to national taxation and at national rates, extended only to salaries and pensions. Allowances for travel and subsistence expenses, secretarial and research facilities and so on were matters which would be the responsibility of the European Parliament, as indeed they are now as far as the nominated Members are concerned. It was in this expectation that the previous Administration announced that their prospective legislation would not make provision for such allowances; and it was with this principle in mind that our Bill as introduced similarly made no such provision.

Both during the Second Reading debate on this Bill and since, the Government have received cogent representations which have persuaded us that in our original proposals we may have made too rigid a distinction between remuneration in the form of salaries and pensions and the payment of allowances and other forms of reimbursement for the necessary costs incurred to Representatives carrying out their duties.

First, it has been represented to us that it would be very difficult for the European Parliament to make provision for certain types of expenses which may very well all be incurred domestically within the United Kingdom. The Opposition's new clause refers to the Representative incurring expenditure on the cost of travel within his constituency and between his constituency and London. It is argued that the European Parliament will not accept these as legitimate expenses which it ought to bear and that the level at which they will be incurred in the United Kingdom will be uniquely high, given that we are the only member State of the EEC to have a fully fledged constituency system of representation. The United Kingdom Representatives will find themselvs in a minority in arguing for the extension of the allowances paid by the Parliament so that internal constituency travel and travel to national capitals is reimbursed.

Secondly, it has been represented to us that, notwithstanding the agreement reached at the European Council last year, other member States have already made provision for the payment of certain allowances. I can confirm that this is the case—namely in the Federal Republic of Germany, within which the Representative will have free travel; in Denmark similarly; and in Italy and the Netherlands, where Representatives will receive various flat-rate allowances for internal travel on European parliamentary business. Such provision in national laws must weaken the effectiveness of the case for the European Parliament to pay all the necessary allowances.

However, I must stress that that remains the preferred solution of the Government. We do not accept that there are any insuperable practical difficulties to the European Parliament paying for all the necessary expenses of Representatives. We believe that that is its responsibility and that the understanding created by the European Council in December 1978 should be enforced. It is our wish that the United Kingdom Representatives should press home that point.

However, if the European Parliament is not prepared to meet such legitimate claims, it must be right that the national authorities should have the scope to make alternative provision. If that were not the case, our Representatives would be at a considerable financial disadvantage, not only in comparison with elected Representatives from other member States but also in comparison with Members of this House, who do, of course, receive certain rights and facilities in connection with travel to and from constituencies and free internal postage facilities.

Mr. English

In reading his brief, the hon. and learned Gentleman has omitted a relevant fact. He says that it has been represented to the Government but he has not said by whom—whether by interested parties, the five Members we are discussing in part of the Bill, the 81 Members elected by the United Kingdom, the Brussels Commission, the officials of the Assembly or the Council of Ministers. Will he tell the Committee who has made these representations?

Mr. Brittan

I am referring primarily to the views that were expressed by the House in the Second Reading debate.

Our intention, therefore, is that the European Parliament should make provision to cover the legitimate expenses of Representatives. If it does not, I believe that, within the new clause which we have put down, it will be a matter for our Parliament to determine whether Representatives should receive such facilities as travel, whether on a general or a restricted basis, as well as other administrative expenses and such matters as free postage facilities.

I give the clear assurance that the Government will not seek to introduce orders of this sort lightly, and will not introduce orders for the approval of both Houses of Parliament until that is absolutely necessary. The initiative on the matter rests squarely with the European Parliament. I stress that the new clause does no more than enable the matter to be brought before the House. Not a penny piece can be expended on such matters if the new clause is accepted unless and until Parliament approves the specific proposal. At the moment there is no specific proposal, and I hope that the European Parliament will accept that it is right to make proper provision for the matter and that there will be no need for a specific proposal.

In view of what other countries have done and in view of the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) about not having to come back to the House with fresh primary legislation in relation to these matters, there should be an order-making power in reserve provided that the House retains its paramount power to decide whether or not to exercise that power. For that reason, I commend the amendment to the Committee.

Mr. Russell Johnston

The hon. and learned Gentleman indicated that comparable arrangements have been made in the Federal Republic of Germany, Denmark and so on. Does he believe that the expenses that will be incurred in travelling by British Members of the European Parliament will be greater because of the constituencies that have been created than is the case in Germany, Denmark and the other countries?

Mr. Brittan

It is probable that they will be, but the fact that they are greater does not seem to be a reason why the European Parliament should not recognise that. I hope that our Representatives at the Parliament will be sufficiently persuasive in explaining their position and that the other Members will be sufficiently responsive to that persuasion to accept that the Parliament in respect of which expenses are incurred should take care of them.

However, in case things do not work out as we hope, it is right that we should insert a provision into the Bill to enable the matter to be put right if the House desires.

Mr. George Cunningham

The two new clauses tabled by the Government and the Opposition respectively achieve essentially the same purpose, namely, to allow the Government to make subordinate legislation, subject to the affirmative approval of the House, to reimburse Members of the European Parliament for expenses incurred, if necessary and if that job is not done by the European Parliament.

I am glad that the Government have woken up to the fact that that is necessary. They might have anticipated it a little earlier, because one of the consequences of not doing so is that no order made under this provision can be passed until after the Summer Recess—say, late November. If there turns out to be a need, it will be unsatisfied for four or five months, and that is not a satisfactory situation.

It is a pity that until two weeks ago when I discussed the matter with the Minister of State there seemed to be in Government circles an unawareness of the difficulty.

Mr. Brittan

That is not entirely fair. We were aware of the problem. The difference that has occurred has been the passage of legislation in the other coun- tries which has led us to take a different view.

I do not see the force of the hon. Gentleman's arguments about delay, because until the Bill receives Royal Assent there can be no question of exercising any order-making powers under it. It would have been no different if the new clause had been part of the original Bill.

Mr. Cunningham

If the difficulty had been anticipated earlier, provisions could have been built into the Bill, not necessarily with the necessity for passing an order. It is an untidy situation and for too long the Government were unaware of there being a serious difficulty, partly because the job of obtaining information about what was being done in other countries was left to our diplomatic missions, which might be good at their normal duties but are pretty awful at finding out arrangements of a parliamentary nature in other countries. That is unsatisfactory.

On the point of principle, I am sure that the Minister is right in saying that we in the House should govern the salary of British Members of the European Parliament, the pensions deriving from it, the termination grant and so on but that expenses should be dealt with by the European Parliament. Since most of the expenses will be dealt with by the European Parliament, it is particularly unsatisfactory that some should be dealt with by us.

The arrangement provided is very much a second best and a fall-back position. However, something should be done, and not only because other member States of the Community have done something. There are arrangements on, for example, free post for Members of the European Parliament which require national action. The cost of that free post may be reimbursed from Community funds, but it requires national British action to provide, for example, franked envelopes for the use of British Members of the European Parliament.

Mr. English

My hon. Friend is the person who can answer my question as he has been a Member of the European Assembly and, as we have just discovered, slightly overlapped the new Members. Were no provisions made for allowances for the former Members of the European Assembly? If allowances were available, what is inadequate about them for the newly elected Representatives?

1.45 a.m.

Mr. Cunningham

I was going to come to the point that the existing rules of the European Parliament provide for Members of the Parliament a monthly allowance, which at the moment, I think, runs at about £100 a month, to cover various administrative costs. And whatever is or is not included in that, I am sure that it was intended that that should cover the cost of postage. However, it really does not make sense, in my view, to cover the cost of free postage by reimbursing in cash. It is much better to provide franked envelopes, and much cheaper.

What I am saying on this point is that some action by national authorities was necessary. It should have been anticipated that some action from national authorities would be necessary in the nature of the expenses involved, whatever had been done or not done by the Governments of the other member States. But I agree that action taken by other member States does complicate the matter.

The German Government—the German Parliament, I am sorry—has provided that its Euro-Members will have free travel throughout the republic in the same way as Bundestag Members have. The Italian Parliament has provided that its Euro-Members will have free rail travel throughout Italy in the same way as Members of the Italian Parliament have. Therefore, it will be, perhaps, a little more difficult than might have been expected to persuade the European Parliament that it should do something for the British on internal travel which it is not needing to do in respect of the Germans and the Italians, and perhaps some other countries.

The right solution is for the European Parliament to sort this matter out and to make provision for all travel expenses. At the moment it makes provision only for travel between a point—and the nature of that point still has to be decided, I think, but a point—in the member State of the Member and the place where a meeting is taking place. There is no provision for travel within the constituency or within the country of the Mem- ber of the Assembly for simply going about his own country.

We could illustrate the need best, perhaps, by reference to the situation, if it is not hurtful to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) to give this example, of our former colleague Mrs. Ewing. If Mrs. Ewing needs to travel to Shetland to talk about fish before going over to Brussels or Strasbourg or wherever, there is no means under the present allowances system of the Parliament for her to be reimbursed for the cost of that journey. If she has to travel from Inverness to London to have a meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on that subject and she is not doing so on the way to Brussels or Strasbourg, again there is no means of her being reimbursed for that journey.

That cannot go on. Obviously such a person has to have reimbursement for those costs. The only questions are how is it to be done, whether it should be done by national legislation and provision or by Community provision.

Our view is that it should be done by Community provision, but until such time as the European Parliament sorts itself out on this matter we have a responsibility to make sure that our Representatives in the Community are placed in a position where they can do their jobs without dipping into their pockets for those costs and where they are not put in a position that is very disadvantageous compared with the Representatives of other countries.

Now there is a difference between the new clause tabled by the Government and the new clause tabled in the name of the Opposition. We suggested that the expenses which could be reimbursed were expenses on travel within the constituency and between the constituency and London. That might have been too restrictive. After all, there are Government offices in places other than London. But some such restriction is desirable.

The Government's provision is extremely broad, as I think the Minister would accept. It is saying that the Order in Council can make any provision about allowances for any purpose. I am sure that the Minister's answer will be that since the order will be subject to approval by the House we do not need to be too restrictive. He will say "Let us make sure that we do not exclude anything" and that the House can make sure that he is not going too wide when the draft of the order comes before the House for approval.

There is an argument on both sides. I think that on balance the Minister's way of doing it is acceptable, subject to this. When the order comes before the House, we shall not be able to amend it, because it is an order. Therefore, there must be consultation on the draft before it comes to the House. I am sure that the Minister will agree that that is highly desirable.

After all, on this whole business there has already been much confusion and much evidence that people in Whitehall who should have known turned out not to know what the situation was, and so on. We are trying to pick up the pieces after the event. We do not want to do the same again. We do not want an order brought to the House with many of us who have experience of these matters saying "You have got it wrong again", and being unable to amend it, with the Government saying Pass it, and we shall have an amending order later "or something like that.

Therefore, I want from the Minister an assurance, which I am sure he will give, that before the Government introduce an order under this clause there will be consultation, certainly with the official Opposition and perhaps with others, about the content of the order, so that we avoid to the maximum possible extent the need to tell the Government that they have got it wrong when the order comes before the House.

Subject to that, I recommend my hon. Friends to support the Government amendment.

Mr. Graham Page

It must be a matter of concern that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister has said that the order will not be brought in at once and that we may have to wait a considerable time for it. In the meantime, the Representatives in the European Assembly must be incurring expenses, which may be reimbursed at some time in the future. Will that be retrospective when the Assembly decides to pay those expenses? Will the order that is eventually brought before us be retrospective?

On this very day, when the Representatives become fully fledged, because the first meeting of the Assembly starts today, they will be incurring expenses. At the same time, if they are dual-man-date Representatives they will be losing some of the advantages that they have had up to the present.

For example, those with the dual mandate will lose the opportunity that they have had of facilities in this House. I mention particularly the resolution of the Services Committee, dated 17 May, which recommended that Members of the delegation to the European Parliament be permitted to make free telephone calls from Westminster to offices of the European Communities in Brussels". They have been notified that that facility is taken away from them as from today.

I do not know how many other facilities of that sort are taken away from those who have the dual mandate, although they are still Members of this House. But to consider such expenses falling on those who are not Members of this House is a matter of concern.

Mr. English

Were they told upon what authority they were deprived, as Members of this House, of facilities to which Members of the House are entitled?

Mr. Page

I have only the letter from the Clerk of the House to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) telling him that he must not, as from tonight, use those facilities of making telephone calls which up to the present he has been able to make from the House.

I do not say that that is wrong. Perhaps we should not still be paying for that on the House of Commons Vote after tonight. But it is an expense which will fall upon the Representatives in Europe. There must be many other expenses of that kind—not only travelling expenses but the general expenses of being in this country and having to attend a Parliament in Europe.

I am concerned that the order should not be brought in until we know whether the European Assembly will meet these expenses. Three or four months hence, when it has been decided in Europe what is to be done about these expenses, will the order be retrospective? The last thing I would normally advocate is retrospective legislation, but in this case I would approve it.

Mr. Spearing

Some of the problems outlined most competently by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) stem from the inconclusive nature of the Council decision of last year which set the limits to the allowances and facilities which the Representatives will obtain directly from the European Assembly authorities. This illustrates one of the most annoying and undemocratic practices of the EEC in not publishing the full minutes or decisions of the Council of Ministers. It is an extraordinary situation. Any local authority in this country wishing to authorise expenditure or come to a simple decision about town planning or roads has an agenda. Everything is there and we know all about it. In this matter, as instanced by the new clauses, the terms of the EEC Council decision were, apparently, not very clear.

This is another example of the difficulties that can be caused. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury has pointed out in new clause 2 the extremely broad phrasing: provision with respect to the allowances and facilities". That is very wide. Let us consider allowances first. We have heard of travel to constituencies and within the United Kingdom. What about secretarial services in the United Kingdom? If the Assembly Representatives are to have adequate secretarial assistance for their large constituencies, they will want such services. They may want research assistants. What about the administering of these allowances? When I talk of allowances I mean reimbursable expenditure, for which the Representatives will sign in a similar manner to ourselves. Perhaps they will go one step further, as we ought to do, and be prepared to show receipts for money expended. That is a discipline we ought to put on our-selves but do not. I hope that the Assembly Representatives will be asked to provide receipts for moneys due. I hope that the Minister will address himself to that.

Mr. Brittan

It might assist the hon. Gentleman if I say that in all these matters he is, with respect, jumping the gun. What we are saying is that all this is a matter for the European Parliament to deal with. If the European Parliament does not provide what is reasonable, it will be for the Government to place before the House the arrangements for alternative provision and it will be for the House to decide whether that is acceptable. To raise the question of these possible allowances, which may or may not be claimed or granted, is a little premature.

Mr. Spearing

It is not at all premature. We know how these things are not dealt with properly in the EEC. That is why we have to discuss these new clauses. The Minister says that we must see what the Assembly decides. It may not decide anything. He is asking for a blank cheque.

Mr. English

The Minister said that the Government were saying that that would happen if the Assembly did not do X, Y and Z. The clause does not say that. The Government could have drafted the clause in such a way as to provide that the power would come into effect if the European Assembly did not do something. That is not in the clause. It gives the Government the power to do something whether or not the European Assembly does something.

2 a.m.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This reinforces the point that it is a blanker and even broader cheque than we were discussing previously.

I should like to know what sort of administrative structure will be involved in the reimbursement of allowances. There are 81 Representatives. I trust that the operation will not be handled by our Vote Office, which faces enough complications in the months and years ahead. Any administration of this sort is quite different from that of the sovereign Parliament at Westminster. The hon. and learned Gentleman may say that I am jumping the gun, but we should be given some idea of the way the matter will be handled. As we have passed the money resolution, it will possibly be handled by a branch of the Treasury, which will no doubt mean more public expenditure and more civil servants.

What about the facilities? The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made a wide-ranging statement at about 3 a.m. in the House a little over a week ago about the facilities Assembly Representatives might be seeking in Westminster. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned free HMSO publications, free stationery and postal and telephone facilities, which raise the question of how to monitor the cost. What about the cost of offices in Westminster and possibly in the constituencies? Offices in the constituencies, like those of hon. Members, may be a matter for the parties. But we shall certainly need to know more about the facilities.

I know that the Minister of State's reply will be that we must wait and see. At this stage of the Bill, however, we should be told some of the Government's thoughts on the matter. It is clear that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury saw much further ahead than did the Government. It is not the first time that he has seen further ahead, not only of this Government but also of the previous Government. The Committee might learn from his perspicacity.

I should like to know in what form and to whom the Government will apply for reimbursement. Will they apply to the authorities of the Assembly? Does the Assembly have to vote the money? Have the new clauses been introduced because of a defect in the Council's resolution? Will the Assembly be voting itself allowances, as this House was embarrassingly obliged to do last week?

Mention has been of consultation prior to the laying of a statutory instrument which cannot be amended. A proposal has been put forward by the Procedure Committee—we hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will bring another package of proposals before the House—for a debate on a proposal for a statutory instrument. There have been many complaints that secondary legislation cannot be amended. The question has been asked about amending statutory instruments. I believe that the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) agrees with me that this would be wholly inappropriate. What can be done is to lay a proposal for a statutory instrument and to hold a discussion, perhaps upstairs in Committee, although possibly on the Floor of the House in this instance, after which the Government would lay a substantive instrument for possibly "nodding through" or subsequent debate.

If that method was adopted in time, by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster looking at the Scrutiny Committee proposals, it would be one of the means of getting over what otherwise appears to be an awkward procedural problem.

Mr. English

When the Minister opened this debate, some hon. Members did not realise why time had ceased to be all that essential. The Government have lost control of the debate, as the vote on the last amendment showed, when they had not got their closure majority. They will have to get it back before this debate can come to an end or await the pleasure of the Opposition.

I wonder whether the hon. and learned Gentleman can explain why in new clause 2, in addition to allowances, to which he referred constantly, we have mention of "and facilities". We have few enough facilities here as Members of the House of Commons, without sharing them with Members of the European Assembly. I have no objection to the European Assembly providing facilities. Let it buy a building in central London. Let it provide an office in London. But at the moment European Assembly Members are provided with some facilities in London by the Crown, instead of by the European Assembly.

Is it proposed that that should continue? Is it proposed that part of all the buildings from here to Norman Shaw should continue to be used by Members of the European Assembly at the British taxpayer's expense—and only the British taxpayer's expense—instead of some of the expense being shared with the rest of the Community? Is this to he another item on the already overburdened British contribution to the Community budget? Is it to be another case of people using facilities which might be available to Members of the House of Commons?

Why is the word "facilities" mentioned at all?

Mr. Russell Johnston


Mr. English

I am told postage, but my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) explained that, although the amount might be insufficient, Members of the European Assembly were currently paid £1,200 for such items as postage.

I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that the word "facilities" could cover far more than postage. He said himself that the Government's new clause was much broader than the one that he had tabled. Why is this broad word "facilities" here? Are we to provide Members of the European Assembly with office accommodation? Are we to provide them with office equipment such as we provide for civil servants but not for Members of Parliament? Are we to treat these European Assembly Members in the way that we treat Members of the House of Commons? Are we to treat them better? Are we to treat them worse? What does the word "facilities" mean?

It is no good putting a vague word into a measure and telling this Committee at 10 minutes past two in the morning "Provided you pass this, we will not use it." If the Government do not intend to use it and the European Assembly provides the facilities, why does not the clause say so? Is the hon. and learned Gentleman promising that when we come to Report he will move an amendment to limit the clause to what he said? He said that the Government would not use it if the European Assembly made provision.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury told the hon. and learned Gentleman that the European Assembly had made provision. It provides £1,200 a year in cash to cover such items as postage. I can see that some Members of the European Assembly—I trust that none of them is British—might prefer the amount in cash rather than in the form of franked envelopes such as my hon. Friend suggests. But, then, he is a Presbyterian Scot by origin, and no doubt he prefers franked envelopes to provision in cash. However, as I see it, under this clause the Members of the European Assembly will get both. They will get the franked envelopes and £1,200 from the European Assembly.

I hope, Mr. Weatherill, that when you assume your other capacity as Mr. Deputy Speaker on Report, you will accept that we may move an amendment limiting payments under this clause, and deducting from such payments any payment already made by the Assembly. Such a provision is not there at the moment. There could be complete duplication.

Mr. George Cunningham

My hon. Friend is making a valid point. I rise to invite his attention to the words that appear in new clause 1, which I tabled: and when the representative is not reimbursed for such costs by the European Assembly", which were intended in that version to cover the point he is making.

Mr. English

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have already said that his clause is more restrictive and more sensibly drafted. I am referring to Government new clause 2, which, as my hon. Friend said earlier, is extremely wide. The Minister cannot sit there representing a Government who purport to believe in the control of public expenditure and put before the Committee a clause that is so wide as to duplicate every provision made by the Assembly. I know that he did not say that the clause would be used in that way, but we have all known plenty of cases of Ministers saying one thing and of something else happening in later years.

Does the Minister agree that some control over public expenditure should be inserted in the clause at a later stage so that there is no duplication of costs?

I turn next to the question of travelling. I am sure that the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) will agree that there have been plenty of remarks about the remarkable way in which the travelling expenses of European Assembly Members have been stretched. I understand that the European Assembly has drafted its regulations on travelling expenses in such a way that a Member can obtain reimbursement for travelling from the point of his residence, wherever he may declare that to be. It was said in the British press that immediately the regulation was passed a startingly high number of Italian Member acquired residences in Sicily, which is a greater distance from Brussels than is, say, Milan.

According to The Guardian today, some civil servants in the Brussels Commission have managed to acquire residences in the Shetlands because of the convenience of that in terms of claiming travelling allowances. If that is so, it is just possible—I put it no higher—that a Member who skilfully approaches the regulations of the European Assembly might not need quite so much reimbursement for travel within his constituency as, possibly, another Member who was more honest.

The Minister will be aware that there are other hon. Members in this House who have been Members of the European Assembly and who are so honest as even to upset some of their colleagues by declaring to the Revenue that they made a profit on travelling expenses, therefore paying tax on a proportion of them. I am sure that hon. Members of this House would be as honest as that, but we do not know whether all the 81 who have been elected are that honest. We do not know whether all 81 would fail to adapt their circumstances to obtain the maximum travel allowances under the European Assembly provisions and in addition an extra allowance for travel within the constituency as provided for in the new clause. In that case they would certainly make a substantial profit upon that.

Mr. Graham Page

I do not wish to make a frivolous comment, but there is a French possession in the Indian Ocean. Such an island would perhaps be a convenient place on which to have a residence for a Member who wished to claim excessive travel expenses.

2.15 a.m.

Mr. English

I have never understood the precise boundaries of the European Community in relation to the possessions of France. I have every reason to believe that they may be wide.

I cannot understand why the Government wish us to accept a clause which permits this situation. It would be the simplest thing in the world to introduce a short amendment to ensure that the provision will be used only if the Community does not make adequate provision. It would be simple to include the proviso that no Member shall obtain moneys under this clause if he obtains them for the same purpose as a Representative of the European Assembly, or that one amount shall be deducted from the other so that there is no duplication.

What is the point of drafting a clause so widely that these allowances and expenses can be obtained twice? I suspect that we are dealing with a draftsman's convenience. The draftsman says "Be damned to the House of Commons. We shall draft the clause as widely as possible, and it does not matter whether the money is paid twice. Then we can do what suits the Government." That attitude is not good enough.

The Minister said that one of the five hon. Members who have been elected to the Assembly was told that he could not make a telephone call to Brussels. Originally each Member had to pay for all his telephone calls. The rule was changed so that we did not have to pay for calls within the United Kingdom. When we entered the European Community, the rule was changed again. We were told that whilst we might have to pay—and do pay—for a telephone call to the United States, we do not have to pay for a call to the European Commission in Brussels because that could come under the heading of parliamentary business.

For someone to suggest whether—or not it is the Clerk of the House—that any hon. Member should be deprived of a right that other hon. Members possess is a breach of the privileges of the House and should be raised on an appropriate occasion. I have no wish to duplicate allowances. I have no wish for an hon. Member to be able to telephone Brussels under the provisions of this clause, in addition to being able to do so as a Member of the House of Commons. That would be stupid.

We have been told that the new powers may never be exercised. If they were, they would have to be retrospective in order to be of benefit from now until September. Meanwhile, any one of the five hon. Members cannot be deprived of what he is entitled to as a Member of the House.

Mr. Russell Johnston

At midnight the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) ceased to be an appointed Member of the European Assembly and is now an elected Member. We are sitting here now because we have not decided about expenses for elected Members.

Mr. English

The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) did not cease to be a Member of the Assembly. He did not cease to be a Member of this House. The resolution of this House of Commons applied to a person who was both.

Mr. George Cunningham

Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. There is no right in a Member of this House who is not a Member of the European Parliament to make a call to Brussels and to have the cost paid out of public funds. Today, in the new dispensation, if a dual Member makes a call to Brussels the assumption is that he does it in right of his capacity as a Member of the European Parliament, whereas if I made a call yesterday the assumption was that I did it as a Member of this House because I existed in Europe only as a Member of this House. That is the distinction and I think that it is a perfectly proper distinction. It is right that a dual Member should no longer be able to make such calls at a cost to public funds from Britain.

Mr. English

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting me right. I do not recollect—I may be wrong—that the resolution said that it applied only to Members of this House who were appointed Members of the European Assembly.

Mr. Cunningham

Yes, it does.

Mr. English

Perhaps we can have that point checked, Mr Weatherill. We have plenty of time. Did the resolution specify that to avail himself of, say, a free telephone call to Brussels, a person had to be both a Member of this House and a Member of the European Assembly? If that is so, five Members still fall under its provision and none of them is entitled to be deprived of that unless at some stage in this Bill we say that they are.

Did the resolution say that or did it specifically say that they had to be appointed rather than elected to the European Assembly? I do not think that the resolution made such a specific distinction. It might be wise for the Govern- ment to withdraw this new clause and to have it redrafted and brought back at a later stage. There are certainly points of this character that do not seem to have been considered.

I revert to my original and basic point. Why is the clause so widely drafted as to make possible the duplication of allowances and facilities for Members of the European Assembly? Why does it make it possible—I put it no higher—for the Government to produce an order paying Members what they could be receiving from the European Assembly?

The Minister very fairly said that that was not the Government's intention. Why is not the clause so drafted? Will the Minister give the House an assurance that it will be so amended?

Mr. Russell Johnston

I have three very quick points.

First, when I intervened during the speech of the Minister to ask him whether, in his opinion, the fact that we have a constituency system would produce more expense for the Member concerned than was the case in the remainder of the Community he indicated that he thought that that was so. If that is right, I find it rather incredible. I have restrained myself by making practically no reference to this all night, but it is bad enough having the constituency system, which distorted the result in Europe, without actually expecting the Europeans to pay for it. That is carrying things too far. I find that a most unacceptable point of view.

Secondly, the question of travel within the United Kingdom was raised. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) discussed the possibility of duplication. With all respect to him, I do not think that there has been a great flowering of Italian residents in Sicily, and I do not believe that there are members of the Commission who have residences in the Shetlands for the purposes of expenses. One can spend a great deal of time suspecting politicians of all sorts of misdemeanours which they—

Mr. English

I was only quoting the press.

Mr. Johnston

That in itself is a dangerous exercise.

If the Government's amendment is widely couched, it is reasonable in the circumstances. It is certainly reasonable that the European Members should have the benefit of travel in the United Kingdom. I noted the Freudian slip—if I can so describe it—of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) who in his drafting—perhaps someone else was responsible—omitted the fact that there was a place such as Edinburgh, which he might feel it appropriate to visit from time to time as well as London, and doubtless Cardiff also. However, I shall not chide him too much on that.

I very much agree with the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) that a gap is very unsatisfactory. If there is to be no legislation, and if we shall not know about this until November or December, it is only fair that European Members be reimbursed with expenses retrospectively. It simply would not be fair to do it in any other way.

It seems rather extraordinary to me that apparently this matter has not been thought about and worked out by the Government. The best example is the constituency which I fought, which the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury has already instanced. Evidently, if a constituency stretches from Muckle Flugga to the Mull of Kintyre, it will involve the Member in a great amount of expense going back and forth.

Mr. Ogden

You will know, Mr. Weatherill, from your former duties as a Deputy Chief Whip in Opposition, that at about 2.25 a.m. Opposition Members who have been persuaded, coerced or convinced that they ought to be here suddenly begin to get second wind. This is the way that we go along, and we are starting on the short and cheerful grind right up to the morning light. I do not say that to cause confusion or dismay among newer Conservative Members, but it is a fact that once one is here until 2.30 a.m. one begins to think "Let us make a night of it".

However, I do not propose to comment on the debate about what allowances should or should not be paid or, indeed, who should pay them, except to say that this again underlines the confusion and difficulties when payment is to be made by one authority, paymaster or employer and allowances are to be paid by someone else. I do not know whether this happens in industry. Perhaps the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) can tell me whether companies with which he is associated have this changed situation, where the employers pay the pay and someone outside pays the salary.

I should like to ask the Minister two questions in regard to Government amendment No. 22. Clause 8 provides: This Act may be cited as the European Assembly (Salaries and Pensions) Act 1979"; but under amendment No. 22 it would read: This Act may be cited as the European Assembly (Pay and Pensions) Act 1979. That might be a last-minute gesture to Opposition Members. Perhaps we are more used to talking about pay and conditions than Conservative Members. But there must be a reason for this, and I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman what it is.

I should also like to repeat a question that I put to the Minister earlier when we discussed the money resolution and the instruction to the Committee. I was trying to find out who pays the pay, the pension and the allowances. Will the pay, salary and allowances, whatever they happen to be—but particularly the pay and pensions—be paid by the Government of the United Kingdom, with money from the taxpayers of the United Kingdom coming from the Consolidated Fund, or will we reclaim any of that money from the European Commission? Who will finally pay?

If we are to pay it ourselves, we could save up to £2 million a year by saying to the European Commission "You decide it and you pay it". If we are to pay and recoup some of the money, there is perhaps no reason why we should not pay European Members the full £25,000. It would cost no money out of our pocket. If we were to claim the full amount, and give them only half, the Government could then make a profit. It is quite simple. Why is there a change from salaries and pensions to pay and pensions, and who in the final analysis will pay the bill?

Mr. Brittan

The word "pay" is broader than "salary" and covers such matters as allowances. On the question of who pays, as I said at the outset, our hope is that the European Parliament will pay. Only if it fails to make provision will it be necessary to come to this House with the appropriate order. This House will then be persuaded or not, as the case may, that it is right to incur nationally the necessary costs involved in meeting the expenses and allowances that have not been met ex hypothesi by the European Parliament.

2.30 a.m.

Mr. Ogden

I asked not only who will pay the pensions and expenses but who will pay the salaries and pay. The hon. and learned Gentleman has told me nothing that he has not told me before. Who pays the salaries and the pay?

Mr. Brittan

They are paid out of our national funds.

Mr. English

That is another contribution to the European Community by the British taxpayer. Why on earth is a European Assembly Member not paid by the European Community? However, will the hon. and learned Gentleman answer my point? Will the Government at a later stage in the Bill limit the clause so that there will be no duplication of expenditure and no recipient will be paid twice?

Mr. Britton

It is not necessary to introduce legislation to that effect. I have made it quite clear that it is not the Government's intention to put forward an order that would lead to such double payment. I cannot believe for one moment that if the Government were so foolish as to attempt any such thing it would stand the slightest chance of being passed by the House.

Mr. English

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Government do not intend that. I did not for one moment suggest that they did. But how can the Government stop the European Assembly doing it? It is a power of its own under the law of the Community, which is also the law of this country. If the European Assembly says that it will continue paying £100 a month or whatever the figure may be for postage in addition to the Government providing franked envelopes, how do the Government propose to stop it doing so? They cannot. How do they propose to deduct the value of the extra payment from the Member under a clause in which there is no provision for that? Without that happening, a European Assembly Member will get the same thing twice. He will get the postage once because of the franking and get it again in cash.

Mr. Brittan

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. There is no question of that occurring. There is no such provision in the Bill. There is merely provision for an order. The Government do not have the slightest intention of inviting the House to pass an order that would duplicate payments that the European Parliament wishes to make. It is as simple as that.

Mr. George Cunningham

There is a problem. Although no one in the past dispensation wanted to provide duplicated allowances, we did. We provided travel allowances for Members of this House between their constituency and London, and the European Parliament provided travel allowances covering the journey from the constituency or London to the place of the European meeting. There was therefore the possibility of a duplication of allowances. It is not as simple to avoid as the hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting. In the end the only safe way is for us to have nothing to do with the expenses side and for that to be covered by the European Parliament. That is what the hon. and learned Gentleman wants and what we want.

I do not believe that we have yet had the assurance that we asked for about advance consultation on the content of the order because it is unamendable. However, when the hon. and learned Gentleman brings the order before us, in addition to advance consultation it is important for the Government to provide for the House a formal document—I do not say that it has to be a Command Paper—that authoritatively sets out the situation as it exists with regard to the allowances available to Members of the European Parliament. That is the easy one because that will be printed by the European Parliament in a book that I cannot for the moment lay my hands on but which will certainly be readily available. Also, the position on allowances in other member States must be considered. The Government must tell us that much so that when we come to consider the order we shall know whether it is desirable to pass it in one form or another. However, it is not as simple as it sounds to avoid duplication of expenses.

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) for that awful warning of which we shall certainly take heed. I am very reluctant to make a commitment from the Dispatch Box to anything of a complex character, whether by way of consultation or by provision of documents. However, I accept absolutely that when the Government consider whether to bring forward the order it would be right to give the House the maximum information. Certainly we should not bring forward such an order without engaging in some form of consultation.

Mr. Spearing

The Committee will appreciate the problems of the Minister, who is batting to the bowling from all sides. Also, he appreciates that this is a serious point, particularly in relation to the rights and privileges of the House of Commons, and the use of public money. Perhaps there will be another opportunity to ask the Minister about facilities. He seems a bit coy about this matter. Therefore, I shall not press him now on the range of facilities.

To whom will the Government apply to ask the EEC authorities either to provide money, or to provide the allowances and facilities direct? Secondly, if that cannot be done, to whom will the Government apply for reimbursement? In the event of the Government being forced to undertake the administration of these facilities, who will do the administering? I hope that we shall have an assurance that it will be nothing to do with the Vote Office of the House of Commons, which should be kept a separate and distinct institution, related to Westminster only and to no other Parliament that may meet in other places.

Mr. Britton

On the question of the initial payment, that is a matter for the European Parliament to decide. I think it unlikely that there would be any question of reimbursement unless there were some kind of negotiations between the United Kingdom Government and the European Parliament. In a situation in which the European Parliament has failed to make the provision, and the House has had to step in, it would be unrealistic to expect reimbursement.

On the question of the administration of allowances, I reiterate the hope that there will not be any necessity, but we shall have to consider that as and when the time comes. The House will be able to consider such matters if and when an order is laid. At present there is no proposal before the House on this issue at all.

Mr. George Cunningham

The Minister must see from experience in this debate, and indeed his general parliamentary experience, that consultation saves time. A few days of consultation about the contents of any order might well save him time. Because it is so important to avoid the chaos which may result if we provide for some allowances and the European Parliament provides for the others, I hope that the Government will contact, not the European Parliament, but the Governments of other member States. The Government should tell them that there is the making of a shambles and that we should all join in sorting it out.

I am not suggesting that the matter should come up at the European Council or any such elevated level. In fact, I hope that the matter will not be raised at that level or we shall face the same mess again. I believe that somehow or other there should be consultation between the British Government and the Governments of the other member States to try to ensure that the business of allowances is dealt with by the European Parliament.

My hon. Friends might be surprised to know that the decision is not taken by the European Parliament as a whole. Parliament as a whole has delegated this function—I have never discovered when it was delegated—to the Bureau of the Parliament. Therefore, the national States and perhaps the Bureau could get together and sort out the matter. Just as the British Government took the initiative on last November's decision, I believe that we could take the initiative in providing for allowances and to avoid our having to get into the business at all.

Mr. English

When the Government consider my hon. Friend's remarks about consultation, will they remember that consultation should not take place only between two Front Benches? Will they agree to submit their draft order to the appropriate select Committee?

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 6, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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