HC Deb 16 July 1979 vol 970 cc1254-63

3 a.m.

Amendment made: No. 23, in title, line 1, at end insert ', and the provision of allowances and facilities,'.—[Mr. Brittan.]

Bill reported, with amendments.

As amended, considered.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

I have to inform the House that several manuscript amendments have been received. Mr. Speaker has been consulted, but none of these amendments has been selected for debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, Tht the Bill be now read the Third time.

3.1 a.m.

Mr. Spearing

I shall not detain the House long, but one or two things should be said on Third Reading. You have just informed us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that Mr. Speaker did not select any of the manuscript amendments, which arose directly out of our debates. I want to draw attention to only one of the changes that have been made to the Bill, the addition of new clause 2, concerning the provision of allowances and facilities", which has now been added to the long title. I do not know what would have happened if anyone other than the Government had wanted to put down the new clause. I suspect that he would have been told that it was outside the long title, but I shall not pursue that matter now.

What I want to pursue is the phrase "and facilities". I have a horrible feeling that the change in the nature of the Bill which has happened in the past half hour, and which appeared on the Notice Paper only with the tabling of the new clauses, will cause the House and hon. Members, and possibly the country, some problem.

"Facility" means the ease whereby something is achieved. I believe that by the new clause the Representatives to the Assembly will perhaps ease their way into the operation of public affairs in a way which will be to the detriment of the existing Members of the House and indeed to the House itself.

First, the facilities that have already been granted by the Government are access to members of the Government, reception by Representatives of briefs from the Government, and a consideration of letters by Representatives to members of the Government equal to that already given to Members of Parliament.

Those facilities have already been described in a written answer. Unfortunately, because of the Hansard printing problem, this has not been widely known. In other words, although it is not strictly within the terms of the Bill, the facilities that the Government have already decided of their own volition to give, and which do not depend on the Bill, are substantial.

The Minister was not able to tell us what sort of facilities might be made available. He said "Let us wait and see what the Assembly does." The Assembly could say that it will provide in Westminster, perhaps across the road, offices for the Assemblymen, that it will provide them with telephones and perhaps switchboard operators, photocopying devices, telex machines, facilities for taking messages and all those appur- tenances which we in this House take for granted.

I suggest that it is only the provision of these bits and pieces which enables hon. Members to discharge their duties. I also suggest that the provision of facilities for Assembly men and women in London, in particular in Westminster, will greatly enhance their function as individuals.

I understand from what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said last week that it is the intention of the Government to provide these facilities as far as they are able. Even if the Government do not of these bits and pieces which enables provide them out of moneys under this Bill, they may well be provided on repayment by the Assembly. This will mean that if the Government provide these facilities the Assembly representatives will be in a different position from the delegated, or chosen, representatives, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham).

Take, for example, what is to happen today. Today we are to have an important announcement about British industry. We are to have a Standing Order No. 9 debate on the steel industry. An Assembly personage concerned with steel, perhaps on a committee of the Assembly dealing with this subject, would be here, using those facilities and in direct contact with offices in Brussels and Strasbourg. He would be in an important position, particularly if he had a steelworks in his constituency.

I suggest that such people armed with these devices would be, in terms of the Assembly, the Commission and the Council—in terms of our own Government—in a superior position to any hon. Member of this House representing a steel constituency. It is clear that the Government in their policies want to use these Representatives politically in dealing with the EEC. Any Government would. Of course they will provide the Representatives with these facilities. They will provide them with briefs and begin to put them into the political structure, particularly of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department of Industry and so on.

There will be a section of each of the private offices of these Ministries which will be dealing with policy for the Assembly Representatives. If these facilities are provided access between the private offices of the Ministries of Whitehall and the Assembly personages will be facilitated. This will mean that their status, activities and importance will increase and those of Members of this House will decrease proportionately. That will come about because of the facilities which I believe the Government are to provide, for which this Bill makes allowance.

The same could be said about the reform of the common agricultural policy, a matter of vast interest to all hon. Members. Given these facilities, but only given them, an Assembly Representative set-up in London with these bits and pieces will be in a strong position. Take away those facilities, let them not be provided by the Assembly or the Government, and the power and influence of these people would be much reduced. The provision of an effective operational base in or around the Palace of Westminster for Assembly Representatives will place them in a position of much greater power, enhancing their status and that of the Assembly of which they are Members. This will be partly due to the provisions of this Bill, to which this House in its unwisdom has given a Second Reading.

3.10 a.m.

Mr. English

This is a paltry little Bill. It seems to work on the assumption, as I said earlier, that there is something odd and immoral about getting oneself elected to office by large numbers of the people of the United Kingdom. It also seems to work on the principle that it is very bad if the person elected is paid even as much as the civil servants in Brussels who, if not subordinate to the European Assembly, are subject to consideration by it.

The present Government and, I regret to say, the previous Government are making clear that, in their opinion, the civil servants and the Commissioners in Brussels are much more important than those who have been elected by tens of thousands of people of the United Kingdom. We are saying in the Bill that the person elected to the European Assembly should receive considerably less than the average civil servant in Brussels, perhaps a little more than a secretary in Brussels and perhaps a third or a quarter of the pay of other parliamentarians in other countries, whether they are paid in their own legislatures, like the Bundestag, or as members of the European Assembly. This shows what we think elected people are worth. It shows a distinct lack of faith and support for democratic principles.

The bureaucratic person is well paid, as exemplified by the bureaucrats of the Brussels Commission. The Assembly, which may not be all that effective but which is the only institution of the Community based on a democratic principle, consists of those elected to represent the country or, say, the consumer in relation to the common agricultural policy, although many of its members are farmers. Yet those elected are regarded as less important and less well paid than those who sit in innumerable Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg committees.

It is difficult to discover from the Minister of State why we have the Bill at all. In no other federal institution in the world do the individual component parts of that institution pay for one of the federal institutions. Only in this peculiar case do we have the circumstance that the salaries of the European Assembly's Members are paid by the British taxpayer at a cost, according to the Bill, before it was recently amended in Committee, of £600,000 in a full year. Why is this amount payable by the British taxpayer? Why should not all Assembly Members be paid the same? Is it because of some mysterious feeling of envy and jealousy that if they were paid the same Members of the European Assembly might be receiving more than Members of the British Parliament? Why was that? It was possibly because successive Governments, both Labour and Conservative, had held down the latter rate of pay.

There was no suggestion that it might be unwise to create an Assembly in which Members are paid different rates of pay. There has never been a suggestion that it might be unwise for one Member to represent a West German constituency, or West Germany as a whole, and be paid three or four times as much as another Member representing, say, the United Kingdom or Ireland. How are normal relationships between Members supposed to be conducted on a basis of equality, which should be the case in any legislature, if Members receive different pay for the same work? My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), a miner, said that no trade union in this country would tolerate a situation where different individuals were paid different amounts for the same job. Here they are to be paid vastly different amounts. The Members of the European Assembly elected from Britain will be, with the possible exception of those from Ireland and Luxembourg, the poor men of Europe. Perhaps it is appropriate. After all, we increase our relative poverty deliberately by paying the biggest contributions across the exchanges into Community funds. We have not got the largest gross domestic product in the Community, but that is a minor irrelevance.

We want to assist in the reduction of our relative gross domestic product by paying more into the Community's funds. As we have seen in the press, the other member States think that we can afford it because we are an oil producing country and therefore rich. The fact that individuals in this country are not rich in comparison with people in West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium or France apparently is irrelevant. But we must make sure by means of an Act of Parliament that our 81 Representatives are paid as though we were the poor men of Europe whom they represent. They are paid to represent the poor men. They are paid by our poor poverty-stricken nation as apparently we think they deserve.

That is a dreadful commentary on British society. If, as they are entitled to do as free men in a free society, they offer themselves for election, if the party of their choice has selected them, and if they are elected to both this House and the European Assembly which, in a free society, is a matter that our citizens are capable of deciding, who is to object?

There is one Government supporter who is both a Member of this House and a Member of the European Assembly by election. I understand that during her election campaign she said that she would not take an additional salary for her additional duties. She is entitled to say that. That is her choice. She said it publicly during the election campaign so that she was elected upon the faith of that promise, and I am sure that she will adhere to it. But that is a matter between her and her constituents.

We have to go further than that and say of all the others who are elected in that way that even if their electors voted for them believing that they might take up the rights, privileges and even the pay and allowances of a European Assembly Member as well as of a Member of this House, "You must not do that. You are being foolish if you suggest that someone should be paid for doing two jobs." What hypocrisy it is.

If we acted like the German Bundestag and said that a Member would receive a higher rate of pay but would be forbidden to take money from outside sources, there would be some strength in the argument. Then it would be just as relevant to say that a Member should not be paid for his additional job in the European Assembly as it would be to say that a Member should not be paid for sitting on the board of a merchant bank, for acting as a barrister, for being a doctor or a solicitor or a member of any of the other professions for which Members of this House are paid in addition to their duties here.

That is not the principle that we have in this House. It is not even a principle that I advocate, although some of my colleagues do, as I believe do some Government supporters. But what hypocrisy it is to say that this one occupation should be singled out for such treatment.

One hon. Member was criticised a Parliament ago by his local newspaper for the frequency with which he carried out his duties in the British Parliament from France. He survived in his constituency. His constituents presumably did not mind him spending a lot of time on the Continent. That was a matter between him and them. But now, if a Member is elected to do that, he must be penalised. He must not be paid.

Out of the 81 Members, some 76 will receive their full pay. Of all the Members of the House of Commons 630 will receive their pay either as Members of the House of Commons or as Ministers. Some part of the pay of a Member is abated if he is a Minister, but in total he gets a larger salary than a mere Back Bencher. All those Members except Ministers may take outside jobs and receive remuneration for them. Just five people out of the 81 and out of the 635 are singled out for special and differential treatment. By a remarkable concession—the only one that the Government have made all evening—they will be allowed to draw a third of their due entitlement as they were elected to receive it by the citizens of this country. That is a third of the paltry salary which is about a quarter of what some of their counterparts in Europe will be receiving.

There used to be a phrase that was applicable to the Doge of Venice after his troops had taken Constantinople in 1205. He was the lord of about a quarter of the Roman empire, but it was not put like that. He had a half share of one quarter and a half share of another quarter. It was put in a complicated fractional way. Is not that appropriate? We are going to say of our Representatives in Europe that they should be paid perhaps a quarter the amount paid to other Representatives. If they are elected to this House also they may, as a concession, get a third of that quarter.

The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) stated publicly—and perhaps this is why he did not get adopted for a Euro-constituency—that he was not concerned about the level of salary of Members of the European Assembly because, he said, he felt that in consultancy fees alone from the various lobbyists the job was worth £55,000. That statement may not be true, but if there is any truth in it, if organisations such as Unilever are likely to suggest to Members of the Assembly that they should support a high butter price so that more margarine can be sold—and these vested interests seem to be around all the legislatures and assemblies of the world—we are hardly encouraging the best results from the new quasi-legislature, the European Assembly, if the Members are to be tempted and swayed by such inducements.

We should pay Representatives a sufficiently high salary to persuade them to ignore such inducements. We are not doing that. We are saying " You must not look to the British taxpayer, but you must look wherever else you can for your income. You must not expect to be treated as an equal or even be looked upon as an equal by your colleagues in Europe. You must accept that you go to Europe as a poor man, representing a poor country that is poverty stricken in spirit as well as in money."

3.26 a.m.

Mr. George Cunningham

I wish to make a personal prediction. I predict that within months the European Parliament will raise with the Court of Justice the validity of the action taken by the Council of Ministers under the Act. I do not say that in criticism of the Government, but someone must say it so that it can be said that the action was predicted.

The provision under which the decision was taken permits the Council of Ministers to implement the Act. Should it appear necessary to adopt measures to implement the Act on direct elections the Council, acting unanimously on the proposal from the Assembly, after consulting the Commission, must adopt those measures, after endeavouring to reach agreement with the Assembly in a conciliation committee consisting of the Council and representatives of the Assembly.

Other hon. Members have said that that is a shaky foundation on which to build. I do not blame the present Government for that. I predict that Parliament will raise with the Court of Justice the validity of the action and that the court will rule that the Council of Ministers was wrong to base upon that foundation. In a few months, or perhaps a year, Parliament will be accorded by the Court of Justice the right to determine the salaries of its Members.

3.27 a.m.

Mr. Brittan

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) says that he does not blame us. I hope that he will understand that I do not regard that as a generous concession. He was hardly in a position to take another view since the decision of the Council of Ministers was one to which the present Leader of the Opposition was an enthusiastic party, if not a prime mover. The force of the hon. Member's words of prophecy, as a political statement, is diminished by that.

I do not claim to have the gift of prophecy even at this early hour. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not deal with all the arguments raised during the Third Reading debate as some were touched upon earlier.

I do not believe that the wild fears, so ingeniously raised by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) on the peg of the word "facilities", or the gloomy approach taken by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), are justified. The Bill is a simple vehicle for implementing the agreement for the payment of Members of the European Assembly. The agreement is interim. Nobody expects that this will be the final provision but it is the only provision. It would be absurd not to implement it. In that spirit, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.