HC Deb 07 April 1981 vol 2 cc903-12

Queen's recommendation having been signified

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the following provisions about salaries of Members of this House be made:— The salary payable to Members of each of the descriptions in the first column of the following Table—

  1. (a) in respect of service on and after 13 June 1980 and before 13 June 1981 shall be at the yearly rate specified in relation to that description in the second column of that Table; and
  2. (b) in respect of service on and after 13 June 1981 shall be at the yearly rate specified in relation to that description in the third column of that Table.

Description of Member Yearly rate of salary from 13 June 1980 to 12 June 1981 Yearly rate of salary from 13 June 1981
£ £
1. Member not within paragraph 2 11,750 13,150
2. Officer of this House or Member receiving a salary under the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975 or a pension under section 26 of the Parliamentary and other Pensions Act 1972 6,930 7,670
[Mr. Mayhew.]
10.12 pm
Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

I understand that the purpose of the motion is to enable the salaries of EuroAssembly persons to be increased in line with the salaries of Members of this House. As the Minister did not explain the motion, no doubt he will correct me if I am wrong. I shall confine my remarks to what I believe that the motion means.

When the salaries of Members of the European Assembly were first agreed, I believe that I voted against them. However, the House decided otherwise. I remain of the opinion that the European Assembly has only a marginal role, if it has one at all. It has no legislative powers. It has no real decision-making powers. It has no powers of taxation. This House has the responsibility for raising all taxes paid over to the EEC.

According to a written answer that was given by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on Wednesday 1 April, since 1973 we have paid in taxation to the EEC £4,069 million. That money has been raised by taxing the British people; and it is this House that takes responsibility for such taxation. It is this place that faces the aggro from the voters who have to pay these taxes and who believe that these huge sums are paid to the EEC for no good purpose save for those who think that extremely high food prices are good in themselves.

The European Assembly meets for only two weeks out of four. It does not really have the powers of a parish council. We do not pay parish councils anything, but perhaps we should be charitable and accept that we should pay European Assembly persons a nominal fee rather than a salary.

In struggling to find a role for themselves, Members of the European Assembly seem to be swanning all over the place. This is happening at great expense to the European taxpayer. We heard that the cost was £250,000 a time for one trip by about 16 Members and 60 advisers and interpreters. Members of the European Assembly visit the Lomé countries. The purpose of that I do not know, as the Lomé countries have permanent representatives in Brussels. They negotiate between the Commission and the Council of Ministers, which are the powerful bodies in the EEC.

Some Members of the European Assembly are so anxious to find a role that, even now, they wish to discuss with representatives from other countries such as Germany, France, Denmark and Italy, matters for which the House has absolute responsibility and power. One of these members wants to discuss the British Nationality Bill which is now in Committee. However, those matters are not for those countries but for this sovereign Parliament to which Members of the European Assembly are subject. They depend on its consent for their continued existence.

We know that Conservative right hon. and hon. Members are concerned about the expenditure of public money and that they wish to curtail it. This expenditure will increase public expenditure by the Government in payment of salaries and will be additional to the £125 million which is spent by the European Assembly every year—that is about three times what is spent in this Parliament—on what is a useless body, as we would say if we were honest about it.

I always have believed that there is no need for that Assembly. Ministers are accountable to this House and this House alone. I wish that some of my hon. Friends in the Labour Party who are members of the European Assembly would make it clear to the European Assembly that it has no role. They should press for its disbandment. If they did that, they would be doing a real job in accordance with party policy, which would comply with the wishes of most people in this country.

Having reiterated my position—possibly ad nauseam—I do not intend to vote against the motion because we gave an undertaking to Members of the European Assembly that their salaries would be tied to the salaries of Members of this House. Parliament should not rat on a decision which it took a little while ago. Therefore, I shall not vote against the motion, but I hope that I have made my view clear, that we are throwing good money after bad.

10.18 pm
Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

The House is considering this problem because of an oversight—with which we all sympathise—by the Home Office, as a result of which the salaries for the Members of the European Assembly were not confirmed at the same time as our own. We understand that there was no malevolence in that oversight. Nevertheless, it gives the House a welcome opportunity—albeit an accidental one—to consider the performance of the Assembly men before we confirm their salaries, and the extent to which they have justified the salaries which we will be asked to vote for them.

We all have our views about the identity and adequacy of Members of the European Assembly. We realise that the large majority originally hoped and intended to come to this place. For various reasons, probably not unattributable to their personality or acceptability, they were rejected by the various bodies charged with the task of selecting candidates to contest general elections. As we know, they failed and subsequently found consolation in being confirmed as Members of an Assembly whose functions are largely nugatory and meaningless.

The next stage that those persons entered into, readily and greedily, was to try to ensure unlimited access to this place. Although they were not elected, they none-the-less by back-door devices tried to ensure that they were allowed to move freely in this place, as if they had been elected. Thankfully, and due to the corporate wisdom of the House, that has so far been rejected and, I believe, will continue to be rejected by the House.

Simultaneously, those persons moved to a second condition of—if I may use the language of the Common Market, and in this case the House may consider it appropriate—Folie de Grandeur. They sought to ensure for themselves an immunity in the passage of customs.

In parenthesis, may I say that it is curious that the majority party as returned to the European Assembly—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. We are debating the proposed salary increase. The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to the motion on the Order Paper.

Mr. Clark

I am greatly obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for reminding me of that, but you will appreciate that, when considering the proposed increase in salaries, the House has also to consider whether these—I do not know the generic term for them—

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)


Mr. Clark

—are worthy. We should, therefore, scrutinise generally whether they are worthy of the increase.

Another factor which these persons were not slow in seeking to establish—and it was reported in The Times as recently as yesterday—was immunities. They have sought to establish that they should be immune from arrest and prosecution, under the common law and statute of the countries in which they commit an offence, should they do so. That is another example of their attempt to elevate themselves above even the status of Members of this House.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Is it a question of their trying to arrogate themselves above Members of this House or believing themselves to be more likely to commit offences?

Mr. Clark

It would be inappropriate—and I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would rule it out of order—to speculate on that. However, Members of the European Assembly who have been charged with common law or statutory offences have sought to avoid arrest or punishment by seeking to establish an immunity dependent on their status.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks to the remuneration of Members of the European Parliament.

Mr. English

It is a point of law in this country that nobody can benefit by a criminal offence.

Mr. Clark

In certain circles, it might be thought that a perk or attribute of a particular office that is remunerated would be that it carried immunity from prosecution or arrest. As these "characters"—I use that generic terra as it embraces both females and males—have sought to establish free passage through customs, and immunity from arrest and detention as perquisites of their office, it seems to me that they have moved some way towards elevating themselves to a status where the House might seriously question whether it can vote, without considerable discussion and examination, on the advisability of ranking them with ourselves in financial terms.

10.26 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

This proposal should not pass without comment. Our salary increases were accepted and agreed last year. It is highly misleading to place upon the Order Paper an item relating to provisions about salaries of Members of this House without indicating that it is in fact designed to allow the salaries of European Assembly Members to be increased. Such a provision should not be allowed to pass without some comment on the merits of the increase.

Many Labour Members and a few Conservative Members opposed the European Assembly elections in principle. As it happened, so did the people. The turn-out was abysmally low because people did not understand or care about it and instinctively recognised that it was merely a talking shop which would have no effect at all. It is interesting to compare the level of participation in United Kingdom elections with that in the Euro-elections. As an indication of the nature and content of the power of this place as compared with the European Assembly, long may there continue to be a much greater participation in our elections than in European Assembly elections.

It is worth reminding the House that the legislation for the European Assembly elections was passed by the Labour Government only on the threat of Labour Ministers being sacked if they voted for Labour Party policy. The Labour Party opposed the European Assembly elections because it viewed the Assembly as no more than a democratic facade to paste over a highly anti-democratic and bureaucratic operation known as the Common Market in which the Assembly has no power. Power is wielded in secret by commissioners and councils of Ministers which have in effect the power of legislation and which meet behind closed doors. We felt at that time and many of us feel now and, indeed, the Labour Party still maintains the attitude—that the Assembly is no more than a talking shop to give some kind of democratic respectability to a system that is otherwise highly anti-democratic.

One looks askance at the percentage increase. One can make the point, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart), that an undertaking was given that a link would be maintained. The question of dividing the House may not therefore arise. However, we should issue a warning that the way in which opinion in the Labour Party and the country at large is developing is leading to our disentanglement from the Common Market. That would mean withdrawal from the bureaucratic apparatus of the Commission and of the Council of Ministers, and from the European Assembly.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Where is the hon. Member's internationalism?

Mr. Cryer

Our view has always been that the world does not stop at the boundaries of the Common Market. Our internationalism spreads across the world. It is not confined to the inward-looking trading arrangements of the Common Market.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not be provoked by interventions. He must stick to the motion that is before the House.

Mr. Cryer

Thank you Mr. Deputy Speaker for your protection against the savage attacks of the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). I hope that I shall retain your indulgence long enough to explain that the Labour Party is an international Socialist Party which looks beyond the boundaries of a narrow trading organisation which shelters behind parity.

There is without doubt a mood in the country, reflected in Labour Party policy, to the effect that the United Kingdom should withdraw from the Common Market. That is one issue that we should be debating here and outside the House. We can do it here by making clear that the Assembly represents nothing more than a hollow talking shop.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the assurances given about the linking of salaries. How do the expenses given to a Member of the European Parliament compare with those paid here?

Mr. Cryer

I was about to come on to that point.

The increase in the motion constitutes a percentage that the Civil Service would greatly welcome. Civil servants are at the moment fighting an industrial action to try to secure a decent increase.

The expenses which the Members of the European Assembly receive are, by all accounts, lavish. In addition, they enjoy expensive and well-organised trips provided at the expense of the Community. They jet all over the place on highly costly fact-finding trips in a manner which seems unnecessary and ostentatious. We are right to criticise the ostentatious activities of some—though not all—of these Members.

We should therefore make our opposition clear tonight. We should put down a marker for the future and show that we recognise that the European Assembly is meaningless. We should show that we recognise that the Common Market has done nothing but damage to this country and that there are means of maintaining trading relations with Common Market countries without our getting entangled in their bureaucratic structure.

We could work together with other countries—not only the Common Market countries—as equals but not as subordinates to a bureaucratic structure to which the European Assembly lends no democratic credibility.

10.34 pm
Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)

I hate to disrupt—even briefly—the beautiful harmony that exists over the salaries to be paid to European Members of Parliament. However, it would be a pity if no voice were raised to correct some of the misconceptions that linger on, even in the mind of so brilliant, so well-informed, judicious and wise a speaker as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark).

In case my hon. Friend does not understand, I should explain that there are some female European Members of Parliament. Not all its members have been rejected by this House. Some were elected to this House but chose to retire. I think of Mrs. Barbara Castle and Sir James Scott-Hopkins. They are elected to their position in the same way as we are. They are worthy of the salaries that they receive, if only because of the extremely good work that they do in the European Parliament. They put across the Government's policies as well as those of the Labour Party—if it has any. Indeed, if the Labour Party's reputation in Europe is not as low as it might be, it is due more to the activities of some of its members in Strasbourg than to anything that we may hear from Opposition Members.

Mr. Alan Clark


Sir Anthony Meyer

I shall not give way. My hon. Friend made a long speech and I shall make a short one.

Mr. Clark


Sir Anthony Meyer

I have no intention of giving way. Members of the European Parliament are elected in exactly the same way as we are. Admittedly, they are not of the tremendous intellectual calibre of the speakers that we have heard tonight. Nevertheless, Members of the European Parliament include men such as Sir Henry Plumb, Sir Frederick Catherwood and Basil de Ferranti. Therefore I am not talking about the ultimate in nit-wits.

If anyone reads the Official Report, he will not be immensely impressed by the breadth of vision displayed by the Mother of Parliaments.

10.37 pm
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I should like to attack this subject from a different angle. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) made his usual first-class contribution. He made a first-rate attack on the European Parliament and on Great Britain's membership of the EEC.

The salaries of Members of Parliament and of European Members of Parliament involve public expenditure. We hear a lot about public expenditure from the Government Dispatch Box. They say that they were elected to reduce public expenditure and, thereby, inflation, in the interests of the nation and of the economy. That is the approach that I shall adopt. The Government should be ashamed of themselves and of the vindictive policies that they have imposed on the nation's workers. After all, it is the workers who pay these salaries.

I remember the debate on the salaries of Members of Parliament. I did not have the opportunity to make a speech on that_ occasion. I am seizing the opportunity tonight, because I am seething like my constituents who come to my surgery regularly complaining about the way in which they are being hit. We had a massive unemployment lobby not long ago. For example, the pensioners were told that the Government would rake back 1 per cent. of their pension increase next time. Yet here we can afford to discuss increases of this size for European Members of Parliament because it is linked with the figure that we shall enjoy ourselves.[Interruption] I thought that the unruliness was on the other side, but it appears to affect Labour Members as well. The awful, vindictive policies of the Government make Al Capone look like a saint. However, we are discussing the increases that European Members of Parliament will enjoy. I want to make it clear that in no way shall I vote against the order, but an agreement was reached last year and I shall not breach that or rat on it. felt that I should make my feelings clear about what is happening to the people we are supposed to represent. We are crucifying them at the same time—[Interruption.] I am talking about the Government.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. The hon. Gentleman should be talking about Member's salaries, not about the Government.

Mr. Haynes

I am trying to explain how the Government raise the finance to be able to pay the increase proposed by the motion. Some Conservative Members have very short memories. I try to remember many of the things that are said. When people are told that they can have only a certain percentage increase, when we are supposed to have free collective bargaining, we should not be doing this. This is a massive increase compared with the increases some of our workers enjoyed in the last pay round. It is totally unfair.

The Government should come clean and have more fairness in their policy on behalf of the workers of this nation whom we represent in this place.

10.43 pm
Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

The House has a number of opportunities, though not enough, to debate the affairs of the European Community, but not many of them allow the House to address itself to the relationship between this place and the European Assembly. We could do with some opportunities to do so. I do not think that the motion presents the proper opportunity to do so, and I want to speak for only a minute or two on the very narrow subject matter and purpose of the motion.

In 1979 we passed the European Assembly (Pay and Pensions) Act, which laid down that the salary of a European Member of Parliament should be the same as that for the time being paid to a British Member of Parliament. That decision, taken in the Council of Ministers—questionably legal, I might say—was very much at the instigation of Britain. Therefore, we have an obligation to do whatever is necessary to implement it. Of course, everybody thought that we had done what was necessary to implement it, but a mistake has been made—not for the first time in the general context of motions relating to Members' salaries. The money that we are talking about is already in payment to European Members, as it is to Members of this House.

If the Government had done the sensible thing in July and August, we would not be faced with the difficulty of retrospectively authorising something which has been going on, without proper authority, for about nine months. The House had two motions before it in July, an opinion-expressing motion and an effective motion. Hon. Members who took part in that debate may recollect that when we carried amendments to the opinion-expressing motion I suggested, not speaking in a home affairs capacity, that the Leader of the House should withdraw the second motion and bring it back suitably amended. If he had done that, we would not be in the present mess. Unfortunately, when the motion came back it did not repeat the terms used in the previous July, and so the mistake has grown up.

I hope that the Minister of State, Home Office will pass on to the Leader of the House the view that it would be useful if he would consider all the complications that have arisen from the 1972 Act dealing with Members' pensions. It was from the sloppy drafting of that Act that the difficulties that have culminated in the motion arose. Because of the way in which that Act was drafted, we normally have to pass motions on this subject in a cumbersome manner, with two motions instead of one. That was the only way of getting out of the difficulty that was belatedly discovered in about 1978, but it is not an easy way of dealing with things.

The motion on the Order Paper ought to be passed. It does no more than do for European Members what we do for ourselves, which is required by the Act that Parliament has passed. It does no more than to repeat the terms of the motion that the House passed in June in respect of our own salaries, and there is no reason why it should not be passed without opposition.

10.47 pm
The Minister of State. Home Office (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

I cannot complain, particularly as I have enjoyed it, at the fact that hon. Members have taken full advantage of the rich opportunities that the legislative slip referred to by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has afforded them. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not range as wide as some other hon. Members but address myself to the narrow point that the hon. Member has discussed, because it is the guts of the motion.

The purpose of the motion is to correct a technical error relating to the salaries of United Kingdom representatives in the European Assembly. [t does not change the salaries, pensions or allowances of Members of this House and it does not alter the terms under which the House has determined, in legislation, to pay the salaries and pensions of United Kingdom representatives in the European Parliament.

Sir Anthony Meyer

I am trying to be helpful, but I find it hard to understand why we are debating the salaries of Members of the European Parliament on a motion which makes no mention of the European Parliament. It refers solely to the salaries of Members of this Parliament.

Mr. Mayhew

I greatly enjoyed my hon. Friend's speech and I look forward to explaining the point that he has understandably raised.

The need for the resolution is this. Parliament has determined in passing the European Assembly (Pay and Pensions) Act 1979 that Members of the European Assembly should receive the same ordinary salary as Westminster Members save where they hold a dual mandate, in which case they should receive that salary with an addition of one-third of it.

Proposed salaries of Members of this House are set out in motions to approve resolutions of the House of Commons. There are two kinds. The first is an abstract resolution passed as an expression of opinion to which the Government have expressed their agreement, which is sufficient authority to pay the ordinary salaries of Westminster Members. This is because Members' salaries here are paid under the authority of the Appropriation Act out of voted moneys, and an abstract resolution is a sufficient basis for the submission of appropriate Estimates.

The second kind of resolution is one such as that appearing on the Order Paper, known as an effective resolution that bears the Queen's Recommendation. An effective resolution is an authority that is required to pay the pensions of Members of this House. It is also required in order to pay the salaries of our representatives to the European Assembly. Their salaries are charged on, and paid out of, the Consolidated Fund; and payment requires the authority of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Thus, the salary of a Member of the European Parliament is ascertained by reference to the last effective resolution by the House of Commons on the salaries for Members of the House of Commons. It is complicated, but that is the situation.

Mr. Alan Clark

I am greatly interested in the nomenclature used by my hon. and learned Friend. At the start of his speech he referred to Members of the European Parliament. That is, of course, a solecism. When reading from his text, drafted by goodness-knows-who—they were, however, sticking to the rules of accuracy—he referred consistently to the European Assembly. In the penultimate sentence, he reverted to the term "European Parliament". The correct term is "European Assembly". The concept of the European Parliament is a cosy notion that has been introduced as a way of making the whole idea more acceptable to the public of this country. I am interested in the variation of terms that my hon. and learned Friend uses.

Mr. Mayhew

My hon. Friend is right. At this time of night, it is rather jolly to vary one's language.

On 21 July 1980, the House carried an abstract resolution on pay to increase the salaries of Members of this House from £10,725 to £11,750 with effect from 13 June 1980.

Mr. English

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for noticing me after some delay. Why did he drag the Comptroller and Auditor General into this issue? The Comptroller and Auditor General is a quasi-autonomous civil servant. It has been suggested that he should be independent, but he is not, in fact, independent. Why was he dragged in?

Mr. Mayhew

The Comptroller and Auditor General does a rather dull job and he likes a mention in the House of Commons from time to time.

The House rejected, however, the related effective resolution bearing the Queen's Recommendation when it rejected the Government's proposal on Members' pensions. An effective resolution to give effect to the pensions increase was finally passed on 19 February this year. This related only to a Westminster Member's pay for pension purposes, his pensionable salary. But the last effective resolution on Westminster Members' salaries was passed on 11 July, 1979.

The lack of any effective later resolution on the salaries of Westminster Members meant that there was no legal authority to pay the increase to representatives of the European Parliament which had been authorised for Members of this House. Members of the European Assembly are therefore currently entitled to draw only £10,725 a year instead of £11,750 payable to Westminster Members. This was clearly accidental. It was not a deliberate expression of opinion by this House. The fact that there was no proper legal authority came to light in February and was drawn by the Government to the attention of the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Comptroller informed the Government that it would be necessary to cease paying representatives at the higher rate until an effective resolution had been passed.

It is to remedy that situation that this motion has been introduced. Express provision is made for retrospection in section 1(5) of the 1979 Act. Accordingly, I commend the motion to the House.

Mr. English

Was there a suspension payment during that period?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I thought that the Minister had sat down. I called the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) to make a speech.

Mr. English

I thought that I was addressing you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was perhaps asking a rhetorical question. It is important to decide whether such questions are rhetorical.

Let us take the Crown Agents. Every payment from the Crown Agents since 1837 was illegal. No one noticed it. Now we are suggesting that some payments may be illegal. Or were they paid? The Minister's statement did not make that clear. He made it clear that the Comptroller and Auditor General should not be paid, but he did not say whether the payment was made.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the following provisions about salaries of Members of this House be made:— The salary payable to Members of each of the descriptions in the first column of the following table—

  1. (a) in respect of service on and after 13 June 1980 and before 13 June 1981 shall be at the yearly rate specified in relation to that description in the second column of that Table; and
  2. (b) in respect of service on and after 13 June 1981 shall be at the yearly rate specified in relation to that description in the third column of that Table.

Description of Member Yearly rate of salary from 13 June 1980 to 12 June 1981 Yearly rate of salary from 13 June 1981
£ £
1. Member not within paragraph 2 11,750 13,150
2. Officer of this House or Member receiving a salary under the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975 or a pension under section 26 of the Parliamentary and other Pensions Act 1972 6,930 7,670