HC Deb 01 February 1999 vol 324 cc593-4
41. Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

What plans she has to improve contact between hon. Members and Members of European national parliaments. [66802]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping)

My right hon. Friend the President of the Council said that the scheme to allow Members to visit European Union institutions would be extended. I can announce today that, from the next financial year, Members will be able to claim reimbursement of travel and subsistence expenses for one visit either to the main EU institutions or to the national Parliament of any EU member state. The scheme will be reviewed after a year to see whether it is possible to allow two visits in the second year.

Mr. MacShane

In welcoming the Minister to his job, may I congratulate him on his appointment and on his excellent answer? The aim of this proposal is to extend our relationship as national parliamentarians with other national Parliaments of Europe. We should move away from the obsession with Brussels and Strasbourg and make connections with national Parliaments, national Governments and national political parties in Paris, Copenhagen, Madrid or wherever it is judged necessary.

Will my hon. Friend keep this matter permanently under review? I am sure that it will be a success, because it will increase the ability of MPs of all parties to represent their constituents' interests in other cities across the European Union.

Mr. Tipping

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. I am sure that he will continue to pursue this matter, as he has done in recent years. He has a strong voice in Rotherham, which he is keen to extend across Europe. It is important for Members to visit institutions and to talk to colleagues abroad.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

If one accepted the validity of the comments of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), would the Minister seriously consider extending this facility to visits by British parliamentarians to the United States Congress, given that our relationship with the United States is closer, better, more natural, deeper and longer than it will ever be with the foreigners on the continent?

Mr. Tipping

The right hon. Gentleman and his friends have recently been critical of trips to the United States, so we shall not listen to his current suggestion.