HL Deb 13 February 1973 vol 338 cc1392-5

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the daily allowances for Members of this House when attending official meetings in Strasbourg are considered adequate, and whether account is taken of any loss sustained by inability to attend Parliamentary proceedings at Westminster.


My Lords, I assume that in this Question the noble Lord is referring to the travel and subsistence allowances for Members of the European Parliament. We have little experience in regard to the level of the necessary expenses which will be incurred by the Members of this House when they are carrying out their European Parliamentary duties in Strasbourg or elsewhere. Nor do we determine the level of the allowances, for these are paid out of funds of the European Parliament itself. However, I have no doubt that the present allowance rates were determined after an assessment was made of the expenses incurred by Members of the European Parliament when attending meetings, and they are of course subject to review by that Parliament.

The expenses allowance for attending this House covers reimbursement of expenses actually incurred within a permitted daily maximum. As Members of this House will not incur such expenses at Westminster at the same time as they are attending meetings of the European Parliament or its committees, I do not think there is any question of financial loss as a result of their inability to attend Parliamentary proceedings at Westminster.


My Lords, is the noble Earl the Leader of the House aware that he is indulging in a bit of sophistry, which is very unusual for him? Is he aware that in the other place those Members who are seconded to the Strasbourg Commission (or whatever it is called) are in receipt of their salaries, which were recently increased at a somewhat inflationary rate? Why should they have the privilege of receiving their salaries and receiving £22 a day allowance for going to Strasbourg, while Members of your Lordships' House are denied coming to this House and receiving, whether for expenses or for some other reason, the allowance which has been provided for? Does the noble Earl regard that as fair? Will he take note of the fact that the Prime Minister is always talking about doing everything fairly? Is not this an opportunity for putting matters right?


My Lords, I do not think it is right for me to comment on arrangements made for another place. However, I hope that the noble Lord will take my assurance that I am as zealous as my predecessors have been in seeing that Members of your Lordships' House get a fair deal wherever your Lordships' Parliamentary duties may take them.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that he is not answering my question at all? Is he aware that, according to information that is conveyed to us through the medium of the Press—those organs of unimpeachable veracity which never tell anything but the truth—those who attend Strasbourg are finding it difficult to provide adequately for themselves? I recall a Member of your Lordships' House the other day sitting at a tea-table complaining about this. I offered my sympathy to him, and even went to the length of suggesting that we might form a small trade union of which I would become the secretary.


My Lords, I think we need to get a little experience in this matter. We have not a great deal at the moment and it would be very useful if, by one means or another, the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, could join this happy band going to Strasbourg and other points East.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that if a delegate to Strasbourg from your Lordships' House happened to be a provincial Member, living in the North of England or perhaps Scotland, and paying hotel bills in London, there would be no loss incurred in going to Strasbourg?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for having drawn this point to my attention. I will certainly look into it.


My Lords, am I not right in thinking that the basic difference here is that Members of another place are in receipt of a salary, whereas Members of this House are entitled only to the reimbursement of expenses?


My Lords, that of course is the position. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, earlier accused me of sophistry when I sought to explain it. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for having put this in good plain English.


My Lords, as regards the personal reference made to me by the noble Leader of the House, perhaps I might say that I should have declared an interest—I am always thinking of my future.


My Lords, may I say that I think that remark rejoices all Members of your Lordships' House?


My Lords, would the noble Earl the Leader of the House consider this point? I have no personal interest at all here. The daily allowance is given to noble Lords to help them to live in London. If and when they go to the European Parliament, I understand from the Leader of the House that the allowance ceases, yet the overheads with which they have had to obligate themselves in order to perform their Parliamentary duties here will undoubtedly continue. Could that point be considered in the future?


My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for having put that to me, and I am always happy to consider what he says. I think it is clearly a question which we should keep under review. These are very early days so far as our membership of the European Parliament is concerned. I, for my part, shall be very glad to keep the matter under review.


My Lords, does the noble Earl feel that if the allowances, or whatever they are called, are paid by the Parliament of Europe itself, rather than by the British Parliament or the British Government, they will be more adequate than the allowances which were always made to people who went to the Council of Europe from this country?


My Lords, it is a fact that the allowances, especially taking into account the travel allowance, for the European Parliament are more generous than those paid to those delegates who attend the Council of Europe, the W.E.U. or indeed the Atlantic Assembly.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that because of the fact that they have to reside in London the allowances paid to provincial Members do not cover their expenses? Would the noble Earl feel able to look at that point of view, too?


My Lords, that is another matter, and of course it may be covered by phase 2. However, I can assure the noble Lord that this is a matter which is never very far from my mind.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl to bear in mind that the staple diet in Strasbourg is foie gran, which is rather expensive?


Yes, My Lords—washed down by copious quantities of kirsch, too!