HL Deb 04 November 2003 vol 654 cc680-2

2.45 p.m.

Lord Waddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

How much the British taxpayer pays directly or indirectly towards the allowances paid to Members of the European Parliament.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, MEPs' allowances fall within the operating expenditure of the European Parliament under the administration heading of the European Communities budget. In 2003, the expenditure on MEPs' allowances is budgeted at 79.92 million euros, or £51.95 million, out of the European Parliament's total budgeted expenditure of 1,020.3 million euros or £663.2 million. The UK's expected financing share of the 2003 EC budget is estimated at 13 per cent after the UK's abatement.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very detailed reply. However, would he not agree that when a British MP with considerable courage writes to the newspapers pointing out that the allowances paid to MEPs bear not the slightest relationship to the costs actually incurred it is time for all of us to sit up and take notice? Travel costs are reimbursed on the basis of the most expensive form of travel, plus 20 per cent; a staff allowance of £8,000 a month; a general expenses allowance of £2,500 a month on top of the £180 daily allowance, not to mention £35 a week for taxis after 10 p.m. when the limousine service ceases to run. Is this not a matter of great public importance because, so long as the European Parliament itself operates a racket, it is in a very weak position morally to investigate fraud in the Commission?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I very much enjoyed Mr Daniel Hannan's article in the Sunday Telegraph to which the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is no doubt referring. I particularly enjoyed the remark made to Mr Hannan by a French MEP: What is it about you English? You employ your wives and you sleep with your staff", unquote, I think.

I entirely agree that the existence and nature of the statute that controls the expenses of Members of the European Parliament are unsatisfactory. The European Parliament needs a new statute, but the proposed new European Parliament version of the statute has proved to be unacceptable to the Council of Ministers. We are on the side of the Council of Ministers. To that extent I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. However, as I pointed out in my first Answer, the costs of MEPs' staff are only 19 per cent of the total costs of the European Parliament. The Kinnock reforms are resulting in savings of 80 million euros a year by 2006. Those include pension reforms, promotion on merit and many other necessary reforms which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, will applaud.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, when the Minister gave me a Written Answer two weeks ago, did he draw any conclusions when he told me that the total cost per year to European taxpayers of a Member of the European Parliament works out at £1,059,000; that the cost to the British taxpayer of a Member of the House of Commons is £425,000; and that the total cost to the British taxpayer of a Member of the House of Lords is £96,000? Does he agree that a reasonable conclusion is that the House of Lords offers such fantastic value for money that it is best to leave it alone?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for drawing attention to an excellent publication of the House of Lords which gives in graphic form the figures to which he refers. I can confirm that I took them from that House of Lords publication and reported them directly to the noble Lord. As to the value of the contributions of Members of the European Parliament, Members of the House of Commons and Members of this House, I think that it would be entirely at variance with comity between the Houses of Parliament if I were to make an observation.

Baroness Wilcox

My Lords, I am delighted to hear how seriously the Minister is taking this subject. I believe that he answered the question that I am going to ask, but I am not sure so I should like to have it on the record. We have our own Wicks Committee on Standards in Public Life which has put forward excellent recommendations. Does the Minister accept, or has he already said, that there is a case for such a committee to report on the European Parliament? Will he undertake to propose to our partners the establishment of such a committee and press for it with enthusiasm?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am not sure that I quite said that, but certainly I agree with the thrust behind the noble Baroness's question. The trouble is that the statutes of the European Parliament are enshrined in paragraph 5 of Article: 190 of the treaty and were introduced by the Treaty of Nice. It will require major changes which we are certainly urging to ensure that there is greater transparency and accountability. Perhaps it would be useful to add that the salaries of Members of the European Parliament are paid at the national rate by member states and therefore are not paid out of our contribution to the European Parliament.

Lord Newby

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the biggest single waste of money in connection with the European Parliament relates to the fact that it is based on two sites, and that travel to Strasbourg costs the best part of 100 million unnecessary pounds a year? Will the Government, who have a major say in this as it is a matter for treaty provision, give greater priority to persuading our French partners that this is a complete waste of money and should be stopped?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we have given it priority. We have said what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked us to say. It is daft.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I declare an interest as an elected Member of the European Parliament. Does the noble Lord agree that there is consensus among the British Members of the European Parliament that the way in which the allowance and salary structure of MEPs is put together is an embarrassment to us? We merely want to see a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. Does the noble Lord further agree that in the most general terms the overall package of terms and conditions of a Member of the European Parliament is not dissimilar from that of a Member of the other place?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, that the British Members of the European Parliament voted for a change in the statutes. That comprises the Conservatives, the Socialists and—I cannot remember their formal title in European jargon—I think also the Liberal Democrat Members of the European Parliament. I pay tribute to all those British Members of the European Parliament who took that step to control what is undoubtedly a system which is out of control.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, as the Member of the European Parliament who represents me costs, apparently, £1 million a year, is my noble friend able to tell me who he or she is? I remember going to the polling station and not being able to vote for a candidate, only for a party.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I have no idea where my noble friend Lord Corbett lives.