Travel to European Union Institutions and National Parliaments

– in the House of Lords at 3:28 pm on 5th March 2003.

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Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 3:28 pm, 5th March 2003

My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

After representations from Peers from all parties, I have been in correspondence with the Senior Salaries Review Body. I have requested that it recommend a new allowance to enable Members of the House to claim reimbursement of travel and subsistence expenses for up to two return visits per year on parliamentary business to European institutions in Brussels, Luxembourg or Strasbourg, and to the national parliaments of EU member states or EU candidate countries. The SSRB has agreed to my request. The new allowance is broadly in line with a similar allowance in the Commons.

If noble Lords agree to the resolution, from 1st April this year they will be able to claim reimbursement for European Union travel along the lines that I have outlined. It is very important that the scheme is properly run and administered. For that reason, it will be necessary for all Members of the House wishing to make use of the allowance to seek prior approval from the Clerk of the Parliaments. The House Committee is likely to consider the details of the implementation and administration of this allowance at its next meeting.

Moved to resolve, That, in the opinion of this House, provision should be made as from 1st April 2003 for reimbursing Lords in respect of the cost of travelling on parliamentary duties between the United Kingdom and any European Union institution in Brussels, Luxembourg or Strasbourg or the national parliament of a European Union state or a candidate country and any additional expenses necessarily incurred in connection with such travel, subject to the following conditions—

(a) for any Lord, reimbursement is for not more than two visits in any year beginning with 1st April;

(b) the amount payable in respect of travel out of and into the United Kingdom is not more than the business class return fare between a station or airport serving London or the area of the Lord's main residence and a station or airport serving the city visited;

(c) subsistence for each visit is limited to two nights at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office class A standard subsistence rate for the time being in operation;

(d) the Lord must submit in advance to the Clerk of the Parliaments a statement of the visit's purpose, location and duration and the persons or organisations to be met.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Photo of Lord Roper Lord Roper Liberal Democrat Lords Chief Whip

My Lords, from these Benches, I welcome the efforts of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House in achieving this result. It has been a matter about which we have had some concern for some time and I am delighted that we are now put, broadly speaking, on the same basis as Members of the House of Commons and will be able to carry out appropriate travel.

Photo of Lord Hardy of Wath Lord Hardy of Wath Labour

My Lords, I disagree slightly with the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and my noble and learned friend. The facility is to be welcomed but it is not the same as that which is available in the House of Commons. I shall explain that briefly.

One will be able, under this provision, to go to Strasbourg to meet a group of Members of the European Parliament to discuss lawnmower noise but one will not be able to go to the Council of Europe to talk to its delegates about the matters for which they are responsible. The Council of Europe is included in the arrangements in the Commons.

Perhaps even more important at this stage of European history is the fact that the Western European Union is the only European forum that is concerned with security and defence. Members of the House of Commons can go to Paris, the planning cell in Brussels and so on to visit the WEU, which at this stage may well be particularly relevant. I therefore hope that further consideration can be given to the matter so that Members of this House can enjoy similar arrangements to those that are available to Members of another place.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Conservative

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord can help me on two counts, the first of which directly relates to this resolution and the second of which is very closely related to it.

First, paragraph (d) concerns getting prior approval from the Clerk of the Parliaments. I give a hypothetical case. What would happen if a Member of your Lordships' House was told on a Saturday when he was at home that it was urgent for him to go to Strasbourg, let us say, first thing on Monday morning? How would he be able to get such prior approval, even though it was for an entirely bona fide visit?

I turn to my second question, which, I repeat, I know is slightly wide of the mark; however, it is a very old chestnut. By coincidence, I had the privilege of leading a delegation from European Sub-Committee A yesterday to Brussels. We left on the 6.50 a.m. train and returned at about 7 p.m., to which no one objected. We had a fascinating trip. I realise that expenses and the allowance in your Lordships' House are for expenditure incurred. I also realise that no such expenditure is incurred on such trips by individual Members because the expenditure is covered within the budget of the European Committees.

Will the noble and learned Lord yet again put to the SSRB the proposal that there should be some way of providing financial recompense to Members of your Lordships' House who go on such visits? We were on business of your Lordships' House for 12 hours, which is, dare I say, perhaps longer than noble Lords might have been in this Chamber or in committees. There should be some form of financial recompense. I understand that it would not involve an allowance for expenditure but we were working for 12 hours on behalf of your Lordships. The SSRB might like to consider the matter again.

Photo of Lord Cope of Berkeley Lord Cope of Berkeley Conservative

My Lords, I join in the gratitude expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for the generality of the announcement and sympathise with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, and my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House confirm that under paragraph (d), when we disclose the,

"persons or organisations to be met", that information will stay within the confines of this Parliament and will never be divulged to the corrupt octopus in Brussels?

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am always grateful for the non-tendentious way in which the noble Lord introduces his questions. In fact, the only reason that I was determined to see if we could have the travel allowance for going to Europe was to please the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch.

We have obligations in respect of public money, and we also have obligations under the Freedom of Information Act. It appears to me to be a commonplace that if public money is to be expended by any of us or on our behalf, it must be a matter of public record and given appropriate safeguards.

The resolution is in exactly the same terms as the resolution in the Commons. I remind my noble friend Lord Hardy that I said that the allowance would be broadly in line with a similar allowance. I take the points about the Council of Europe and the Western European Union, and I am always willing to take such matters further with the SSRB. I must say that I was in correspondence with it for several months. It broke with its normal timetable to consider the request and it has acceded to it generally in the form in which it was put. If any noble Lords have supplementary matters for me to consider, I shall establish whether the SSRB will meet them or perhaps be able to advise noble Lords about other sources of funds that may be available for certain parliamentary duties.

The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, asked a question about Saturday evening. I was about to volunteer the home telephone number of the Clerk of the Parliaments. The advice that I have received is that that is the sort of legitimate detail that we shall consider in the next meeting of the House Committee.

The question of recompense is more difficult. Noble Lords well know that every allowance that we receive—I add in parenthesis that they are really quite reasonable now—is not subject to the beady investigative eye of the Inland Revenue. We should be cautious about getting into the territory of recompense for 12 hours' labour—unless, of course, we take a much more radical and lateral approach, and have a wholly elected House that is fully remunerated.

On Question, Motion agreed to.