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European Assembly Members

Volume 958: debated on Wednesday 22 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the Government's policy regarding the salary, expenses, and tax position of any directly elected Members of the European Assembly.

As I explained to the House on 15th November, we are determined that salaries should not be excessive, should be related to the salaries of national parliamentarians and should be subject to national taxation. Allowances should be related to necesary expenditure.

Will my hon. Friend give a clear assurance that he will continue his opposition to giving a green light to any Common Market gravy train for Euro MPs? Will he give a clear assurance that final agreement on these matters will be made by the end of this year? Or are we to assume that, if there is failure to reach an early agreement, there is a growing possibility that direct elections will not take place next June?

The Government have a very firm view that it is essential that this issue must be resolved before the elections so that those who stand and are elected know what the terms of service will be. That is a highly relevant factor to the whole future of the Assembly. Our view is that the responsibility for a final decision lies with Ministers in the Council of Ministers.

The Minister says that salaries should be related to this House, but does he realise that that is quite meaningless? Why does he not say that the salaries should be the same as those in this House and that after a year, if the Members are worth it, we will pay them a little more?

I endorse the objective that the principle should be that the salaries are the same in the sense that people will be going to the European Assembly as representatives of their country and of communities in their country. It seems right that their remuneration should be the same as that considered appropriate for being a Member of this House.

Will my hon. Friend answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden)? By which final date do the Government feel agreement must be reached on this subject, after which their attitude would be that the elections were in jeopardy until agreement was reached?

We hope that significant progress can be made to finalising this matter by the end of this year. The Government believe that it would be wrong in principle to go into the election campaign before this issue was resolved.

Why should British Members of the European Parliament be peculiarly subject to the peculiar fiscal philosophy of the United Kingdom? Is it not appropriate that the remuneration of Members of the European Parliament should be wholly and exclusively the responsibility of that Parliament, in the same sense that this House would bitterly resent being told by county councils what Members here should be paid?

I think that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will realise that his view is in every sense a federal view of Europe. The Government have repeatedly explained that they do not hold that federal view. In that sense we see Members going to the European Assembly as representatives of the people of this country. In that capacity their taxation should be the same as that applied to those whom they seek to represent.

Does my hon. Friend recall sending a letter to all the existing British Members of the European Parliament which seemed to indicate that the Government had already made up their mind on these matters? Does he also recall that he suggested in that letter that we should propagate the idea of having a Members' declaration of interests as effective as the one that we have here? Will my hon. Friend, if it is not unparliamentary, care to give the House the contents of my reply to that letter?

We can certainly see about giving the House the contents of my hon. Friend's reply. It is clear that the declaration of interest is an issue of honour, whether in this House or in the European Assembly. My hon. Friend will recall that I said that it was appropriate that the question should be decided within the context of the Assembly itself.