rose to ask the Chairman of Committees whether the Committee for Privileges has rejected a recommendation from the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests that members in receipt of pensions from the European Union should as a matter of course declare such pensions as a financial interest when taking part in debates, statements and questions on European Union matters.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am afraid that the unfortunate answer to the Question before us is yes. My purpose in holding this debate is to persuade the Committee for Privileges to change its mind and agree with its Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests. After all, that sub-committee is chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice.
I am encouraged in this endeavour by our code of conduct, which was adopted by a resolution of the whole House in 2001. That resolution requires that Members of this House must comply with the code,
“to provide the openness and accountability necessary to reinforce public confidence in the way in which Members of the House of Lords perform their parliamentary … duties”.
Paragraph 6 of the code states:
“In the conduct of their parliamentary duties, Members of the House shall resolve any conflict between their personal interest and the public interest in favour of the public interest”.
Paragraph 8 requires that Members must,
“declare when speaking in the House… any interest which is a relevant interest in the context of… the matter under discussion. This is necessary in order that their audience may form a balanced judgment of their arguments”.
Paragraphs 9 to 11 helpfully define a relevant interest thus:
“The test of relevant interest is whether the interest might reasonably be thought by the public to affect the way in which a Member of the House… discharges his… parliamentary duties… The test of relevant interest is therefore not whether a Member's actions in Parliament will be influenced by the interest, but whether the public might reasonably think that this might be the case… Relevant interests include both financial and non-financial interests”.
It is this last point which, I understand, requires me to declare in debates touching on learning disabilities that I am the father of a child with severe lifelong intellectual impairment. It helps the listeners and those who read Hansard to appreciate where one is coming from. By the same token, I should have thought that it was also incumbent on former EU Commissioners and employees at least to mention their former incarnation in debates about the EU.
The code is more prescriptive on financial interests—and here I come to the heart of my argument. EU pensions are unusual and perhaps unique in that holders can lose them if, in the sole opinion of the Luxembourg court, they indulge in any action incompatible with their former duties. The rules governing former Commissioners are set out in Article 213 of the Treaty Establishing the European Community, which states that members of the Commission,
“shall refrain from any action incompatible with their duties. When entering upon those duties they shall give a solemn undertaking that, both during and after their term of office, they will respect the obligations arising therefrom … In the event of any breach of those obligations, the Court of Justice may rule that the Member concerned be deprived of his right to a pension”.
The solemn undertaking includes the promise to,
“perform my duties in the general interests of the Communities”,
“to refrain from any action incompatible with my duties”.
The undertaking goes on:
“I further undertake to respect, both during and after my term of office, the obligations arising therefrom”.
The rules covering former staff are covered in Section 3 of the staff regulations entitled, “Disciplinary Measures”. Article 9 of those states:
“Where the official is in receipt of a retirement pension … the appointing authority may decide to withhold an amount from the pension”.
So it seems clear that both former Commissioners and EU staff can lose all or part of their pension if, in the judgment of the Luxembourg court, they behave sufficiently badly. I shall return to what that behaviour might be at the end.
That was accepted by the Government in a Written Answer of 6 October 2003, which stated:
“Former members of the European Commission and their officials are bound to respect certain obligations arising from the office that they held. In the event of any breach of these obligations, the EU institutions are able to rule, according to the circumstances, that that person should be liable to a reduction or withdrawal of pension rights”.—[Official Report, 6/10/03; col. WA 31.]
However, that correct interpretation of EU law was, at first, not accepted by your Lordships’ Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests which reports to the Committee for Privileges. When the sub-committee was chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, it could not reach agreement on the matter. So the noble and learned Lord then went through a most unusual legal manoeuvre. He wrote an opinion to himself as chairman of the sub-committee. That contained a number of misunderstandings, and I do not have time to deal with them all now. An important error was to find that an EU pension can be removed only if the pensioner accepts unsuitable employment after leaving office. That possibility is indeed emphasised in the treaty, but its scope is much wider, as I have quoted. Indeed, it is open-ended and entirely at the discretion of the court. More generally, the noble and learned Lord appears to have misunderstood the most obvious need to declare an interest when he said,
“in general it is not necessary to declare an interest on a matter of parliamentary business affecting an employer … just because a Member of the House of Lords is in receipt of emoluments … from that employer”.
What interest could be more declarable than the fact that one is speaking about one’s employer?
Not surprisingly, a number of us were not satisfied with the noble and learned Lord's opinion, which was accepted by his sub-committee and by the Committee for Privileges, so we asked the sub-committee to think again. It duly did so, this time chaired, as I have said, by no less a personage than the former Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. Its report is available from the Printed Paper Office as Priv. 2006-07/1. It comes down unambiguously in favour of declaration and recommends that Members of the House in receipt of pensions from the European Union should as a matter of course declare such pensions as a financial interest when taking part in debates, Statements and Questions on European Union matters. However, when the full Committee for Privileges met on 5 June, I regret to say that it did not accept its sub-committee's view. I believe a copy of the minutes can be obtained from the Clerk to the committee, but no reasoned report has been published. The minutes are far from clear or satisfactory.
I know that I am regarded by the Europhile majority in your Lordships’ House as the naughtiest boy behind the bicycle sheds, but it is quite wrong to say that the matter was reopened only because of pressure from me, which is what the minutes say. The noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Vinson, both wrote to the noble and learned Lords, Lord Browne-Wilkinson and Lord Woolf, and the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, and the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, went together to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in person. Many other noble Lords have expressed concern, as one would expect. I do not believe I need to trouble your Lordships with their names; of course, they are the other usual culprits. I am most grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is to speak later.
The minutes also suggest that the crime we have in mind is merely criticising the Commission in debate. We agree that there is nothing to stop the court deciding that that is indeed sufficient pretext to remove or to reduce a pension. But there are other more serious things that pensioners could say in debate which would almost certainly result in financial penalty. They could reveal some hitherto unpublished scandal, which would bring the EU into even further disrepute; they could support a referendum on the next EU treaty and they could speak against that treaty in debate; and they could even have a Damascene conversion, in common with a large and growing majority of the British people, who have come to believe that this country would be much better off outside the political construct of the EU, while keeping our friendship and free trade with the other member states.
Of course, I agree that all that is unlikely, but it is not impossible. One thing is certain: that the prospect of jeopardising one’s pension prevents any such views, scandals or criticism being uttered in debate in your Lordships' House. Therefore, it is a declarable financial interest. We are not talking small beer. I am advised that one former Commissioner in your Lordships' House is looking forward to a pension of some £73,000 per annum, at present exchange rates.
My noble friends and I maintain that this failure to declare former EU employment and pensions prevents public understanding of our debates on EU matters. For example, on 14 June, we had an important debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to extol the advantages of our EU membership. Of the 22 speakers before the gap, 10 were former EU employees of one kind or another, yet only one declared that as an interest. The public could not possibly know from where the other nine noble Lords were coming.
I have only one question for the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. Was the decision on 5 June reached by a vote, or did he judge the mood of the meeting, which may have been distorted by exaggerated claims of my personal involvement? If so, could he try again?
The quality of your Lordships' House debates is a highly prized national asset, something of which we are all proud. I trust that this debate may help to maintain that.
My Lords, as this short debate concerns specifically European Union pensions, it is certainly appropriate to declare that I have a pension from the European Commission and I do so now. I wish to make a few brief points which run in the opposite direction to those put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. Over the past seven years, I have spent much time trying not to quarrel with him and I shall continue on that path.
First, the matter was looked at very carefully in 2004 by the Committee for Privileges on the basis of a report from the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and a very full legal opinion by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, to which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, referred. The report of the Committee for Privileges was published by the authority of the House—HL Paper 69 of 5 April 2004. I do not see what has changed in relation to EU pensions—I am well aware that some Members have queried the situation—since the declaration of interest was examined only three years ago by the Committee for Privileges. As is well known, the sub-committee recommended that:
“Members of the House in receipt of pensions from the European Union do not normally need to declare such pensions as a financial interest when taking part in debates on European matters”.
The Committee for Privileges endorsed that recommendation, and that is set out in paragraphs 4 and 5 of HL Paper 69.
Secondly, it is very important to distinguish between former European Commissioners and former staff of the Commission. The duties of Commissioners are covered by a specific treaty article—Article 213, which has been quoted already and will probably be quoted later—which is in the consolidated treaty, and they are not covered by the staff regulations. Article 213 is primarily directed to ensuring the independence of the Commission. Members of the Commission have to be totally independent in the performance of their duties and they shall neither seek nor take instructions from any Government or any other body and shall refrain from any action incompatible with their duties. During their term of office, they may not engage in any other occupation. Evidently, those provisions about the independence of Commissioners from governments and other bodies apply to them when in office in the Commission.
It is true that, when taking up their duties, Commissioners give an undertaking that,
“during and after their term of office, they will respect the obligations arising therefrom and in particular their duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits”.
A breach could lead to compulsory retirement on the one hand, or to a loss of pension by a decision of the Court of Justice on the other. It seems to me evident that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, was right to conclude that the only possible breach occurring after the end of a Commissioner’s period of office is a failure,
“to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits”.
Taking part in parliamentary duties at the present time cannot amount to a breach of that provision.
When speaking in the gap in the debate on 14 June, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, stated that holders of EU pensions,
“can lose them if, in the opinion of the Commission and the Luxembourg court they”—
and I note that this appears in Hansard within inverted commas—
“‘fail to uphold the interests of the European Communities’”.—[Official Report, 14/6/07; col. 1837.]
He said that few people know that. I am not at all surprised since I cannot find these words anywhere either in Article 213, although they are quoted within inverted commas, or in the staff regulations. The sense may be there but the words are not.
So, that is the position of the ex-Commissioners. Those who have worked on the staff of the European Commission are not covered by Article 213. They are, during their term of office, covered by the staff regulations. I do not know whether I am the only person in this House who has carried with him through life a copy of the staff regulations, but I actually do have the regulations and I have read them rather a lot of times. The staff regulations are those that apply to officials while they are engaged in employment in the Commission. In this debate, the obligations and duties of officials when they were employed by the Commission do not seem to me to be relevant—that is the past and that’s that. The question is which obligations, if any, apply to them after they have left the service of the Commission.
Articles 11 and 12 of the staff regulations, oft quoted in these various discussions, apply to the rights and obligations of officials with no reference whatever to former officials. Staff regulations clearly distinguish which articles apply to which type of person, and they do not apply to former officials. The obligations on former officials in title II of the staff regulations relate to them possibly accepting appointments and benefits after leaving office and the improper disclosure of information obtained in the course of official work; there is nothing which says that a former official cannot express his opinions freely on EU matters, and if he does so there is no effect whatever on his pension. In no other way, apart from those specific points, does an ex-employee owe continuing duties to the European Union.
I believe that I am the only former official of the Commission to whom this debate applies who is in the Chamber. Indeed, I am rather honoured to have a personal debate of this kind applied to me by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch—I never expected to have that. I should also say that I am personally quite indifferent to whether I declare my pension or not, because I am going to say what I wish to say in this House in any event. But my pension is in the register of interests, though for me its declaration is a matter of indifference.
I do not believe, however, that anyone has shown that the position taken by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, in his statement, the position taken by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and the Committee for Privileges in 2004, or the unanimous decision of the current Committee for Privileges to reject the recent sub-committee report and to maintain the view of 2004, is not correct. I think that the decisions taken in 2004 correspond to the text of the treaty and to the text of the staff regulations. I therefore think that they should be maintained, as did the Committee for Privileges. Again, it is not a matter of any substance for me at all, but I believe that that is the correct position.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. If you take a debate like this entirely in isolation, it seems perfectly reasonable to make one’s declaration of interest. As he said, it does not matter to me. Perhaps the House will excuse me if I pull the camera back a little so that we can get the broader context in which these kinds of demands are made. I fully accept that my view of the EU is different from that of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I believe that the European Union stands as one of the great triumphs of human endeavour which has proved that old enemies can put away that enmity and work together to build something on the basis of democracy and human rights. It stands as a tribute to the world. I will stand and defend it politically whenever I can, and I am willing to debate with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson.
What I object to, and it is part of a wider context, is that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and his friends—I say that because he says that he is not alone—consistently approach the EU debate using tactics that, as someone who has worked in public relations and has some political experience, I recognise. If you want to go back in history, the Trotskyist handbook shows how you destroy the credibility of an organisation: you do not attack only the policy, you attack the record; and if attacking the record does not work, then you attack the credibility of the staff. You may not believe that that is a textbook way of attacking an organisation but I can tell you that any Labour Party member with experience of the militant tendency would recognise it immediately. You keep organisations going hour after hour with tedious points of order. You put forward, with supposed authority, “facts” about what the organisation has done—on which you need the aid of someone with equal concern for reading the small print, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, has done today, to prove that they are not true.
I notice that we are not alone. The BBC Trust, for example, is to investigate allegations that the Radio 4 “Today” programme is biased in favour of the European Union. Who has found out this terrible fact? Why, it is the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, who says that Radio 4,
“refuses to cover perhaps the most important aspect of our current EU relationship, which is that Brussels is putting the failed constitution in place piecemeal, surreptitiously and illegally”.
You see the point, and you recognise it again—it is a tactic that has been employed by Karl Rove in the United States and Mr Alastair Campbell here. You keep up the constant bombardment of complaints. By creating that atmosphere, you create among reasonable people the feeling that, “There is no smoke without fire”, or that, “This is not a problem that is going to go away, so we had better do something to solve it”, without addressing the fact that we are facing not a problem but a political tactic carried on with some precision and some consistency. I fully appreciate and somewhat applaud that precision and consistency in the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, but I can only assure him that I will match his consistency, because I recognise what he is trying to do. That is why we on these Benches so frequently employ our expertise to correct the hobgoblins and various other horrors that he perpetrates from the Back Benches while knowing full well that most other Members have not gone to paragraph 187(3) of some European document that he quotes, usually erroneously but with spurious authority.
That is one approach to the matter. My other approach is this. Yes, I am committed to the EU, but I am also committed to this House. It is 41 years since I first came through the doors of this House and I never come in without feeling a sense of awe and privilege. In sitting on the Privileges Committee I feel a sense of responsibility, and certainly a determination not to allow my own political views or prejudices to affect my decisions. I stand by the decision of the Privileges Committee, not because of the issue at hand but because of a determination to defend the integrity of the House.
I remember that, when I first came into this House, noble Lords were discussing introducing various regulations as the cash-for-questions affair rumbled through from the other place. A noble Lord stood up and said that he received a pension from the gas board and asked whether he had to declare that interest in energy debates. The whole House said, “Of course not. We do not want a House in which noble Lords make those kind of declarations all the time”. We need to understand that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is after a declaration from our former European Commissioners and our single former employee that they are in the employ of some foreign power. That is the background to this and I do not think that the House should tolerate it.
Quite frankly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf—
No, my Lords, I have reached my final minute. I am sorry but the noble Lord could have put his name down.
I make only one further point. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, may have argued before the committee that the problem will not go away. I accept that because I realise that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, will not go away. However, that is not a reason for giving in on this. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, should have been recognised for what he is, a vexatious litigant, and should have been asked to give one example in 35 years which would have justified this House changing its rules. But, of course, he could not do so. For that reason I stand by our decision and I hope that the House will do so too.
My Lords, I am always willing to listen charitably to what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has to say but the criticisms that he made of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, can be described only as completely bizarre. They do not bear the slightest relationship to the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has conducted himself over the years and the way that he has, with great assiduity, drawn the attention of the House to various events within the European Community. If I was not a very placid and good-natured chap, I would take the noble Lord to task for not having addressed one word to the matter before the House—the true meaning and effect of Article 213.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said that Article 213 of the treaty establishing the European Communities gives the impression that an obligation is imposed on pension holders to continue to uphold the interests of the EU, and that failure to do so can lead to a pension being reduced or withdrawn. That is what we are talking about—was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, right or wrong?
The committee rejected the recommendation of the sub-committee, and in doing so it is quite plain from the minutes that it was swayed by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton. Nobody, of course, would be crackers enough to impugn his honesty and integrity, and I am not doing so now. But I have to say that his interpretation of Article 213 is almost as bizarre as the contribution from the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches. We should look at what is said, and is not said, by Article 213. From reading the minutes, it seems that the committee was swayed by the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, that Article 213 only stopped ex-commissioners accepting certain appointments or benefits. I repeat what I said earlier—that is simply not correct.
Certainly, the article places a particular duty on commissioners to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments and benefits, but it is quite clear from the wording of the article as a whole that that is just one of their duties. It is certainly not their only duty. It is one example of their duty, both during and after their term of office, to respect the obligations arising from the office they held. I entirely fail to see how it can be argued for one moment that, after leaving office, former commissioners do not continue to be bound by the obligation to refrain from any action which would have been incompatible with their duties while they were in office, because that is precisely what Article 213 says. I am not making it up; it is just a question of reading the article. It is as simple as that.
The obligation placed on commissioners by the article is not, as was suggested by the committee, narrowly defined. It could scarcely be wider. I shall illustrate the point. Is it seriously suggested that commissioners do not owe a duty of loyalty to the EU when in office? If it is accepted that they do, Article 213 says quite specifically and makes it as plain as a pikestaff that the same duty continues after retirement.
Having got all that off my chest—it really should not have been necessary to say it at all because any fool can see that that is the meaning of Article 213—I have to confess that I shall not lose any sleep if commissioners do not have to declare an interest. However, other matters disclosed by the minutes cause me great concern, which is why I am here today. The minutes wrongly suggest that the whole question of whether ex-commissioners had an interest to declare came before the committee only because of pressure from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. In fact, as one has already heard, the matter was raised by the All-Party Lords EU Study Group chaired by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. The sub-committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, commenced its deliberations following representations from my noble friends Lady O'Cathain, Lord Vinson and Lord Tebbit. However, the impression given by the minute was that the committee was being troubled with the matter only because of the persistence of one Peer, and he a bit of a crackpot. I know that I am right in saying that because that is exactly the impression that is now being given, quite disgracefully, by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. The case has been proved by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and is the reason I have missed my lunch today. I have come along to defend my noble friend, although I am not supposed to call him that because he has been silly enough to leave our party, but everybody knows what I mean.
It is certainly true that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has often been out of step with many in this House when he has spoken on matters European, but those quick to criticise him would be well advised to do a bit of research, and they will discover that he has far more often been right in his predictions about developments in the European Union than his detractors.
I have one vivid memory which makes me pause before accepting readily assurances from those in this place who are largely uncritical of the EU. After returning from foreign parts in 1997, I was invited to a very smart dinner party, my fellow guests being Foreign Office mandarins, various other very prominent members of the great and the good and self-appointed experts on European affairs. They all looked at me pityingly when I expressed worries about developments in the European Community and to a man declared that the high water-mark of European integration had been reached. That was in the middle of 1997. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that the very next day the papers were full of the fact that the juggernaut was once again on the move, and of course it has never stopped since. Those are the sort of people who get restless and who sometimes express their scorn when my noble friend speaks. That is really why I am missing my lunch today; to speak up for my noble friend Lord Pearson in the hope that in the future he gets a very much fairer hearing that he has had on this occasion.
My Lords, I, too, would defend to the uttermost limit the right of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, to raise any objections that he wants to membership of the European Union. I agree very much with the comments of my noble friend Lord McNally that the motives can be examined in different ways by different people. We have a different interpretation of why the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and his colleagues, do this kind of thing. There was also the even more virulent speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who has had an intense dislike of the European Union and all its works for a very long time. That is what the agenda is all about. Therefore, I look forward to the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, when he will deal with the technical, detailed points in the various reports.
I disagree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, on his interpretation of Article 213, but he is a very distinguished and eminent former Home Secretary, QC and lawyer and one hesitates as a non-lawyer to take on people of that distinction. I get very angry, as do others who have a natural support for our 34 year-long membership of the European Union, when our motives are traduced by all this rubbish about plots and conspiracies and the profound dislike of our working with foreigners and bringing peace in the European Union, after strife on a colossal scale and two nightmare world wars.
Still, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is right on one thing; that the high water-mark of integration probably was reached many years ago. There has been no further increase in integration. We have to repeat endlessly that these are sovereign member states. Britain is a sovereign country in its own right, with its own intrinsic sovereignty, which is enhanced and augmented by our membership of the European Union. These are all sovereign countries. The 10 new countries have no fear of losing their sovereignty by joining the European Union. All of us working together in agreed, integrated institutions—using majority voting from time to time, but very rarely—reach most decisions by consensus, which is the highest form of civilised behaviour in a club where—surprisingly enough, what a ridiculous idea—we, the members, join the club because we like the other members.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has declared one respectable interest on the Register, that he is a stalking member of the Countryside Alliance. This is Trotskyite behaviour; stalking the foreigners and seeing what they are up to. They are all plotting against Britain; we are unique. In recent debates and Questions, he said that he heard the “jackboots” approaching our shores. Some of the other nutters on those Benches—Peter Hain used that word in the House of Commons, so perhaps it is okay there, but not here, and I withdraw it, symbolically at least. Some of the eccentrics on those Benches, and some other Peers who have been mentioned, said, “Yes” or, “Hear, hear, that is quite right”. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, more recently said that the French were “psychotic” because they lost the war and were occupied. He got a robust answer from the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, the then Foreign Office Minister, for saying such an appalling thing about one of our strongest allies and friends, which right now is supporting us strongly in a particular European matter.
If the House of Lords was a police station, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, would be had up for wasting police time, because he does this again and again. I do not mind him doing it, as long as the House does not mind its time being wasted. Having studied the reports as carefully as I hope he has, I do not agree with him in any way whatever. I do not think—although not being an expert lawyer gives one a certain amount of hesitation—that the subsequent judgment by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in any way reverses the original report and the opinion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, which still stands. I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, has said. I find it difficult when Members say things like, “I cannot say who it is, but a certain ex-Commissioner is going to get a pension of £73,000”. Why not mention the name, if the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, knows this information?
My Lords, the noble Lord did not mention the name in his previous remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, may or may not confirm that, but pensions in the European Commission are commensurate with the work involved. Such people have worked extremely hard in the service of this country and of the European Commission, having signed the solemn declaration when they became Commissioners that they would not take their own national interests at heart but would promote the interests of the European Union as a whole.
When the Committee for Privileges met early in June, it did not change its mind. It reiterated the basis for the former judgment in its report, which I entirely accept. There is so much that one could quote from it, but I will not do so because of the time. I emphasise paragraph 7 on page 5:
“These make it clear that Members are not required to register certain types of interest. Members of the House should not suppose themselves to be under any pressure to register interests that are not required to be registered”.
However, there is a different interpretation from that of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, both for Commissioners and employees of the Commission. On page 6, the report says:
“This alternative interpretation starts by noting that in the absence of an express provision the staff regulations impose no duties on an employee of the Communities to do anything or to refrain from doing anything after they have ceased to work for the Communities”.
That is clear beyond all doubt. It continues:
“Because there are no obligations, there can be no breach of obligations; and so there can be no threat to pensions”.
In the summary of recommendations, it is repeated by the Committee for Privileges that,
“a detailed review of the code of practice is not appropriate ... no amendments should be made … Members of the House in receipt of pensions from the European Union do not normally need to declare such pensions as a financial interest when taking part in debates on European Union matters”.
In this context, could we not ask the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and his colleagues who are UKIP members—I do not know whether permanently or temporarily—to take more interest in the way in which their UKIP MEPs behave in the European Parliament? There have been many examples of officials investigating their claims on expenses and the misuse of expenses drawn directly as Members of the European Parliament for use outside, which UKIP members have freely confessed to. Those are the things that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, should be asking questions about, rather than wasting the time of this House in an endless debate on these matters, repeating points endlessly and not listening to the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and others, who put the record straight.
My Lords, I am a member of the Committee for Privileges, but I do not anticipate that I shall be for more than another week or so. I am one of those who took this decision, and I agree with it. I should say at once that I do not go along with all the remarks made either by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, or by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes. With regard to the minutes, I at least am perfectly clear, and was at time of the meeting, that this question arose from others as well as from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I never was in any doubt about that. I endeavour to approach the matter in as objective a manner as possible.
No one asserted that there had been any change in the position since 2004, when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, examined the position, as has been said, and he set out the legal position as he saw it in considerably greater detail than the sub-committee did when it looked at this again recently. We had the advantage on the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, who has today given us a small flavour of what he said on that occasion, when he spoke in considerably greater detail, both about the position of Commissioners and the position on former employees of the EU. He did so after his very long experience of living and working under exactly the rules that we are discussing. As a very senior official of the Commission, he had to make judgments on exactly those rules. That is why he knows them so well. He also worked intimately with all the Commissioners who were there during his time on their obligations under the articles. I do not think that I can add anything to his interpretation.
What weighed most strongly with me was that no one produced then, just as no one has produced today, any evidence at all of the abuse that we are warned about having happened or being threatened. There appears to be no case of anyone having their pension curtailed or receiving a threat of their pension being curtailed for any reason of the kind suggested, and certainly not in connection with the work of your Lordships’ House. I do not think that there is any such instance. Therefore, we are worrying about something that, over many years, has never occurred and has never been threatened.
The other important point is that, if ever the EU officially, or any official of the EU, or anyone purporting to speak for the EU, should threaten, privately or publicly, that the pension due to one of your Lordships might be curtailed if he or she expressed a view that was not liked, that would be an obvious and disgraceful breach of the privilege of Parliament. Any official who did that or even contemplated doing it should be extremely careful because the row that would ensue would be immense and exceptionally damaging to the EU. Therefore, I do not think that it will occur and, as I said, no one has produced any evidence that I am aware of, or has suggested, that any threat of this kind has been made. That is why I support the decision of the Privileges Committee.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down and as, according to the Clock, we have a few minutes left, perhaps I may put something to him. Like the royal prerogative, parliamentary privilege is subservient to European law. I do not have time now but I can show him lots of examples where the Commission has threatened to remove people’s pensions. There was a headline in the Telegraph on 12 July last year, for example, concerning Madame Cresson, and so on. Could it be that if this power has not been much used, it is precisely because people do not break the rules when they know that they can end up without a pension?
My Lords, if the noble Lord has examples of any Peer or, for that matter, anyone else who has had their pension curtailed as a result of disobliging things that they have said about the EU, then he should have produced them. Of course, I accept that someone may be threatened with having their pension curtailed if they take on an unsuitable job. Similarly, there are controls over what jobs can be taken by civil servants and Ministers after they leave office, and I can imagine other examples where pensions have been threatened. However, in this case, I have not heard anything. If the noble Lord has examples of people having had their pension curtailed as a result of what they said or were thinking of saying, he should have produced them, either to the committee or today. If we have evidence of abuse, we should deal with that abuse.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in the debate today, and I am glad to have this opportunity to explain to the House the background to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. We have had a very lively debate and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that it has been worth giving up one’s lunch break for. I apologise in advance that in my remarks I shall probably duplicate some things that have already been said.
The short answer to the noble Lord’s Question is yes. The Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests recently presented to the Committee for Privileges a recommendation on the lines described in the noble Lord’s Question, and the committee decided not to make that recommendation to the House.
Because the committee’s decision involved no change of practice, it decided not to make a report to the House on this matter. That is quite normal. Committees usually make a report only when they make a recommendation to the House but, as no change was involved here, there was no need for a report to be made. However, the sub-committee’s report and the minutes of the committee’s meeting on 5 June, when the report was discussed, have been made available on the intranet and in the Library and the Printed Paper Office. I do not think that anyone who is in the least bit interested in this matter will have had any difficulty in finding them.
The Committee for Privileges first considered the position of noble Lords in receipt of pensions from the European Union in 2004 as a result of a request from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. In its first report of Session 2003–04, the committee endorsed a recommendation by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests that:
“Members of the House in receipt of pensions from the European Union do not normally need to declare such pensions as a financial interest when taking part in debates on European Union matters”.
That recommendation was based on the opinion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, who was its chairman at the time.
Recently the sub-committee, with three new members and now chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has revisited the issue in response to,
“a request from a number of members of the House to re-examine the matter”.
This time the sub-committee reached the opposite conclusion; namely,
“that members of the House in receipt of pensions from the European Union should as a matter of course declare such pensions as a financial interest when taking part in debates, statements and questions on European Union matters”.
This new recommendation was considered by the Committee for Privileges on 5 June, when there was general agreement that the committee should not reverse the decision that it made in 2004. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, asked me whether there had been a vote in the committee. There was no need for one. I do not like taking votes in committees unless it is clearly necessary to do so, but I can tell the noble Lord that at least half a dozen members of the committee all spoke in the same way and they all agreed that they did not wish to reverse the decision made in 2004. At that stage, I began to get a sense of the feeling of the committee. I asked whether anyone dissented from that view and answer came there none. Therefore, it was not necessary to take a vote.
Obviously, different members may have had different reasons for reaching that conclusion, so I cannot give definitive reasons on behalf of the committee, but it may be helpful if I briefly mention the two main arguments brought forward during the discussion.
The first argument concerns the scope of the obligations on those receiving EU pensions. The sub-committee’s report says:
“Pensions are not usually conditional on the good behaviour of the pension holder. EU pensions therefore are unusual in the conditions that are attached to them. Moreover, the impression is given that these conditions impose an obligation on pension holders to continue to uphold the interests of the EU”.
For the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, the main committee was not persuaded that there is such an obligation.
The rules for former Commissioners are slightly different from those for former members of the staff of EU institutions. The duties of Commissioners and former Commissioners are governed by Article 213 of the Treaty of Rome and those of staff and former staff by the European Union’s staff regulations. However, in both cases, the obligations are mainly on serving Commissioners and staff, and the restrictions on those no longer holding office are confined to the acceptance of certain appointments or benefits. That point was clearly made—
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord, because he has come to the essence of the matter here. Article 213 states:
“When entering upon their duties they shall give a solemn undertaking that, both during and after their term of office, they will respect the obligations arising therefrom and in particular their duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits”.
Therefore, how can it be suggested that their duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance of certain appointments or benefits is their only obligation, when that is cited as just one of their obligations? There is this obligation in particular, but nothing whatever in that section could lead anyone to believe that they do not have other obligations.
My Lords, perhaps I may also intervene. This fundamental point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, on the previous occasion so I refer to it only once: the obligations apply to the commissioners while they are in office and are undertaking certain duties. The obligations do not apply in general after they cease to undertake those duties, and in particular they do not apply under any circumstances on any reasonable man’s interpretation of this article to obligations about speaking in this House.
My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for intervening, but we had the benefit of two noble and learned Lords, Lord Browne-Wilkinson and Lord Woolf. One of the reasons the law is such a good thing to be in is because lawyers do not always agree. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, will know that if they always agreed about everything, it would be a pretty thin business to be in. I shall not pursue the matter but rest my case on the words of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and on the report in the first place of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson.
Let me move on because we have limited time. The second argument which found favour in the committee was that the committee found it absurd to suggest that any of the distinguished noble Lords who receive EU pensions needed to declare their interest in debate in order that others might form a balanced judgment of their arguments. There is no doubt of the integrity of the Members of the House concerned, and the committee felt that it would be distasteful to call on them to declare their pension interest whenever they spoke in the House. It said that mainly because the committee last month reaffirmed the view which it took in 2004.
Criticism has been made of the minutes of the committee and the reference in them to the fact that the matter was reconsidered only because of pressure by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I ask noble Lords to read the first part of the sentence in the minute, which says that in discussion it was suggested that nothing had happened since the committee’s 2004 report to justify reopening the matter, and that it had been reconsidered only because of pressure by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. One must take the whole of that sentence. That is what was said in discussion. Whether one agrees with it is a matter of opinion. If there is some doubt about those minutes, I must apologise. The report itself on the other hand makes it extremely clear when it says that the matter was reconsidered on a request made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and other Members of the House. That is what this should rest on. I hope the House has found it helpful to have that explanation on the record.