The Chairman: Order. Interventions should be just that; that was a bit long for an intervention. I also think that hon. Members will find that Ukrainian people would prefer to be described as from ''Ukraine'', not ''the Ukraine'', which is a Russianism.
Dawn Primarolo: I can see that this debate is fraught with minor difficulties that I did not appreciate.
I can confirm that hon. Gentleman is quite correct: when Ministers travel on Government business, the overnight accommodation costs and certainly their travel expenses are met by the Government. He also made a valid point that this House, Members of this House and the business of this House benefit extensively from the arrangements. The visits might be to forums such as the Interparliamentary Union with other parliamentary representatives in the European countries and are in order to encourage dialogue and understanding. That is precisely what I presume that all Members of the House of Commons wanted to recognise in ensuring that Members were able to travel
Column Number: 231on business if it was relevant. My understanding is that the country concerned must be in the process of accession to the European Union. The answer to the point about Ukraine is that it is not a recognised destination.
The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs tried to suggest that MPs would be swanning off for weekends in Europe that were not connected with their business. Frankly, trips that are made as a matter of personal choice will definitely not qualify and I am sure that, as guardians of the rules, the Fees Office will ensure that that is so.
On the question of accommodation, which was raised by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), I understand that such costs are included. He asked what happens if a third party were to pay them. As I understand it, that would be declarablefor instance, it would be declarable under the Register of Members' Interests. I am not in a position to say whether it would then become taxable, as I am not a tax adviser. I think that it would depend on the circumstances. The House of Commons has set the provision very narrow. Therefore, although the number of member states and institutions that could be visited has been expanded, the budget has not and the same strict rules apply as before.
Mr. Burnett: Does the clause give exemption only to cash that is paid out by the Fees Office to Members of Parliament? My second simple point was: what do the words ''and other representatives'' mean?
Dawn Primarolo: The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is yes. I was coming to the question of other representatives. The provision is concerned not with the level of payments or the allowance but with ensuring that the same underlying tax rules apply to Westminster MPs and Ministers, and to their counterparts in the devolved Administrationsthe ''other'' to which he referred.
We need to maintain some perspective. In most circumstances, Members of Parliament are treated for tax in the same way as other employees. The clause does not change that and nor should it. However, specific provisions exist to deal with one or two minor areas where the particular position of Members does not fit easily into the general tax framework. As I have said, there is no more money involved, because the budget for Members' visits to European institutions will remain the same. I presume that that is a matter for the House, Mr. McWilliam, as the budgets and arrangements are set by all Members through a vote on the Floor of the House.
The Chairman: Order. I can rule on that. It is a matter for the House of Commons Commission to compose resolutions for the House to decide on.
Dawn Primarolo: If some hon. Members are not convinced of the efficacy of the system, I assume that they will not approach the Fees Office for reimbursement of expenses for travel connected with parliamentary duties. I am always exceedingly careful, as is the House of Commons as a whole, to ensure that any arrangements for Members of Parliament are
Column Number: 232properly controlled, transparent and connected clearly, specifically and only with their duties as Members of Parliament.
I have noted the opposition and antagonism to the clause of the hon. Members for Arundel and South Downs and for Torridge and West Devon. Although I may be unable to persuade them that it is reasonable, I hope that the rest of the Committee will feel reassured that the House has thoroughly investigated the issue and that the Inland Revenue has confirmed the tax treatment as it currently operates. There are still only three trips. They are still tightly controlled and they must be to the European Union, to its institutions or agencies, or to accession or applicant countries.
Mr. Burnett: The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs can speak for himself, but I am sure that he shares my view that clauses such as this should not go through on the nod. Of course it is important that Members of Parliament should be able to travel on business to visit other Parliaments and to meet parliamentarians. Nevertheless, the clause needed probing, and I believe that we did that.
Mr. Flight: I thank you for your comments on the constitutional position, Mr. McWilliam. As I mentioned, the issue seemed to be greatly discussed on the Floor of the House, and a majority of our colleagues took a decision.
I congratulate the Paymaster General on presenting the case with great tact. It would be only honest to say that the system is open to abuse, but let us hope that our colleagues resist that temptation. I was prompted to say what I said by a Member from another party, who suggested to me that we could have a nice weekend in Prague by finding a good excuse to see a politician. It is obvious that the system is open to such abuse, although I am sure that the House officials will do their best to query such items duly. It is not my wish to oppose the clause further.
Dawn Primarolo: The hon. Gentleman's final points are a matter for the Fees Office and the House. The clause provides only for the tax position to be maintained with the current scheme. I am sure that the House authorities will pay close attention to his points about reasons for travel. However, they do not relate to the clause, so it would be inappropriate for me to respond to them.
The Chairman: I thank the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs for his kind words, and hope that hon. Members understand that my comments were merely in response to the Minister's point about how the specific budget is obtained, not its tax treatment.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 82 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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