Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

It is true that, when taking up their duties, Commissioners give an undertaking that,

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,

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,

and I note that this appears in Hansard within inverted commas—

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

19 July 2007 : Column 407

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.

1.54 pm

Lord McNally: 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

19 July 2007 : Column 408

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,

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

19 July 2007 : Column 409

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—

Lord Marsh: My Lords, will the noble Lord give way?

Lord McNally: 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.

2.02 pm

Lord Waddington: 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

19 July 2007 : Column 410

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

19 July 2007 : Column 411

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.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I put on record that I have never described the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, as a crackpot.

2.10 pm

Lord Dykes: 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

19 July 2007 : Column 412

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?

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, it is the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock.

Lord Dykes: 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

19 July 2007 : Column 413

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:

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:

That is clear beyond all doubt. It continues:

In the summary of recommendations, it is repeated by the Committee for Privileges that,

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page