Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Linking MPs' pay to responsibilities

Peter Lilley brought some welcome common sense to the House of Commons yesterday, with an extremely relevant contribution to the on-going debate about MPs' pay and expenses.

He proposed a Bill that would require the Senior Salaries Review Body to "take account of transfers of powers between Parliament and European Union institutions when making recommendations on the pay of Members of Parliament."

The Bill is a cross-party effort, co-sponsored by the Labour MP Gisela Stuart. Ms Stuart is particularly well placed to know about power transfers involved in the Lisbon Treaty, having been a leading member of the Convention that drew up the original EU Constitution.

In his introductory statement, Lilley said:

"In virtually every occupation, it is recognised that pay should reflect responsibilities. If people receive more responsibilities, they get higher pay. If they move to a post with fewer responsibilities, they expect to receive lower pay.

"The same should be true of Parliament. If, as is contemplated under the Bill that deals with the European constitutional treaty, this House hands over more of its powers to European institutions, MPs’ remuneration should reflect that diminution of their responsibilities."

Could anyone possibly argue with that? And is there any doubt that the EU has steadily increased its powers at the expense of Parliament?

So the thrust of Lilley's case is a very hard one for MPs to refute credibly. His opening remarks on the scale of Parliament's reduced responsibilities are well worth reading in full.

Lame response

Only one MP attempted to respond to Mr Lilley's proposed Bill. That was Hugh Bayley (Labour, City of York), who back in March voted in favour of the renamed EU Constitution treaty and against the referendum he promised local voters at the last election.

He grandly dismissed the notion of linking MPs' pay with responsibilities (like every other occupation) as a "nonsensical proposal", making two main counter-points.

First, he claimed that it can't be true that MPs have fewer responsibilities as the volume of legislation being considered by Parliament continues to increase year by year.

However, had Mr Bayley been listening properly, he would have heard Lilley's key point that much of that 'volume' now has its origins in the EU - laws which MPs have no power to change once they reach Parliament, but which they are required by the EU Treaty to approve.

Hence volume does not equal responsibility when all that MPs increasingly do is wield a rubber stamp.

Second, Mr Bayley pointed to the difference in spending as a proportion of total wealth between the EU and our own government, presumably implying that as our government spends much more, then our political leaders must be doing the work.

However, as even most "Euro-enthusiasts" will acknowledge, while the EU makes laws it is national governments that must implement them. Which explains why governments and parliaments still shoulder the bulk of the costs and spending, while nevertheless having less and less responsibility as law-makers.

As Mark Leonard of the Brussels-financed Centre for European Reform put it, in a moment of rare candour: "Europe's power is easy to miss. Like an 'invisible hand', it operates through the shell of traditional political structures. The British House of Commons, British law courts, and British civil servants are still here, but they have all become agents of the European Union implementing European law." (Europe's Transformative Power, Centre for European Reform, Bulletin 40, February/March 2005).

So Mr Bayley's second point betrays either a complete ignorance of the basics of how the EU works, or an intention to mislead.

MPs in the dark

However, the most penetrating part of Peter Lilley's remarks came when he tried to explain how so few MPs ever seem to realise the true scale of power transfers to the EU in every new treaty, or how many have already been transferred. He gave three reasons:

1. that Governments of all persuasions always deny that any significant powers are being transferred;

2. once powers have been transferred, Ministers engage in a charade of pretence that they still retain those powers. Even when introducing measures that they are obliged to bring in as a result of an EU directive, they behave as though the initiative were their own.

Lilley cited the recent examples of
home improvement packs, fortnightly bin collections and hospital reconfiguration which, he said, have all been triggered by EU directives. But there are many others, as has been so well illustrated by Open Europe's study The EU and You: the hidden power of Brussels.

An example in the pipeline is the proposed Communications Data Bill - the 'Big Brother' Bill that will permit the collection and retention of all communications data, designed to transpose EU Directive 2006/24/EC on the retention of communications data into UK law.

Consequently, the national media idly report these issues without mentioning their EU origins, leading also to little public awareness of the true extent of the EU's role in how we are governed;

3. that the transfer of power is easy to miss because it occurs not all in one go but by a process of salami-slicing, resulting in Parliament sleepwalking into becoming little more than a provincial assembly.

Why do our political leaders behave this way? Lilley concludes that the EU benefits from their self-importance, saying that they "prefer to claim paternity rather than admit impotence—the fate of the cuckold across the ages."

Posture without power

Sadly there's little prospect of Lilley's proposed Bill being passed. As he himself recognises, turkeys don't vote for Christmas.

The truth, as he went on to say, is that "Too many Members are happy to avert their eyes from what is happening, so long as they retain the prestige and emoluments that were appropriate to a fully sovereign Parliament."

But his initiative must nevertheless be welcomed as an attempt to wake MPs up to how the process of handing ever more powers to the EU will ultimately have for them some very personal implications.


Anonymous said...

In any case, vote YES (not NO) at !

Anonymous said...

Please Irish People, in the name of Europeans peoples , vote NO !

See the comments below this french article
Most of the commentators wish Ireland could vote NO.

If ever it’d happened, this would be a huge slap in the face of the European Commision technocrats who are completely disconnected from reality. The current way the European Union is designed is mainly in the interest of politicians, media and corporations and definitely not in the interest of the majority of the people.

If ever Ireland voted YES, Europe would become the poodle-puppet of the USA, specially into military domains.

Please, be wise, vote NO and do not fear the pressure of the press and of politicians.

Anonymous said...

The 'penny' will drop among many people soon that they are voting for and paying vast expenses and "wages" for Members of Parliament and a Government that cannot actually govern.

Should this Treaty go through, should Stuart Wheeler's case fall by the way-side, the people may well use Clause 61 Magna Carta and, with-hold the only tax they can (the second Great Revolution)their Council tax until either we have a government that can actually govern us, or have about 20% of MP's left in our sham of a Parliament and perhaps a return of the Hereditary Peers that were not paid.