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Leaves from the EU pensions war

Posted by Helen Friday, February 18, 2005

Our readers will recall that in a previous posting I referred to a long-standing debate, not to say war in the House of Lords over the question of pensions for former Commissioners and whether these should be declared.

Here is an interesting story from that war. On September 8, 2003 Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked

“Whether, in the light of current practice concerning declarations of interest,any noble Lord who has been, or is, in receipt of any emolument or pension from the European Union or from any organisation funded by the European Union should declare it when speaking in debate involving the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union.”
He was given a somewhat frosty and rather disingenuous response. According Lord Williams of Mostyn, then the Lord President of the Council, “members must declare any interest which is relevant to the matter under discussion”.

Right, so a large pension from the European Union is not relevant to any debate or discussion about the European Union. I wonder whether the same would apply to a debate, let us say, about British Airways or IBM. No? I thought not.

You see, what you do not understand is that

“the test of relevance is whether it might reasonably be thought by the public to affect the way in which Members discharge their parliamentary duties”.
Naturally, the public would never dream of such a ridiculous notion that Lord Kinnock’s opinions in a debate on the European Union (part of his parliamentary duties) could be at all affected by a pension of £76,000 or more a year. How could you even suggest such a thing?

In any case, surely it is the public and other members of the House of Lords who should decide whether they might reasonably think that certain interests can affect a Noble Lord’s judgement.

When Lord Pearson persevered, pointing out that Commissioners and their highly paid minions have to promise to owe allegiance to the European Union, forsaking all other allegiances, such as that to their own country and this might actually have some implication for their opinions on the said European Union.

Upon him fell the awful wrath of Lord Richard, a former Commissioner and a man who lives up to the unflattering description of having to occupy two or three seats, particularly after a good lunch.

Lord Richard thundered:

“My Lords, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for some years now, I do not think that I have ever heard such a load of nonsense from his lips as I just did. The idea that there is some residual allegiance in me to the Commission as opposed to doing my job here in this House is, frankly,absolute nonsense. I shall say only one thing in relation to the Question as opposed to the nonsense from the noble Lord.

Presumably if this applies to the Commissioners, it will apply to everyone else. Everyone in this House, therefore, will have to declare whether they have a pension and, if so, what is the basis of that pension; and indeed whether they still owe allegiance to the body paying the pension. That would be a very interesting development.”
Dear me. His lordship was getting a little too agitated. On the whole people do declare when they receive pensions, particularly large pensions from their former employers.

But as Lord Pearson has pointed out, the EU pension comes into a category all of its own. The Staff Regulations of the EU do, as it happens, require good behaviour from all their present and former employees, as Lord Pearson correctly pointed out:
“Would it not be a good idea for the Government and those involved in the declarations of interest in this House to read the staff regulations of the European Union: Title II, Articles 11, 12 and 16; and in Title VI, which refers to disciplinary measures, Article 86.1 and 86.2, and particularly paragraph (g), which confirms exactly what I have said about letting the side down and losing your pension?”
Indeed, there is evidence that those who did not behave well, such as Bernard Connolly, Marta Andreasen and Paul van Buitenen, were at various times threatened with deprivation of pension rights if they did not recant, preferably publicly.

We await further developments in this interesting battle.