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Will Baroness Ashton need a Ludford Law? Oct 04

I see from the Beeb that Baroness Ashton of Upholland, the Leader of the Lords, is to replace the repatriated Peter Mandelson as the UK’s member of the European Commission.

There was speculation previously that Geoff Hoon could have been the nominee, which would have prompted a by-election in his parliamentary seat because you can’t be an MP and an EU Commissioner.

But can you be a Lord and an EU Commissioner?

Section 1.1.1 of the Commissioners’ Code of Conduct (PDF) states:

Commissioners may not hold any public office of whatever kind.

Now that sounds fairly unambiguous. Being a member of a legislature, however that position is obtained, must surely count?

Baroness Ludford, the Liberal Democrats’ London MEP, has a similar problem: MEPs are no longer allowed to sit in national legislatures, so in order to continue in the post after the European elections in 2009, Sarah Ludford will either need to get the rules changed, or resign her peerage – something the law doesn’t currently allow her to do.

Until now, it’s not been in the Government’s interest to help out by introducing a law that would give “life” peers the ability to give up their peerage – a change similar to that made to hereditary peerages following pressure brought by Tony Benn in the 1960s when he became Viscount Stansgate.

Will Baroness Ashton’s new post prompt Labour to act so that she can avoid a conflict of interest? Or will they try to fudge the issue by claiming that a voluntary “leave of absence” from the upper house – during which she could effectively return to and vote in the Lords whenever she wanted – would be enough to meet the European Commissioners’ Code of Conduct?

8 Responses

  1. 1

    The Government seems to have got round it for Sarah Ludford (see SI 2008/1647). I’d guess if this fudge works for the EP it should work for the Commission too.

  2. 2

    Thanks for that, hadn’t seen it before. Will be interesting to see if they do make a similar order for Commissioners.

  3. The prohibition on having a ‘dual mandate’ between the EP and a national Parliament, which affects Sarah Ludford (and did affect some Tory Peer MEPs until the UK government got a derogation beyond their departure from the EP) comes from a different piece of legislation than this.

    I would be very surprised if it was thought that membership of the Lords disqualified you from being a Commissioner – and several have been in the past – probably most of them, in fact (though I don’t know if the element of the Commissioners’ Code of Conduct that you refer to was in place then).

    It’s right that the government has (finally) brought forward a solution to Sarah Ludford’s specific issue.

  4. 4

    If the objective was to avoid a by-election, why not nominate a senior Labour MEP like Glenys Kinnock? She might have been a bit controversial with the Trade portfolio, however.

  5. 5

    Good point Jeremy, it’s definitely not the same legislation. I think the only Commissioner to hold a peerage while in Brussels was Arthur Cockfield (good exception to the rule!); most of the others were elevated to the Lords, as you say, but after they completed their terms in the EC. List here.

  6. 6
    Jon Worth 

    There’s the small matter of Article 245 of the EC Treaty that prevents Commissioners holding other positions during their term, paid or otherwise. That would seem to be more of a problem that the code of conduct. More detail on that here.

  7. Hi

    I really thought Kinnock, Patten, Brittan et al had received their peerages before they left Brussels, but if you’ve looked into it then I’ll bow to someone who actually know what they’re talking about 🙂

    Much though I hugely respect Jon’s knowledge of the EU, I don’t think he’s right on this, as I’ve commented at his blog.

  1. […] whose role in the House of Lords and as a Lib Dem MEP needed to be resolved from 2009 (more from No geek is an island, and Bondwoman in the comments). So Ashton would probably need something similar in order to be […]