HC Deb 05 August 1912 vol 41 cc2668-97

I take this opportunity of referring very shortly to the question of the payment of salaries to Members of this House. We have not hitherto had an opportunity this year of discussing the subject. It was my desire to take the opportunity of discussing the matter on an Amendment in Committee. It seems, however, that it is impossible to move a reduction of the amount taken by the Appropriation Bill in respect of salaries to Members, and so I was prevented from moving an Amendment. It appears that the amount required for that purpose is included among other sums for the Army and Navy, and while there were some Members who were willing to vote against these salaries, they were unwilling to vote for an Amendment to reduce the sum in respect of other services. Under these circumstances we could not divide upon the matter. I am afraid we shall on the present occasion be in a somewhat similar position, because hon. Members will not be able to vote against the Third Reading, there being many subjects included in the Bill for which they desire to vote. I can assure the Prime Minister that there is a very deep feeling among Members on this side of the House against payment of Members, which was brought about solely by Resolution, and which has been continued by Resolution. We have had no opportunity of discussing the question.

I venture to say that there are anomalies in regard to payment of Members, and that the matter ought to receive some discussion. Possibly we might have Rules framed which would be advantageous. We have had no opportunity of doing so. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he did not know that any anomalies existed. I think I can point out some. We do not know on what conditions payment of Members is based. We suppose the salary is paid equally to all Members, but we have nothing to show it. We do not know the amount of money which has been voted and not drawn by certain Members, and which, I suppose, will fall into the Consolidated Fund for the reduction of the National Debt. We do not know whether the Estimates for next year will be based upon the amount paid in the previous year. I understand that the Estimates are framed in regard to other salaries so as to include only what was paid in the previous year. I presume the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not include in the Estimates enough to pay the whole of the Members, but only enough to pay those who have taken their salaries. Another anomaly is in regard to the date from which the salary runs. We have ascertained by means of question and answer that the date from which it runs is the date on which notification of the return of the Member is received by the House, and that it does not depend upon whether he takes the oath and his seat. It is perfectly possible for a Member to receive the salary without taking the oath which Members are required to take. That appears to me to be a very considerable anomaly. It is certainly an anomaly which I do not think exists in any other Chamber. Another anomaly is this: I believe this is the only country in which Members of the Lower House receive salaries while Members of the Upper House do not. That matter has never been discussed. In all the other countries in the world where Members are paid Members of the Upper House receive payment, and, I believe, larger payment than Members of the Lower House. I do not say whether it should be done in this case or not, but I do say that it is a matter which should have been discussed. I have pointed out three or four anomalies, and I think these matters can only be settled by some Bill which should be brought in.

On the main question whether it is desirable and in the interest of the House, the country, and Members themselves personally, to pay Members, many of us hold very strong opinions indeed. We think this system has discredited us among ourselves here. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] We think so. Many of us see signs that Members of the House vote this way or that way in consideration of the fact that they receive salaries. You will find it referred to continually that when so-and-so Division took place the Members, having regard to their salaries, voted this way or that way. That is an extremely objectionable thing. I object to it, and I believe the larger number of Members on this side of the House object to it. Another question is whether we are not discredited in the country too. I am convinced that we are, and that you can see signs of it not only in the daily, but in the weekly and comic papers. In every one of these papers they do not speak of us as they used to do. They say we are now salaried Members, and they treat us totally differently from what they used to do. In a large number of the constituencies also we are discredited. We do not hold the position we used to hold among them either. When we go to address meetings we have thrown in our teeth that we are salaried Members now, and we are open to observations to which, until three years ago, we were not subjected. I say that the Government has brought down the credit of this country to the lowest ebb it has reached in the last twenty years, and that it has also brought down the credit of the House to the lowest ebb it has ever reached.