§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Sir Assheton Pownall
I beg to move,That this House approves the recommendations of the Departmental Committee on Pensions for Members of the House of Commons and is in favour of the initiation of legislation to carry out its proposals which impose no charge upon the taxpayer.It might be helpful to the House, as it is more than a year since the Warren Fisher Committee reported, if I were to give a brief summary of its provisions. Let me first pay a warm tribute to Sir Warren Fisher and his colleagues for the extremely interesting report they have presented. From the actuarial and statistical point of view it is a mine of information. The analysis showing the ages and length of service of Members of the House for the last 16 or 18 years is entirely new and of considerable interest. The whole question is slightly hypo- 419 thetical, however, for there are 31 Members whose ages are unknown and it is impossible to give statistical figures in regard to them. When I remember that there are 15 or 16 lady Members in the House, I cannot help connecting the two things together. We have, however, exact information of the ages of the remainder of the 614 Members. Apart from any views we may hold with regard to this Motion, we owe a debt of gratitude to the committee.
This scheme would involve no direct charge of any sort or kind upon the taxpayer. It is common knowledge that the salaries of Members of Parliament were increased two years ago from £400 to £600, and it would be most inopportune and unfortunate if there were any direct charge upon the nation in view of the increase we voted ourselves then. The suggestion is that £1 per month should be deducted from each Member's salary, no matter whether the Member be a Cabinet Minister or Under-Secretary, and no matter in what part of the House he sits. That deduction would give a total of £7,000 a year. It is worked out in the report that the actuarial cost of a pension given to an individual in his early sixties after 10 years' service is roughly £1,000, and that there would be raised in a normal Parliament of 3½ to four years a sum of £25,000. The committee reckoned that it would be safe to give not fewer than 18 pensions if the full amount of £150 were paid, and if the full amount were not taken in every case, a larger number of pensions could be given. There is also provision of £75 a year for the widows of ex-Members of Parliament or those who would have qualified, but for the husband's death. It is suggested that the administration should be vested in a small body of senior Members. We know that we can always trust the judgment in these matters of our senior Members, and that such a body would see that the fund is properly administered.
The scheme is a natural and necessary corollary of the payment of Members of Parliament. It seems to me to follow almost automatically from the measure taken 26 years ago under Mr. Asquith's Government when, for the first time, Members were paid. That Measure meant that instead of, as 30 or 40 years ago, the House consisting almost entirely of 420 Liberals or Conservatives who had a financial background after they left the House, many Members came into the House who had not that financial background. We have also to remember that the pace in the House now is far hotter as regards work than it was a generation ago. In those days Members were not expected to give the time which is now expected of Members of Parliament. There were not the morning Committees or the Autumn Sessions, and the electorates were one-quarter or one-fifth of what they are now. The House of Commons has become much more a whole-time occupation than it was a generation or two ago, and this scheme would be for the benefit of those who had not had the opportunity of carrying on any other pursuit during their membership of the House of Commons. There has been a considerable change in the last 20 years. When I first became a Member of the House the amount of legislation undertaken was appreciably less than it now is, and the fact that we have Bills before us at the same time concerned with potatoes and with tramp steamers shows how multifarious are the interests which are dealt with here, and the amount of work which devolves upon Members in consequence.
It is objected by some of my friends that this proposal will benefit one side of the House more than another. I shall come back to that point later, but I should like to refer to a quotation from a leading article in the "Times" last month dealing with a resolution passed recently by the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations. The resolution was to the effect that no capable and desirable member of the party should be precluded from standing for Parliament solely on the ground of expense, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Sir D. Hacking), who is chairman of the party organisation, said that the first requirements in a candidate should always be character and ability. I am sure that we shall all agree about that. If those ideas are carried out we on our side of the House are going to have difficulties in that way in years to come, in ways, possibly, such as have not existed before.
It is being said also that it is not right to pass a law dealing with a few hard cases. Here one gets upon very delicate and difficult ground, because if there are 421 hard cases they are not cases which would wish to be brought into the public eye, preferring to hide their distresses in their own homes. Without mentioning any names I may say that I do know of three such cases. One is the case of a man who was a Member of the House with me for some years. He is now in the sixties. I do not think he would be eligible for the full pension which I have proposed, but I suggest that discretionary power should be given to the committee who would administer the scheme, and that the rule as to 10 years' service should not be a hard-and-fast one and that in exceptional cases a pension might be granted after 8½ years or nine years' service—possibly a less pension in such cases. The individual in question who, I agree, would not be qualified for the full pension of £150 a year, wrote to me last year mentioning that he and his wife are now living on a war pension of 17s. a week. That is one case. I know of another case of a man was was a Member in fairly recent years and is now in great distress. I know also the case of a widow of an ex-Cabinet Minister who had to apply for Poor Law relief. Those cases show, I think, that something must be done; and it is not a question which affects only one side of the House, because two of the three cases which I have in mind have arisen from the side of the House from which I am now speaking.
There are two matters in addition to those which are embodied in the scheme which I want the Government to consider. First, I want them to consider whether, if this Motion is carried and legislation is brought in, it would not be possible, as in the case of old age pensions, to say that if a man has by his thrift got a small sum behind him, say £100 a year, only half of it shall be taken into account when considering his pension. I should like it to be arranged so that he received £100 pension which, with his £100 of private means, would give him £200 in all. Such an encouragement to thrift is well worth consideration. One other suggestion is that if the individual holding the high office of Speaker in this House would consent—if the Government requested him to do so—to preside over the deliberations of this small committee of three or four Members it would add dignity to the proceedings of the committee. I myself would be quite content 422 to trust to the judgment of a committee of three or four Members, but if Mr. Speaker could be prevailed upon to take the chairmanship of the committee I am sure that it would add to the dignity of the committee.
Next I wish to say a few words upon the Amendment which will be moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby). The Amendment asks the House to sayconscious of the fact that salaries were recently increased by an amount deemed not more than sufficient to enable Members properly to carry out their duties, and having in mind the recent decision not to increase old age pensions, declines to consider a scheme of pensions for itself derived indirectly from public funds.On that I must say that it seems to be pretty far-fetched to link the decision of this House that in these difficult times it is not possible for us to add to the already heavy burden of the cost of old age pensions with this scheme by which pensions are to be paid out of our own pockets. The £600 a year which we receive as Members of Parliament is entirely ours to spend in any way we think fit. This is purely a House of Commons question. It is not often that we do get a question which is purely a House of Commons question. The nearest analogy would be, perhaps, the proceedings of the Kitchen Committee, of which I am a member, and even there we come into contact with the outside public, because some of them may eat meals here. But this, as I say, is purely a House of Commons question, and, if my hon. and gallant Friend will allow me to say so, I think it is bringing in extraneous matter to link up the question of increasing old age pensions, which involves many millions of expenditure, in these difficult times, with this question of providing ourselves with old age pensions.
It is quite true that the £600 is derived indirectly from public funds, but so far as I know there is no feeling on this matter on the part of the public. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert) said this would be most unpopular in the country. I happened to follow him in debate on the subject two years ago, and my name was rather coupled with the question, but not one single letter of protest did I have with regard to it. My name was also mentioned in connection with it by the B.B.C. that same evening, and from my 423 90,000 electors only one letter on the subject came to me, which shows that there was not much reaction in my constituency. This pension scheme imposes no charge of a direct nature upon public funds, and it seems to me to be importing extraneous matter into the argument to bring in the question of old age pensions generally.
The real objection which is felt to the scheme is, quite frankly, that it would give more benefit to one side of the House than to another. I admit it. Many people have said to me that undoubtedly that would be the case. Here, again, I know that I am treading on rather delicate ground, but we had better go into the matter frankly. It has been said to me by many people that trade unions and co-operative societies might provide pensions for those of their members who have been Members of Parliament. I have two objections to that. The first is that there are a good many Members in this House who are not in a position to benefit from trade union or co-operative society funds. The second point is that there are not only associations of employed persons, there are associations of employers, and there might be people on this side of the House who might be able to benefit from employers' associations. I want to put this question above the plane of private interests. I want a pensions scheme started for Members, to which they themselves contribute, under which they can apply for pensions as a matter of right if they cease to be Members of the House, after having completed the necessary period of membership—apart altogether from any question of their being members of an organisation of employers or of employed persons. I think that would be very much better, in the interests of our public life, than that they should have to go to outside organisations for a measure of relief.
In this matter I think the House has lagged a good deal behind outside organisations. We have certainly lagged behind them in the matter of giving Ministers salaries which are in accordance with the increased cost of living. The Bar, the Stock Exchange, Lloyd's, the wine trade—the business with which I was previously connected—all have their benevolent organisations, and those in the Army or Navy or the other Services have pensions as a matter of right after their service. That the House of Commons has 424 lagged behind has caused a good deal of injustice and in the years to come there will be a great deal more injustice, unless something in the nature of this scheme is put into operation. I make the appeal that in this matter Members of the House should put Parliament before party. The other day the Leader of the Opposition paid a striking tribute to the Earl of Oxford, and I made a note of these words:The corporate unity of this House, which transcends all party differences."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1938; col. 2187, Vol. 342.]I also venture to appeal to the corporate unity of the House, which I hope in this matter will transcend party differences.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Sir Francis Fremantle
I rise to second the Motion, which has been put before us in the most convincing manner and with such clear logic by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lewisham (Sir A. Pownall). I think the chief points on which there may be differences are concerned not so much with the financial details of the proposals as with the points of principle involved. When I looked into this problem my mind went straight back to my early political days as a prospective unionist candidate for Parliament. The great hero of our day then was an extraordinarily able and witty young lawyer in the House named Mr. F. E. Smith. In the Parliament of 1906–10 the question came up of the legitimacy of the payment out of trade union funds of salaries to Members of Parliament for their political duties. A judgment had been given in the Smith v. Osborne case that such payment was illegal, and the Labour Members of Parliament, of whom there were a considerable body in the House, found themselves—most of them—cut off from their sources of supply.
Mr. F. E. Smith took the strong line, in which he was opposed by most of his party, of approving of the payment of Members as being the only proper solution of the difficulty—on the understanding, of course, that the Smith v. Osborne judgment remained. He said, "In my constituency at Liverpool there are a large number of working men who are Conservatives and yet, as members of their trade unions, they are mulcted of part of their payments to their trade unions for the support of a party to which they are opposed. That is wrong. The 425 Smith v. Osborne judgment is right in saying that such action is illegal, but if the position that it is illegal is maintained Labour Members will have no means of getting into this House. I maintain that they are a most valuable and an increasingly valuable element in the House of Commons, and we want to see them here." They ought to be brought in here independently of the trade unions—and, as has just been said, the implication applies equally to any other organisation which might support them. They should be independent of such means. Therefore he actually proposed the payment of Members as being the proper solution.
He was violently attacked. For a rising barrister with his eyes definitely set ambitiously on his career—and rightly so—it was a great temptation to him to abandon that attitude, but he stuck to it and made many speeches. He made his position clear during both General Elections of 1910. True, the Government promoted legislation afterwards which reversed the Smith-Osborne judgment, and the ground was, therefore, cut from under his feet as regards the advocacy of payment of Members, but his argument still held good. Now the position has changed, and we are familiar with the question of contracting in to the fund, which does away with the original objection which was taken to the provision of a trade union political fund. The original argument of Mr. F. E. Smith holds good, namely, that it is desirable to have on every side of this House the introduction and the encouragement of entry of Members who can be independent of any outside affiliation to which they might be committed in this respect.
The principle was accepted by the payment to Members of £400 a year, and was endorsed the year before last when the £400 was raised to £600, which was regarded as an equivalent amount. I think many hon. Members were impressed and touched, as I was, with the speech made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who gave his own case as a particular illustration. He belongs to a small party, the Independent Labour party, which took, as he said, their courage in their own hands by separating themselves from the Labour party. He said he believed with confidence that many of his friends would agree with his position, and he recognised how beholden 426 they were to their affiliations to the official Labour party because of the difficulty otherwise of making both ends meet. Apart from the £600, for which the hon. Member was asking support as the equivalent of £400, it was barely possible for a man to pay his expenses when he had no other resources and had to contribute to his wife and children at home in a distant part of the country, as well as to pay his own out-of-pocket expenses in London.
What will happen when a Member, having served his country well in this House on either side, leaves the House of Commons and, through sickness or through not being returned, is compelled to retire? He may have only a slight disability, but his financial difficulty will remain, and he will be back again in a position similar to that when the Smith-Osborne judgment was pronounced, of having no other resources, unless he can get back to his own occupation. I remember a very delightful incident when I was going down to St. Albans, my constituency, after the General Election of 1931. I was passing along the platform to my train at St. Pancras when I heard a voice call: "Hello, Fremantle." I looked round, but saw nobody on the platform looking at me; yet there, in the cab of the engine, was one of our most respected Front Bench Labour Members, with his cap on his head, standing on the footplate. He had gone back to his old employment. We are very glad that he is now back again in this House. I do not say that that man was glued to his party because of the money. He had gone back to his occupation and he was returned to this House with even riper experience after the General Election of 1935.
When a man leaves this House he has to find some other means of support unless he has independent means. That speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals cut deeply into the root of the matter. He said that he did not complain that his late colleagues in the Labour party had not followed him into independence, because he recognised their reason, although he considered that the reason should be done away with. The majority of us on this side of the House probably have other means of support. It would be ungenerous of us not to support wholeheartedly the Motion, with which all patriots in and out of the House must 427 agree, that Members should be able to say that after they have served this House truly and well, they can be redeemed from absolute poverty when they are compelled to leave that service after many years. I do not wish to say any more at the present time except to observe that some Members on this side of the House might be in that position. It might be difficult for them to find occupation if they lost their Parliamentary position when 50 or 60 years of age.
I am reminded of the parable in which the disgraced servant said: "I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do." I do not say that we should follow the principle and the practice of the unjust steward, but there is the danger that, if reduced to penury when they leave this House because they cannot find a decent means of life, some Members might resort to methods which would be incompatible with the dignity of a Member of this Imperial House. I say strongly that I hope that this House, out of its generosity, but far more than generosity, and in order to provide the real necessities of life for those who have been prepared to give up their lives to politics, will see fit to agree to this Motion.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
I recognise that a measure of this kind can be carried only by a substantial majority of the House behind it, and that it will not be carried on a party vote. Although I take part in the Debate speaking from this Box, I am not speaking merely from the party point of view, but I must say that my hon. Friends have considered this proposal, especially in the form in which it came from the Departmental Committee, and that the vast majority of them accept the proposal in that form. Indeed, I say frankly, they would welcome it. I agree with one of the statements made by the hon. Member for East Lewisham (Sir A. Pownall). I cannot find any interest outside this House in this proposal, and people outside might very well regard it as mainly a domestic question; but if there should be any public repercussion as a result of this Motion, my hon. Friends and myself would accept responsibility for our share in carrying it in this House.
The proposal seems merely the natural and sensible thing to do in the present 428 stage to which the House of Commons has developed. I have read the Debates of a generation ago which accompanied the passing of the original Bill for the payment of Members, some little time before the War. I remember that it was then always pointed out that the salary which the Member was receiving was only an allowance for expenses. Every speaker pointed out that no Member of Parliament was expected to live upon the salary, and it was claimed that Members would have time, consistently with their parliamentary duties, to earn a sufficient income to live upon. Many changes have taken place since then, as the hon. Member for East Lewisham said. Another still more powerful reason is that since that time autumn sessions have become the practice of this House, and that we are here for about eight months in the year. The consequence is that hon. Members who do not live in London cannot carry on any continuous occupation by which they can earn an income in any provincial city.
On that account, a change has come about in the composition of the House. A new representative type of Member has come into it, one who has no resources outside. I am glad that the hon. Member explained that this new representative type is to be found on the benches of all sides of the House. I have heard a good many discussions suggesting that it would be a good thing for this House if that representative type were more evenly divided between the two sides of the House. I remember the predictions that were made on the passing of the Bill in 1911 and I can compare the present position with those prophecies. Nobody will claim that the House has deteriorated as a result of the passing of the proposals of 1911 or will say that the House is any less incorruptible to-day than it was then, or less independent. In fact, there are more independent Members on the benches of this House to-day than at any time since I entered it.
There is another matter in connection with the new composition of the House which we ought to take into account in considering the position of Members, and that is the amount of work that is entailed upon them outside this Chamber. I doubt whether it is generally recognised that the machinery of the House would not operate without that work. Since the payment of Members was introduced 429 originally, the whole system of Standing Committees has been set up, and, although they are not meeting at this moment, hon. Members will find that, when those Committees are in full work, the presence of about 200 Members is required here in the morning. I remember that on one morning, when there were four Standing Committees sitting and also Private Bill Committees, I went round and counted quite that number of Members who were here at 12 o'clock. [An HON. MEMBER: "They meet at eleven."] There were not so many at 11 as there were at 12. The House could not carry on unless about a third of its Members were in a position to be able to be here from noon till 11 o'clock at night or later. That, I think, was one of the main reasons why the House decided, the year before last, to increase the salaries to a sum which would enable any Member, provided that he was modest in his outlay, to obtain at any rate the primary needs of life, which had not been the case until then. One of the primary needs of life is some feeling of security in one's later days, and, indeed, I doubt whether, without it, it is possible for any man to give his full energy and concentration of thought to the work that lies before him day after day.
The Amendment contains a reference to the increase in salaries. I do not quite know what the significance of it is, but it seems to me plain that, although the salary has been increased by £200 to £600 a year, it is nevertheless insufficient, however modestly a Member lives, to enable him to save an old age pension out of it. He could not come to any arrangement with any insurance company which would give him an old age pension out of it. He may be 40 years of age when he comes here, and it is not financially possible for him to do it. Therefore, if it is to be done at all, if many of our Members are to have any security at all when they leave this House, there is only one way to do it, and that is for the House itself to set up this provident fund to which all of us would make a small contribution. The principle is more that of a provident fund than a pension fund.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, East, pointed out how difficult it is to quote the individual hard cases which have brought this matter, I am sure, to his attention and that of other Members. I am not going to quote cases, but probably we all 430 know of Members who have been desperately ill, and ought to have been able to leave the House for a time, but who, if they had had to do so, would have had no means of support whatever, and who, therefore, remained in the House, not to their own advantage, and not, I should have thought, in those circumstances, to any great benefit of the House itself. We know, too, of Members who have died in harness, leaving widows without any means; and we know of Members who had been in the House for years, who were Members of standing in the House, and who, having lost their seats, were worse off than the unemployed, and would have been only too thankful if ours had been an insurable occupation like that of a bricklayer's labourer. The House owes it to itself not to allow such things to happen to those with whom we have been associated as colleagues in our work.
The hon. Member for East Lewisham referred to one matter about which there is a good deal of feeling in the House. It is said by some that a large number of Members are supported by trade unions, and that, if this provision is made by the House, the trade unions will not need to make it, so that Members in contributing will be contributing to trade unions. I have made careful inquiry into this matter, and I find that not 20 per cent, of the Members on this side of the House are supported by trade unions, co-operative societies or any other organisations; and there is a lot to be said for the argument that a Member would be more independent if he relied upon a fund of this House, to which he contributed for himself.
There are certain arguments which have not, perhaps, been fully expressed, and which, perhaps, are not easy to express, but which, I think, ought to be dealt with. One difficulty is that, unlike ordinary funds, this fund would be contributed to by Members of very varying degrees of income. There are some Members of the House who are poor, some who are moderately well off, and some who are quite rich. Undoubtedly, in these conditions, a certain number of Members would be contributing to a provident fund from which, unless some extraordinarily serious accident occurred, they would never anticipate having to draw upon themselves, and it might be said—I do not say it is said—"Why 431 should I contribute to a fund which I am not going to need? "I think the hon. Member for Lewisham, East, had the right answer to that argument. This proposal does not stand by itself. It would never have been made if the increase of salaries had not taken place the year before last. When the extra £200 was proposed, both the Prime Minister, who proposed the increase, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who wound up the Debate, linked the proposal with that increase of salary, and in their speeches they announced the appointment of the Departmental Committee whose report we are asked to-day to endorse. Of course, the connection is very clear. All the Members of the House have received an extra £200 a year on account of the position of the poorer Members, and, therefore, it was felt that they surely would not hesitate, if a case was made out on other grounds, to give £12 out of that £200 in order that older Members who had retired might be able to live in a manner consistent with the self-respect of the House itself.
There is another argument to which the hon. Member for Lewisham, East, referred, and which seems to me to be the last really important argument that needs to be answered. I think it is a matter of argument. It is that, if this scheme is adopted, there is no guarantee that the recipients will be evenly distributed between the different parties, and the question may be asked, "Why, if I belong to one party, should I give to this scheme, under which some other party may get a larger proportion of the money than my own party?" The answer to that argument, if it be used, would be that there are some measures which, if they are regarded from the purely party point of view, are not necessarily seen in the best perspective, and this is one of them. This House is a collection of parties, but it is a corporate body, and I believe that in times of common difficulty the country appreciates the House best when it acts as a corporate body, as it did during the common difficulty of the abdication a couple of years ago, and as it may do in very much greater common difficulties which may confront us in the future, when the fate of the nation may depend on our dealing with them as a corporate body right to the end.
432 That, indeed, is our secret. I have seen in Europe, since the end of the War, a great number of Parliaments arising which in appearance, superficial circumstances and outlook seemed very much like our own. But they had not learned our secret, and where are they all today? That is why I appreciate the fact that this proposal has come from Conservative Members of the House, who, I venture to say, in the non-party sense of the term, are the truest Conservatives of all, and are building, probably, better than many of us at present know. Undoubtedly, if we say we are a corporate body, we must face the fact that there is no other corporate institution in this country which does not regard it as its duty to ensure that men who have served it well and faithfully shall be protected from the extremes of indigence and penury to the last day of their lives. At this time, when comparisons are being made between government by this House and government by totalitarian methods, this proposal, which is a simple and signal proof that we are a corporate body, seems to me to be a proposal with just that timely touch which will show that we have not, even yet, lost our old political genius.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Seely
On this question of pensions, even before the salaries of Members were increased to £600, I was chairman of a committee, of which the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) was the secretary. We went to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer—the present Prime Minister—and laid before him a certain scheme, which involved the possibility of pensions for Members, because we felt that, as has been well said by the hon. Member for East Lewisham (Sir A. Pownall), here was a case which from past instances, and even from present instances which we knew might fall in the future, the House of Commons ought to examine. Although at that time the right hon. Gentleman said he could not accept our scheme, he nevertheless received it favourably as a matter of principle from the House of Commons point of view, and we now come to examine the present scheme.
I am not going to labour the point with regard to past cases and the hardships which occur, but they are not confined to one side of the House. I remember two 433 cases in my own party, of two very distinguished Members who served the House faithfully in every way, but when death came their dependants were left absolutely penniless, and had to come to the party. It is not a very dignified thing to have to come to your party, and, since both of those Members were House of Commons men, it would have been far better if, in view of their services to the House, which had left them in the position of having no money to leave to their dependants, there had been some fund from which they could have drawn, openly and from a House of Commons point of view, something which would have saved them from the position of utter poverty in which they actually were. There is no doubt that in this House to-day there are people whom we respect for the positions they hold, who would be in poverty if, by the turn of fate or illness, they were turned out. I cannot see that there is anything wrong in our deciding, as a corporate body, that some part of the higher salaries which we receive should be devoted to bringing in a pensions system, so that we do not have that odium put upon us—because it is a question of odium when people have to come and make requests because they have no money at all.
I come now to the question of this plan. There are one or two criticisms I would like to make. I do not think this is really a scheme of pensions for members; it is a benevolent fund. A pension is something to which a man is entitled after so many years service, something which he can claim and into which he has put his money. This is really a benevolent fund, which is to be administered by a certain number of people. I do not care for this strict means test, and I would rather see a proper pensions scheme. I admit, in view of the actuarial figures given, that it is perhaps not possible at the moment, although if Members will study Appendix 3 of the French arrangement they will see that, although at the moment there is some money put in by the State, it is nevertheless a real pensions scheme. I would rather we tried to get some system like that.
I do not know whether hon. Members saw in the Public Accounts Committee's Report that a saving of something like £5,000 a year has been made on Members' salaries, because a great many Members 434 do not take the salaries to which they are entitled. I hope that perhaps those who do not take their salaries will put the amount into this fund. In that way we could hope to build up the fund, so that something more generous could be done than what is contemplated here. We are not giving very much to a widow in bringing her income up to £75 a year, so do not let us think we are throwing away our money in a sort of squandermania in order to pension old Labour Members whom their party has thrown out for some reason or other. However, I welcome this proposal, and I do not think the Amendment does credit either to the mentality or the political sense or the fairness of the House of Commons which I am certain that those who framed the Amendment were trying to achieve. Not only are we concerned with past cases. I know of cases which are bound to arise, and I know that hon. Members would feel ashamed if they realised that these cases would have to be faced. There certainly is nothing for us to be ashamed of in deciding to give £12 a year out of the £600 that we now receive in order to assist such cases.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
The matter which forms the subject of my hon. Friend's Motion was first debated in the House in June, 1937. On that occasion I moved for an increase in the salaries of hon. Members. In the course of my speech I made some allusions to what I knew of the desire of hon. Members to provide some form of pensions to Members who had retired from the House and were not able to maintain themselves. I remember that I pointed out that any scheme brought forward for that purpose would require legislation, and I suggested that it might be well, before any such legislation was framed, to have a careful investigation made into the subject by some competent authority, because it was very necessary that we should not be led away into thinking that things were possible which might turn out to be impossible, and that if we did have a scheme it must be actuarially sound. I recollect also that I observed on that occasion that I thought there was some confusion of thought on the matter because other schemes of pensions, such as those, for example, enjoyed by civil servants, were granted under conditions 435 which would not be at all analogous to the conditions which would apply to a scheme for Members of the House of Commons.
The suggestion I made was approved of, and a very strong departmental committee was set up, under the Chairmanship of Sir Warren Fisher, to go into the question. Their report was presented in December, 1937, and in the course of it they showed that they had examined various possibilities; but the result of their inquiries really bore out what I had said on the matter, and it was not possible to set up a pensions scheme under which members should enjoy pensions by right, on the principle which is observed in the case of the Civil Service and other institutions. But they did produce a scheme which they thought was sound and practicable, which went as far as they thought it possible to go in the direction desired, and the recommendations that they made form the basis of my hon. Friend's Motion to-day.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Lewisham (Sir A. Pownall) put a question to me last December as to the procedure which the Government proposed to follow in this matter, and I then said that we hoped to have a debate on the subject but that the decision would be left to a free vote of the House. That is the position this afternoon, and it follows from that that the Government, as a Government, have no opinion on this matter at all, but every Member of the Government, and every Member of the House of course, is free to vote exactly as he pleases. In saying that, I do not think it would be right for me as Leader of the House to keep silent, and I am proposing to express my own view and my own intention. But in doing that, I want to make it perfectly clear that when I say every hon. Member—and, in particular, I am addressing hon. Members who are supporters of the Government—is perfectly entitled to his own opinion, on what is very largely a personal matter, I mean that in the spirit as well as in the letter, and as it well may be that some of my hon. Friends may not share the views I am going to express, I assure them very earnestly that I shall never reproach and never harbour any resentment against anybody who expresses a different view from that which I am going to express.
436 Let me come to the proposal which my hon. Friend has put before the House. The operative part of the proposal is that there shall be a compulsory deduction from the salaries of hon. Members of £1 a month, which will provide an income of about £7,000 a year to constitute a fund from which grants can be made to ex-Members or to their widows, within certain prescribed limits and at the discretion of a body of trustees to be appointed by the House. On that proposition I would make two observations. The first one has reference to its compulsory character. I want to point out that if the scheme is to be effective it is essential that the deduction shall be compulsory, because unless it is compulsory you will not be able to count on any definite income, and therefore it will be impossible to be assured that any grants that are given will be continuous. Obviously, to begin to pay an annual grant to an ex-Member and then to have to cut it off later on because the funds were insufficient would be creating hardship, rather than alleviating it. Therefore, it is essential that the deduction shall be compulsory.
The second observation I want to make is that this is not a scheme which imposes any charge on the public funds. The salary of hon. Members is now laid down by law. Salaries are not affected one way or another. It does not mean that any further charge will be laid on the Exchequer by reason of the: money which it is suggested should be devoted to the fund. I confess I do not follow the suggestion that the money for the fund will be derived indirectly from public funds. The salaries of Members are going to remain the same anyhow. Public funds cannot be affected by what use hon. Members choose to make of their own salaries. Nor can I conceive that the general public can have any interest in the matter at all, beyond what I might call a sympathetic interest. They will not be affected by it. Nobody outside the House will be the poorer for any scheme, and I do not conceive that anyone outside the House will raise objections to the setting up of a fund of this kind.
I remember that when I was referring to the question of the necessity or otherwise for an increase in the salaries of hon. Members I had to make an investigation into the actual circumstances of individual cases. Certain cases were sub- 437 mitted to me in confidence, and, of course, it has never been disclosed what the source of the information was. But I told the House at the time that I felt a good deal shocked to find to what straits some hon. Members had been brought by reason of the insufficiency of the salary, as it then was, to enable them to carry on their duties efficiently, or actually, in some cases, even to provide adequate nourishment for themselves. That struck me as being a very distressing state of things. I am glad it has now been removed by the increase of salary which was made. Although hon. Members have had £200 added to that salary, I think, with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that even so the £600 which hon. Members now receive is not enough to enable a Member who has no other income, at any rate, to save sufficient to enable him to maintain himself when he leaves this House and ceases to draw his salary. That may not arise when a man leaves this House when he is young enough to resume his former occupation or find a new one, but there will always be a number of cases where Members lose their seats or have to give up their seats for one reason or another at an age when it is no longer possible for them to obtain employment and to start earning a livelihood in some other way.
These are the cases that would be dealt with under my hon. Friend's proposal, and I do not think that any of us could contemplate with indifference the spectacle of a man who had for a long time been a Member of this House and who was familiar to all of us, being compelled on his retirement to spend the rest of his days in grinding poverty, unable to maintain himself at anything approaching the standard which had been expected of him as long as he was a Member of this House, and unable to do anything for dependants, if he had any, and perhaps obliged to seek public assistance or to avail himself of the charity of those more fortunate than himself. We regret the prospect of such a fate for any Member and I cannot think that that would be a source of difference among any of us.
I can imagine the state of mind of some hon. Members of the House; they ask themselves whether, granted that something ought to be done to prevent such a state of things as that which I have suggested, this is the right way to do it. 438 I am not at all sure that the argument against it was put by the right hon. Gentleman just perhaps as it would be put by those who take this view. It is true that here we are divided on policy, but it is not merely a question of whether one party is going to get more out of a scheme of this kind than another party. The argument as I see it would rather be this, that here is a man who, according to his own lights has served the country faithfully and well. But says an hon. Gentleman, "He has been all his life opposing, obstructing and trying his best to defeat the very thing which I have come here to try and implement, and it seems therefore hard for me that I should be expected to contribute something to encourage that which I may not support." That seems to me to be an argument of logic which it is difficult to controvert. But the human way of looking at it is perhaps another question, and I confess that I look at it myself from rather a different point of view.
It is quite true that we are here opposed to one another on political matters and that we hold our views, many of us very strongly, and that in the heat of argument we perhaps say hard things about one another. But, in spite of that, I believe that very Member of this House recognises that he is part of a common institution in which we all take an enormous pride, not only because of its great historical traditions, of which we believe ourselves to be trustees, but perhaps even more because it is the principal working part of a system of government in which all of us believe and to which we are deeply attached, because we believe that it is the system which is best suited to the temperament of our people and best fitted to give justice and ordered liberty to the people who are governed. I feel that if somebody were to come to us and say, "I can offer you, instead of your present system of government, a new system under which the whole control of government would be in the hands of a single party," even if that were our own party, we should reject it. We should feel that such a. system would not last in this country and that, sooner or later, it must give rise to open revolt and perhaps to revolution. When I look at it—and I look at this matter from this point of view—it seems to me that this is an opportunity for us to show our belief in that common bond which unites us all 439 and to pay our tribute to the democratic system of government of which this House is the representative. It is from that point of view that I myself intend to vote for the Motion of my hon. Friend.
I wish, like the right hon. Member opposite, that it were possible to do a little bit more than perhaps we must confine ourselves to for the present, if we are to regard the limits which prudence must impose upon us. But I take note of the fact that under the scheme which my hon. Friend has in mind, it will be possible for the trustees to accept gifts or legacies which may be added to the fund, and I cannot help feeling that once this fund were established, it would be found that it would undergo the same experience as has been found to exist in many other cases, and that it would receive benefactions which in time would build up its reserves to an extent which would enable the limited grant now contemplated to be increased. That perhaps will be for the future. For the present I myself should be very glad to see this fund established with the secure income that would come to it from the compulsory deduction proposed under the scheme, and I believe that the establishment of this fund and its working would add dignity to the respect in which this House is held.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from the word "House," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:conscious of the fact that salaries were recently increased by an amount deemed not more than sufficient to enable Members properly to carry out their duties, and having in mind the recent decision not to increase old age pensions, declines to consider a scheme of pensions for itself derived indirectly from public funds.I find myself in a difficulty, which, I am sure, the House will realise, in speaking after my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and may I say at the outset how much I, and I am sure other back bench Members, welcomed the assurance which he gave that the Vote on this occasion is to be an entirely free one. I do not think that we need that assurance from my right hon. Friend, because I do not believe that anybody in this House would imagine for a moment that he would desire, either on this occasion or 440 upon any other, that any Member of this House should vote otherwise than in accordance with the dictates of his conscience. Several speakers have made allusions to the words in the Amendment which I rise to move and which stands on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friends and myself. They took exception to the particular phrasing of the last few words regarding the pensions being derived entirely from public funds.
It is fair to argue that the fund which this scheme seeks to produce would be derived indirectly from public funds. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down almost made my case for me, because he pointed out that the salaries which Members receive, recently raised to £600, are a payment out of the public funds to Members of this House. If this scheme is brought into force Members of Parliament will not receive the £600 which they were voted by this House on a previous occasion, but £600, less £12. In other words, this House will be voting £12 per head of the Members of this House—money derived from public funds—for another purpose other than that of paying salaries to Members of this House who are servants of the public. Therefore, it is fair to argue that to the extent of £7,280 this House will be voting that amount of public funds to a purpose, which is, pensions for ex-Members of Parliament who are in need. Therefore, after the public has approved, through its Members in this House, the payment of £600 per head to the Members of this House, it is going to be asked to approve of the payment of £7,280 per annum to a fund to men who are no longer servants of the country in this House, but who are ex-Members. Public opinion requires to be taken into consideration in this matter, and that there are doubts and misgivings throughout the country, every hon. and right hon. Member in this House must be aware.
People in the country viewed with some misgiving the increase in salaries to Members, and they certainly would view with misgiving the payment of pensions to ex-Members. One must examine the suggestion that is being made by this proposal rather carefully before coming to a decision. I say at once that I do not think that lack of finance should prevent any man or woman in this country being able to serve the country in this honourable House, nor do I think that there is 441 a Member of this House who would grudge the sum of £12 a year to a fund which would provide for those who have been Members of this House, and who have fallen into want.
I am not averse to pensions, but I am averse to a scheme of this particular kind, and, as I shall hope to show in a moment, I feel that the time is not ripe for a pension scheme such as I would like being brought before this House and approved. No man who has served the nation in this House should ever have to end his life in want. It is a national charge upon this country to see to it that those who serve the country in this House should do so without the spectre of financial stringency haunting them while they are in the service of this House or haunting them when, through illness or age or for some other cause, they are no longer able to serve in this House. The salaries of Members of this House are not paid as charity, and I contend that if pensions for ex-Members are desirable—it may well be argued that they are desirable, and I think in many cases they are certainly desirable—then it is equally true to say that pensions for ex-Members of this House should not be charity, either. I do not think there is one soul in this House, to whatever party he or she belongs, but would be anxious in the case of want on the part of any Member or ex-Member of this House, to try to do their best to help.
My hon. Friend who moved the Motion was a little unfair in trying to introduce the suggestion that the opposition to this scheme from hon. Members on this side, or it may be on the other side, is based upon the feeling that one side would benefit by the scheme. All of us desire, however much we may differ in some of our political views to help one another. The salary of £600 paid to each Member was deemed to be a salary sufficient to enable him or her to carry out their duties in this House, but it was not deemed to be sufficient to provide for the possibility of a Member of this House saving for old age. Therefore, one is forced to this position, that either pensions for deserving cases of ex-Members are a national responsibility, or they are a responsibility which rests upon the Members of this House as a corporate body.
As I understand the proposal, it is that this House as a corporate body should set up what an hon. Member from 442 the Liberal benches described, quite rightly, as a benevolent fund. The suggestion is that our salaries should, by legal compulsion, be mulcted of £12 a year, which is to be paid into a benevolent fund. I do not begrudge £12 a year to help my fellow ex-Members of this House who are in difficulties. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lewisham (Sir A. Pownall) suggested that this fund was analogous to the Stock Exchange Benevolent Fund and the fund which, I understand, the Bar has for members of the Bar who fall upon evil times. It is not the same thing at all. I have had the honour of being a member of the Stock Exchange. The Stock Exchange Fund is one raised by voluntary contributions. If the House decides that pensions for ex-Members of this House should be paid from a benevolent fund, by all means raise that fund by voluntary contributions from Members of this House. It is not fair to any hon. Member that in order to contribute to a benevolent fund we should arbitrarily mulct the salary of a Member by even £12 a year. It is within our knowledge that to most of us £12 a year means very little, but there are Members of this House, not on one side, to whom the sum of £12 a year means a great deal.
All those who have spoken have stressed the impossibility of providing an actuarially sound scheme of contributory insurance for Members of this House. Obviously, the administration of a benevolent fund of this kind would be exceedingly difficult. There would be differences of opinion as to whether individuals qualified for the pension or not. That is not the way to go about it. If the country decides that it should pay pensions to Members of this House, then every Members must be eligible for such a pension, irrespective of any benevolent fund committee which may have been set up. Pensions are paid to other servants of the State—soldiers, sailors, airmen and civil servants. Those pensions are not paid as a benevolent contribution. In certain cases where individuals have not qualified under the pensions scheme, compassionate grants are made. I suggest that if we are to have a pension fund for ex-Members of this House, we should have one under which, by reason of having qualified by length of service, any Member in need should be able to obtain a pension.
443 The question whether this scheme is workable or not has been set out to a certain extent in the White Paper. I notice that the Warren Fisher Committee quote the opinions of certain Members of Parliament. I wonder if that Committee heard the opinions of Members of Parliament who are opposed to this form of scheme. Although we owe a debt of gratitude to the Committee for the work it did, it might have made more exhaustive inquiries as to the views of Members of Parliament before coming to its conclusions. To many of us the fact that it was sitting was almost unknown. To select a few Members here and there is not really getting the opinion of this House on something which vitally concerns not only the Members of this House, but the people outside who are represented by us.
The Mover of the Motion suggested that under the scheme pensions can be paid to only a limited number of Members. That is grossly unfair. It was suggested from the Front Opposition Bench, and I believe it to be desirable, that we should have more Members who are not necessarily in possession of private means. In that case it might well be that we should have a considerable number of applicants for pensions, and we should have only this small fund of £7,000 a year from which to pay the pensions. What is to he the lot of those ex-Members who are not in the House at the present time and who, presumably, will not come under this scheme? The difficulties which we are raising by trying to settle the problem of the support of ex-Members of this House who are in need, by establishing a benevolent fund, must be obvious to every hon. Member, and the difficulties must inevitably grow as we further examine the case. You cannot limit the number of pensions you are able to pay by reason of the inability of the fund to do more than pay a certain number, without by so limiting those pensions doing an injustice to many men and women who might really be in need. The only way we can deal with this problem of the ex-Member of this House who falls into financial difficulties, is by having a definite Government scheme whereby any man or woman who has served the nation in this honourable House for a certain number of years would be entitled to a pension if he or she can show that 444 they are in want. That is the only logical and reasonable way in which the difficulty can be met.
But I do not believe that the present is the time for such a scheme to be brought into effect. I am not averse to a pensions scheme, because it is right that there should be security from want for those who have served the nation in this House, but when we cannot provide more than 10s. a week for an old age pension, and when we have raised our own salaries to £600 a year, quite rightly and quite properly, it is not the time to institute a pension fund for Members of Parliament. I do not believe that if a national pension fund for Members of this House were put forward by the Exchequer, that the country would approve of it. If individual cases of hardship among ex-Members are to be dealt with, then the only fair way to deal with them is either by voluntary assistance from Members of this House for needy ex-Members, or by the party funds giving necessary assistance to those who have served in this House.
§ Sir A. Southby
I am sure that the hon. Member's party would never call in vain upon hon. Members on this side. If the fund is to be a benevolent fund, then it must be a voluntary fund, and it would be best to have it contributed from party funds. I think the best way to solve the problem is not by setting up a benevolent fund but to have a pension scheme paid for out of national funds, but I say most emphatically that this is not the right time to set up such a fund, in view of the fact that there are many harder cases amongst the population of this country than exist among ex-Members of Parliament.
Reference has been made by the hon. Member for East Lewisham to the fact that he has not received much in the way of correspondence on the subject. I am reinforced in the view I take by a letter that I have received, not from a constituent of mine but from a person who lives in Wales. The letter says:I wish you all success in your opposition to the scheme of giving pensions to Members of Parliament. Really, I cannot understand the mentality of Members of Parliament supporting such a thing, when, as you say, old age pensioners are expected to live on 10s. a week, and with wife, another 10s., making £52 a year. What a contrast. People who probably never had the chance of providing for their old age and who are living in 445 poverty, not knowing the blessing of a good meal. I think are more worthy of support and I am sure they thank you from their hearts that you have taken up their Cause.I am pleading their case at the present time. When the cry of these poor people remains unanswered, and it is impossible for the country to answer it by reason of the state of our finances at the present time, then I say that this is not the time for us to pay pensions to ex-Members of Parliament.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Spens
I beg to second the Amendment.
I was very glad when I heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say that he was sure that it was not the principle of pensions to which those of us who have put our names to the Amendment object, but the particular method. My first objection to the Motion comes to this. What did we do two years ago? We had a series of speeches from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both Front Benches, telling us that there were a certain number of Members of this House who were unable to live on the salary they were then receiving. After a great deal of investigation and thought on the part of His Majesty's Government, the figure of £600 was brought before this House as one on which those few Members who were in that needy position might be able to carry out decently and properly their duties as Members of this House. It is the same House of Commons, and a majority is now being asked by this Motion to compel that small minority to tax themselves to the extent of £12 a year.
Of course a majority of this House can constitutionally do anything, and majorities have done some strange things in their time, but we are told that as this is a purely domestic matter and that we ought to look at it from the point of view of our fellow-Members—and a majority of the House is proposing to take away £12 a year from a small minority. I am sure that none of that minority will speak to-day, but I do hesitate, as a Member of the House who voted in favour of the increase in salaries two years ago, to turn round now and vote in favour o compelling these Members to tax themselves to the extent of £12 a year. It does not sound a great deal to ask a man to tax himself with £12 out of a salary 446 of £600, and in most of our cases it is probably not a serious matter. Most of us I am certain would not dream of grudging the £12 for the reasons for which it is asked, but the poorer a man is, the more a man has to rely on his salary to keep up his position and maintain his family, the more serious to him is the deduction of that sum. None of these hon. Members will tell us of their difficulties, but I think we all ought to consider very seriously whether in the same Parliament we have any right to do this in regard to this small minority.
If this were a new Parliament and hon. Members were elected knowing that this deduction would be made, and were prepared to accept these terms, well and good, but for a majority of this House to make this compulsory deduction raises great difficulties, and it is mainly on that ground, in spite of all that has been said, that I feel quite unable to vote for the Motion in its present form. Then there is not the slightest doubt that if we start this provident fund on the basis of compulsory contributions—I entirely agree with the Prime Minister that the whole proposal depends on these deductions being compulsory year after year—this fund and future pensions out of the fund are going to be made dependent on contributions from the Revenue.
May I make a suggestion to the House? There was a very great deal of discussion in the country when our salaries were put up to £600 a year. I regret to say that I am not satisfied we are going to get through the next 20 years without some financial difficulties in the country. As far as I can foresee the future, and having the utmost confidence in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I think there is a possibility that for much the same reasons we shall have to take the same sort of steps which the first National Government had to take in 1931 when it was necessary to reduce substantially the salaries of officers of the Crown, like the judges, and in such a case no decent House of Commons would for one moment refrain from reducing its own salaries. This brings me back to my first point. An hon. Member who is endeavouring to live on his salary would in a crisis find his difficulties doubled. If, as I suspect, there are hon. Members to whom a deduction of £12 out of £600 is a serious matter, and if such a financial crisis ever arose again, you would have to 447 maintain the hon. Member in the fund, otherwise those who are getting their pensions would not know where they were, and such a deduction would become still more serious at a time like that. Therefore, I am driven to the conclusion that a scheme of compulsory deduction from what happens to be the salary of hon. Members for the time being, is a scheme of neither one kind nor another.
I can understand a scheme started as a provident or benevolent fund, perhaps under the direction of Mr. Speaker, and being built up by voluntary contributions from those who believe in the interests of the House as a corporate body and that it is most undesirable any ex-Member or any widow of a Member should be on the verge of starvation as a result of their public work. Let it be a benevolent fund on a voluntary basis, such as exists in the great professions of this country. There is a benevolent association, a purely voluntary association, to deal with the members of my own profession who fall by the wayside. The alternative has been referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby). If it is true that men and women who have given years of service to the country in this House should, when their time in this House is over be able to live for the rest of their days in comfort, then it should be recognised as a national obligation just as much as the payment of our salaries while we are here. But the difficulty of looking at it in that way and of doing something immediately is that this is not the proper time to ask the taxpayers of the country to contribute towards such a fund. It may be possible in the future, but it is not possible now. I was going to stigmatise this as a bastard scheme—it is a compulsory contributory benevolent fund scheme. It is neither one thing nor the other, and I cannot see that it adds dignity to the House. It may help a few, but it is going to be terribly difficult to administer. It may be that the speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom and myself have broken in somewhat roughly on the almost continuous harmony which has so far prevailed in the House, yet I think hon. Members should consider carefully whether they are going to adopt this scheme as the best they can do for ex-Members of the House.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I rise to support the Motion. The hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) is an extremely able lawyer, but if he will read his speech to-morrow morning in the OFFICIAL REPORT I think he will blush for shame. Of all the fantastic arguments I have ever heard the most fantastic was that in which he said that he was speaking for the poorer hon. Members who will not be able to afford £12 a year. Those are the people who will benefit most from the scheme. The scheme has been designed for them. They will subscribe £12 a year and they are going to get £150 a year when they retire after the age of 60. I cannot imagine a more flimsy or weaker argument upon which to base a case, and when one realises how clever a lawyer the hon. and learned Member is, one must come to the conclusion that his case must be extremely weak if he has to choose that as his best argument. The argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) was this, "I do not like this scheme. I would much rather have an elaborate system of pensions with everyone brought in, but it is obvious that it would not be suitable to do that at the present moment. Therefore, because we cannot do that we will do nothing." That is not really a tenable argument. Because you cannot get a whole loaf you are going to do without any bread at all. It is an argument which will not appeal to anyone who has given any serious attention to this matter. It is a proposal to which it is very easy to object on theoretical and superficial grounds.
From my personal knowledge, which can easily be corroborated by anybody who cares to make inquiries of his friends in this House—and we all have friends in other parties—such a scheme as this is urgently necessary. I do not want to paint any tragic picture or speak of the horrors of poverty, but rather turn to the cold and logical words of the report, which, in my view, are quite conclusive that the scheme is needed. On page 7 it says:In a certain number of cases a Member, who has spent many years in Parliament is unable after the cessation of his Parliamentary salary to support himself in the most modest manner which comports with the dignity of this Institution.We do not want to use the arts of rhetoric and tell tragic stories on this 449 matter, but that a benevolent fund of some sort should be set up to deal with cases like those of which we know is an urgent necessity. I am not arguing whether this is the best form of benevolent fund to set up. Sir Warren Fisher is the most able authority in the world on these matters, and I would rather take his advice than follow my own. Therefore, I urge that hon. Members in the Conservative party, who have taken the trouble to inquire into the hardships of some hon. Members of this House, should support us in the Lobby when the Motion goes to a Division.
I would make one small comment on the actual proposals. I am not sure that it would not be a good thing if we laid it down that once an ex-Member of this House came on the pension fund of any scheme he should consider himself not eligible to come back to the House of Commons as a Member. I believe that on further consideration, hon. Members would agree that probably that would be a good thing. I simply throw out the suggestion. On the main scheme, which is that we should set up a benevolent fund to which we would pay a small proportion of our income, I do not believe there is any hon. Member who would grudge the £12 a year, however rich or however poor he might be. The hon. and learned Member said that it would be difficult to administer, but I do not agree with him. I have had a little experience in this matter, as I sit on the board of one benevolent fund, and actually such funds are not difficult to administer if the people concerned go about the work in the right way. I think it is urgently necessary that we should set up some benevolent fund, and once again I urge hon. Members in all parts of the House to support the Motion.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Duff Cooper
The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. McCorquodale) made a violent attack on the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens), especially criticising him in view of his great legal ability. In listening to the hon. Member for Sowerby, I could not help regretting that he had not had a little legal training himself, because if he had, I think it would have conduced to clearer thinking on his part. The gist of his argument was that the urgent need for a scheme exists. But this scheme would come into force only in ten years 450 —[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."]. Would a Member who lost his seat to-morrow be eligible?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that if I had had a little legal training, I should have made a better argument. May I suggest that he would have done better if he had studied his brief a little more?
§ Mr. Cooper
I understood that a Member would have to have ten years' service in the House after the passing of the Motion—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and the fund would have to come into existence. It does not exist at present; therefore, there is no fund from which pensions could be paid in the present year.
§ Sir A. Pownall
A fund of £7,000 a year will accrue as soon as the necessary legislation is passed.
§ Mr. Cooper
If the necessary legislation is passed—and even that will take some time. Do I understand the hon. Member to say that the ten year's service is retrospective?
§ Mr. Cooper
I maintain that, if the urgency is very grave, the fact of passing this Motion to-night and of passing the necessary legislation during the next two or three months will not ensure that Members who are in need of this pension will get it during the present year, should they require it. Further, the hon. Member for Sowerby said that we want a scheme. He did not defend the present scheme, but seemed to suggest that it was better than nothing. From the legal or the philosophical point of view, the mere necessity of some reform is never a justification for introducing an unwise reform. I do not think that the hon. Member, in his speech, justified this proposal.
The hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely), in supporting the Motion, laid his finger on its weakness when he described it as a benevolent fund. The hon. Member for Sowerby said that no hon. Member would grudge contributing to a benevolent fund.
451 I am sure of that. But a benevolent fund is not a benevolent fund if it is compulsory. Benevolence does not go hand in hand with compulsion. When money is taken from us by force, we cannot pat ourselves on the back and say we have contributed out of the freeness and generosity of our heart. Therefore, the very words "benevolent fund" knock the bottom out of this proposal. Either we must have—as the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) said—a sensible scheme for providing pensions for Members, or we must have an equally sensible proposal for a benevolent fund to which hon. Members would be asked to subscribe, as any other profession subscribes for the benefit of those of its Members who have fallen on ill times.
There were two remarks in the Prime Minister's speech which particularly struck me. The first was when he said that we should hate to think of any Member of the House whose face was familiar to us falling upon evil days and having to live under grinding poverty in his old age. How true that is—but is that a sound principle on which to base legislation? I remember that some years ago the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) was making an appeal, I think with regard to unemployment insurance, and he said he was quite sure that there was no Member of the House who, if he thought that the hon. Member for Bridgeton was hungry, would not ask him to dinner. That is true. The hon. Member for Bridgeton then asked why could not Members have a little more imagination and think of the hundreds of thousands of people who were hungry, and therefore pass whatever proposal was then before the House. I had not an opportunity of replying to the hon. Member then; but could a worse ground for legislation exist than private sympathy with an individual? Hard cases make bad law, and just because we hate to think of one Member of the House suffering from poverty, why should we make a special provision in order to prevent that unhappy event ever happening, when we know that all over the country hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from poverty?
After all, I am sure that I shall have the agreement of every Member of the House when I say that men who have the uncommon qualities and the great gifts 452 necessary to get elected to this honourable House and to retain their seats for 10 years, are people who stand out a little from the common herd, who have distinguished themselves, who have had opportunities and who have taken their opportunities. It is my belief—an old-fashioned belief which is perhaps falling into disrepute—that every man should endeavour during his life, as he goes through it, to make provision for his old age, for his children and for those whom he may leave behind. Alas, we know too well that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who, owing to present economic conditions, cannot do that. Nobody blames them for their inability; one can only blame the system. But for those Members who have been so fortunate as to draw, for 10 years, £600 a year, for work which does not take up all their time, half-time work—[Interruption.] I speak with some experience, for I have been a Member of the House for some years, both a private Member and a Minister. Hon. Members who are prepared to exercise their leisure during the long Recess in other work, can find it. I say that a man who is for 10 years a Member of the House, drawing £600 a year, with the additional advantages which he acquires from being a Member of the House, should endeavour to make some provision for his old age and for those whom he leaves behind. There will always be sad cases. We all know of men who are born profligates. It does not matter if their salary is £6,000 instead of £600, some people have not the gift for saving money. There are some people who have drawn large salaries and made vast sums of money, and yet died insolvent. Those cases are sad, but they are not cases to be legislated for.
The hon. Baronet the Member for Ber-wick-on-Tweed said truly that he had known cases where Members had been obliged to go to their party for assistance in their old age, and he said that was not a very dignified proceeding. But is this going to be dignified? They will have to come before a tribunal, they will have to prove their penury, and they may even be so unfortunate as to be told, "Well, yours is as hard a case as any, but unfortunately the whole fund is already exhausted; and you have got to wait for one of your old colleagues to pass it on." It is an unsound and unsatisfactory system.
453 Another remark of the Prime Minister which impressed me, was his reference to our admiration for the system of Parliamentary government, a system which has fallen into disrepute in so large a part of the world. I doubt very much whether the carrying through of this scheme would add to the dignity of the House of Commons. It is true to say, as the Prime Minister said, that in effect there will be no charge upon the public funds, but the cry will go out that this House of Commons, having already had their salaries increased by 50 per cent., have now voted themselves, in addition, a pensions scheme. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It will not be a fair cry, but we all have sufficient experience of politics to know that what is not quite fair very often goes a long way, carries a lot of weight, and is long remembered. In these days, I think it would be a misfortune if any decision should be taken by the House which would allow it even to be suspected that we were thinking of our own pockets, our own future, and our own comfort, rather than of the terrible demands that are being and will be made on the whole community.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Macquisten
I came to this Debate with an open mind, and I had not read the White Paper till I came into the House, and not with great particularity. I do not agree with what is said in the Amendment to the Motion, and I do not anticipate that anyone will be able to raise a scandal in the country about this scheme. This is not a proposal to give pensions to all Members of Parliament. If it were, it would mean, judging from the age of many of us and the figures given in the White Paper, taking half of our salaries. This whole matter arises out of the original granting of salaries to Members of Parliament, which was never submitted to the country, for it was done by Resolution after the Osborne judgment, which held that trade unions were not entitled to apply their funds to paying the salaries of Members of Parliament. The Government of the day said that that would mean that good working-men Members of Parliament would not be able to come to the House, and therefore, it was decided to give them an allowance. There was a great agitation. Many Members got up and beat their breasts and said they would not take it—but they soon fell from grace.
454 I believe it would be far better if it were possible to have the old system of medieval times, when the constituencies paid their Members of Parliament. People were very reluctant to go to London; it was a long journey, and there was the danger of highwaymen, and so on. I have known of only one instance in my Parliamentary time where a Member of Parliament was paid a comparatively handsome salary by his own constituencies, and I am not going to tell where that was. [An HON. MEMBER: "Was it in Argyllshire?"] No, but if they had known that I required it, the people of Argyll have such large hearts and are so generous that they would have stood by me. I am sure of that, but fortunately, I have never required it. It would have been much better if we had had the old system, but we did not have it. We were given salaries.
Owing to the change in the value of money, the present salary is not quite as large as the salary that was originally granted. It was given after a very striking examination into the circumstances of certain Members which the Prime Minister himself made. After all, you do not want lean and hungry men sitting in Parliament. I have friends on every side of the House, and I should be very sorry to think that in their old age they were going to have a miserable time. It is true that the scheme would be compulsory. I hope it will be allowed to weigh in regard to Income Tax and Super-tax; otherwise Members who have to pay the maximum rate would be contributing a great deal more than £12. For after Income Tax and Super-tax have been paid, some of them do not get more than 6s. or 7s. in the £ of their income, so that for them it would be three times the amount—£36. It is to be compulsory, and most of us realise that we have amongst our own friends many whom we would prefer to Members of Parliament, and we would rather give them the money. But if you do not have it compulsory that just means that the generous-hearted fellows willing to toe the line when the other fellow says "I am not going to do it," will also refrain. That is the way it works. A lot of people will not pay unless they know that the other fellows are paying.
I often wonder what would happen if we had a voluntary Income Tax. I still believe there would be an enormous col- 455 lection of money and I base myself upon an incident at the conclusion of the great War. The Government were trying to raise a £1,000,000,000 loan, and the bankers, who as a rule think about nothing but interest, loans and collateral security, told Mr. Bonar Law that he would have to pay 8 or 10 per cent. for it. He revolted at that and said he would not pay more than 5 per cent., and then tried to raise the money, with poor success. It was suggested that he should appeal by personal letter to the payers of Super-tax, and Mr. Kennedy Jones and Mr. Charles Palmer, late editor of the "Globe," who afterwards became a Member for The Wrekin, drafted the letter, and Mr. Bonar Law copied it out and signed it. It was one of the most powerful and moving epistles I have ever read. It came to a company of which I was a director, and it impressed us so much that we subscribed the whole of our reserve funds.
A banker in Edinburgh told me that on receipt of the letter two wealthy old ladies came to sell everything they had and subscribed the money for the cause of the Government. He lent them £100,000 on their securities at the interest that the Government was paying on the loan, and they went away happy. The patriotism of rich people is just as great as that of any other class in the community, and sometimes greater, because they have a bigger stake in the country, and I for one believe that the rich men of the country would have lent the money for the War at 2½ per cent. instead of the 5 per cent. which was the lowest rate that the bankers advised. I do not believe that people in the main grudge taxation as long as they have enough to carry on with reasonable comfort. My gospel in regard to taxation is that of the poet Burns, who said:Fortune an' thou'lt but gie me stillHale breeks, a scone and whisky gill,And rowth o' rhyme to rave at will Tak' a' the rest,And dealt aboot as thy blind skill Direct thee best.Substitute "Government" for "Fortune" and you will grasp my meaning. That should be the position in regard to the Government. If you have food, clothing and refreshment and the right to speak your mind, that is all you want. The hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) spoke of the benevolent funds which were voluntary, such as the funds 456 of the Bar. I belong to another and northern Bar. There is no voluntary system there. More than a 100 years ago there used to be cases where prosperous counsel passed away, leaving widows, with little provision for them. They were the old jolly days in Edinburgh, the days of Burns, Christopher North and Walter Scott and the others who enjoyed life in a fashion that we should not approve of now. The unfortunate widows became importunate widows and used to come up to Parliament House and waylaid their deceased husbands' boon companions for money to help them along. Their husbands' friends did it with great generosity and supported the widows of their legal brethren in that rough and ready system, but it became a bit too much, and more men crowded to the Bar than were thought necessary, so they instituted a widows' fund and all entrants to the Bar had to pay a very large sum. I had to pay a large sum because of the age limit. I was above the average age at which men join the Bar, having originally practised in Glasgow in the unlearned branch of the profession. The result is that my widow, when I have a widow, will have a more generous pension than is provided for under this scheme. We ourselves, of course, have no pensions.
There is one thing at the Scots' Bar that is puzzling some of us. One lady married two members of the Bar in succession, and we wonder whether she will be allowed to draw two pensions when the second husband is gathered in. Of course this scheme here is a very half-baked scheme. It is inadequate and the funds are very small, but it is a beginning. The country need not worry about it, because it will not cost the country a penny. None of us, if the scheme is not going to pass, is going to draw his salary less £12 and hand the rest back to the Treasury. It is a fund got up amongst ourselves. It is a kind of tontine amongst ourselves. I may explain that a tontine was when a lot of wealthy men made up a pool payable to the last survivor. Here the benefit will not go to the last survivor but to those who are unlucky after they have served 10 years, which I should think ought materially to shorten their lives. This is a beginning. As the Prime Minister has said, there is no doubt that if the fund is once established funds will accrue. Some Chequers donors may come forward with cheques. Some 457 Nuffield or there may be wealthy Members of the House or elsewhere who hate their next of kin and will leave capital sums to the fund. There is no Member of the House whom I dislike so much that I would not be very sorry, even if I did not know him personally, if some provision was not made for his declining years. Therefore I am going to vote for the scheme. We could not possibly take anything out of the country's funds, but we will take it from ourselves and those who do not want to pay—and I believe there are only a few in the House—ought to be made to pay with the rest of us.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Raikes
It is always a little difficult to follow my hon. and learned Friend. There is no one else who can entertain the House to anything like the extent that he can when he is in real form. I also feel obliged on this occasion to differ from the Prime Minister, for the first time for a very considerable period. I was one of those who voted in favour of the £600 a year for Members. I took the view that it was assumed, at any rate, that the salaries were being raised in order to make it possible for Members of Parliament to subsist reasonably. The £600 is not sufficient if it can be shown that, in spite of it, there is still a sufficient degree of poverty to make it necessary that some form of pension should be provided. I only ask that we should have a real benevolent fund and not a half-baked scheme. The hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick (Sir H. Seely) painted rather a pitiful picture of an old Member, I think of the Liberal party, who had retired and was obliged to go to the party to obtain some pension. He ignored one fact, that this is a benevolent scheme and anyone who applies for a pension will be in the same position as if he were going to his own party organisation, with this difference, that if he has been out of Parliament for a period of time he is going to a committee of people who know very little about him. This is a matter which, for better or for worse, should be decided by the House on their own. We were told that the increase of salaries to £600 would raise a howl, but it has done nothing of the sort. Although I think this a, had scheme, it cannot be suggested that it lays any charge on the public purse.
There is one point that has not been touched upon. The hon. Member for 458 Sowerby (Mr. McCorquodale) said this was a scheme to help the very poorest. That is not absolutely correct, because it puts a premium upon safe as against unsafe seats. Those who will benefit are those who have contrived to remain in Parliament for at any rate 10 years. There may be some who do not represent the safe seats—and it is not the richest who represent the unsafe seats, whichever side it may be—who will be contributing towards a scheme from which they will have no opportunity of benefiting at all. When you come down to the safe seats, there are, of course, large numbers who will never apply for a pension at all because they are gentlemen of money and have safe seats. Those who have safe seats are very largely the representatives of the great trade unions, because the safest seats, from the point of view of the Labour party, are those where some great trade union is the dominating factor in selecting the candidate.
I am not saying anything against that, but I cannot help feeling that an argument against the proposed scheme is to be found in those instances where a man has been a trade unionist all his life and has given his best services in the first instance, to his trade union and incidently to a constituency in Parliament. I think that the trade union in a case of that kind ought to be in a position to enable that man to retire when he desires to retire. That being the case, I tell the House frankly that I find myself in this position, and I think many other hon. Members find themselves in the same position. I have, I hope, many friends on the other side of the House, and, like others who have spoken, I should hate to see any Member of this House, to whatever party he belongs, reduced to destitution, but I feel that under a scheme of this kind I might, in certain circumstances, be called upon to contribute to the pension of an hon. Member opposite in order to save expense to the trade union, the body which, above all else, he had represented in the House. That is one of the disadvantages of a compulsory scheme.
There are two alternatives. One might consider a voluntary scheme or schemes arranged by each party for its own Members. If a scheme of that kind were found to be inadequate for the purpose I should be prepared to advocate both on the Floor of this House and in the country 459 if necessary, the addition of some extra sum to the £600 a year to meet cases of difficulty. I would be prepared to advocate, say, a payment of £50 a year extra as a provision for the old age of Members who required it. I should not be afraid to stand on any Conservative platform and justify a public expenditure of that kind, if it appeared to be necessary, and I think that would be far better than to play about as we are doing to-day with a scheme which is half-way between a pension scheme and a benevolent scheme. If the workman is worthy of his hire, if service has been given to the State, then the country ought to be prepared to see that those who have rendered that service are enabled to make provision for their old age. It should easily be possible to meet the few cases which could not be dealt with by the different parties. Therefore, although I am not entirely in favour of everything in my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendment, I feel obliged to vote against the proposed scheme.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I have listened carefully to the arguments used in this Debate and have heard Members on all sides of the House express their willingness to pay £12 a year and their anxiety to help any Member who may be in difficulties. It has struck me that we here to-night are not merely speaking for ourselves, in our own various private capacities. We are about to take a decision for the Members of the House of Commons not only of to-day, but of to-morrow, and probably of some years to come, and what we are deciding is simply whether the salary of a Member of Parliament is or is not to be reduced from £600 to £588. We are asked to say whether £12 per year, per head, is to be paid into this fund for pension purposes by Members of Parliament. We are not being asked here to do some gracious or kindly act, and I think some of the speeches which we have heard have tended to lead us away from the main point. I think it is true that if any of us to-day knew of the case of any Member who was in difficulties and if we were asked to subscribe to help that Member, we would be willing to do so, and it would not matter in the slightest in which part of the House that Member sat. But we are asked to-night to do something else.
460 When the salaries of Members of Parliament were raised to £600 a year we were told from both Front Benches that the matter had been carefully considered, that Members had been interviewed and had stated their difficulties, and that those who went into the matter decided that the £600 was necessary in order to give certain people, especially young married men with families, the opportunity of coming into this House and carrying on their political work. I was opposed to the raising of salaries. I wanted to see a different scheme put into force, but what carried more weight than anything else in that discussion was the point that there were Members in this House who were really up against serious difficulties, and who were driven to wonder how they could carry on their work on the original salary, and that was said to apply in particular to young men with their political careers before them. But if it was necessary and right, as was argued then, to give those people £600 a year, if that sum was required by them in order that they should carry on their work, why should we now say to them, "That does not matter; you can give up £12 a year for this purpose?" If, on the other hand, the £600 a year was not required by them, then it seems to show that we in this House have been careless in looking after finance and economy, in giving that £600 a year.
We are told that by this contribution we can accumulate a fund of £7,000 a year. If we can give up £7,000 a year without injuring any Members of Parliament, are we to deal with that £7,000 a year as if it did not matter to the taxpayer, and dispose of it without the authority of the taxpayer? It is the taxpayers money and if we can do without it, if it is the case that Members of Parliament are not absolutely in need of £600 a year, as we were told last year they were, then we ought to give up that money to the taxpayers. I believe that it is wrong to assume that we are dealing here with our own money. We are not. We are arranging that Members of Parliament in the future shall be paid £588 a year, and if we were right in thinking that Members of Parliament would experience terrible difficulties on anything less than £600 a year, we have no right to do that.
What are we to say to other people who come to us and ask to be allowed to have voluntary schemes of pensions? 461 Are we to carry out a scheme of this kind and say to others that we cannot help them? I would far rather see a voluntary insurance scheme for all salaries up to £600 a year, in which everybody, men and women, both inside and outside this House would participate. I think that would be much fairer. In considering the scheme now before us, we ought to remember that this £7,000 a year, which we are told is only a small amount, is not our money. We asked the taxpayers for it. The taxpayers are paying it and if it is not required in order that Members of this House shall not have difficulties in carrying out their public duties, then we ought to give it back to the taxpayers. The hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) mentioned that a sum of £5,000 had not been drawn—I presume because some hon. Members are not taking the full amount of their salaries. The hon. Member seemed to suggest that we could use that sum for a scheme of this kind, but, again, that is the taxpayer's money, and if it is not required for the purpose for which it was given, it ought to be restored to the taxpayer.
§ Sir H. Seely
I did not say that the amount was due to Members not drawing salaries. It arises from lapses of time pending by-elections.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I understood that it was money not taken by Members of Parliament, and I feel that that money ought to go to the relief of the taxpayer. We are told that it is only a small amount, but I do not think that in these days we ought to talk about £7,000 as something which does not matter. If we do, the taxpayers are likely to think that all other branches of the administration are run in the same way. If we are to have economy, we must have cheese-paring if necessary in all departments, and I do not believe that this proposal represents the proper way of dealing with such a matter at the present time. When we look round we see misery; we see people wanting other forms of insurance or pensions, and yet we propose to say that because we, as Members of Parliament, do not require the full amount of our salaries, we are therefore, going to use the money to start a scheme of this kind. We are proposing to start off a benevolent scheme which has not been worked out on any actuarial basis, which has not 462 been properly prepared and which will give rise to all kinds of difficulties. We shall have to choose between different people and it will be very difficult, for instance, for a man who has been in strong disagreement with many others in this House to apply for a pension for himself from this fund. It will be far more difficult for the widow of such a man to apply for a pension from the fund. If we had a proper general scheme of pensions we could consider these matters on a fair basis, but I dislike differentiation between Members of Parliament in money matters.
There is another side to the question, in the constituencies. Suppose a man has served for a long period in this House and is just under 60 years of age. Suppose he finds that if he survives one more election he will be sure of his pension. Do not hon. Members think that it will be very difficult in those circumstances to oppose such a man in a constituency? Should I want to fight an election, if I were told that my opponent was in great difficulties and had only to be elected once more in order to qualify for a pension? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh, yes, when it comes to by-elections, things of that kind will crop up and I believe that hon. Members opposite are just as soft-hearted as hon. Members on this side, and will take the same view in such cases. Then as regards finding candidates for by-elections, hon. Members opposite know quite well what will happen, whether it is one party or the other, in the case of a man who has served the party, who is approaching 60 years of age and who requires only another term in Parliament to qualify for a pension. Of course, he will ask the party to give him a chance if a by-election arises, and of course it will be up to the party, if possible, to give him that chance. It would be almost cruel if they did not. Thus again we are bringing in this idea of the difference between the rich and the poor. There is very often a kind of inverted snobbery in these matters. If a proper pension scheme were brought in and put before the country, under which any Member of Parliament having served a certain number of years would get a pension, and in which there would be no differentiation, I would not disagree with it. But this is a benevolent scheme or a provident scheme for which the taxpayers will pay 463 and that, I think, is wrong, and I hope the House will vote against it.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Lyons
Before the House proceeds to a decision upon this matter I should like to be enlightened upon one question. We were given to understand that the ten years which must elapse under this proposal before a pension could be paid, would begin to run after the legislation has been passed and that no period prior to the passage of the suggested legislation, could be counted towards that ten years. I think we ought to have some more enlightenment on that point than has been given by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham (Sir A. Pownall). We ought to have a definite statement making the matter much more clear than it has been made up to the present.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)
There is no doubt about it. The scheme contemplated here, which has been worked out by this Committee with so much care, is a scheme which would begin to operate from the time when the necessary Act of Parliament was passed. It would be a necessary condition for any possible beneficiary that he should have been a Member of the House after the passing of the Act and that he should have been a Member for a period of 10 years, but it would not be necessary that he should begin to qualify for his 10 years' service after the Act of Parliament was passed. I have had occasion to be in close consultation with those who have drawn up the scheme, and in order to see how it worked one naturally had a draft of the Bill prepared, and whatever else may be doubtful in the matter, there is no doubt whatever about that. The scheme when it came into force would start, as has already been pointed out, with a sum of £7,000 at the end of the first year. In the ordinary way, I agree, if you have a fund administered by trustees, of the nature of a pension fund, you have to begin by accumulating a capital fund, but this is not in that sense an actuarially calculated pension fund, and inasmuch as each year there is this contribution of £7,000 or thereabouts, it would be possible, I am told, to have a certain sum that could be administered at the end of the first year. I do not think there is any doubt about that.
464 As I have intervened in the Debate, may I make two further observations? I think the Debate on one side or the other has brought out all the points, and it will be for the House to decide on them when we vote, but I would like to make an observation on what I think is the entirely misleading and mistaken suggestion that in some mysterious way, directly or indirectly, these benefits could be properly described as benefits arising out of public funds. There is a test to be applied at once by every Member of the House which will show conclusively whether that is so or not. If it were so, before we started upon any legislation about it there would have to be a Resolution in Committee of the Whole House for the purpose of mulcting public funds of the sum which is involved. You might as well say that because a Minister is paid a salary and out of that salary pays his Income Tax, therefore the Minister's Income Tax is paid out of public funds.
§ Mr. Macquisten
Supposing certain Members were hard-up, and we agreed to have a whip round for them, would that not amount to the same thing?
§ Sir J. Simon
My hon. and learned Friend is quite right. I went with him in most of his speech, and I think he put it in a clear and accurate way when he said that, subject always to the point of legislation, this is really a domestic operation. We are all meeting together, if we are private Members, receiving £600 or if we are Ministers more, and agreeing together that we will each of us put up this much out of our own pocket for the purpose of making a fund. It is really a pity, if there is to be a controversy on this subject, that any encouragement should be given by any Member of Parliament, whatever his view on this matter, which would suggest that we are engaged now in considering whether Members of Parliament should help themselves out of public funds for a pension scheme.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby), who moved the Amendment, finished his speech by reading a letter which he said he had received. It was perfectly obvious when you listened to the letter that the gentleman who had written it was under the impression that this was a proposal by which the country was going to make a new payment to Mem- 465 bers of Parliament or to ex-Members of Parliament. Of course, my hon. and gallant Friend knows that that is not so, and I can only say that I hope he wrote back to his correspondent and explained that to him. His correspondent said that it was the country that was going to pay pensions to Members or ex-Members of Parliament, but that is not so. This is a proposal by which Members of Parliament should themselves club together for the purpose of making a fund. That may he wise or unwise, but it is surely very wrong for any of us who understand the nature of the operation to give any encouragement to the idea that this is providing out of public funds a new pension for a privileged class.
§ Sir A. Southby
Might I not ask if it is not a fact that the salaries paid to Members of Parliament are paid out of public funds? If this legislation is introduced and passed, it will have the effect of reducing the salaries of Members of Parliament by £12 in the case of each Member. Therefore, that £12 will have been provided out of public funds to each Member, and if it is devoted to another purpose than that for which it was originally voted, it is surely true to say—and I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend as a lawyer, were he on the other side, would argue it much better than I can—that this £7,000 was produced and has in fact come out of public funds which the country authorised Parliament to pay to its Members as salaries.
§ Sir J. Simon
My hon. and gallant Friend will see that that sort of argument could be applied equally if no new Act of Parliament was involved at all. Supposing we all met in a Committee Room upstairs and said, "We are each getting £600 a year out of public funds; how would it be for each of us to put £12 into this new collection?" Would it be correct to say that our contribution in such circumstances was a contribution out of public funds?
§ Sir J. Simon
Then it is agreed, is it, as I think it must be, that if this were done by voluntary arrangement, there would be nothing paid out of public funds? Then how can it come out of public funds because there is an Act of Parliament to regulate the fund?
§ Mr. Denman
Is it not true that the State does in fact contribute between a quarter and a third of the proposed £7,000 by reason of its loss of Income Tax? We shall receive a lesser income, and we shall pay a lesser tax, and of the £7,000 the Treasury will suffer by reason of that loss of tax.
§ Sir J. Simon
That may be a point to be raised when the Bill is being considered, but the principle of the thing is plain enough, and the principle of the thing is that when a salary has been provided out of public funds, it is open to Members of Parliament, if they so decide, to say how a portion of that salary shall be devoted. That is surely a very simple proposition, and all that I ask is that whatever view we may take, we are in honour bound not to encourage people to say, "There you are, Members of Parliament, voting yourselves out of public funds a pension when there are so many other cases of hardship in the world."
The only other observation that I wish to make is this: Really, my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), though I think she was right in her first statement, was quite wrong in the conclusion which she drew from it. She said, and very accurately, that in principle this is a provision by which the £600 now paid would in the future be £588, which would be left for free use and £12 which would be earmarked for this particular purpose. That is true, but she went on to argue—and in so doing I think she was wrong—that we have no right to do that, because, she said, only two years ago we decided upon a particular sum as a salary on the ground that no smaller sum would do. That is not so. I have before me the words which were used in the Debate by the present Prime Minister, who discussed the question in that Debate as to whether the increase should be an increase to £500 or an increase to £600, and he said:I do not think it is possible to fix any figure and say that is the exact amount that is appropriate, but the late Prime Minister (that is, Lord Baldwin) and I, having given the best consideration we could to the matter, came to the conclusion that of the alternative figures that we considered, £500 and £600, £500 still would not be sufficient for a certain number of Members, and that it would be better, therefore, to adopt a figure which would settle the matter for an indefinite period rather than fix again a sum 467 which would give rise to complaints."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1937; col. 1052, Vol. 325.]My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in that same speech, and indeed I also when I spoke in that Debate, expressly referred to this proposal that there should be a pension fund. We both of us pointed out that if there was an increase of salary to £600, it might enable some pension scheme to be provided, but we both of us urged on the House that it would be wrong to complicate what we were then doing by introducing conditions about pensions, because they would be very difficult to work out. We both said that there should be a committee appointed as soon as possible to go into the question so that we should be able to advise the House as to whether it was possible to have any scheme of the kind. It is perfectly open to any hon. Member in any part of the House to be opposed to the proposal, but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee was really wrong
§ in making an argument on the figure of £600 as though that shut out the legitimate opportunity of establishing a pension fund at all. The matter has been debated at considerable length, and I am certain that hon. Members would now like it to be decided, but I hope I may be excused for having pointed out these two matters.
§ Mr. Macquisten
Will this exaction be free of tax? Shall we be taxed on it, or will it be allowed to be deducted?
§ Sir J. Simon
That is essentially a matter to be considered during the discussion of the Bill, but I do not think a decision "Aye" or "No" as to the pension scheme ought to be come to on an issue of that sort.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 204; Noes, 103.469
|Division No. 29.]||AYES.||[7.44 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Ede, J. C.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Lathan, G.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Lawson, J. J.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Errington, E.||Leach, W.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Lee, F.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)||Leslie, J. R.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh)||Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Liddall, W. S.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Frankel, D.||Lipson, D. L.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Gallacher, W.||Lloyd, G. W.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Gardner. B. W.||Lunn, W.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Garro Jones, G. M.||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Banfield, J. W.||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Macdonald, G. (Inca)|
|Barnes, A. J.||Gibbins, J.||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Barr, J.||Gibson, R. (Greenock)||McGhee, H. G.|
|Barrio, Sir C. C.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||McGovern, J.|
|Ballenger, F. J.||Gluokstein, L. H.||MacLaren, A.|
|Benson, G.||Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Maclean, N.|
|Bevan, A.||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||MacNeill Weir, L.|
|Broad, F. A.||Granted, D. R.||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Maitland, Sir Adam|
|Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Mander, G. la M.|
|Buchanan, G.||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Margesson, Capt, Rt. Han. H. D. R.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Groves, T. E.||Markham, S. F.|
|Cape, T.||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)||Marshall, F.|
|Cassette, T.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Mathers. G.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Meller, Sir R. J. (Miteham)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Harris, Sir P. A.||Messer, F.|
|Channon, H.||Harvey, Sir G.||Milner, Major J.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Montague, F.|
|Chater, D.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Moore, Lieut.-Cot. Sir T. C. R.|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Hayday, A.||Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Muff, G.|
|Collindridge, F.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Noel-Baker, P. J.|
|Cove, W. G.||Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)||Oliver, C. H.|
|Daggar, G.||Hills, A. (Pontefrast)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Dalton, H.||Hopkin, D.||Paling, W.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Hume, Sir G. H.||Parker, J.|
|Davies, S. O. (Marthyr)||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Day, H.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Pearson, A.|
|De Chair, S. S.||John, W.||Peters, Dr. S. J.|
|Dobbie, W.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Han. F. W.|
|Doland, G. F.||Jones, J. J. (Silvertown)||Pilkington, R.|
|Drewe, C.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Poole, C. C.|
|Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Kirby, B. V.||Price, M. P.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Kirkwood, D.||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Rayner, Major R. H.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)||Viant, S. P.|
|Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)||Walkden, A. G.|
|Richards, R. (Wrexham)||Smith, E. (Stoke)||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Evan|
|Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Less- (K'ly)||Watkins, F. C.|
|Riley, B.||Smith, T. (Normanton)||Watson, W. McL.|
|Ritson, J.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald||Watt, Major G. S. Harvis|
|Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Sorenson, R. W.||Wayland, Sir W. A|
|Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)||Spears, Brigadier-Central E. L.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Rothschild, J. A. de||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)||Westwood, J.|
|Salt, E. W.||Stephen, C.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Salter, Sir J. Arthur (Oxford U.)||Stokes, R. R.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Samuel, M. R. A.||Storey, S.||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Sanders, W. S.||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Seely, Sir H. M.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Selley, H. R.||Sutcliffe, H.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Saxton, T. M.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.|
|Schuster, Sir G. E.||Thorne, W.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Silkin, L.||Thurtle, E.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Silverman, S. S.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.||Titchfield, Marquess of||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Simpson, F. B.||Tomlison, G.||Sir Assheton Pownall and Sir Francis Fremantle.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Hammersley, S. S.||Peake, O.|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Hailgers, Captain F. F. A.||Petherick, M.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Holy-Hutchinson, M. R.||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Pertsm'h)||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Radford, E. A.|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Higgs, W. F.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Holmes, J. S.||Ramsbetham, H.|
|Blaker, Sir R.||Hopkinson, A.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Hunloke, H. P.||Rosbotham, Sir T.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Bull, B. B.||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Keeling, E. H.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Sandeman, Sir N. S.|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Kimball, L.||Scott, Lord William|
|Chapman, A. (Ruthergton)||Lamb, Sir J, Q.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Farter)|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S)||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S. G'gs)||Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)||Snadden, W. MeN.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Loath, Sir J. W.||Spans, W. P.|
|Cox, Trevor||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Stuart, Han. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Pate||Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Crossley, A. C.||Lyons, A. M.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Mebane, W. (Huddersfiled)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||M'Connell, Sir J.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Macdonald. Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Ward, Lieut.-Cot. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Duggan, H. J.||Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Wiskham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Makins, Brig.-Gen. Sir E.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Eastwood, J. F.||Marsden, Commander A.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Emery, J. F.||Maxell, Hon. S. A.||Wragg, H.|
|Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Mayhew. Lt.-Cot. J.|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Medlicott, F.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Everard, Sir William Lindsay||Morgan, R. H. (Worcester, Stourbridge)||Commander Sir Archibald|
|Gridley, Sir A. B.||Munro, P.||Southby and Major Sir George Davies.|
|Grimston, R. V.||Nall, Sir J.|
Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
That this House approves the recommendations of the Departmental Committee on Pensions for Members of the House of Commons and is in favour of the initiation of legislation to carry out its proposals which impose no charge upon the taxpayer.