§ Report [5th June, 1947] from the Select Committee to be considered forthwith.—[Mr. Ede.]
§ Report considered accordingly.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
On a point of Order. Would you give a Ruling to the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as to the extent and nature of the discussion you will allow on this Select Committee's Report? You will notice that the Select Committee's terms of reference were somewhat restricted. I am wondering whether, in the present discussion, you will allow a rather wider latitude than is contained in the Select Committee's Report. For instance, the Report deals with the Members' Fund. Some hon. Members gave evidence before the Select Committee, and some of the evidence was ruled out on the ground that it was not within the terms of the Committee's——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I think that the report to which the hon. Member refers is not the Report of the Select Committee. It is the additional document presented to the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think, therefore, that I cannot give any precise Ruling as to the scope of the Debate at this moment.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
Would it be in Order for Members to discuss the whole question of Members' pensions on this Report?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Hon. Members must restrict themselves to the question of the Report, consideration of which has been ordered by the House.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House the House of Commons Members' Fund Act, 1939, should be amended in order to extend its scope and to provide for increased payments and altered contributions.I would like, at the outset, on behalf of the Select Committee and, I hope, the House, to express our gratitude to those persons who have been charged with the administration of this fund since its inception in 1939. The terms of reference of the Committee were somewhat narrow, in that the Committee were charged with the responsibility of endeavouring to equate—if I might use that term—income with expenditure. That meant that the Committee had to receive evidence, and arrive at a decision within the narrow scope of those terms of reference. I would like to emphasise that there has been, and is, a considerable amount of misapprehension about the nature of this fund. In the Press, and in the White Paper issued by the Chancellor, the fund has been referred to as a "Members' Pension Fund." It was never a Members' pension fund; it is actually a benevolent fund, and nothing more than that. We owe this fund to the interest and human sympathy which have always been evidenced in this House, and, more particularly, to the late Earl Baldwin, to whose memory we paid our respects on Monday, to the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain, and to the late Mr. H. Lees-Smith.
The fund was established for the purpose of endeavouring to assist ex-Members of Parliament or their orphaned 1789 children who might, from time to time, be overcome by adversity. The trustees, who have done excellent work, have, of course, proceeded along that line, and as a result of the evidence submitted to the Select Committee, the Committee were convinced that the fund has been of extreme value to no fewer than 30 recipients, most of whom were ex-Members of this House. Some of these ex-Members have passed away, and some of their dependants are now benefiting from the fund. It is very pleasing, as Members who have examined the proceedings of the Committee will note, to see that the fund has, at present, a balance of about £50,000. The trustees felt that with the increasing cost of living, and such a surplus at their disposal, it would be desirable to come to the House, and ask for powers to increase the amount of benefit that should be paid from the fund. Under the existing machinery, the trustees may make the income of an ex-Member up to about £4 a week. But that does not mean that all ex-Members are getting £4 a week; their resources have to be taken into consideration, through a means test. Those who have read the Report of the Committee will appreciate that we recommend that that allowance should be increased by about £2 a week, which means that the recipient will be permitted to receive up to £6 a week, after the resources which he may have, have been taken into consideration.
The Committee felt that nothing should be done to discourage thrift. That being so, they have recommended that what is good for the ordinary citizen should be equally good for the ex-Member of Parliament, in this sense: There is operating at the moment the Determination of Needs Act, which provides that certain disregards should be taken into consideration by the trustees. If an ex-Member and his wife have been able to acquire their own house, that should not count against them in getting an allowance from the fund. Again, the possession of war savings should not count against an ex-Member. So, through the Determination of Needs Act the trustees, who have been charged with the administration of the fund, have to take these disregards into consideration. We are all indebted to the Chancellor for the White Paper which has been issued; it is valuable and helpful. As the fund is a benevolent fund, with 1790 a means test, and not a pension fund, it is impossible to place it on an actuarial basis. Because of that, the White Paper can only be a guide.
We have a surplus of £50,000, but hon. Members must bear in mind that the professional actuaries always work with a considerable margin with which to play. That is all right with a statutory pension fund, but when persons make application for grants and most of them have personal resources which must be taken into consideration, we must depart immediately from considering these matters upon an actuarial basis. Therefore, I do not want hon. Members to pay too much attention to what the actuaries have said. The Committee may have taken actuarial advice, but we thought that it was better to work upon the experience of the trustees who have administered the finances. At all times it is possible for the trustees to come to the House and ask for reconsideration of the conditions or the principles upon which the fund is administered. We therefore deemed it much preferable to proceed as hitherto. If, as a result of the recommendations, the fund becomes sorely depleted, a further appeal can be made to the House for reconsideration of the scheme.
I want to make a special appeal to hon. Members for elasticity. The trustees are now compelled to ask for the original Act to be amended when they come to the House, before they can depart in the slightest degree from the principles embodied in that Measure. I appeal to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to consider—I hope this suggestion will receive the assent of hon. Members who are present—embodying in the new Bill an escalator clause so that the trustees would be able to ask the House to pass a resolution for raising or lowering the contributions, rather than for an amending Act which would have to go through all its stages. It would then be easy for the trustees to take action if they felt that the fund was becoming dangerously depleted or becoming unduly large. If something on those lines could be adopted, it would mean smoother working and greater satisfaction to all concerned.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
The hon. Member has suggested an escalator clause for contributions. Would he apply the same suggestion to benefits as well?
§ Mr. Viant
For the time being I appeal to the House to adhere to our recommendations. We have given reasons in the report why they should be adopted. Our greatest concern has been in regard to the contributions. A large number of new Members have not experienced what we have known in the past. Those of us who have been here for 20 years know what it has meant to pass the hat round when adversity has overtaken our colleagues, but that has given no satisfaction. After we had raised £100 and handed it to the widow, she was forgotten when that money was eventually exhausted. Under the scheme she is never forgotten. That is the important point. I hope we shall be prepared to accept the recommendations of the Select Committee and to urge the Treasury to insert a clause in the new Bill to give the House power to raise or reduce contributions as circumstances require, by means of resolution alone.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew (Ayr and Bute, Northern)
I very much welcome the opportunity of saying something about the House of Commons Members' Fund. The expenses of the fund are covered four times over by the contribution which everybody makes. Every Member contributes £12 per year to the fund and we are investing £9 of it and using, roughly speaking, only £3. That is thoroughly unsatisfactory. In the autumn of 1945 I succeeded Sir George Courthope as chairman of the trustees. As soon as I saw the position, I got busy to get something done. We presented a return in July, 1946, showing the enormous amount of money that we were amassing and the small proportion which we were paying out. That was less than five months after we had presented our 1944–45 accounts.
Shortly after we had made that financial return, I asked the Leader of the House, on Business, in July, 1946, when we would have an opportunity to deal with the matter. He said he hoped it could be dealt with after the summer Recess. I suppose that was October or November last year—and it is only tonight that we have the opportunity to discuss the matter. I have pressed continuously to get something done, and I am glad that at last we are succeeding in putting this matter upon a sound basis. 1792 The difficulty is that in order to do anything at all, we must do it entirely by Act of Parliament. We cannot do anything by Resolution of the House, but by Act of Parliament which must go through all its stages. Government time is required, and everybody knows how closely the Government have to safeguard their time.
Delay is undesirable. The trustees know how well more money could be spent. I hope that we shall get unanimity on the Report of the Committee, of which the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) was chairman, because then we shall get legislation. I urge the Government to act quickly. I know it will take Government time, but I would point out that we have been waiting a long time. I have from time to time over a period of two years been talking to different people, and everyone has different ideas about the matter. The hon. Member for West Willesden, who moved the Motion, put it quite clearly. We do not want to forget the idea for which this fund was started. It was to help people who, through ill luck or ill fortune, have fallen on evil days. To try to do something else with this fund would alter its whole basis. It is a fund to try to help ex-colleagues or their widows, who have fallen into times of financial straits.
I hope we shall get agreement in accepting the Report of the Select Committee, which was presented last July. I am glad to see the Financial Secretary in his place, because after the Report was presented, but before the Debate tonight was promised, the Government actuary was asked to make a report on the proposals. I was not on the Select Committee, but I gave evidence. All these proposals were carefully considered and worked out, and I was really amazed when I saw in the Paper which was presented last Friday that the Government Actuary suggested, instead of an annual amount of £9 from each Member, that it should be £21, and the Actuary thought that the reserve of £55,000 should be got up to £150,000. That sort of thing is absurd, especially when we remember that only 17 beneficiaries are receiving grants from the fund—eight ex-M.P.s and nine widows. That is a very small number of people. The £21 contribution, about which I will speak in a minute, is much too high. All we want to keep 1793 in mind is that under the Act the subscription of £12 which we pay is not a charge in Income Tax, so, of course, the amount is very much greater, and if a Member happens to be paying the high grade of Surtax, it is much greater indeed. I do not know whether any Member of the House is paying the top rate of Surtax, but if he is, it means that the gross amount he has to produce is £428, which is far too high, especially when a man in that position is unlikely to draw on the fund.
§ Captain Marsden (Chertsey)
Not only the man who is a millionaire, but people like myself with a naval pension will never get benefit from this fund; but we have got to pay to it. We can never be so hard up as all that.
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
In my notes the next subject heading is "officers," but the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) took my speech out of my mouth, and has made the position perfectly clear. I have taken the extreme case of the Surtax payer on the top grade, but there are men such as my hon. and gallant Friend who pay their money year after year by Act of Parliament, and whatever happens they cannot get anything out of the fund. It is a pity to ask such hon. Members to pay £21 a year, and I think £9, as suggested by the Select Committee, would be sufficient.
The reserve fund, which is now £55,000, seems to be pretty good when we look at the number of beneficiaries. In addition to the reserve fund, we are absolutely certain of £12 per Member, and £9 under the new proposals going in all the time. What has happened in recent times is that we have been far too well off, and I am so ashamed of taking money as a trustee from hon. Members here and only using about one-fourth of it. The Government must seriously consider this position. We all know the difficulty that there is of getting legislation introduced, and securing the time for it from the Government. However, new legislation will have to be introduced to alter the present Act, and I hope that when it is the words suggested by the right hon. Member for West Willesden when he moved this Motion, to the effect that by a Resolution of the House of Commons the contribution can be varied up or down, will be inserted. 1794 By doing that we immediately do away with all this necessity for an enormous reserve fund. It is quite unnecessary, and this suggestion is not only simple, but really quite practicable. It would take very little time to put a Motion on the Order Paper. I do not know whether the trustees or the Government would put it down, but if we want two or three more pounds from the Members, I do not think there would be any objection, and certainly there would be no objection if we decided to ask for two or three pounds less. I think this thing would work well. I have talked to hon. Members of all parties, and I have not found anyone against doing it in that way. I sincerely hope the Financial Secretary will take note of what I say in that regard.
There is one further small point I should like to put, and that is with regard to the Government Actuary's Report. Under Section 3 (5) of the present Act, every five years the Government Actuary has to make a report on our affairs, and it is very expensive. We have got to get our accounts audited in any case by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and this report which the Government Actuary makes is extremely dear. In March, 1946, in my capacity as Chairman of the trustees of the fund, I appeared before the Public Accounts Committee, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) is Chairman, and my right hon. Friend drew attention to the fact that we were paying £279 for a Government Actuary's report which is absolutely and totally unnecessary. People like ourselves are trustees, and if hon. Members do not like us, they can discharge us and appoint others in our place, but as long as we are trustees we are able to invest money in trustee funds, and when the accounts are audited there can be no possible mistake.
The opinion of the Government Actuary is no better than mine, and perhaps not as good. It is just a waste of money, which could be as well spent on the deserving cases which come before us time after time. I assure the House that it is really unpleasant work dealing with the sad cases of our friends, and it makes me so annoyed to think, not only of the outlay going on, but what money could be saved in such a case as this. The thing was tied up quite unnecessarily to start with, because this is entirely a 1795 domestic matter of our own, and it is our own money with which we are dealing. If we cannot trust half a dozen of our own Members to look after a fund such as this, it is a poor outlook for the wisdom and sense of the House of Commons.
There is one more thing I should like to say. It may be out of Order, but perhaps I shall be excused. I should like to say what a tremendous help the trustees got from the officers in the Fees Office, which is in Mr. Speaker's Department. The accountants there are most helpful and mast kind. They do a great deal of work dealing with these various cases, and I should like to put on record how much we appreciate what they are doing for us.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)
It has been thought that perhaps it would be beneficial if someone from the Treasury Bench spoke now. If the Debate continues and it is desired that a further speech should be made from this Box my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will try to catch Mr. Speaker's eye at a later stage of the Debate. We have had two excellent speeches, which are all the more excellent because they have given me something upon which to bite. It occurred to me earlier that the White Paper and the facts there set forth were so reasonable in argument and conclusion that the House would accept what was there said without very much Debate. It now appears that certainly two hon. Members ask their fellow hon. Members to reject what the actuary has said and to follow the recommendations of the Select Committee in their entirety.
The Government regret that this matter has taken some months to reach even its present stage. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr and Bute, Northern (Sir C. MacAndrew) has devoted many hours to this Fund since he took over the chairmanship. I know how dear it is to his heart and how impatient he has quite naturally been during the last year while these matters were under discussion and while the White Paper was being produced.
As we have been told by the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) the 1796 House appointed a Select Committee last February to examine and report on the financial position of the Members' Fund. The present Debate has been arranged so that we may discuss that Report with the White Paper. We are anxious that this Debate should give the Government some idea what hon. Members are thinking. This is a domestic, non-party, nonpolitical matter and the Whips will not be on if a vote is taken. If it is the general feeling that legislation be introduced, the Government will then know in advance what hon. Members are thinking and what they desire to be done.
What were the recommendations of the Select Committee? They were that we should raise the maximum yearly sum payable to an ex-M.P. from £150, which it is at present, to £250, so long as the 250 does not bring his income above £325. The present ceiling, above which no help can be given, is £225. All will agree that that is very low. The present maximum rate of annual payment to widows of ex-M.Ps. is £75, and the Select Committee suggest that that should be doubled, making £150, so long as it does not bring the widow's income above £225. The present income limit for a widow is £125. By today's standards that also is a very small sum. The suggestion is also made that something should be done in certain circumstances either for the children of one spouse, or if both parents are dead, for the children who are left completely orphaned. A further recommendation is that the present £1 a month which we pay, making £12 a year, without any allowance therefrom for Income Tax purposes, should be decreased to £9 a year.
Those who have read the White Paper know that the assumptions which the Select Committee have made in coming to these recommendations are not accepted by the Government Actuary, who indicates that the figures are far too optimistic——
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
There may be an actuarial assessment of how many of us are likely to lose our seats and how many are likely to die, but no one has the slightest idea what our incomes may be. It is absolutely impossible to come to any actuarial basis. How wrong they were the first time proves that.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
That may be the view of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I 1797 do not quarrel with him for holding it. This is a domestic matter and the Government want to find out what hon. Members think about the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for West Willesden expressed a view very forcibly. I took his words down. I could scarcely credit them. Apparently the hon. and gallant Member agrees with him. He said that because it was a benevolent fund it was impossible to place it on an actuarial basis——
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
—and that the actuaries wanted a considerable margin with which to play. They do not. I hope to return to that subject in a few minutes. My immediate point is that there is here a direct conflict of feeling. The Select Committee want to take the thing more or less on the run because there is at present a substantial surplus. The accounts will not be out for a month or two but I understand, though it is not for me to say but for the trustees, that it will amount to something like £55,000. The evidence is that £12 a year is too high a contribution for the amounts now being given. It does not follow that as we have all this money we should reduce the contribution and almost double the grants. As I hope to show in a few minutes other considerations have been touched on by the Actuary which the Government would ask the House carefully to take into account.
I have gone into this fairly carefully and as I understand it the Select Committee's calculation is as follows. At the moment we are 640 in number but it is expected that we shall go back to 615 and it may, well be—I do not know—that our numbers will be even fewer. As far as we know it will be the number which obtained before certain electorates were divided as a temporary measure at the end of the war. If we go back to a House of 615 Members and if we take the Select Committee's contribution at the figure of £9, the income per year would be £5,475. To that must be added the interest on the investments, which amounts to £1,150, making a total income to the Fund of approximately £6,625. At present those to whom grants are given year by year—I hesitate to use the word "pensioners" because they are not pensioners in a strict sense—amount, I understand, to nine widows and eight ex-M.Ps. The Select 1798 Committee take the number who were in receipt of grants from this fund before the Dissolution and add to it the number who went on the Fund after the Dissolution. They then make certain additions to provide for possible extra sums which may have to be borne in respect of children and people who may come on the Fund if the ceiling is raised. In addition, in order to give good measure, they assume that another five will come on the Fund at the full rate of £250, at a total charge of £1,250.
Taking all these factors together, the new rates and the lower contribution, they estimate that grants in the course of a year would run to £6,200 and that the expense of administration might amount to another £200, making £6,400 in all. If you take £6,400 from £6,625, it leaves a credit balance of £225. In a fund of this sort with all the intangibles for the future which are quite admitted, I defy any hon. Member to say that a difference of only £225 of income over expenditure is not far too small a margin, even for those who do not want us to follow actuarial advice and simply want to spend the money as it comes in.
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
The right hon. Gentleman names a big figure but the Actuary can have no more idea than the man in the moon what it would be, whereas the last published accounts—and I will be accurate this time—show that £2,162 15s. 1d. was all we spent. If you double that, we would be well under his figure.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I have no desire to be unfair. If the hon. and gallant Member will turn up the Select Committee's Report, he will find in paragraph 25 that the figures I have given are there, and that they are brought together again, though not in tabulated form, in paragraph 29. If I am not wearying the House, I will read paragraph 29. It says:The income from contributions from 65 Members"—It means 615 Members—at the new rate would be £5,475 a year, so that the total annual income from contributions and investments would be at least £6,625"—Exactly the figure I have given——
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
It goes on:leaving a margin of £225 a year beyond the £6,400 a year which Your Committee have allowed for expenditure.Therefore, I am only taking the figures given by the Select Committee. As I have already said, this expenditure by way of annual grants takes into account grants to individuals which may not occur. If we turn to paragraph 7 of the White Paper, we find that the Government Actuary comments on these experiments in arithmetic by the Select Committee. He points out, and in my view very properly, that this fund has only been running for eight years. I would like to add that six of those eight years passed with no election because of the war. Unfortunately this is the only period by which we can judge, but the last eight years were not normal years at all. People stayed on in the House and some died who, if an election had come earlier and times had been normal, would have retired and might possibly have come on this fund. Therefore, we must remember that, whether we like Government Actuaries or not, whether we accept their advice or refuse to accept it, we ought, when dealing with a fund of this kind to have some sort of data to go by. It is essential that we should know where we are, even although the fund is our own and we have nobody to account to except ourselves if we get too many on it at any one time and it runs out.
I am told that the actuaries hold the view that if this fund runs long after our time, as time goes on and experience is gained, the fact that now we have only 17 or 20 beneficiaries is nothing to go by. The actuaries have had considerable experience of superannuation funds and such matters. If their experience is anything to go by, in about 40 years time there may be anything up to 60 or 80 beneficiaries on the fund. Even in the next few years there are likely to be more than there are now. If we do what the Select Committee asks us to do, we should do it with our eyes open and we must not imagine that the numbers coming on the fund in the next few years will be the same as the numbers who have come on to it up to now. Times have not been normal, and we cannot form any idea until the fund has settled down.
The actuaries also say that we need not worry about the drop in the rate of 1800 interest. Hon. Members who have looked at the fund and noticed that apparently the average yield per cent. is 3 per cent. should not be guided by that. The actual yield per cent. overall, deposit and invested, works out at something like 2.6 per cent., and the Government rate is now 2½ per cent. We may assume that so long as we keep the reserve going, interest thereon at a rate of 2½ per cent. would bring in something around £1,400.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I am talking about this fund, and saying that the overall yield works out at 2.6 per cent. We have no feelings about this. I am trying to put the facts to the House, so that they can judge what they want done tonight, or in the coming weeks. We need not worry at the moment about the fact that interest rates have fallen. As the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) who, like myself, has been interested in a number of superannuation funds, knows, one of the greatest headaches is that many of the funds were built on the assumption that the return would be 3 per cent., or 4 per cent. Now they can only be invested at 2½ per cent.
When we try to project ourselves into the future, and to discover who may come upon the fund, I agree that we are completely in the dark. At present, we have a fairly young House, and, if this were an ordinary superannuation fund, the younger Members would be of the utmost benefit to a fund of this sort, because their contributions would go on until they were 60. But we cannot assume anything of that sort here. When the testing time comes in 1950, it may be that the young will be taken, and the old left. The present average age of the ex-M.P.s is 70, and of the widows 63. In the actuarial tables we find that the average expectation of life of the widows is another 17 years, but it is nothing like that in the case of the ex-M.P.s.
I now wish to deal with the alternatives which the actuaries have laid before us. They are to be found at the bottom of page 3. First, they deal with the present scales. With the present maximum pension of £150 to ex-Members, with an income limit of £225, and, in the case of widows, a maximum pension of £75 1801 with an income limit of £125, and with an annual contribution of £9, as is proposed by the Select Committee, they show that a reserve of something like £60,000 would be required in order to make the fund really solvent. I hope that hon. Members follow that if the Select Committee's proposal to give a maximum pension of £250, with an income limit of £325, and a £150 maximum pension for a widow with an income limit of £225, were adopted, then a reserve of £150,000 would have to be built up over the next 20 or 30 or even 40 years.
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by "they"? Does he mean the Select Committee?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
In the White Paper, there is a table which the Government Actuary places before us, which gives the various suggestions which have been made op to now, first—the present scale of benefits, with a proposed contribution of £9 per year, and then the new scale proposed by the Select Committee. According to the Actuary, if these higher rates of benefit are to be paid, it will be essential for a payment of something like £21 per year to be made per Member. A reserve fund of something like £150,000 would be built up. The interest on this, would be needed to supplement the contributions paid. The Government Actuary has worked this out and says that, if the fund is to be solvent, and we are to be sure of paying pensions to those who are likely to draw upon the fund at that time, this rate of annual contribution, and this reserve will be essential. If the £21 per year is felt to be too much, and I will give reasons why it may be so considered, particularly as we get no Income Tax allowance in respect of it like anyone else——
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
The short answer to my hon. Friend's question is that when this Act was passed in July, 1939, it was felt that Members should be in no sense beholden to the taxpayer, even for 1802 a rebate of tax on the contributions which we made to this fund. That was the reason given, and it was accepted by the House. It has been the rule and, in fact, the law, ever since.
§ Dr. Morgan
Surely the Treasury can act differently, and say that this is a legitimate expenditure by a Member of Parliament, as a contribution to the Members' Fund, which should not be chargeable to Income Tax?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
That can be done in the case of ordinary superannuation funds if such a fund has received from the Inland Revenue certain assurances that they recognise it as a superannuation fund for Income Tax purposes.
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
We get Income Tax relief on investments. It is upon contributions that we get no rebate.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
The Act specially lays it down that we should get no Income Tax allowance upon the contributions we pay. Until that Act is amended, the Treasury can obviously do nothing to allow Members any Income Tax rebate.
§ Lord William Scott (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
Or Surtax. How much is that on the highest rates of income?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I have not worked that out, and it would be difficult to do so. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr and Bute, Northern, gave a computation. According to him, if I heard him rightly, it is something like £500 in respect of Income Tax and Surtax to those who are paying the highest rate of 19s. 6d. in the £.
I would draw the attention of the House to the two alternative schemes which the Government Actuary has worked out, and which Members might like to consider. Suppose that the £9 contribution is felt to be too low, and that the £21 contribution, which the Select Committee's suggestion would involve is too high, the Government Actuary gives two middle courses which we might follow, which are described as A and B. I do not want to go into this in detail. In passing, however, I would direct the attention of hon. Members to those two schemes. In one case, it would mean that for £12 a year we could give slightly better rates than are now being given under the existing Act. If we were willing to go to £15 a year, the rates 1803 Would be appreciably greater. It will be for the House to look at these, and any other schemes which they feel worthy of consideration, in order to arrive at a proper and just solution.
If this matter is taken to a Division, the Government are happy that the vote should be a free one. Hon. Members should exercise their own judgment irrespective of party on this matter, but I would remind the House of three things. First, the present rate of contribution of £12 was fixed at a time when we received a salary of £600 a year. If the £20, or the £21, suggested by the Actuary as the proper rates of contribution are agreed to, we should remember that we now get £1,000 a year instead of £600. The percentage increase is not as great as one would imagine. I think that the ratio of £20 to £1,000 is about the same as the ratio of £12 to £600. I have not worked it out exactly——
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I know that. If Members could afford and agreed to pay, as they did, £12 on a salary of £600, it might not be beyond the bounds of possibility that they might now agree to pay in order to have these higher rates of pension. On the other hand, I must remind the House that from next July we all become self-employed persons. Therefore, those of us who are young enough, come within the terms of the National Insurance Act, 1946. That will mean that we shall have to pay a year contribution. It is true that we will get tax allowance on the But if we have to pay £15, in addition to £20 for the Members' Fund, it might be considered rather too high a sum altogether. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that when they have paid contributions for 10 years, like any other people, hon. Members will be entitled in due course to a retirement pension of 26s. a week. That will help a little, but not very much, because if the present ceilings persist, the retirement pension will help to diminish the amount that beneficaries may get from the Fund.
I would like to deal with a point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr and Bute about what I think he described as the rather heavy charge by the Government Actuary for the work he did. He 1804 did two things. He made a special report in January, 1943, on the suggestion to increase widows' pensions. The charge for that, which I think was not unreasonable, was £84. Then he made a statutory Report which was published in July, 1944, dealing with the quinquennial valuation of the fund. That cost £195. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not think it was unnecessary, because my information is that it was absolutely essential and could not be avoided. If it is agreed, then obviously the next question which arises is whether it was a fair sum to charge.
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
I think the right hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. It has to be done under the Act, I agree, but I think it is quite unnecessary, because it is audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General as well.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I was only trying as best I could to answer the hon. and gallant Gentleman's charge, and the first point which I tried to make was that he said it was unnecessary. I am trying to show that, whilst from one point of view it might be held to be unnecessary because the work did not mean anything, looked at from the Government's point of view, it was an obligation which was laid on the trustees by the Act and was therefore necessary. I would remind the House that this Report did involve a considerable amount of work, and it was undertaken during the war by senior staff, the junior members being away at the front or on work of national importance. We are certain that, although the amount may seem a lot to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, it is, nevertheless, very reasonable indeed in view of the amount of work involved.
I am sorry I have occupied far more time than I intended. I have given to the House what we think is the right approach to this matter. We realise, and I think the whole House realises, that the present rates of benefit are too low and that something should be done to raise them. Although it is for the House to decide, many of us do not agree with the Select Committee's recommendations to lower the contribution and to raise pretty steeply the amount of benefit paid. We do not think that this would be a wise thing to do, and we hope that the House will find some middle course which will be acceptable to all concerned.
§ Mr. Peake (Leeds, North)
We have had from the Financial Secretary a fairly lengthy explanation of the attitude of the Government. I was one of the Members of the Select Committee, which was composed of Members of all parties, many of them very experienced Members, who served under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant). That Select Committee arrived at a unanimous report, and there was no difference of opinion in the Select Committee at all, and I hope that this House, in a purely domestic matter, is not going to be dictated to by the Government Actuary. Our terms of reference were:To examine and report on the financial position of the House of Commons Members' Fund, and to make recommendations with a view to achieving a closer relation between the sums paid into and the payments made out of the said Fund.We had to look at the financial position of the fund, and that is what, in fact, we did. We did not consult the Government Actuary, because we thought his opinion would be of very little value. In the first place, the grants made by the fund are not pensions at all; they are compassionate grants made to persons in need. They are not pensions in any sense of the word. When, in the Government White Paper, pensions are referred to, that is quite the wrong term to use.
We came to the conclusion that the existing conditions should, in general, be maintained, that is to say, that the age of 60 should be a condition of a grant, or, alternatively, if below that age, that the applicant should be incapable, by reason of infirmity, of earning his living. We also adhered in our recommendation to the period of 10 years' service in this House to qualify for a grant. We also made the valuable recommendation, to which the hon. Member for West Willesden referred, that, in applying the tests necessary to establish the means of the applicant, the trustees of the fund should apply the same sort of tests as those applied to ordinary citizens who apply for public relief.
I think that all these recommendations are perfectly reasonable. I confirm the view of the hon. Member for West Willesden, who moved this Motion, that it is quite hopeless to try to get an actuarial calculation of what the liabilities of this fund are going to be. There 1806 are far too many imponderables for that to be capable of assessment. From the previous reports which the Government Actuary has made on this matter, it is perfectly clear that no precise assessment of the future can, in fact, be made. Who, for example, can say how many Members of this House are likely to lose their seats at the next General Election? Who can estimate how many of those hon. Members will be over 60 years of age?
§ Mr. Peake
It is tolerably clear that there will be some 20 or 25 fewer seats under the redistribution; but, after it has been decided how many ex-Members there are going to be, we shall then have to calculate what their ages are, going to be, and then, again, proceed from that point and try to estimate what their means are going to be. It is perfectly clear that no calculations can be made as to what the calls on this fund are going to be in the future. What has, in fact, proved to be the case is that, so far, the income of the fund has exceeded by three or four times its disbursements.
I am quite convinced that it is reasonable to increase the benefit payments in the way proposed by the Committee. The cost of living has increased since the war, and I am quite sure that the figures proposed by the Select Committee are fair and reasonable figures. When we come to the question of contribution, it surely must be right to keep the contribution as low as possible, for this reason, if for no other, than that there are many hon. Members who can never, under any circumstances, qualify for a payment from the fund because they are already in receipt of a pension—it may be a Civil Service pension, an Army pension, or something of that sort—which carries them above the figure of means below which they could make application to the House of Commons Members Fund. As there are some Members who can never, under any circumstances, become a charge upon this fund, it is surely reasonable, in the general interest, to keep the contribution as low as possible.
In arguing the case put forward in the Government White Paper for the much higher rates of contribution suggested by the Government Actuary, the right hon. 1807 Gentleman said that the assumptions of the Select Committee are not accepted by the Government Actuary. But I would say that the assumptions of the Government Actuary are not accepted by the Select Committee. What are the assumptions of the Government Actuary? If hon. Members will look at paragraph 12 of the White Paper, we are told there:It should be explained that throughout his estimates the Government Actuary has adopted the view expressed in the Report of the Departmental Committee of 1937, that in the grant of pensions"—he calls them pensions, which is a completely false assumption—regard should be had to their capital value, the contribution being so fixed as generally to enable the full capital value of each pension to be set aside in the Fund at the time when the pension is awarded.That accounts for the staggering figure, described as the "ultimate fund required," of £150,000, in the sixth column of the table, set out in page 3 of the White Paper. It is envisaged in the Government Actuary's calculations that at the time each pension is granted there should be a sufficient capital sum in the fund to produce interest sufficient to pay a pension for the whole of its duration. I say that is a perfectly fantastic conception, for this reason. Apparently it is anticipated that, at some future date, either the House of Commons may decide that all contributions shall come to an end, or it may be assumed, I suppose as a risk, by the Government Actuary that this country will come under a Fascist or Communist dictatorship, which will prohibit any future contributions by hon. Members to a fund of this character. I say that that is a fantastic assumption. This House is going to continue, and hon. Members will continue to contribute what is necessary from time to time to meet the needs of the Members' Fund. This building up of a huge capital reserve, sufficient to make each pension secure, even if all contributions came to an end in the future, is a fantastic proposition.
We have already got no less than £55,000 in reserve in case the fund should operate at a deficit of a few hundreds, or even a few thousands, for a few years. That fund could be drawn upon until the contributions have been adjusted. It is a fantastic assumption which is made in this White Paper that we have to have a 1808 capital reserve equal to the claims which may become payable by the fund.
§ Mr. Peake
I quite agree. I think it should be absolutely clear also that there is no contribution here from the public funds. This is a domestic matter of the House of Commons. We are so meticulous about this that we do not even allow ourselves to charge the £12 a year as expenses against our Income Tax, as we should do if we made a similar contribution to any charitable fund. We are an autonomous body. This is a House of Commons matter, pure and simple. There is no money from the Exchequer, and the Financial Secretary has no more right to speak in this matter than any other Member of this House.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
Neither has an ex-Financial Secretary.
§ Mr. Peake
I quite agree. I speak as a Member of this House, and also as one who sat on the Select Committee which investigated this matter. I most strongly advise the House to assert itself in this case, and not to be dictated to by the Government Actuary, but to adopt the proposals recommended by the Select Committee.
§ 9.5 P.m.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
I am glad to have an opportunity of taking part in this Debate. If we all followed the practice tonight of declaring an interest, we would all be prefacing our speeches with some remarks about the position in which we are placed vis-a-vis this fund. Of course, it concerns all of us, and my own position is this: I am doing my level best, day by day, month by month and year by year, to disqualify myself from participating in this fund, and I am sure that is the object and desire of most hon. Members.
I well remember the circumstances which I believe were responsible for the setting up of this fund. Those circumstances arose in the great Labour débacle of 1931, when so many Labour Members were defeated at that Election of regrettable memory. I remember the anxiety of those of us who were defeated. Some of us went safely back into jobs which 1809 immediately put us in the same position as we were in when we first came into Parliament. That was my position, thanks to the generous treatment accorded by a private enterprise railway company, and thanks particularly to the excellent relationship between management and staff which enabled those conditions to apply to members of the railway company's staff who had been elected to Parliament. They were allowed to retain their membership of the railway company's superannuation fund, and when the misfortune of political defeat came along they went back to work and were immediately reinstated in the positions which they held prior to their election to Parliament.
One of the assets that I have, and by which I hope to avoid ever becoming a beneficiary of the House of Commons Members' Fund, is my membership of the railway superannuation fund to which I started contributing last century. I feel quite a Methuselah when I recollect that I started contributing to that fund in December, 1900. When the débacle to which I referred took place, and when so many Labour Members were defeated in 1931, quite a number of them found themselves out of employment and with very slender resources. Those of us who were able, tried to assist by putting our hands in our pockets, but we realised that we could not adequately alleviate the position of our unfortunate colleagues who had been defeated. It was heartrending for us who were so anxious to do something for them, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House contributed to the effort that was made at that time to meet the needs of those defeated Members.
I rejoiced when in 1937 there was set up the Select Committee which finally arranged the opening of this fund in 1939. When the fund was set on foot, I remember thinking that on the basis of the contributions at that time—£12 a year—it might have been possible for the benefits to be more generous. That idea has proved correct, because we have built up on the basis of the contributions and withdrawals a surplus which we are now told by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr and Bute, Northern (Sir C. MacAndrew) is in the region of £55,000. I feel, in relation to the proposals from the Select Committee, that a lack of generosity is still shown. I think it is regrettable that there should be any idea at all of cutting down the 1810 contribution of £1 per month. I believe the £12 contribution should stand and that, on the basis of the £12 contribution, there should be an endavour to be more generous than is possible on the contribution of £9. I do not think anyone—especially those who had the experience to which I referred of seeing colleagues in 1931 in such sore straits—would hesitate for a moment to continue paying £12 a year. Indeed, they would be glad to pay a higher contribution if it were necessary, for the sake of colleagues and for the sake of the credit of this House and those who have been Members of it.
The amount given as being attainable in payments to Members could even now be more generous than the Committee set out to achieve. Much has been said about the Actuary's Report and I agree with those who claim that this Report should not be taken too seriously. I know actuaries feel they must base their calculations upon absolute certainties. The only way they can do so in connection with a fund of this kind is by over-estimating to a very great extent indeed. I believe the calculations they have made will be falsified in the event. In any case, even if there were any possibility of the income of the fund not meeting the needs of those who became beneficiaries; this is a live fund and this is a live institution; this is a great human assembly, and when we get together on matters of this kind all party differences disappear and we get down to the needs on a real human basis and are willing to pool our resources in order to deal with a matter of this kind.
I hope it may be possible on the basis of the £12 contribution—which, I think, should be continued and certainly not reduced—to make even better allowances than those proposed by the Select Committee in their Report. After all, these are not days of high purchasing power and the allowances which are proposed are not high, certainly not unduly high for those who have incurred the responsibility of being Members of Parliament and thereby, not through their own seeking, have put themselves in a position which involves expense and commitments and a style of life they would not necessarily adopt if they were merely civilians and not representatives of the public in this House.
Do not let us take the Actuary's Report too seriously. Let us realise that we have 1811 freedom, and can take freedom to keep this fund alive by adding to its resources at any time we wish. I was attracted by the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr and Bute, Northern, that we should provide in the new Act of Parliament which will be necessary in order to change this fund, opportunities of doing that in a more easy way by bringing an affirmative Resolution before the House, and passing it without all the formality of a Bill. I look forward to the day when there will be the possibility of giving a certain minimum payment without any question of a test of need. That would justify those who feel that they are paying something away and getting no personal return. Even if it were only £50 a year to start with, that would pay a golf club contribution, or something of that kind, and be quite useful to Members in their days of retirement. It might be larger than that; a fixed sum that could be drawn without any question of need arising. On top of that, there could be, of course, bigger allowances made for those who proved need. It might also be taken into account that a fund of this kind involves a payment which is in fact a charitable payment, and at least part of it might be reckoned for Income Tax relief.
I want to deal with one point which seems to have been dragged into the Committee's Report by the scruff of the neck. It appears to have no connection with the purpose of the investigation. I refer to paragraph 32, concerning grants to former Members of the House of Commons who become peers. Whoever goes from this House to the House of Lords must necessarily be there for the rest of his life, because one cannot resign from the House of Lords. Once a peer always a peer. In Scotland we talk about "Aince a bailie, aye a bailie," when one becomes a magistrate. It seems, however, to be assumed by the Committee that anyone who goes from this House to the House of Lords goes to a place where there is complete immunity from all worldly ills for ever and ever. It seems to me that anyone going to the House of Lords is just as likely to fall on evil days——
§ Mr. Mathers
I was careful to disclose my interest in this fund, but my interest in it does not extend to any consideration of going to another place though my political opponents continue to prophesy that I shall go along the passage to another place. As a matter of fact, in recent times they have based the bulk of their propaganda and organisation on the supposition that that event is always about to take place. I wish now that I had not been led into that line, Mr. Speaker.
This Members' Fund is intended to maintain, in dignity and decency, one who has ceased to be a Member of the House of Commons. That does not necessarily mean that directly a Member leaves the House of Commons he becomes a beneficiary under the fund. It means that at some time in his life, having qualified by ten years' membership and contributions to the fund and having attained the age of 60, he is entitled, on the basis of need, to be considered for an allowance from the fund. That can happen just as easily to someone who has gone to another place as to someone who has gone out into business. This particular prohibition on hon. Members who go to another place is a flaw in the scheme, and unless some sound explanation can be given for its presence, I must enter a protest against such a provision being included in the rules of the fund, as they will exist after the changes have taken place.
Those are the observations I felt it desirable to make upon this Report and upon the Actuary's Report. I support the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for West Willesden, which is intended to amend the Act in order to extend its scope and to provide for increased payments. I hope that anything in the way of altered contributions, which are also mentioned, will not mean contributions being altered in a downward direction.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
It is a refreshing change for the House to be discussing financial arrangements which make no impact upon the taxpayer, and to have the opportunity, for once, of discussing monetary matters which fall only upon those of us who sit or have sat in this honourable House. The Financial Secretary—who, I am sorry to say, is not here to hear 1813 me say this—seemed to put in the way of the Report of the Select Committee obstacles which had already been removed largely by the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr and Bute, Northern (Sir C. MacAndrew). I thought the objections of the Financial Secretary were met almost entirely by the proposed escalator arrangement. The flexibility of power of the trustees would, surely, be capable of ironing out such changes and circumstances as the right hon. Gentleman indicated.
It so happens that I was a critic of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act, 1939. I thought it was a slipshod Measure, put through the House in a slopshod fashion. For the benefit of hon. Members who were not with us then, I would remind the House that the Committee stage of that Act was taken during an all-night sitting in July, 1939, when the clouds of war were already gathering, and when our minds were fixed upon other matters. Like all business done under those circumstances, the House alternated between the facetious and the irritable. The shaping of the Bill in Committee was not, in my view, performed according to the best traditions of the House. I am very glad, therefore, that a Select Committee has now reviewed the circumstances. We are indebted to the hon. Member for West Willesden and to his colleagues for the amount of work they have done, and for the very concise report which is now before us. For that reason, I support the Motion now before the House, and hope that we shall take the course suggested a little later.
There are two main alterations in the circumstances since the 1939 Act was passed. They have both been referred to earlier. They are the crux of the whole matter; that is the vast alteration in the value of money, and the raising of the salaries of Members of Parliament. These two factors alone make the time appropriate for review. I would join with those who have advised hon. Members not to treat with too much respect the observations of the Government Actuary. I think that he has completely lost sight of a vast number of imponderables, such as the electoral casualties, how many of these casualties will be 60 years of age, and how many of them will have had 10 1814 years' service. I note that in this connection the report of the Government Actuary on 31st March, 1944, contained the surprising information that of those Members sitting in the House at that time, 66 had not disclosed their age—and we did not have many lady Members at that time, That is an additional imponderable, and it shows how badly off for information have been those engaged upon these calculations.
I believe that as the years go by there will be fewer and fewer Members, on whichever side of the House they sit, who will be men of sufficient private means to be able to disinterest themselves in an arrangement of this sort. The financial circumstances under which we live today, the weight of taxation and so on, make it very difficult for a young married man with a small family to burn his financial boats, and to come here, with all the electoral risks he will have to take, knowing that when his Parliamentary career is over, he may have little or nothing to fall back on by way of earning a livelihood. That has been the exception in recent years, but as we go on there will be more and more men of the type we want to see in the House of Commons, that is men in their 30's, who will find these factors preying upon them when they are invited to stand for this House. For that reason, it is of great importance that we should re-examine the whole of this question.
I confess that I find myself in considerable agreement with the view put forward to the Select Committee by the Patronage Secretary on page 15 of their Report. That is the sort of thing we shall have to arrange in the years ahead, but in the meantime we are discussing the fund as it exists today. I am not in agreement with the view of some of my hon. Friends, whose attitude towards this matter is based largely on the fact that they are unlikely to draw anything out of the fund. I think that my noble Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Lord William Scott) expressed views not dissimilar to that, when he gave evidence before the Select Committee. With great respect, I would put two or three considerations before those who have expressed this opinion.
It is not in the spirit of a benevolent fund to look upon it from the point of view of what one will get out of it. A 1815 benevolent fund exists for the purpose of helping those who happen to fall by the wayside. On the Stock Exchange, for instance, we have a benevolent fund; and most of us would be sorry indeed if we were in circumstances that induced us to draw on it. There are many insurances of the same type. I hope I shall never have to draw on my insurance company because my house is burgled or burnt to the ground; but I pay premiums as a precaution against those calamities. There was the war damage insurance we paid during the war. Those of us who were spared having our homes damaged by bombs were delighted—particularly now that we see the delays in making the payments. One pays into these funds not from the point of view of what one is to get out again, but because the funds are a mutual effort to sustain those who may find themselves in difficult circumstances.
There is one aspect of this matter about which I am unhappy, and do not agree with the Select Committee. I do not think that the suggestion made for the support of the widows of hon. Members is at all satisfactory. I think that for the most part it is a rather miserable kind of set-up. The wives of active Members of Parliament for something like five-sixths of the year live in circumstances so nearly akin to widowhood as to be almost indistinguishable from it. That is not a facetious remark: it is a statement of fact. We come here and have the life of the House of Commons; we have enjoyable friendships, and, indeed we have agreeable differences of opinion. They all go to make up the life of a Member of Parliament. His wife, however, for the greater part of the year lives a sort of widowhood, and she really does make no small contribution to the public life of this country—she who sits at home and waits, until the small hours, so often, of the mornings. I do feel that those who are in those circumstances should receive rather special consideration when we are examining this question and adjusting our ideas.
It is not a party question, and I hope it will not be treated as such. Matrimony covers both sides of the House. I do feel that this is a rather particular problem. Some of our wives married us well knowing what they were letting themselves in for—when we were already here. But I 1816 wonder if some of the ladies who are married to hon. Members of this House, if they could have gazed into a crystal and seen what their domestic lives were to be like down the years, would have been lured to the altar at all—at least, by the gentlemen who took them—because their home life is destroyed.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
There is a difference. It is not quite the same for the husbands of lady Members. I am not going to take up time discussing that point. I do think that the provision made here for the widows of Members—£225 a year—with the cost of living as it is, is really a rather miserable little sum, and I hope that the House in future will look in future to that particular aspect of the matter.
I am here to support the hon. Member for West Willesden in the Motion he has placed before us. I believe that, as things are, we should support the Report of the Select Committee, but regard it as an interim one. The whole thing ought to be re-examined, and I hope that legislation will be brought in that will put the matter on a different basis. It is not a very creditable thing for the country that a man who has spent himself in its public affairs ends his days in circumstances hardly different from penury. It is less creditable that the wife who has supported and sustained him through that public life should be left in similar conditions.
§ 9.35 P.m.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
As a Member of the Select Committee, I should like to say a word or two on the Motion before the House, and offer a word of criticism on the Government Actuary's Report, which arrived after the Report of the Select Committee was issued. It appears that the Government Actuary thought in terms of arrivals and non-departures, but everybody eventually arrives at the fund stage. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) has departed, because quite frankly I want to say that many of the things he said had better have been left unsaid. He hinted that the origin of this fund was in the debacle of the Labour Party in 1931, but it says much for the speed of movement in this 1817 House that it was 1939 before anything was done about it. Historically, I think he is all wrong. It is bad to create the impression that this fund had its origin in the poverty of Members of the Labour Party, and it is not true.
I had not attended many sittings of the Select Committee before I realised that much of the written evidence was outside our terms of reference. Some of the more experienced Members of this House, quite legitimately, sent in long detailed statements, and those who consult the Committee's Report will find that the examination of those statements was of a most cursory manner, because the Members of the Committee realised that their terms of reference did not permit discussion of something which would require new legislation, for that is what it amounted to.
If an examination is made of the Report, hon. Members will find that on every third or fourth page it is shown that the fund, in its origin, had no actuarial basis at all. If I might express a hope, it is that it never will have, because the moment a benevolent fund like this is confined within the narrow confines of an actuarial basis, the elasticity, which is absolutely necessary for its administration, goes by the board. My reason for taking part in this discussion tonight is to impress upon the House the necessity of having something done now. The Report should be adopted. It does not prevent lion Members, if they desire to go into the question at large, from doing so, but I am satisfied that there are beneficiaries, and those who will become beneficiaries, living in very straitened circumstances at the moment, for whom nothing can be done until such time as these revised scales have been adopted by this House. Before concluding, I should like to express the hope that the cost of this Government Actuary's Report will not become a charge on the fund. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury is not here, but perhaps the Home Secretary can answer that question.
§ Mr. McKinlay
It was wholly unauthorised by the trustees. If I know anything of this House, 70 per cent. of the membership will never qualify for two-pence out of the fund. They will be denied 1818 it because they have already made provision for themselves, or because their career will be so chequered. I say to the up-and-coming Front Benchers that if they always keep that in their minds, they will develop that modesty which is so essential. We are here today and gone tomorrow. I spent 10 years outside when I left this House in 1931. I well remember the Prime Minister asking me how it felt to be back again after 10 years. I said that it seemed like yesterday because the same people were talking when I came back as were talking when I departed. The fact remains that 10 years is a considerable portion of a person's political life. To hon. Members who lose their seats at the next General Election, it is a certainty that they will have a gap of at least four years. I want the general public to get it into their minds that this is a benevolent act voluntarily undertaken by hon. Members. The money is paid out of their own pockets; there is no contribution from any outside source.
An hon. Member drew attention to the fact that the Committee laid it down that when an hon. Member left this Chamber for another place, he forfeited any right to a claim on the fund. One could say quite facetiously that it served him right for leaving the House of Commons. A certain dignity has to be maintained in another place, and if the peers have indigent peers in their ranks, surely they are in a position to set up a fund similar to this to help, as it were, their rank and file? I hope the House will accept the Select Committee's Report. Should the Government or hon. Members desire this matter to be further explored, let them appoint a Select Committee with wider terms of reference to examine the whole matter.
§ 9.43 P.m.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) and the hon. Member Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) drew the attention of the House and the public to the fact that this is not a pension. There is no doubt that a very considerable body of people believe that Members of Parliament receive a pension. It ought to be made quite clear that we are only helping those who are destitute and that this is purely a benevolent fund. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire said that certain hon. 1819 Members had desired to bring before the Committee some aspects of the fund which the terms of reference precluded the Committee from considering. That was unfortunate. I have had the honour of being a trustee of this fund since the commencement. I opposed the Bill in 1939, but after six months on the Committee, I became fully convinced that the Bill was justified and that the fund met a very definite need. I have been very much impressed throughout the years by the fact that such a considerable number of hon. Members are as destitute as they are when they leave the House.
I endorse what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite), and I hope the time will come when the House will review this subject on a much wider basis. I support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr and Bute, Northern (Sir C. MacAndrew) and the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant).
I hope the Government will accept this Motion, I am quite sure that there can be no controversy in any part of the House about it. I should like to call the attention of the House to the fact that this fund does not meet the situation of a large number of hon. Members today. It has within it an objectionable feature in this means test. Some of us will have read the letter in "The Times" of yesterday by a very old and distinguished Member of this House, Mr. J. R. Clynes. I think some of the statements he makes in that letter go rather further than I would go, but I agree with the point he makes at the end of his letter, that to subject ex-Members of Parliament, some of them men of distinction, to a means test is not justified on the basis of our conception of public life and what sacrifices it entails on a Member of this House. From my eight years as one of the trustees, and having talked over this matter with quite a number of Members who come to me from time to time, I would say that this fund, even under the new suggestion, does not meet the needs of those Members of the House who ought to participate in it.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
As my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury told the House earlier in the 1820 Debate, this matter is left to the decision of the House. The hon. Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) asked me if the Government would accept the Motion. This is not the kind of Motion which the Government can either accept or reject; it is a matter for the House as a whole. No pressure will be put on anybody by the Government to vote one way or the other, and whatever happens on the Motion will be regarded by the Government in the light of the speeches that have been made in the course of the Debate, because quite obviously the Motion is in such terms that it will have to be read in the light of the discussion which took place when it was before the House.
I regret that my right hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) is not in his place at the moment, because I got a surprising confirmation from him with regard to one of the major matters discussed since my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary sat down. He said that actuaries based themselves on absolute certainties. That confirms my view of them, that they are really only respectable bookmakers. All the bookmakers with whom I have had dealings in the course of my experience seem to have based their transactions and prophecies of future events on the theory that everything I fancied must be an absolute certainty, no matter how disastrous the speculation might prove in the course of a few minutes after my investment with them.
The Government would not overstress the findings of the Government Actuary in this matter, but I think it was due to the House that this actuarial calculation and these actuarial comments should be made, and should be placed at the disposal of the House. I rather suspect that if the Government Actuary had not been called in there would have been suggestions this evening that, before we committed ourselves one way or the other to the recommendations of the Select Committee, we should know what some actuary or other thought of them. We have, therefore, placed that information at the disposal of the House. We have listened to what right hon. and hon. Members have had to say about the precise degree to which an actuarial calculation can be made of a fund of this size, in the first place because, as a rule actuaries like to have a very wide field on which to base their calculations and not a fund which at no 1821 time can cater for more than 640, or just over 600, contributors. For what it is worth, the Actuary's opinion has been placed before the House, and we will give due consideration to the criticisms which have been made of it by hon. Members.
It is said that a great deal of the evidence submitted to the Committee was outside the terms of reference and in consequence could not be commented on effectively by the Committee when they had to present their Report to the House. We shall, of course, bear in mind what has been said this evening about the desire for the widest possible reconsideration of the original Act, and see what can be done to give the House, at an appropriate time, an opportunity for considering the whole basis of the matter. I am in the position of most hon. Members who have spoken. My only chance of benefiting from the fund is if the Prudential Insurance Company goes bankrupt. That is one reason why I should have some regard for the remaining fabric of the capitalist structure. I would have thought the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) would have rather welcomed the fact that I have so close an interest in the matter.
§ Mr. Ede
I am like many hon. Members, in 1939 and tonight, who regard this as a matter from which we are unlikely to get any personal benefit. Just as various schools have benefit funds by which past pupils are helped when they fall on needy times, and there are similar voluntary organisations where people are brought into close and intimate association and make similar arrangements, I imagine most of us have felt, since the fund was inaugurated, that this enables us to make a moderate contribution to ensure that the worst evils of poverty—it is little more than that—shall not fall on ex-Members or the widows of ex-Members.
I think the House owes a debt of gratitude to the trustees for the way in which the secrets of the fund have been kept. It was an astonishment to me to be approached by two former colleagues of the House who are very close personal friends. They told me that they had been beneficiaries of the Fund for a certain time. I had never heard a whisper in any corner of the House that these two or any other Members had benefited, 1822 and apart from those two, although I hope that I am a fairly active Member of the House, in close contact with Members of all parties, I do not know the name of any other individual who has at any time benefited from this fund, or whose widow has benefited from it. It is a tribute that should be paid to the trustees that they have managed to conduct these delicate matters in such a way that that information has not been available.
One of the hon. Members who spoke to me has, I suppose through some improvement in his circumstances, just risen above the financial level which enables him to benefit from the fund, and the other gentleman had, I imagine through some lesser improvement, suffered a reduction in the sum allowed to him. The chairman of the fund may, from these particulars, be able to identify the Members, but I am quite sure that, apart from the trustees of the fund, no one else could identify those two Members by the information that I have given. What I have just said lends point to what was said by the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay). It may be desirable, especially in view of the changed value of the limits which were fixed in 1939, that alterations should now be made which will prevent hon. Members who have been in benefit in the past from being removed from benefit at a time when, possibly, their actual circumstances, having regard to the current condition of affairs, entitle them more to consideration than perhaps they were entitled to when they were first made beneficiaries.
There is only one thing I should like to say by way of caution, especially to those who advocate any substantial reduction in the contributions which are paid. I am quite sure that while a person's circumstances remain the same as they were when he was granted a benefit from the fund, that benefit should not be reduced. While the £55,000 remains, that is unlikely, but if we cut our coat too closely according to the cloth we have available, we might be faced with some difficulties of that kind in the future. I desire to assure the House that if the Motion is passed in the terms in which it has been moved, if that is the will of the House—and we neither ask the House to do it or abstain from doing it—the Government will take the Motion 1823 into their serious consideration in the light of the speeches which have been made in its support this evening.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Captain Marsden (Chertsey)
I would like to ask the House to bear in mind how this matter first started. It was really through the then Prime Minister, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, who, under a rather cold exterior, had a very warm heart indeed. But for him, this Act would have never have gone through at that time. Let hon. Members remember how, in spite of long years of Tory misrule, this measure benefited the Members of this House.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Lord William Scott (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
There are one or two points which I should like to be taken into consideration. When this fund was originally started, there was a general belief that the reason why no tax exemption was allowed in this particular case, although it was allowed in the case of nearly everything else that a Member of Parliament compulsorily had to pay, was some possibly ill-chosen words which had been spoken by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. The question ought to be examined whether there is any special reason why this levy should not be free from tax when other less serious contributions which Members must make can be taken into consideration.
We talk about this fund as a benevolent fund. That is what it is, and what it was intended to be. Those who do not hope to benefit from it did hope that it would enable them to be assured that those for whom they care would be looked after by it. I was particularly interested in the case of a lady—I had never actually met her—who was the widow of one of the oldest and most respected Members of this House. We heard that she had been left very badly off and that it was likely that she would get assistance from this fund. It was then discovered that her circumstances placed her just over the limit. If not all, then a great number of Members on this side of the House were then called upon to make a further contribution to enable her to pass over a difficult period. This benevolent fund is not serving the purpose that we were entitled to believe it would serve 1824 if we are called upon to give further contributions to those who are in an unfortunate position. I hope that that aspect will be considered when consideration is given to the question of the benefits and how the different classes will be affected.
That, in the opinion of this House the House of Commons Members' Fund Act, 1939, should be amended in order to extend its scope and to provide for increased payments and altered contributions.