§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.]
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I desire to call the attention of the House to the Report of the Select Committee on Members' Expenses, which was published on 2nd February of this year. I think it right at the beginning of my speech to remind the House of the terms of reference, which were:to consider and report upon the extent to which the Members' Fund fulfils, under present conditions, the purposes for which it was set up, and upon the nature and extent of the expenditure incurred by Members of this House in the performance of their duties and also upon the practice of Commonwealth and Foreign Parliaments for meeting comparable expenditure incurred by their Members in this field.I am sure that I am expressing the feelings of the whole House when I say to the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) how grateful we are to him as Chairman of the Select Committee and to all his colleagues for doing a very difficult job extremely well and with very great efficiency. We note with very great pleasure that the Report which they issued on this very difficult matter of Members' expenses was a unanimous Report, and for that we are very much obliged.
I am sure that the House will bear with me in the difficult task that lies ahead of me for the next 20 minutes or so. My job is to refer to a matter which is personal to us all. When I knew that I was to open this debate, I did some research. I found that of the three major debates that have taken place on this subject, the first, in 1911, was initiated by Mr. David Lloyd George, the second, in 1937, by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, and the third, in 1946, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton). This knowledge is not very helpful to me.
I ask the House to bear with me because this is a House of Commons matter. It is not a party matter. It concerns every one of us in one way or another. At the start, I assure every hon. Member that I do not want to say anything that is offensive to anyone, and that 1440 I do not want to introduce a partisan note into my speech. I hope that in that respect others who take part in the debate will follow my example.
The first part of the Report concerns the Members' Fund. As a Member who is young in years, I am not one who will benefit from the recommendations contained in paragraph 38 (c) of the Committee's Report. The Committee recommends that service below the age of 40 ought not to be reckoned for pension and that no Member should qualify unless he has at least 10 years' service beyond the age of 45. I am 41 and I have been a Member of this House for the past eight years. If this part of the Report were to be accepted, I should lose seven years' membership and only my last year's service would qualify, but I would willingly sacrifice that if I felt that the adoption of this part of the Report would bring benefit to some of the older Members of this House.
It is surely a scandal that there are hon. Members who have given the best years of the latter part of their lives to the service of the House and who probably sacrificed pension rights when they came here but who, when they leave this House because of ill-health or because of the fortunes of a General Election or the action of a Boundary Commission, have to prove what is tantamount to abject poverty before they can apply for benefit from the Fund. I say, very modestly, that I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not here, because I feel that I could appeal to him in this matter. He is perhaps our greatest House of Commons man. He loves this House and all that it means and all its traditions. Whether one differs from him politically or not, one acknowledges that fact. He must be grieved to think that some hon. Members are in this plight. I hope very much that he will use his important influence in this matter.
I say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the House as a whole that if we dismiss this part of the Report and say that we shall not deal with the Members' Fund, the problem will come back again and again until it is finally resolved. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour is here. I am sure that he would agree, and that all parties would say, that it is right and proper that industry should 1441 provide good pension rights to employees. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Labour would do all that they could to encourage that trend in industry, but what a poor example we set in this House in dealing with the problem of older Members when we make certain that they are in abject poverty before they can apply for a grant from the Members' Fund. As a young Member who cannot hope to benefit from this part of the Report at this stage, and in fact would lose by it, I welcome the recommendation very much. I hope that we shall not adopt the attitude that this is not very important. It is important, and the least that we can do is to support our older Members.
The next part of the Report relates to expenses that are paid to Members. It can be rightly said that this Report was a best-seller when it was published. There can be very few Members who have not read it. I say quite frankly that Roger Bannister had nothing on me when it came to obtaining a copy of this Report, because I was so anxious to know what it had done and why. The Report has had a great deal of Press publicity. That is as it should be, because this is a matter that concerns the country as much as it concerns us. In addition, the Report has been mentioned on the radio and on television, and there can hardly be a man or woman in this country who is not informed on the subject.
As to Press reaction, I shall not quarrel with any part of the Press. It has every right to say what it likes. A free Press is one of the essentials of democracy. We have a free Press at liberty to say whatever it wants. Some parts of the Press thought that the Report was very good indeed and that it was high time that what it recommended was carried out. Other parts of the Press did not think very much of it. It thought that these were very poor recommendations.
In spite of the enormous publicity given to this Report, I, and I understand the vast majority of hon. Members, never received a single letter from a constituent expressing an opinion one way or the other. I was told that one hon. Member had received a large postbag on the subject. I approached him and he told me that his total postbag was three, one in favour and two against. Perhaps 1442 that would be a large postbag in comparison with what other hon. Members received. I also attended some public meetings, two of which were of the "Any Questions" type, and I was not asked a single question on the subject. I want to be perfectly fair on this matter, but 1 do make the point that it is usual, when there is great disagreement over a subject among the public, to find it reflected in our postbags.
After the publication of the Report, I took it upon myself to discuss it with many hon. Members on both sides of the House. I propose to deal with what I regard as the four major objections to the Report that I have heard. The first, made by some hon. Members, was that we should not have had a Committee composed of our fellow Members to make these proposals and that the job should have been done by an outside body. Speaking purely for myself, I would have preferred it to have gone to an outside body. The Members of the Select Committee had a very difficult task. Speaking as a trade unionist, and one familiar with trade union negotiations since the age of 14, I feel that one of the things that would have impressed an outside body when considering this matter would have been that part of the terms of reference relating to the practice of Commonwealth and foreign Parliaments. What I think would have impressed an outside body is what is paid to members of other Parliaments.
Comparing like with like, as I think any outside body would have done, and certainly as is done in the trade union movement in trying to arrive at a fair rate for the job, I am convinced that an outside body would have recommended very much higher expenses payments to hon. Members than have been suggested by our Committee. That is only a personal opinion and I may be wrong, but I would remind the House that even if we had had an outside body discussing this matter and coming to conclusions, its report would have come back for consideration on the Floor of this House. We would still have had this debate on the report of an outside committee because, as the Keeper of the Queen's Purse, we would have had to decide whether extra money should be paid to hon. Members for expenses.
1443 The second point is that this is a matter which should not be decided now but should be deferred until after the next General Election. It is said that this Government and this House have no mandate and, therefore, should not implement any increase for hon. Members until the electorate has had a chance of discussing the matter and expressing its views. I can quite understand hon. Members saying that, and I want to call in aid the words of Mr. Neville Chamberlain, when he was Prime Minister in 1937. I shall not bore the House with a long quotation. He was introducing a Motion to increase hon. Members' expenses payments from £400 to £600. At that time there was an Amendment which asked that the matter should be deferred until after the next General Election. I think the House would agree that Mr. Chamberlain's words are pertinent today. He said:… I notice on the Order Paper an Amendment the effect of which would be to postpone the operation of the increased salary until after another General Election. I perfectly understand the feelings which have prompted some of my hon. and right hon. Friends to put their names to an Amendment of that kind, but I am bound to say that I cannot myself see why, if it is right to alter the salary from £400 to £600 because £400 is not enough, it is not right to do it now rather than wait for another two or three years. There is another consideration. Is it really advisable that an issue of this kind, so readily open to misrepresentation, so difficult to consider in a judicial atmosphere, as it ought to be considered, should be decided in the hurly-burly of a General Election?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June. 1937; Vol. 325, c. 1052–53.]The late Mr. Neville Chamberlain, in a very fine speech, dismissed the Amendment, which was put to the vote and heavily defeated.
I think it would be unwise to defer this until after a General Election. In my constituency I understand that at the next General Election I shall have a Liberal and a Conservative opponent. We may well all three agree in our election manifestos to advocate an increase in the payment for Members' expenses. Will the House tell me how the electors of a constituency like mine are supposed to vote when the three candidates all say the same thing? I cannot believe that the people of this country would vote for Brown or Smith merely because he offered his services more cheaply.
1444 Those who advocate that the matter should be left to the electorate do a great injustice to our people. They belittle the intelligence of our people. Our people are an adult people and they understand matters, and at a General Election they expect to be asked to vote on the major issues and the big differences between the great parties. I therefore hope that the suggestion that the matter be deferred until after a General Election will be opposed.
The next point which has been made, and which is important, is that we ought to alter the method of conducting our business in this House before we talk of increasing the payment for expenses. This afternoon we are very much like the members of the Select Committee, as our job is to talk about what we are doing now, not about what may be done tomorrow. It may be that a future Government may decide to set up a Select Committee to consider the way in which the House should conduct its business. The argument may be that there should be many more people doing part-time work. I do not want to quarrel with those who feel that the business of the House should be part-time, but that question is a matter for a future committee to consider, and not a matter on which this Select Committee was asked to express an opinion.
On the question of part-time employment, I would point out that we are a broad section of the community. For example, we have miners here. If there are to be facilities for part-time work for all hon. Members, is the Minister of Works to do something about making a coalmine in Parliament Square? We might have some pithead baths behind Mr. Speaker's Chair. The suggestion is as ludicrous as that. How can one expect a middle-aged miner, who has come into the House on the expression of good will of his people, to follow that employment part-time? The truth is that this House to a very large extent will have to rely on many who in fact give their full time to the House. I am not anxious to get involved in that argument, but that is my personal opinion. It may be that a committee of the future will show how part-time could be done, but we should leave it to that committee and not get bogged down on that question when considering what we should do today.
1445 The last point of substance which I have heard—and it is the biggest point of all—is the question of outside claims; that is to say, that there are certain sections of the community who have a greater claim on the sympathy of this House than can be claimed for ourselves. I come straight to the point because, whatever faults I have, I hope that I do not lack courage. There are the old-age pensioners. I made a speech in this House a few weeks ago in which I said that something should be done for them. I believe that something has to be done for them in the very near future, because their plight is very difficult.
But in every one of these debates—in 1911, in 1937 and in 1946—the same argument was applied: that there were people outside who had a claim to our support and sympathy. Taken to its logical conclusion, that argument would mean that no hon. Member ought to have an increase in his expenses payment until all those outside claims have been met. The answer would be that for payment of hon. Members' expenses no time is the right time.
Again, to take it to its logical conclusion, the trade union movement would have no right to make claims on behalf of its members for increased wages and we would have no right to give judges an increase, no right to apply the Danckwerts award to the doctors or to give retired Army officers an increase. If this House did not give any increase to Members on the basis that people ouside ought to get something, I do not believe that would give any satisfaction to those people.
I cannot believe that any old-age pensioner in my constituency would go to bed tonight feeling happier because his Member of Parliament had not got an increase for expenses. I believe that each and every case has to be argued on its merits. If there were legislation in this House for an increase for the old-age pensioners, there is no hon. Member who would not vote for that, as all of us hope that their claims will be met speedily and soon. But that does not deny the fact that a case has been made for an increase for hon. Members.
Recently we have read in the Press that the Chancellor may suggest a payment to hon. Members for lodgings, that 1446 is to say, for the hotel expenses of hon. Members who, in order to do their Parliamentary business, have to stay at hotels. Let me say this to my hon. Friends who may well benefit from such a suggestion. I am a London Member. I am married and have four children. I will admit freely that were I in the position of some of my hon. Friends who represent provincial constituencies, and had, in addition to my present expenses, to bear the cost of staying at an hotel four nights a week, I should give notice that I would not be standing as a candidate at the next General Election. I beg the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government not to introduce any scheme which would have the effect of discriminating between hon. Members, and I will give my reasons.
I have referred to my own position. It may well be that, although they come to London and have to stay for four nights a week in an hotel, some of my hon. Friends who represent provincial constituencies may be married but have no children. At the end of the week they would be a little better off—not very much—than, say, myself as a London Member.
Then there is the case of other hon. Members representing provincial constituencies who live in London. When I use the word "provincial," I am also, of course, referring to constituencies North of the Border. Those hon. Members cannot afford the expense of keeping two homes; but when they go to their constituencies, as they do regularly, they have to pay hotel expenses, which is also an added burden. I can assure the Chancellor of the Exchequer that by introducing any scheme which would discriminate between one hon. Member and another he would create a great deal of regret and resentment in this House. I understand that the purpose of this debate is to enable the right hon. Gentleman to "collect the voices" and I hope that he will recognise the importance of the point I have just made.
I now wish to refer to the Parliamentary Secretaries, and I call in aid the words of the Leader of the House—I am sorry he has left the Chamber—in a speech in 1946. I have made a number of rough speeches in this House and the right hon. Gentleman, too, has contributed his share, but this speech of his was a good 1447 one. Speaking of junior Ministers, the right hon. Gentleman said:I do not know if it is a matter of general knowledge, but anyhow hon. Gentlemen can take it from some of us who know about these things that there have been, in the course of years, a number of occasions when hon. Members of this House have been proposed by their leaders for office in junior ranks, and found1 themselves unable to accept because they were either professionally engaged or engaged in business, and at the time were perhaps paying for the education of their children, or looking after somebody, or had some family responsibilities. Because of the fact that they would have to take office"—and here the right hon. Gentleman gave figures—and give up all other sources of income, they were unable to contemplate the change."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th May, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 1300–1.]The right hon. Gentleman said that in 1946, and it is equally true today. I think that it ought to be put on record that hon. Gentlemen who accept office make tremendous sacrifices. We ought not to be ashamed of saying it. They have made quite considerable sacrifices, but evidently this House does not recognise that fact too well, and I think that something ought to be done for them.
I do not know the position of Her Majesty's Government in the matter, but I think it would be fair to assume that they may well have difficulty in getting what they regard as their most able men to do the most important work. I was a Parliamentary private secretary to three Ministers in the Labour Government and I know something of the work which falls upon both junior and senior Ministers. It is a full-time job. Having said all those nice things about Parliamentary Secretaries, may I hope that in future I shall obtain from some of them better replies to my letters?
As we all know, the work of a Member of Parliament is not confined to this House. I wish that the Press would be a little more considerate about that, and, on occasions when it has the space to do so, would tell the people in the country that our work is not confined to this House. For most of us the end of the Parliamentary week means the start of our real work outside. When we get what have been described in the Press as the long Recesses—newspapers have a right to describe them as long Recesses— for many of us it means very long and 1448 arduous periods of duty in our constituencies, attending meetings and so on, and doing the work which we could not do while Parliament was sitting. There are not many hon. Members who, for example, can spend the Summer Recess on the south coast of France having a wonderful time. Since I have been a Member of Parliament, a trip to Margate has been as much as I could hope for. These things have all to be said and the position made perfectly clear.
To strike a serious note, one thing about the job of a Member of Parliament which is not often realised is the tremendous sacrifice made so far as family life is concerned. It may be said, "All right, you took the job and you have to put up with it." We all knew the position when we accepted office, but we did so because of our desire to serve the people of this country in what we considered to be the best possible way. However, there is no harm in mentioning that great sacrifices are made by hon. Members in that regard.
When the hurly-burly of the General Election is over and we are returned to this House, we represent all our constituents. We do not discriminate between the people who seek our assistance; we do not ask them what are their politics or their religion. We all know that what might be termed our "case work" has grown tremendously. It may be argued that it is wrong for a Member of Parliament to act as a welfare officer, but for my part I am honoured and glad if I can be of service to ordinary people. I like to think that one great thing about our job is that at times we have the key to open a door which might otherwise be barred to ordinary people. None of us objects to this part of our work; indeed we are glad and anxious to do it.
I wish to pay a tribute to some hon. Members of this House with whom I discussed the Report and who happen to have private incomes, so that they will not be greatly affected. I was impressed by the fact that the majority of them are for this Report one hundred per cent. Their attitude is, "While it will not benefit me particularly, if some of my colleagues are in difficulty—and this Select Committee Report has shown that they are—something should be done for them." I wish to express my thanks to those hon. Members.
1449 There is one other point I wish to make, and in doing so I quote the words of Mr. David Lloyd George, as he then was, who, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1911, introduced the payment of £400 to Members of Parliament. He said:When we offer £400 a year as payment to Members of Parliament it is not a recognition of the magnitude of the service, it is not a remuneration, it is not a recompense, it is not even a salary. It is just an allowance, and I think the minimum allowance, to enable men to come here, men who would render incalculable service to the State, and whom it is an incalculable loss to the State not to have here, but who cannot be here because their means do not allow it. It is purely an allowance to enable us to open the door to great and honourable public service to these men, for whom this country will be all the richer, all the greater, and all the stronger for the unknown vicissitudes which it has to face by having here to aid us by their counsel, by their courage, and by their resource."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th August, 19–11; Vol. XXIX, c. 1383.]I believe that those words were right then, and they are right today. Not one of us here is asking for payment for expenses which would mean that people outside would wish to become Members of Parliament merely because the salary was attractive. That is not what we want.
We set up a Select Committee because many of us were convinced that the expenses which we were getting to do the job for which we had been elected were not enough. The Government generously set up that Committee. The Committee did a fine job of work. It gave a lot of attention to the matter, it had a great number of meetings, and it came to conclusions which are in print for the whole of Britain to see. I believe that we should be lacking courage if we did not admit, frankly, freely and honestly, and tell all our people, that this Report is an honest and honourable Report, and we should not hesitate to apply its implications.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I am sure that whether or not we agree in detail with all that the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, the whole House will be grateful to him for the very fair and temperate manner, and the very entertaining manner, in which he presented the case. He has been very fair indeed, and I shall try at least to follow him in that respect.
1450 The hon. Member said this was not a party matter, and I think that is right. I believe that we shall find in the course of the debate that there is not so much a division of political opinion as a diversity of personal opinion. That was the case in 1911, when this issue was first debated as a matter of principle, and it was the case in 1937, when the increment was agreed.
Since this is a matter of personal opinion, and since personal opinion is inseparable from personal circumstances, I think it is a proper preliminary to declare my interest; and, as one of the professional journalists in the House, I think it is right to admit that among those in the House who seek to combine Parliamentary and professional work, the journalist may be counted among the more fortunate. It is very easy to declare, as a matter of principle, that all back benchers should have interests outside the House, if one happens to be fortunate enough to be able to pursue them; but I most certainly do not say that, nor do I imply it, as a universal rule.
It seems to me that it is healthy that there should be a number of hon. Members here with outside interests, but it is not necessary, nor even desirable, that all should have outside interests. I take the point which the hon. Member for Bermondsey made about the reliance which we put on those Members who can give the whole of their time to the service of this House, particularly in morning Committees, with which we are all acquainted. I am always sorry to hear, and I emphatically reject, the line of those people who say that it is up to Members who come to this place to fend for themselves and provide for themselves or get out. I reject that, and I think I speak for the majority of the House in doing so.
Most of this question centres around those who are wholly, or almost wholly, dependent upon their Parliamentary salaries, and whether or not that salary is adequate to meet their requirements and the proper execution of their duty. The second factor which bears very heavily upon our outlook—and whatever any of us may say, it does bear upon our outlook—is public opinion outside the House. It is much better to be frank about this. After all, public opinion is our business. We are all sensitive to it, whatever we may say in the House. If 1451 we were not sensitive to it, we should not be here.
It is fair to say that if public opinion has not taken an unfavourable attitude to the Report of the Select Committee, it has perhaps taken a less favourable attitude than some hoped before and after the Select Committee reported. It is very difficult to weigh accurately the weight of public opinion on this matter. Certainly there are no party lines. The hon. Member was quite right; I think my own experience is that letters on the subject passing between Members and their constituents have been very few and references to it at public meetings have again been very few.
Nevertheless, I think there is a deep feeling in many quarters which may be expressed in these words, "M.P.S ought not to vote themselves more money." I put it in that sentence. I think it is an expression of public opinion. I do not seek to exaggerate it, but it is there, it is in all our constituencies, and in my opinion it should be respected.
I would go further. I think that if we are concerned, as indeed we all are concerned, with the prestige of this place, we should think not only in terms of whether we may become personally vulnerable but whether we may become collectively less well thought of. That is where public opinion in this matter weighs, and weighs heavily. I confess that this consideration has made it difficult for me, at any rate, to reach a cool judgment on this issue, and I confess that that is why I should be very sorry to see steps taken without a greater effort to win public understanding—to win greater public understanding than there is now—of the problems which are before us.
I am most reluctant to criticise any part of the Report for which the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and his colleagues were responsible. They had a most difficult job—a job which very few of us would have liked to undertake; and I think they produced a very good Report. In any case, it is easy to be wise after the event. But looking back over the rivers of ink which have been spilled since that Report appeared, I am bound to say that I have one regret. This will not meet with the agreement 1452 of all hon. Members, but I will explain why I say it. I regret that the figure of £1,500 was mentioned in that Report, and I will explain exactly why.
There were two figures, to my thinking, of significance in the Report. One was that the average expenses of a Member of Parliament today are £750 a year. The other figure was the recommendation for £1,500 a year. In these matters, the public mind very often has room for only one idea, for one figure; and it is the figure of £1,500 and not the figure of £750 which has become, I think, unfortunately, the talking point in this country. The figure of £750 has been largely ignored and the discussions which I have heard and the discussions which I have seen in the public Press—
§ Mr. Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that this figure of £750 would never have arisen had it not been that large numbers of Members had the means to spend more than their salary so as to enable that average of £750 to be spent?
§ Mr. Deedes
I think that my hon. Friend has a point there, but I do not want to leave the point I am on now, because I go from what I have said to this: the conclusions which led the Select Committee to that figure, and that figure in itself, were to my way of thinking the new and significant features of their Report. They are the features which I think should have been stressed, and which deserve to be stressed, more than they have been stressed. I think we would have found ourselves in less difficulty today had public opinion been focused on that point. We would have been more likely to have aroused a sympathetic echo outside this place to the suggestion which has been made that something should be done.
It is that figure of £750 which I should like to see squarely laid before the bar of public opinion, because there is a certain amount of hypocrisy about considering that figure, there is a certain amount of dodging. I, of course, respect public opinion in what it has said, but let me add this: public opinion has not faced the situation created by that figure and by the Report of the Select Committee upon it. It has not had to do so. It has contented itself with the much simpler task of arguing the merits or demerits of giving a Member of Parliament more or less, £1,500 a year.
1453 Let me say one word more about this problem of £750 as the average expenses of Members. It is a genuine figure as the Select Committee said and as we all know within our personal experience. How has his figure arisen? I believe that it has arisen—and I see no reason why we should sing small about this— because of the amount of work which has now become inseparable from the duties of a Member of Parliament. The halcyon days when this was a club and was treated as a club, when appearances—as the old Division lists show—were usually infrequent and needed to be only infrequent, when a Member, by paying £1,000 a year to his constituency, could get away with one visit there each year —those halcyon days have gone. It is a good thing, too. Just before this debate I was handed a note about a silver porringer in the collection of the plate of a certain borough, which bore this inscription:Presented by Colonel H—, having represented this borough for 25 years in Parliament, and amassed a great fortune.I think that speaks for itself, but happily those days have gone. To my way of thinking, there is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that they have gone. It is nothing which one should regret, least of all the electorate.
The growth, during wartime and in the aftermath, of Government Departments and the dependence of individuals upon them, has opened up, as the hon. Gentleman opposite said, a vast new field of duties for Members of Parliament. I do not like, any more than he does, the term "welfare officer." It is a false term. It is true that a Member of Parliament acts as a liaison between his constituents and Government Departments, and also as a lubricant between his constituents and the very heavy machinery of government. None of us should grudge those duties, the toil which they involve or the toll which they may take of our health. We enjoy doing them, or we should not be here, but the public should not expect the cost of those duties to fall wholly and solely upon Members of Parliament.
The issue is not whether or not Members of Parliament are worth £1,000 or £1,500 more or less. It is not for us to decide what our true worth is now, before or after a General Election. The issue is whether the cost of this profession, as it has now become, should be borne wholly 1454 by Members of Parliament or not, and, if not, whether legitimate expenses should be reimbursed. I can almost hear a voice saying, "Oh, but there are Income Tax allowances." Let us face the point. Let us take a Member of Parliament who receives £1,000 a year, all tax-free; very few of us do, but there may be one or two. Deduct £600—not £750—as the cost of incidental expenses, and the Member is left with—I think it is better to refer to it in terms of pounds per week—the sum of £8 per week. Would anyone argue that that is an adequate salary for a representative in this House?
Of course, there is a certain sensitiveness about expenses. I notice that the point was made by the Select Committee that there should be no privileges for this or any other profession in respect of expenses, but having said that, it is surely not right that this profession should be denied the rights in respect of expenses which other professions enjoy? If I may take one single example in respect of subsistence, there is, in fact, no civil servant, no professional man, no trade unionist for whom it is not proper to charge expenses when he is living away from home on duties incurred in connection with his business.
There will be much argument about what legitimate expenses should be, how they may be incurred, what they should be and into which category they should go. I have no desire to shirk that matter of detail, but, on the other hand, I hope we shall not become involved today in a welter of detail as to exactly how this should be worked out. In this preliminary discussion, I hope we shall not get ourselves bogged down in a welter of Income Tax and expenses law. I have no idea whether it is best to do it individually, collectively or by means of geographical categories, but I do not want to enter into that, because I am anxious that we do not miss the wood for the trees.
It is surely not beyond the wit of man to devise a formula here which is not only just, but which is seen to be just by people outside this House. I hope I may add this. If a formula is discovered, I hope it will be a formula to which all hon. Members will feel they can subscribe, because it would be most damaging to this place if it were to lead to some hon. Members to strike attitudes—no 1455 doubt with the most honourable intentions—or to make themselves different from the rest. That would be invidious and unfortunate, and we should seek to avoid it.
May I add a word or two to what was said by the hon. Gentleman opposite in respect of Ministers, and not only junior Ministers, but Cabinet Ministers as well? I hope that they will be treated with the rest in anything which may be done. It is an absolutely indefensible assumption that Ministers are privileged. They have not got the private means which many of them had in days gone by, and in this field the electors of this country get government on the cheap, and they have done so for a very considerable time.
Mr. Gladstone, who in this matter of public money was the soul of honour, received for the greater part of his career one salary and a half; that is, £7,500 a year, which, by current values, amounted to about £30,000. I am not saying that he did not earn it, but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer draws—and indeed, the first Chancellor of the Exchequer drew— £4,000. After tax is deducted—Surtax and Income Tax—we must subtract the cost of his Parliamentary duties in excess of the £500 which he receives in respect of his Parliamentary salary—which is a maximum of £500. In respect of Parliamentary Secretaries, the same figure applies. [Interruption.]I stand corrected. My right hon. Friend does not even get half his Parliamentary salary as the junior Ministers do. That is absolutely wrong, and quite indefensible. It should be remedied.
I say that, as matters stand, there is hardship here on both sides. I happened to be here in 1937, in a different capacity, when this matter was first discussed. I remember the discussions that took place then, when there was hardship, and how it was remedied. There was hardship in 1937 not only because of the value of the £ and the increased cost of living, but there was hardship principally because then, already, there had begun a fundamental—one might almost say historic— change in the role of a Member of Parliament. The role of a Member of Parliament, from being a sinecure, if they chose to make it so, had become a job of work 1456 without the option, and that process has continued with the years quite relentlessly. Is anybody going to argue that it is now less honourable, less worthy or less dignified than it was before.
I think it is right—and the hon. Gentleman opposite made a point if this—that we should be prepared to make sacrifices in many fields—in time, leisure, family life, recreations, holidays and even professions—all these things—and even to take risks. I must confess that I do not accept what the Select Committee recommended in respect of pensions, but those sacrifices should not entail penury, for two reasons. The first is because for the family man that penury is not a simple, personal sacrifice; it may bear very harshly on what is naturally every father's dearest wish. Secondly, it is detrimental to the efficient conduct of our duties if we are subject to penury and the anxiety which is inseparable from it.
To conclude, I am painfully aware that it is not difficult to stand here and deliver generalisations on this subject. The task of the Government is much harder, and it is fair to remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is the Government who will have to reach the final decision on this matter and who will be ultimately responsible. Those who say that there is no politics in this matter—not necessarily in respect of today's debate only—are deluding themselves. Inevitably, this subject is inseparable from politics. Whatever the solution, this is combustible material, and I should like to be as blunt as was the hon. Gentleman opposite. It is combustible material because we on this side of the House have not done the things which hon. Gentlemen opposite asked us to do. It is as well to face that, and not to delude ourselves by thinking that the circumstances are different.
It is the Government who have the rough end of the stick and the Chancellor of the Exchequer who will have to face it. I am not making heavy weather about it, but it is right gently to remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is so. If the Government care to take action they may well get the gratitude of the Opposition but they will not increase the gratitude of the electors towards them. For a Government with a majority of this kind, it would be a quixotic act. That has to be acknowledged.
The Government have to consider, however, not only their own health but the 1457 health of this assembly. We are living in an iconoclastic age. If the Government decide to take action they will have need of all the help they can get from hon. Members opposite, not only now but afterwards, and both inside and outside this House as well. That will be the test, the acid test, of one of those arts of government which we have for so long taught the world to apply and which we must now teach some of the people of this country more sympathetically to understand.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr.. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
We have had two first-class speeches. I hope that nothing I say will in any way lower the tone of the debate, which may in due course turn out to show the House of Commons at its best.
I agree with the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that it is very difficult indeed to weigh public opinion. Nobody can pretend to do so, and that is why we have General Elections.] have been very surprised at the attitude of some Conservative friends of mine on this subject. Some of them immediately said, "I thoroughly agree with the proposed pensions scheme." I do not propose to speak for too long, but I would give examples that I have come across in my capacity as trustee of the Members' Fund and to give some idea of the results of the poverty of hon. Members.
First I would quote what the Prime Minister said in a statement to this House:There is no doubt … that a number of hon. Members are oppressed by serious difficulties because heavy and necessary expenses absorb so much of the Parliamentary salary.'—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1954; Vol. 526, c. 1151.]In saying that, the Prime Minister has given us the case as to the poverty of some hon. Members, although there are other hon. Members who do not alter their standard of life because they are here. If any hon. Member in this House is in that unfortunate and oppressed situation through no fault of his own-not through gambling or any of the vices which might cause him to be in a state of depression—the position is made out, and it is very serious indeed.
From conversations that I have had with hon. Members, I know that the figure of £5 which the Select Committee 1458 gave as the average that hon. Members had at the end of their week is a good deal too high. It is nothing like that. A large number of Members, as has already been admitted, are in that position. The Select Committee did not dare to publish some of the examples that it came across. It thought the public would not believe the poverty of some hon. Members of this House. I happen to know that a disquieting number of hon. Members on both sides are "subbing" against their next month's salary. That is a shocking situation, and there is no question but that it is true.
There are other hon. Members, and I am one of them, who have been lucky and are lucky now in their financial situation. Some have been lucky or clever in the choice of their parents, others have been lucky or more clever in the choice of wealthy wives. Good luck to them. I am making an appeal to them. I do not say that any of them have taken a difficult attitude on this question, but there is a feeling about that some of those hon. Members oppose the recommendation of the Select Committee which was presided over by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). Let them never forget their luck by birth, marriage or in some other way. Let them acknowledge their luck when they are considering the poverty, difficulty and financial oppression of Parliamentary duties experienced by some of their colleagues in this place.
This Mother of Parliaments may very well be the most influential Parliament in the world, but it must be able to work properly. One of the things about which I think everybody agrees is that it must have a good Opposition. There are probably more hon. Members in the Labour Party who are wholly dependent upon their incomes from this House than there are on the Government side. I remember thinking that, as a leading article in "The Times" said, if there should be an increase in Members' salaries it would make hon. Members a little more dependent on the Whips. My experience in the Select Committee is that the greater the poverty of a Member of Parliament the greater is his dependence upon the Whips.
§ Mr. Bowles
I am glad to get that support. I am sure there must be social and sometimes financial pressure upon hon. Members on the Government side. Hon. Members on that side of the House may feel: "We must be very careful how we behave in this matter. We may damage the party, or we may lose our seats." I have seen hon. Members jump to attention at that, because that is a most natural fear.
The hon. Member for Ashford pointed out that Members who are married and have children are not standing just on their own legs. They have a responsibility to wives and children. People who are Members of Parliament sometimes take on greater financial responsibility. They come to London and perhaps send their children to more expensive schools than they otherwise would have done. They become more dependent than otherwise upon the support of the Whips.
We cannot help it. Those are the facts of life. The longer I remain in this House the less I understand the workings, not of procedure, but of conscience and matters of that kind. Sometimes a Member is asked: "Are you standing at the next Election?" How often the answer is: "I cannot afford to retire." That is a consequence of people being too poor to retire. This place has become a prison for Members like that. They have to stay here, whether they are ill or not, because they cannot afford to retire. The alternative is National Assistance. That is my experience. One hon. Member said that people know what they are in for when they stand for election, but the fact is that the cost of living has increased considerably, and £1,000 in 1946 is now worth £1,500. Therefore, hon. Members will be even less able to retire in 1955—or whenever the next Election is—than they would have been in 1950.
I am very honoured to be a trustee of the Members' Fund, and there one really does see the truth of the situation. I see the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) nodding his assent. His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant), the chief Whip and myself, at our monthly meetings, have dealt with the sad plight of former Members of this House, who were 1460 highly respected and many of whom had been here for years. They have disappeared from the scene, or they have died. We get a tremendous number of these cases to deal with at each meeting, and no hon. Member who has not had the privilege to serve on that Committee has any idea of the terrible situation facing these people.
I think there is no doubt that hon. Members on this side of the House are worse off when they retire than hon. Members opposite. At least, that is the situation at the moment. Perhaps the next Labour Government will put that right. The present position is quite shocking. The information that we get at our monthly meetings about ex-Members or their widows is confidential. We have to apply an annual means test. Mr. Moyes, the Accountant of this House, who is also the Secretary of the Members' Fund Committee, has to ask former Members or their widows every year to fill in questionnaires and say what money they have, how much they have in the Post Office and in National Savings, the value of their house and so on.
Yesterday we had a case—I must not mention names—of a person who had been drawing £89 in National Assistance, and that was stopped last month. He came to us to see whether we could supplement that loss in his income. All that we are entitled to do under the Act which this House passed is to give him £60, so that that person's income has been reduced by £29 because, in a sense, he has come off National Assistance.
We had another case of a former Member of this House—he was a Member for many years—who had made an alteration in his shareholding and he was receiving £30 more a year. The result was that we had to reduce what he was getting because he had been financially clever on the Stock Exchange. If the result of his investment had been the other way, we should have had to give him more. In other words, we are also underwriting the speculation on the Stock Exchange of poor ex-Members of this House. They are certainly poor, or they would not come to us.
In the deliberations of the Select Committee, Mr. Moyes was asked this question by my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach):I do not know whether I can ask this, Mr. Chairman, but would it be right to say 1461 that Members of the Committee and you yourself, Mr. Moyes, find it is a little distasteful?—Well, I do not think so. I think we find it more harrowing.I think I used the word "shocking," but there is no doubt that emotionally the feeling of sadness is quite deep.
I have referred to the devaluation of the £ and I have said that £1,500 now is worth £1,000 a year or two ago. In 1911 the salary was £400 a year. I beg the Chancellor to compare present-day taxation with taxation in 1911, when the salary was £400 a year. A salary of £400 in 1911 is worth about £1,495 today. But it was a great deal more valuable, because in giving these comparable figures I have not taken taxation into account.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ber-mondsey (Mr. Mellish) referred to the question that is asked: "Why cannot Members take part-time work?" Of course they cannot. He also commented that it is silly to talk about having coalmines in New Palace Yard, and so on. Take the case of a train driver. He cannot drive a train for two days a week. He has to do it for 50 weeks a year.
There have been letters and leading articles in "The Times" on this subject, and if the public do not understand the situation, I still blame the newspapers, because I think that if two clever people on "The Times," the editor and the writer of these articles—whether they are two different people or the same person, it does not matter—do not understand the recommendations or if they wilfully distort them, how can the public understand, and how can we weigh public opinion if the public are misled by a responsible newspaper like "The Times"?
We are doing here most responsible work, and it is a public service. There was the suggestion in "The Times" that if the job were made too attractive, people would try to make a career of it. I do not know what is meant by that. Who, when he gets a job worth £1,000 a year in ordinary life, expects to have to pay a third of it away for a secretary, or alternatively has to do all his writing in his own hand and keep no carbon copies? A third of one's salary is immediately spent in that way. Also, there is postage and so on. All these matters are well known. As I have said, the Committee stated that only £5 a week was left to many Members from their 1462 salaries, but I know that there are many cases much worse than that and that the Committee dare not publish those cases.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
There is also this ironical situation, that the more active a Member is the more expenses he is likely to have.
§ Mr. Bowles
My right hon. Friend is usually ahead of me, but on this occasion I have got that point in my notes. I have written down "Poverty prevents activity." Suppose that a Member makes a speech on road safety or mental deficiency or something which appeals to a large number of people not only in his constituency but outside; he gets a large number of letters. He may get 500 letters, which is nothing very much. My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West is one who gets 500 letters. If a Member acknowledges each one, it costs him l½d. each. [Interruption.]Hon. Members opposite look as if they do not acknowledge letters. I am talking of the acknowledgement, the card. It costs 1½d. to send it. Perhaps hon. Members opposite have always put a 2d. stamp on.
The matter is not dealt with in a sausage machine. It is considered, and no doubt hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Lewisham, West (Mr. H. A. Price) and for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), send a considered reply which costs another 2½d. It costs Is. to deal with three letters. If a Member has 500 letters to deal with, it costs him well over £8 and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said, one cannot afford to do that very often. One's Parliamentary activity is restricted by one's financial inability to do the job properly. I think that is shocking.
To my mind, it is wrong that Members should be worried financially. They have enough to worry about preparing speeches and so on. They should not have to worry about the present financial conditions of themselves and their families as well as about old age. I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a man of sympathy in this matter. It is well pointed out in the Select Committee's Report that many Members cannot afford to buy the right food. Good health is very important in this job. These Members are really all the time eating bulk feeder foods—I think that is the term—no filler foods. I gave them up two years 1463 ago, and I had forgotten the terms for them as well as what they taste like. The fact is that those Members are eating badly and their health is affected.
I hope it will be realised that this is a really serious matter. We should stand together in this matter, because all of us owe a duty to the Members who are "oppressed"— I quote the Prime Minister's term—financially by their Parliamentary duties. We also owe it to the dignity of the House.
I support the recommendations of the Select Committee in full. I think I am correct in saying that what the Select Committee implied was that hon. Members of this House ought to have a rise to £1,750. But as is described—I have forgotten whether it is in the part of the Report dealing with salaries or that dealing with non-contributory pensions— the position is that they have only recommended £1,500 with the other £250 going as a contribution to the pensions scheme. Therefore it is not a non-contributory scheme. The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) seems to agree, and he was on the Committee. I am correct, am I?
The point is that this provision of £250 was out of what would have been an annual payment of £1,750. The Committee put the figure at £1,500 and recommended a pension, which can be called non-contributory, but all pensions are contributory. There cannot be such a thing as a non-contributory pension. Anything anybody spends on a contributory pension scheme comes from his employers. Obviously if a man is paid £5 a week and he is asked to pay £1 towards a pension scheme it still comes out of his wages. Under this recommendation the Government would pay £250 to what is called a non-contributory pension scheme and Members would receive a salary of £1,500.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
If I understand the position aright, the Select Committee's report tied together the pensions proposal with the salary proposal, so that each depended upon the other, and it would obviously be quite wrong, from their point of view, to consider whether one recommendation should be followed and not the other, because neither recommendation would have been made in that form but for the assumption that both would be accepted.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
Might I remind the hon. Gentleman that in paragraph 62 of the Select Committee's Report, after the reference to themuch more generous arrangements existing overseas,there comes the phraseconsider that in all the circumstances, and on the understanding that their recommendation, for a pension scheme is definitely linked with it, the increase should be …
§ Mr. Bowles
I am much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. That is what I was trying to explain.
I may perhaps sum up the speech which I have been trying to make by quoting two short letters which I wrote to "The Times," the first one of which they published. I should like to have them both on the record. The first was as follows:In your leading article today on Members' Pay, there is a clear assumption that if the increase in pay and pension proposed were to come into farce it would attract the wrong type of M.P.—a person pursuing politics as a career. It is not easy to become an M.P. The aspirant, against many competitors, has to submit himself to the severe scrutiny of a selection conference."—and I know that there are ex-Members who have been going round the country for a long time trying to get bade—[An HON. MEMBER: "And ex-Ministers."] Yes, and ex-Ministers too—and then if selected, he must be elected by the electors. So do not let us too readily assume that a person's ambition to enter Parliament is almost automatically achieved.Your second objection is that the proposed pension would make Members cling to their seats and could become one of the strongest weapons in the hands of the Whips. Experience has shown that the reverse is the case. I have the honour to be one of the trustees of the Members' Fund and we all come away from each meeting heartbroken by what we hear of ex M.P.s or their widows' financial position. I do beg your readers to bear in mind that after years of service in the House, it is almost impossible to find employment and the poverty of many Members now is one of the Whips' strongest weapons.Surely membership of the House is one of the most honourable ways of serving our fellows. Let the Members be honourably treated.Perhaps I may draw the House's attention to the letter which was not published. 1465 I think it is the better one. "The Times" had a leading article, I think on 8th March, and with it they closed the correspondence. This is what I wrote:Sir,You were good enough to print a letter from me on the 19th February. May I ask that privilege again?In your leading article today you say the voluminous and deeply felt correspondence in 'The Times' shows the real difficulties presented by the Committee's proposals. It was your first leading article which bewildered so many readers by its apparent lack of grasp of the situation which led to this correspondence.Now the financial position of some M.P.s is so bad that the Committee unanimously decided not to give the worst examples for fear the public would disbelieve them, but to give the average income after necessary expenses at £5 per week.That is the average income.Your ready suggestion that the pension problem would be partially solved by M.P.s contributing a little more than the proposed £24 shows you don't appreciate that many just could not do it.There has been much correspondence that some M.P.s don't need the rise.This is a point for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.A means test has been suggested. Direct taxation largely remedies this, A man with £6,000 per annum taxable income paying 9s. Income Tax plus 6s. Surtax would pay back £387 10s. of the proposed £500 rise.I do not think we need concern ourselves too much about that. Those who do not need the money need not draw it. I thought an hon. Member opposite indicated that he did not want to have it, and anyone who wishes to do so can take that stand. Otherwise the Chancellor can take £387 10s. out of the £500 in the case of those with a taxable income of the figure I have stated. To continue my quotation:The main point is that poverty is curbing some M.P.s from giving their best service. If a Member makes a speech,"—this is the point I was making earlier—say on mental deficiency, he might easily receive 500 letters. To acknowledge each costs l½d. and to send a considered reply 2½d. This would cost him over £8 and a great deal of work in giving each case proper attention. He cannot afford to do this very often.You say that the problem of the Member who must maintain two homes can only be met, as at present, by claiming it as an expense against Income Tax. Here is a common sophistry. This expense comes out of his salary and is too often confused with a business man's expense allowance which does not come out of his salary.1466Finally, you suggest a solution might lie in reducing the demands on M.P.s' time. This will not solve the problem of the person whose only possible alternative employment must be a full week's work nearly 12 months a year. Those you obviously have in mind are not miners, engineers, etc. who are the people we should really be thinking about.I am sorry to have occupied the time of the House so long, but I have not spoken here for some time, and I feel very strongly about this matter. I hope that my words will have an effect on the Government and on M.P.s who are wobbling at present on this issue, so that we can, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey said, do this quickly. His arguments about delay seemed to me to be quite right, and I beg hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider them carefully. I hope that I have not lowered the tone of what I have already said promises to be a first-class House of Commons debate. I thank hon. Members for listening to me.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I thought that the Select Committee earned the gratitude of the House by their work. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) opened the debate in a manner which we all commend. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that this is not a party but a personal matter. How do we feel about it as individuals and so far as we take a view about the duties and responsibilities of our fellows in this House?
Obviously we must all declare an interest, but this is such a personal matter that I may be allowed to go on record as answering a question which I know will be asked by many of my constituents and many friends of mine in the ex-Service world. The question is, "Why are you interested in this matter?" I want to say, though I say it with diffidence, that I am not interested to any great extent for myself, because I earn a very good living outside this House. When I entered the House of Commons 30 years ago I had only a very few hundred pounds a year and there were times when I had to bring a sandwich down to the House because I could not afford to pay for dinner. Therefore, I understand both aspects—the aspect of one who does not need a rise and the aspect of one who does.
1467 I have intervened because I am of opinion that a decision should be reached, and should be reached now. I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford that public opinion is not properly guided in this matter. It is the responsibility of older Members of Parliament, of whom I count myself one, to try to help to make understood what we do, how we are placed and what we need. That is my excuse for speaking tonight.
My hon. Friend said that we must heed public opinion. It is my judgment that artisans and working-class people generally, getting good wages and who have had a considerable number of rises in the last few years, do not begrudge their Members of Parliament a rise in their salary or expenses, or whatever one likes to call it. It is my belief that businessmen understand perfectly that the payment here is inadequate for the services that are rendered and in view of the circumstances in which we work.
Who, then, is it who has reacted unfavourably? It is the large group of middle-class and retired people, people whose incomes have been gravely affected by the course of our affairs in the past 10 years, and who are so very much worse off than they were and who naturally blame their Members of Parliament. I do not think that because they feel like that we must accept an abrogation of our duty and responsibility. On the contrary, it lies upon us to explain the matter and to show what should be done, and then to justify what we have supported.
One hon. Member said—and many people outside have said it—that it is not a good thing to vote oneself money. This point has been put in various ways. The implication is that it is bad to vote oneself money; it is something one ought never to do. I fully agree that we ought not to do it if we can possibly help it. Much of our company law and much of our practice in corporations and in public life is based upon the principle that somebody else, not oneself, votes the money.
However, we are in the unfortunate position in which we must either avoid the duty of doing what is right for Parliament or, in doing what is right, we must do something for ourselves. Let it 1468 not be said of us that we are doing this for ourselves. We are doing it for Parliament, because we want this Parliament to work well and we want future Parliaments to work well and to attract people to come to render their various services.
Therefore I say that it is right in all the circumstances that the Commons House of Parliament which controls the nation's finances should make its decision in this matter. It cannot be right that we should decide "no" and wrong that we should decide "yes" unless we decide on the merits. The people who jeer at us because we are voting for ourselves miss the whole point that it is our responsibility. It is one which we cannot escape and which we ought to be willing to undertake.
I do not know what view my constituents will take about this question. I shall report to them as quickly as I can. It is my guess that if the matter is put properly to my constituency by myself, or by the chairman of my association or leading figures there, they will be very willing to pay me £1,500 a year. They might be willing to pay me £2,000 a year. I do not think that they would be so ready to pay that to hon. Gentlemen opposite, but we should not expect that of them.
On the other hand, I am sure that the electors of many constituencies in the valleys of Wales and in West Yorkshire would be only too pleased to increase the pay of their Members of Parliament. Let us not fear an adverse public reaction if only we have the courage to explain the matter properly.
I pass to another form of criticism. In Caxton Hall a few weeks ago I addressed a meeting of 400 or 500 ex-Servicemen, members of the British Legion, gathered for the purpose of hearing an address at the end of their campaign to ask for larger war pensions. I was the speaker. We had questions, and one question I had to answer was, "Would not it be a shame if Members of Parliament voted themselves more money before our war pensions are put up?" I am President of the British Legion, and that was the question I had to answer. Many of us may have to answer it again. Perhaps I shall have to answer it at our annual conference at Whitsuntide.
1469 It seems to me that the answer is that in Britain we have to have a good Parliament which works smoothly and well. We have to have a good judiciary which works smoothly and well and a good Civil Service. We have to have our public servants, wherever they serve in the sphere of public life. We have to make the conditions under which they work such that they will attract the right people to the job in all classes and from all classes, so that it will be possible for these organs of Government to operate properly.
It is just as right that the terms and conditions under which these different folks work shall be properly considered and dealt with on their merits as it is right that a newspaper should raise its price for the issue which it sells to the reader, or that any other commodity or service should be increased in price when the costs which are involved in the production of it go up. Conditions have changed and therefore there is now a case for considering a change in the remuneration, or expenses allowance, of Members of Parliament.
To my mind, it is just as simple as that. If we were to say that those who are responsible for the machinery of Government—Members of Parliament, the judges, the Civil Service and all the rest-were not to be remunerated until this or that class of electors were satisfied, then we should never raise the salary of any of our public servants. It is certain that the voters will never be wholly satisfied. Therefore it seems to me that we must take a view which is different from that of the man who says, "Would not it be a shame if they got their money first?" These are separate and distinct subjects. It may well be a matter for argument whether this or that aspect of our Welfare State should have the highest priority, but the first priority is that the organs of Government should operate properly and efficiently.
The argument about part-time work has been covered by other speakers, and I shall not elaborate on it, except to say that in my opinion the great variety of Members in this House is one of the sources of its strength. That some should devote the whole of their time and studies to Parliamentary matters is a good thing. That others belong to the professions or are in business or local life and earn a 1470 living in some other way is a good thing. That variety should be maintained. We do not want a situation in which we have persons all of one kind or class or from one strata of society devoting all their time to this job. That would be very greatly to weaken the prestige and the representative quality of Parliament.
Though I do not wish to dwell upon the aspect of hardship, it is within my personal knowledge that a great many colleagues—hon. Friends of mine on both sides of the House—have not had the means decently and adequately to do the job which the electors have sent them to do in this House.
I have thought a lot about the variations proposed. I think that the simplest way to do the job is to give the rise which the Select Committee itself suggested. It is justified by the economic facts. It is one of those measures which takes account of all the differences amongst us, because it leaves each of us to spend the money in the way that best helps the job along.
I am sure that it would be a mistake to have Members of Parliament filling in forms, "clocking-in" on the job—coming here because if they did not come on a particular day for a particular hour they would not get so many guineas. That would be to lower their value and the respect in which the House is held, and it would make many of our attendances here quite "phoney" We may as well be honest with our constituents and say that very often we do not stay here when we do not have to. Why should we? He must be a lunatic who does. To have to come to the House and clock in to get a couple of guineas seems to me to be beneath contempt. On the other hand, it is better to have them than to be poor.
It has been suggested that this matter should be referred to the electors. It cannot be referred to the electors. I have thought about that most seriously, because I should have liked to have felt that someone else was to decide it. I do not see how it could be done. If it is left to the next General Election what will happen? There may be one or two—of whom I am one—who would dare to put it in his election address. But why would I dare? Because I have a majority of 17.800.
1471 I would not have put it in my election address 30 years ago when I was fighting for a seat and scraped in by 700 votes. Had I done so I might have lost the odd vote from the odd person. How therefore are we to submit this to the voters? That is quite impossible. We have to face the fact that we must decide this, and we must not be blamed or sneered at for doing what many of us believe to be a proper duty.
The situation of old Members who dare not and cannot retire and who have to bring their harrowing stories to the Members' Private Committee is very serious. I would not rule out the possibility of making some far more generous and properly regulated provision for them. I think also that the Parliamentary Secretaries should be dealt with in this regard, and so should the Ministers. I do not think either are adequately paid.
We in this House are a corporate body. We are not only some 625 individuals, but are part of a House with a tremendous tradition and a tremendous feeling. Men sometimes enter this House determined to pull down its pillars. They do not stay long before they are its strongest supporters. We are like officers at their mess, and there ought to be a degree to which we are thinking and operating and working all for one and one for all. We must have our differences. Outside of those differences we can, from this Mother of Parliaments, make a tremendous contribution to good will, good feeling and good spirit amongst all classes in the community. It is important that we should begin amongst ourselves.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)
I would first like to pay a tribute to the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). I have known him in this House and have noticed that he is a man of exceedingly good taste. Never was that good taste better displayed than this afternoon. I have never heard a speech—delivered in English—of higher quality. I do most heartily congratulate him on his treatment of the theme, the marshalling and presentation on the salient points of his case and upon his general rounding off of a perfect case. He was like an impressario.
I am interested in this subject because I suppose that, in the ordinary way, 1 should be one of the first applicants for 1472 a pension. If it goes by seniority then I come first. I have been in this House now for 32 years. I have lived not with shame but with pride the life of a working man in this Britain of ours. I went to school for the first time 70 years ago last week. I was then two years and 10 months old. Some of us know the circumstances in which sometimes a boy of that age is better out of the house than in it. A brother was due to be born and my mother sent me to school with an elder brother and a sister. I went toddling away with pride to the school 1¼ miles away to start a great scholastic career. I found there a most marvellous teacher, a woman of great kindness and maternal interest.
I remember with almost perfect detail those years before I began my career. I had no intention of going to Parliament. I wanted to go to the Wild West. I had read something about it. I went to school and had my share of boyish adventures. Early in life, however, I started reading, in Welsh, something about men's hopes for human betterment, for a better society and about the part that Parliament must play in bringing those changes about. Practically all my reading was in Welsh. I was about three or four years old when I started these studies, and I have been reinforced in my conviction that, in spite of what has been achieved, there are still victories to be won. The task which lies before us is not only to provide decent social conditions in this wonderful little island in which we live, but to give an example of leadership to the world.
I worked down the pit just over 60 years ago. I have worked for 23 years underground, at home and abroad. I met my opposite numbers from Germany, France, Belgium and Poland, working in the mines in America, and I came to realise that many of them had ideas similar to ours. This is a very hurried sketch of the background of my life. I came here many years afterwards. I know of no place with more generous instincts and broader sympathies than this House of Commons.
I sometimes found strong opposition to changes, even for the better, but circumstances helped to bring about those changes. Whatever people say, we shall never abdicate our claim to having played a great part in bringing about a better standard of life in Britain. I am 1473 very proud to have assisted in a modest way during the 32 years in which I have been a Member. There were one or two years when I took up more columns in HANSARD than anyone else, but speakers were few in those days. I very often talked out of my turn. But I have never had occasion to be more pleased with the tone of the House than I have been today.
I beg my comrades on this side of the House and on the other—hon. Members opposite are my comrades in this respect, because they are all enrolled in our plan for national and world rehabilitation—to take the opportunity of establishing a responsibility to see that the servants of the House are not left neglected and deserted when they have done their work.
I am not worried. I have never worried in my life. I have always had plenty of faith that tomorrow is a better day than today, and the day after will be better still. But although I am not worried I know that many people are not given to so much optimism as the brightest optimist among us. We have to cheer each other up and convince each other that when the time comes both sides of the House must join forces in doing the right thing.
There will be plenty of opportunities to do so, and this is one. This is an occasion when we must all work together. Whether a person comes here young, as I did, or old, as others have, there is nothing wrong in seeing that in days of misfortune, when his luck turns against him, he should have reasonable guarantees of sustenance and support. We are now embarked upon the building of a guaranteed and secure condition of life in the State. It does not matter that I am speaking as one who might be claiming a pension. It will not come for a little while. If my health is maintained I shall not want a pension for a long time, but I do want to urge this pension scheme.
I am, perhaps, one of the most unselfish Members. Despite the poverty with which I have been closely acquainted all my life, I have never wanted for a penny, and I have a faith within me that tells me now, as it always has, that I shall never be in need of a penny. But everybody has not that assurance within him, and unless we follow through the proposal about which we are talking this afternoon, we shall fail to establish a 1474 sense of readiness to provide mutual guarantees in the rest of the country.
The country looks to us for an example. Here is our opportunity. We are to provide pensions for those who have reached the age when they can no longer continue and wish to retire. I shall not bother very much about the conditions, but I am anxious that the House should seize the opportunity which has been offered to it today. There should be no reluctance on the part of anyone to throw his good will and support into this proposal. There should be no difficulty in finding the resources to provide the pensions. There is nothing in the arguments which are based upon the cost of such provisions.
I appeal to the House to accept this proposal, not because I have any personal interest, but because I have been its champion for many years. I felt as strongly about this subject when I gave evidence before the Committee which inquired into it about seven or eight years ago. Let hon. Members read it up. I say nothing today that I did not say then. I am convinced that this House will do credit to itself, and add cubits to its stature and reputation in the eyes of the country and the world if it accepts this proposal.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
I feel privileged to follow the Father of the House, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). I shall refer to the point he made about pensions for ex-Members of Parliament later in my speech. I am sure we all agree that he is not really concerned with the dates at which he will draw a pension.
I ought to declare my interest in the matter. I work in business, outside the House, on a fairly considerable scale, and within my own limits, I believe that I also work on a fairly considerable scale within the House. One thing I do feel is that when a Member is also working outside —whatever work it is—it takes its toll on his health. I have heard it suggested by medical people that 25 years in the House of Commons may knock five or 10 years off a Member's life. That is very difficult to assess, but towards the end of July one begins to see jaded Members, whose interest is lagging. I sometimes wonder if we do not try to do too much, and 1475 whether we should not achieve more if we did less.
A Member dies after putting in 25 years of service to the House. We can be here at 2.30 p.m. the following day and hear pleasant words from Mr. Speaker, and afterwards rarely hear his name mentioned again. It is said that nobody is deader than a dead M.P. A great deal of the work done by Members is not appreciated by the public. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) talked about educating the public. We are rather like other professional people; we provide good material for comedians and others, and we have to take their jibes in good part. Nevertheless, the public do not really understand what our duties are today, or how they have grown in the last 10 years. We have to educate the public in that respect rather more than we have done.
I think the Report of the Select Committee is admirable, and my sympathies are with it, and I think we owe the Committee a debt of gratitude for what it has done, but we must be very careful not to give a wrong impression to the public. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), in a magnificent speech, said there were many pension and wage claims and that there always would be. I think that is the case, but, nevertheless, there is rather more restraint at the present time than for some years. If all those concerned pressed their claims we should be in some difficulty. The case for increasing Members' salaries, or paying them more for their expenses, has to be put to the public, and it has to be well timed, and I am not sure that this is the time to do it.
If it is not well timed we shall arouse indignation, not only amongst old-age pensioners, for instance, but also among many men and women who are earning their daily living. It is easy for us to legislate if we are all agreed about a thing. I think we are all generally agreed that there is a strong case for doing something to assist hon. Members financially, and I think we are all generally agreed that something should be done about that. Therefore, it would be comparatively easy for us to vote ourselves some assistance, but I think all the reasons for that should first be explained to the public. I wonder whether the time for that is now.
1476 I do not want to bring politics into this debate, but nevertheless not long ago, for various reasons, the country was in very straitened circumstances. For various reasons the position has straightened itself out. However, we are not yet out of the wood, and we ought to remember that in considering this question. If we were to carry out all the recommendations of the Select Committee, the cost would not be very great in terms of money today. Indeed, the cost would be comparatively small, but that is not the only consideration, for we have to set an example in this as in other ways, and the public look to Members of Parliament for an example in these matters.
However, I would say a special word about the Parliamentary Secretaries. They have almost the worst deal of all. A Parliamentary Secretary usually takes up his post in the early thirties or middle thirties when he should be on the upgrade in his profession or business. He is probably married and a father, and may be sending his children to a private school. I know some hon. Members who have had to stop sending their children to private schools, who have sold their small cars and taken to bicycling to work, they are so hard up. That is not right.
A Parliamentary Secretary has a heavy responsibility in the House anyhow, but if the senior Minister is in another place his responsibility is much heavier for representing the Ministry in this House. The junior Minister receives £1,500 a year, and the Permanent Secretary receives £4,000 a year, perhaps, and he also has the prospect of a considerable pension, and enjoys continuity in his job, whereas the Parliamentary Secretary not only has much less income from his post, not more than £1,500, but can hope to hold his office for only two or three years, and has no future he can confidently look forward to at all.
I am only thinking aloud, but I should say that a Parliamentary Secretary is worth at least £3,000 per annum and that senior Ministers are worth more than they are getting today. It comes to this. We are getting government on the cheap. We cannot have monarchy on the cheap, and we cannot really have government on the cheap. Other countries are paying more for the government they get 1477 than this country pays for its government. We have to explain all that to the public.
There is no doubt that Private Members have for many years suffered hardships. One can observe the sort of hardships they endure by going into the Tea Room, for instance, or the Dining Room, and observing what they have for their meals. There is no doubt there is real hardship. One may see a Member unpacking sandwiches for his evening meal, and that on a night when he will have to be here until the early hours of the morning. It is just not good enough.
The justification for this case, the arguments for it, could have been made much earlier. The Parliament that was elected in 1935 lasted 10 years, during which a vast increase took place in the cost of living. I had not the honour of being a Member of the House then. There was the advantage, from the point of view of making this case, of a Coalition Government for much of the time. I should have thought that the parties, prior to the 1945 General Election, could have put this case to the public. We cannot go to the public at the next General Election to out bid or under bid each other in our election addresses to get votes. That is out of the question. The way to put the case to the public is this. The parties should state it in their manifestos, and they should say in their manifestos what payments should be made to Members.
I do not believe we can give all that the Select Committee recommends, but I do believe that we can do something to alleviate the hardships that hon. Members have to endure. It would not be for me to name a figure, but, perhaps, such a sum of £250 or £300 a year might be paid to Members to cover their out-of-pocket expenses or in the form of amenities, to tide them over until we have a general revision of our salaries and expenses. In the meantime, let us educate the public in what the Select Committee recommends.
We have the worst facilities of any parliament in the world. Until the rebuilding of the Chamber after the war one had to interview constituents and others on small, narrow benches that I found very uncomfortable, and they were in the Lobbies. One could not possibly run a commercial business like that. If one did 1478 one would very soon find oneself "in the red." That is what would happen if one tried to run a commercial business in the conditions of work of Private Members here. I hope that very shortly we may put up a suitable building for Members where they can do their work during the long hours by day and by night that we are here.
There is no parliament in the world that carries out its duties better than this House carries out its duties, and there is not one in the world that has the traditions that this House has, and I would even say that there is not one that has the spirit of this House. For instance, we quarrel and row with each other across the Floor of the House, saying all sorts of hard things about each other, but outside the Chamber relations are pretty good and tempers aroused inside the Chamber very soon die down—at any rate that is what I find.
There are times, however, when the House has a problem to face, when we are all agreed in general about what should be done to solve it. This is one of those occasions when we ought to be so agreed, and when we ought to be especially careful to do what is right. It is not merely a matter of money. Compared with what we as a nation are spending today, the cost of the proposals is very small.
It must be remembered, however, that we are living in a day of specialists —unfortunately, Specialists are Members of the House and make valuable contributions to our debates on their subjects. We have specialists from the professions and various industries. We have them here because in one sense membership of the House is not a full-time job, and it would be most unfortunate if it became a full-time job, whether we paid £1,500 or £2,000 or £3,000 a year for it. In the long run, the House itself would suffer. We want men from all walks of life—and, it may be, those who have a little money of their own prefer to sit in the Standing Committees in the mornings, although I do not expect many of them do. My point is that we do not want a moulded type of Member. The country would lose by it.
I hope the House will weigh up very carefully the Select Committee's Report, and that we shall do something about it. I should not like to say what. I have 1479 already mentioned a figure. First of all I think the public should understand what is required, and that it would be best if the parties as such stated the case to the public by the means at their disposal, through their literature, and on the radio and television, and in their manifestos, and I hope that the conditions of Members will be improved for the Members of the future.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
I am speaking tonight, not from a party point of view or as the leader of a party, but as a fairly old Member of the House, the runner up to my right hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) as Father of the House. We have had some most remarkable speeches today from both sides of the House, notably by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). We are dealing with a subject of vital importance today, especially when we consider it in relation to the position of democracy in the world. We in this House have a very heavy responsibility.
We have received from this Committee—it has done its work admirably—what amounts to a finding of fact by a very competent and very representative jury who had all the evidence laid before them. In paragraph 52 it is stated:The evidence leaves Your Committee no option but to report that the expenses necessarily entailed by Membership of Parliament are such that the present payment of £1,000 a year is not sufficient to enable Members to meet these expenses and to keep themselves and their families In reasonable circumstances while attending to their extensive Parliamentary duties.That is a finding of fact. We must accept that. It is open to us to consider any alternative proposals, but I think that we have to accept that as a fact.
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) was right to say that we have been slow in these matters. It was a very long time before the first £400 a year was instituted, and it was a very long time before that was brought up in accordance with the cost of living. I came here in 1922 on the £400 a year which had been settled in 1911, and we lived under that until 1937.
§ Mr. Attlee
It dropped to £360. There it was. It was a long time before we got beyond that. Those were pretty hard days. I know how many of our fellow Members suffered as a result of it. I myself found it difficult. I had some private means, as they say, which I watched growing less year by year, but for many years I never went into the Dining Room and had to be content with a House of Commons sausage. It is good that we should all be able to mix in the public rooms of this House. I do not like divisions in which we find one lot hiving off this way and another lot hiving off somewhere else. We have a collective sense in this House.
We made certain changes. I recall very well the changes brought in by Mr. Chamberlain and the changes introduced by my right hon. Friend. It is very interesting to read the speeches on those occasions. I think that the pick of the speeches on the last occasion was that by the present Lord Hailsham, when he was Mr. Quintin Hogg. His speech is worth quoting. He said:There is always a danger in democracy that the two parties abuse each other so much that the general public believes that which is evil which is spoken by both of them, and comes in the end to disregard and despise its democratic institutions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th May, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 1258.]It is important that we should have, if not a good conceit of our individual selves, at least a good conceit of us collectively in this House. We know that our work is important. It is undoubtedly true that the work has increased very much even since I have been in the House. I am one of those who might be called full-time Members of Parliament. I believe that we want a mixture of Members with plenty of outside experience, but we do have a number of Members who give up their whole time to this work. Many of them get no limelight at all. I do not think that the general public realise that Members who are working here full time, for the money they get, often work 16 hours a day. For the last 25 years I have worked on an average 16 hours a day, and sometimes 17 hours, in this House, and it is fairly heavy work.
Another point is that, after all, it is a fairly precarious life. Unless one happens to have a very safe seat one never knows 1481 when it may not end. It is extraordinarily difficult outside certain limited professions and occupations to get any other work. For most kinds of work one has to be there at a certain time regularly. One cannot be regular in this House. One never knows what is going to happen. One may be put on a Committee and so forth. Therefore, the means of external sustentation of the Parliamentary expense allowance is very precarious. All these things ought to be taken into account by the general public.
I should like to say, incidentally, how much I sympathise with what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield about junior Ministers. 1 can remember the time when a junior Minister was not supposed to do anything. He appeared now and again in the House, and perhaps answered a Question, but he was forbidden to answer any supplementary questions. Nowadays the work is so much heavier that he really has to do a great deal of work. If his Minister is any good, he gives the junior Minister a lot of work to do, for that is the only way to train him.
I agree with what has been said, but it is a difficult matter. We had difficulty in the last Parliament in regard to the Whips. We all admire and love our Whips. However, the Whips have to make a sacrifice. Of course, they get a room in which to sit, which is very unusual for a Member of Parliament, but otherwise what do they get? They get more kicks than ha'pence. It may be said that they get honour and glory. The trouble is that honour and glory do not fill a stomach.
All these years we have really been in a period of transition. At one time it was almost axiomatic that a Member had plenty of money, and, therefore, "What did it matter?" As has been said, we got our government on the cheap, just as we used to get our Fighting Services on the cheap. In the Services one was not supposed to have to live on one's pay. Those days have departed. It has been the virtue of this House and of our institutions that we constantly adapt ourselves to new circumstances.
It is interesting to read the very remarkable letter written by Lord Randolph Churchill in 1892 in which he prophesied the rise of the Labour movement and how, if things were done right, 1482 the Labour movement would fit in with our constitution, or otherwise we might have a revolution. It is interesting that even at that time he had voted for payment of Members. Payment of Members has now been accepted, and we are today on not that but the amount.
Looking at the Report, we see that great care has been taken about the amount. Personally, I do not think that £1,500 is too much. When we consider the deductions which have to be made and the expenses which have to be met, I do not think that that is a sum which will attract a person to come into the House merely for financial reasons. That is a delusion. Anyway, if someone does, he will go out again pretty quickly. He will certainly find himself very disappointed with the amount when he discovers what he has to spend.
I entirely agree with what has been said about voluntary service and am in favour of it. However, looking round the House, we see hon. Members who do great service here. They have abilities which might command very high salaries outside. A very great deal of public service and self-sacrifice is entailed on the part of hon. Members. Even if they are paid £1,500 per year, able men and women will be making a sacrifice in the public service.
I should like to say a word or two about pensions, because there is some controversy on that subject. It was suggested that if people had pensions looming in the distance they would be more amenable to the Whips. I do not believe that there is much in that.
It has been said that if Members of Parliament were entitled to pensions they would be less amenable to the Whips. I am one of the few people in this House who is privileged to be entitled to a pension, and I recall very well the third day after I became Prime Minister walking down the stairs of Number 10. As I looked at the picture of Lord Bath, I thought, "I have beaten you anyway; you were only Prime Minister for two' days." I believe that when he retired he did get various pensions, and I thought, "I have got a pension too."
Believe me, as a person who has lived on a precarious salary and on a Parliamentary salary for a number of years, it made me feel much more independent. 1483 and I am convinced that we shall not get numbers of people humbly following the Whips because of the prospect of a pension. It may be that if they are entitled to pensions, the Whips will find them much more obstreperous.
There is, I think, the security which a pension gives. One of the saddest things I have experienced in my time in this House—and I have seen the personnel of this House change pretty often—was having good colleagues of mine, who, I knew, were dying, and who could not leave this House. That is really a terrible thing. Members who should have been resting could do nothing but just sit about and come into vote and nothing else—and that after years of public service.
I think that we should do more for them than we do at the present time. I think that it is due to them. I do not believe that, properly put, we shall find resentment among the body of electors. I have very seldom heard anything about this. I have been in this House white increases have been made, and it has always been open to quite a lot of my constituents to say, "Why should you give Members of Parliament more than we are getting?"
We do not live at the present time in a regime in which we have complete equality all round. If we were to accept the principle that because we cannot do everything we should like at the moment, or do everything which we should like for the old-age pensioners, therefore we must not do anything for a Member of Parliament, that would affect every kind of occupation. When the payment of Members was brought in at £400 a year, the old-age pensioner was getting 5s. a week at the age of 70. That did not seem to deter our predecessors. One could make a pathetic case of that. We have every sympathy with the old-age pensioners, but we really cannot run the whole of society on that basis.
I think that in this case we have to face facts and realise that this place does most important work. Of course, it is easy to laugh at Parliament and Members of Parliament. I have an intense pride in Parliament and in being a Member. I should never be ashamed in the least of meeting any of my constituents and telling 1484 them that I propose to support these proposals, because I think they are right. I have never found my constituents and my friends, however poor, fail to realise that we have to give the man or the woman the rate for the job.
Frankly speaking, what we do for our people in this House of Commons, whether it is by way of amenities, or expenses or pensions, does not really come up to the rate for the job as exemplified in Parliaments of less antiquity and less authority than our own.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I am sure that we all accept the fact that the contributions so far made to this debate have been very impressive, including that made in such a human manner by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.
I come to this Box not to take part in a political debate any more than any of my predecessors in the debate. I have always thought that in my high office the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to be at the service of the House, and it is in that spirit that I propose to make a contribution today. I accept absolutely the view that the dignity of Parliament must be maintained, and I also accept the statements which have been made, which fortunately cannot be verified by exact details, because that would be wrong, of the situation of ordinary Members and of old Members to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.
Indeed, the House may be entertained to hear that I have had more letters asking me not to speak on this occasion from both sides of the House than I have ever had before. I was personally somewhat tempted, because I do not think that it is a very easy debate to take part in, to obey this injunction, but on reflection I thought that the picture, as I shall describe it, would not be complete if I did not take the somewhat unenviable task in this debate of putting some facts before the House.
I undertake to the House that I shall in no way close any door, but if I put facts and schemes and alternatives before the House, hon. Members must do me the justice to realise that I am doing that so as to be at the service of the House, and I am not committing myself today to any of the schemes put forward, nor am I 1485 committing the Government. If I approach this in that way, I may be able to be of some service. I should like to pay tribute to the opening speech of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). The Leader of the Opposition referred to junior Ministers, and I think that he will realise that in my time junior Ministers do most of my work for me, which is very different from the old days when the right hon. Gentleman started his career. With regard to his reference to the Whips, we are delighted to hear that he loves and supports his own Whips, but he has very strange ways of showing his passion.
The other speeches which we have heard, both from this side and from the other side of the House, deserve also a word of appreciation from anybody taking part in this debate. They have hitherto run on very similar lines and had a similar vein going through them. It may well be that in the later part of the debate, particularly if I do not speak too long, there will be an opportunity for other Members to put perhaps a different slant on our affairs. I very much doubt, being closely in touch with hon. Members throughout the House on this matter, if any different spirit will be shown. If any different slant is shown, I think that the House can take it that the spirit is the same. I remind the House that the Government have already stated, in the words of the Prime Minister, that:in the view of Her Majesty's Government, it would not be right, in present circumstances, to proceed in the particular manner recommended by the Select Committee.The Prime Minister continued:There is no doubt that a number of hon. Members are pressed by serious difficulties because heavy and necessary expenses absorb so much of the Parliamentary salary.That we all accept, all feel and all know. The Prime Minister went on to say:The House may wish to consider alternative methods of dealing with this problem."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1954; Vol. 526, c. 1150–51.]My claim of justification for my intervention this afternoon is that hitherto some of these alternative methods have not been put before the House. Although some of them were considered by the Select Committee, there is no reason why someone should not have a shot at an alternative method. At any rate, they 1486 would make a useful contribution to the debate, whatever happens to them, and whatever views hon. Members may take about them.
In this, therefore, I slightly disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who also made so eloquent a contribution to the debate, that it would be wrong to go into details. While I shall not go into much detail, I have already found that if one does not explain how a plan might work, people simply do not understand it and reject it without proper comprehension. If people reject a plan after understanding it, that is quite another matter. This is essentially a matter for the House of Commons as a whole.
I shall not, therefore, go back over the statement already made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the salary, except to say this, which I ought to say if the House and the country are to get a proper assessment of this matter. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) no doubt stated what a great many of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side feel: namely, that the House ought to give an example to the country, that Members of Parliament should not therefore vote themselves an increase in salary, and that there are various interests in the country who would resent such action.
There is no doubt that the question of giving an example to the country and not raising our own salaries at present is held by a large number of Members on this side of the House. Therefore, when we come to our final decision as a House on this matter, it would be wrong that that attitude, which is an honourable one and which I have tested out in frequent conversations with those who hold it, should not be weighed in the balance together with the other arguments which have been put earlier in this debate. Therefore, we are indebted also to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield for putting a point of view which is strongly felt in the House.
My hon. and gallant Friend also referred to the question of putting this matter at the General Election. Again, in answer to the many letters I have received from both sides of the House, I want to give no final view on this, but I will give my own reaction. I have 1487 never liked the idea of this being a matter at the Genera) Election. My hon. and gallant Friend put perfectly sincerely the possibility of an agreement being reached and everybody having it in their election addresses. That may or may not be a possibility.
A humorist, in a letter to me on this subject, said:For goodness sake do not put this off to the next Election, otherwise the House of Commons will insist on an early Election and Her Majesty's Government's beneficent reign may be brought to an end.That particular argument is not weighing with me, since I am well aware of the permanence of Her Majesty's Government.
I shall not, therefore, refer any further to the question of salary, except to remind hon. Members, as was brought out by the hon. Member for Bermond-sey, that when Mr. David Lloyd George originally said remains eternally true. I had the same quotation in my notes, but as the hon. Member gave it I need not detain the House. It was in 1911 that the right hon. Gentleman said that the payment to Members was essentially an allowance. That is really what it is. If we look at the Select Committee's Report, that is brought out most graphically.
It is not really a salary of £1,000 at all. With the occupational expenses removed, it comes to about £250, which is roughly £5 a week. If the ordinary public do not believe this, I ask them to envisage any other career or profession in which the employer does not pay a great many of the expenses for his employees. We have to pay them ourselves. The worst of our job is that not only do we pay our own occupational expenses, but our employer reserves the right to sack us at frequent or infrequent intervals.
And so we really have a very hard job. We have no outlook of continuity, and we never know what we shall have left from those expenses which we must pay. It is wrong for the public not to understand that to run round a large rural constituency or to canvass in an urban constituency, to provide the locomotion for doing so—even if we borrow it from our friends, they probably want something back at some time—or to pay for the telephone and postage, which the 1488 hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) referred to, or to pay for the extra lodging, to which I shall be referring later in one of my alternative suggestions, is a very heavy imposition on the ordinary Member of Parliament and his wife and family.
It was a particularly good thing that reference has been made to the strain which an M.P.'s life imposes on his family, and particularly on his wife. Political wives have a rougher deal than any others. The way they stand up to it is really remarkable. They may want to see more of us—I hope so. At any rate, they very often get left out, and at the functions when we take them with us they are not always so interested as we think they are.
Many hon. Members feel that if we cannot proceed with the recommendations of the Select Committee's Report, some other alleviation is necessary. Before I deal with that, I will deal with the question of the Pension Fund. The Government have had severe difficulty in accepting the recommendations of the Select Committee about the Pension Fund. To begin with, we have not got continuous employment here, for reasons sometimes beyond our control. Secondly, a non-contributory scheme, even if we read the rather vague paragraph 62 of the Select Committee's Report, to which reference has been made, would not, I think, be very well accepted by public opinion, whatever the view of public opinion might be about the case for the salary.
There are many people in the community, for example, living on fixed pensions or savings, and many salaried and self-employed people, quite apart from the great bulk of organised labour, who might not fully understand this move. I suggest to the Members of the Select Committee and to the House as a whole that this matter wants a great deal more attention before the House can accept it. It is a question which is very controversial in the country and is not yet properly worked out.
I have been examining the state of the Members' Fund. The present state of the Fund is some £78,000 in capital, of which about £74,700 is represented in investments. The income comes as from subscriptions to about £7,400, and altogether to £9,800. This is administered with great devotion by certain of our 1489 colleagues in the House, and the hon. Member for Nuneaton has already referred to the harrowing cases with which he and his friends have to deal.
If we have to deal with this matter, I would much rather be brought into a discussion about the present state of the Fund and its future than adhere immediately—or, indeed, as far as I am concerned, at present, at any time—to the proposal made by the Select Committee. But that does not mean that we are not extremely concerned about the position of old and retiring Members.
I have been here only 25 years, which is as nothing compared with the right hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others. It is quite long enough to remember many distinguished personalities, not only on the other side—I would rather not mention names—but on this side of the House, who in their declining years have had literally to be rescued in a manner which was not dignified but which they accepted through sheer need. Therefore, I am not neglecting the position of the old. I am only saying that I do not think we have yet found a solution. If my services can be of any use, I will come into this question and discuss it further.
Now we come to the position of alternative possibilities. The position as I see it is that, after the speeches which have been made, I have no necessity to justify the need for some sort of help. That has been mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister; the Leader of the Opposition referred to paragraph 52 of the Committee's Report, and I think the House can take it for granted, without my detaining hon. Members, that there is a need.
And so we have considered a large number of possible alternatives. I do not want to be dogmatic about any of them, but I will put some of them before the House. A good many of them are known. To be absolutely clear and frank, I must start by saying that any expenses scheme must be a really genuine expenses scheme, otherwise one falls back on the alternative of the salary scheme. So it is no good my putting forward any expenses scheme unless it is related to expenses and would genuinely work. If I did not say that, there might be misunderstanding as to how it would work.
1490 The first possibility is to provide a sum—for the sake of argument, let it be somewhere between £100 and £500 a year—against which each Member would draw, free of tax, reimbursement of necessary expenses on showing that he had actually incurred the sum claimed. That is a straightforward and simple method of providing expenses. If the expenses were less than the maximum, according to our Inland Revenue rules a Member would receive the amount actually spent. If the expenses were more, he would meet the balance from his £1,000 salary, and he could, of course, claim tax relief accordingly as at present.
The effect of that possibility might not be very different from an increase in salary, particularly if the maximum were fixed at a figure which most Members would be able to claim. But it would be founded on a different principle and the House might think that such a scheme would be defensible. In particular everyone will readily realise that many classes of expenses which an hon. Member incurs, for instance, on secretarial help, postage and so on, relate to services which an ordinary employer provides as a matter of course without cost to the employee.
There are various refinements which one could add to this idea, that is, to possibility No. 1. One could say that only certain defined classes of expense would be claimed against this sum, such as secretarial and postage expenses. The advantage of this particular refinement would be that everyone knows that these are the sort of expenses which an M.P. must necessarily incur and which are directly related to the actual carrying out of his duties, as distinct from the expenses he might incur to put himself in a position to carry them out. The amount would be within pretty definable limits, necessarily determined by the job itself and not due to personal choice or the idiosyncrasies of the individual Member. That is a refinement on the first idea.
Another idea would be to provide various services to hon. Members in kind, without charge. One idea which has been canvassed and which I think the Committee looked at is to provide a pool of secretaries for the use of hon. Members. In this hot weather this sounds a cool and attractive idea, but I can assure hon. Members that there would be 1491 formidable difficulties. First, it would necessarily be extravagant, for it would be impossible to provide a service adequate to meet peak demand without a great deal of wasted time when the demand was slack or during the Recesses. The administration of such a scheme would, I think, have to be in the hands of the House, not of the Government, and, therefore, there would have to be negotiations with the authorities here. It would be a troublesome job.
There would also be the difficulties to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield has referred about accommodation. He was quite right to raise the question of the difficulty that we have over accommodation. I certainly have noticed it after the exceptional opportunities I have had of visiting Legislatures in a great many other countries where the physical circumstances are far preferable to what we have here. In America they have secretaries provided and they have more than one room, not like the Whips here all in one room. They also have all sorts of facilities for interviewing people which we have not got.
Another idea is to provide free postage, telephones or telegrams over and above what is now provided. These schemes have been examined on previous occasions and the decision has gone against them. There would be some awkward problems of control in such a scheme. For instance, it would not be reasonable for the taxpayer to pay for a Member to send perhaps scores or hundreds of telegrams to his constituents giving hot news of his achievements in the House. Trunk calls represent another service to which Members might feel tempted to resort a little to freely if they were free.
But the real point about these particular items is that they do not at present represent anything like the heaviest of the necessary expenses which hon. Members incur. If they were provided free they would not alone provide enough relief and certainly not enough to be regarded as a remedy for the present situation.
So I come to the proposal which has been noised abroad, but I do not think has been fully put—the possibility of a subsistence allowance, to which the hon. Member for Bermondsey referred. If we 1492 look at this we must be careful to ensure that it does not mean reimbursement of ordinary living expenses; no one has a right to that; it means an allowance which reimburses a person for extra subsistence to which he is necessarily put in carrying out his duties. There is no doubt that hon. Members do incur such expenses.
A special and distinguishing feature of the M.P.'s job is that it has to be done in two places, Westminster and his constituency. One of these must normally be away from home, so to that extent it means extra subsistence and expense. There is certainly a logical case for a scheme of subsistence allowances, and the advantage of looking at such a scheme is that it would conform to the ordinary common practice in outside employment, namely, in business, in trade union circles, in the Civil Service, where we operate it, and so forth.
On the other hand, when we come to examine the details of such a scheme, it must be to some extent restrictive. I would express the details of such a scheme as follows for the benefit of hon. Members, as this debate was suggested for the purpose of the views of hon. Members being considered. If the Member has a home outside London—and I am coming to the problem of London, which must be met in this scheme if we are sticking to the rigours and the standards I set earlier in my speech—he would be eligible for a night's subsistence allowance for every night spent in London by reason of his Parliamentary duties. If the hon. Member maintains only one home and that home is in London, he would not be eligible for the allowance in respect of nights spent in London, but possibly he would be eligible for the allowance in respect of nights spent in his constituency in pursuance of his Parliamentary duties. We would thus stick to the principle of "home" and "away from home."
§ Mr. Butler
I think I had better finish this part of my speech and then the hon. Member can ask me a question.
Logically, this scheme should not apply to Members for London constitutencies. I purposely said earlier that we should consider expense or subsistence allowances and if I am to put the facts before the House they must be based on some principle. The Member for a constituency 1493 outside London has to attend both in London and in his constituency. This means that he keeps two homes going or he has to stay in an hotel, a club or somewhere else for the night. Whichever he does, he is clearly incurring extra necessary subsistence expenses either in London or in his constituency.
To preserve the symmetry in the case of a Member for a London constituency, the job does not require him to attend in two places but in one only. It does not require him to be away from his base on duty, and, therefore, does not involve him in much extra subsistence allowance, although it may involve him in a bit. A scheme based on the subsistence principle, if it is genuinely worked out, and if there be a feeling in the House that it is worth while to pursue it, ought to give less to the London M.P. than to others.
§ Mr. Mellish
As a London Member I should like to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should remember that, because the London Member's constituency is nearer to this House than are the constituencies of other hon. Members, he is likely to have more constituents coming to him at the House, which in itself involves extra expense.
§ Mr. Butler
Looking at the permutations and combinations of every scheme known to me, I reject the idea that the London M.P. has no extra expenses, but if such a scheme as I have suggested is introduced, based on the ordinary practice of trade unions and of business, we will have to make a differentiation between the allowance for a London Member and that for a Member from outside London. I do not want to go into the detail of defining the London area either in the terms used by the Inland Revenue or in some other terms.
But hon. Members might want a picture of the sort of amount involved. The only guide that I can give on this subject without going into the matter in great detail and producing an actual scheme, which I am not doing, is the sort of level allowed for civil servants and Ministers when they are away for the night. This is of the order of £2 a night. This could be drawn from the Fees Office by hon. Members in respect of such nights as they necessarily spend away from their homes by reason of their Parliamentary duties. It is impossible to give an actual assessment of what this would come to, but in 1494 order to save hon. Members mathematical calculations, and to relieve them of any anxiety in working this out, if it is a case of Parliament meeting 30 weeks in the year, it would come to between £200 and £300 a year.
I have heard of objections made to the possibility of clocking in, one of which has been referred to in this debate. I would not suggest any such rigorous method, and I would base the allowance on ordinary business and trade union practice, with hon. Members drawing it from the Fees Office, if there were general feeling amongst hon. Members that such a scheme was possible.
I want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that an advantage of a scheme of this kind—some of the disadvantages must be obvious to those listening to me—is that it would be entirely optional. If there are hon. Members amongst us, of whom I know many, who have a conscience in this matter and do not want to draw a salary or any more expenses; or if there are hon. Members who do not need by their circumstances to draw any more money, they need not do so, and it would be possible for hon. Members who are eligible to draw this if they so desire. Each individual Member of Parliament could decide on his own, if such a scheme were introduced, whether he wanted the allowance or not. As far as I am aware, this is the first time that the scheme has been put forward with its possible scope and implications. As this debate is designed to obtain reactions, we must now see how this would be received by hon. Members.
I must detain the House for two minutes to deal with the expenses question, because it is deceiving hon. Members to talk about a rise in salary, or about a subsistence allowance, if they are not told clearly how much the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take back from them at the end, and how much they will get eventually. Looking at expenses, we have to fit this scheme into the present method by which hon. Members claim expenses. At present expenses necessarily incurred by hon. Members are claimed and allowed for tax relief against their Parliamentary salary. All the various proposals I have outlined for relief of expenses, of which I have given several possibilities including the last one on subsistence, or of contributing towards 1495 expenses incurred, have this in common: They provide a benefit which does not attract tax. On the other hand, they would have to be taken as reducing the amount which can at present be claimed for tax relief as expenses incurred out of the Parliamentary salary.
I want hon. Members to know this in the Chamber—not to talk about it outside and say that they did not get an answer—so that they have the scheme before them in its entirety. This is important when we want to consider the actual net benefit to hon. Members, and how it would vary according to the private means of the hon. Member concerned.
Shortening it, it would come to this, that for every additional £100 under any new proposal which an hon. Member might receive by way of contribution towards expenses, £100 of the Members' salary, which previously had been devoted to expenses, would then fall to be treated as salary. This is, alas, a salary subject to tax and the net benefit in the ordinary case would therefore for each unit of £100 be £100 after deduction of tax. The result would be that a poorer man, a family man in particular, who would not pay much tax on this, would get a much greater benefit from this suggestion than a richer man who would really get not very much out of it. That point has already been put by one hon. Member, but I wanted to make it absolutely clear in working out the result of the scheme.
So it is worth while hon. Members looking at these alternatives and reflecting that the last one could, in the case of an hon. Member honestly in need, and in the case particularly of an hon. Member with a family, result in a considerable extra allowance, amounting in fact to almost as much as that which has been proposed in other directions.
I conclude by saying that these are the sort of alternative methods and ideas—by no means comprehensive and conclusive because I do not want to detain the House too long this evening—which the Government have been considering. Some have attractions and some have drawbacks and disadvantages. We shall have to take the final decision on this matter in the light of views expressed by hon. Members themselves and also of 1496 public opinion, which is sensitive to this issue and which no hon. Member would be wise to neglect. I do not say that an hon. Member would be wise to give way to public opinion, because I suppose we never do that as politicians; we stand up for our views and are as strenuous and rigorous in our attention to them as possible. But we have to take into account the good name of the Mother of Parliaments and of the House of Commons as a result of the joint action we may decide to take.
In this short speech I have not said anything about Under-Secretaries or about Ministers, because I think they will have to be brought in on another occasion. I will only say that it is crystal clear that the case of the Under-Secretaries needs very early attention. They are neither being paid enough nor are they getting adequate attention for their expenses. In the case of many Ministers of State, they are actually getting more by the combination of half their salary as a Member of Parliament than the Cabinet Ministers, who are so vastly superior to them in every way.
§ Mr. Butler
I certainly could not make them retrospective to a previous Administration, and I doubt if they could be made retrospective to the present one. I say nothing about Cabinet Ministers. The problems of the Under-Secretaries and the Ministers of State are those to which the House will have to give attention and which are having my constant attention.
I have purposely responded to my correspondents who wrote to me before I rose that I was not to come to a final conclusion, that I was to put myself at the service of the House, and that I was to put forward alternative methods for their consideration. That I have done. The Government will most carefully weigh the sober and impressive and human contributions made by our colleagues in this House, and we sincerely hope that the problem may be solved in the interests of the good name of Parliament, in the present circumstances, and in the name of the democracy which we all serve.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
I am glad that the Chancellor did not say that he was committed to any particular scheme and that he will keep an open mind on this issue. However, I hope that after he hears the arguments lie will reject a scheme which will give subsistence allowance to hon. Members who may be residing in their constituencies or in London. I am in a fortunate position in having a constituency which is also a beauty spot, so if I proposed having a holiday in my constituency, I can see how, if such a scheme were adopted, it would be open to abuse. I hope that the Chancellor will consider carefully the arguments put today.
I agree with so much of what has been said by previous speakers that I trust that my speech will follow the precedent that has been set. This is a House of Commons matter and we must consider what is good in the light of the House of Commons, what is in the best interests of our colleagues and what, in the end, affects the good of the nation.
I want to compliment the Select Committee, because I believe it has sifted the evidence and has presented the facts. If I may introduce one slight personal note, I have had three professions. I drifted into the scholastic profession, I was a soldier by force of necessity, and I chose a political life voluntarily.
In a sense I am a full-time politician. I make no apologies for that. I am proud to be a Member of this House. I am proud to be a full-time politician. I am unable to follow my earlier profession because I could not now teach full time in a school in any part of the country. Therefore, in a sense because of necessity, I am a full-time politician. Because of my experience here I hope I shall always have the privilege of being a full-time politician and not have to seek work outside to bring me extra financial assistance to enable me to do my job in the House.
This is a matter which goes beyond our own personal experience. It is something which affects the efficiency of the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) has written a book, entitled "Government and Parliament." 1498 He has been called "a modern Bagehot with a quiff" and he says that there is a great danger—