HC Deb 09 July 1957 vol 573 cc217-26

Order for Second Reading read.

4.11 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to change the salaries of certain Ministers and to give effect to what the Prime Minister announced on Thursday last. Later today the House will be discussing that part of the proposals which relates to Members of the House and of another place. I shall confine myself to the ministerial side, with which the Bill deals.

The pattern of ministerial salaries was laid down in the Ministers of the Crown Act, 1937 and modified by the Ministerial Salaries Act, 1946. For the first time, in 1937, in a Bill the pattern of salaries was comprehensively laid down, for the Prime Minister at £10,000, for Ministers of Cabinet rank at £5,000, for other Ministers at £3,000, for Parliamentary Secretaries at £1,500 and for junior Lords of the Treasury at £1,000. Those salaries had themselves been determined many years earlier. It was in 1851 that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury had his salary —on a reduction at that time, curiously enough—fixed at £2,000 and in 1831 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary's salary was fixed at £1,500, so that there has certainly been an element of stability to those figures.

Obviously, they are worth very much less than when they were originally granted. I have been answering a number of Questions in recent months showing £3,000, or £2,000, or £1,500 would he worth now compared with 1937. On the basis of a married man with two children, the Answers were £815, £661 and £574, after allowing for £500 of Parliamentary salary which was drawn by junior Ministers. I do not think that I need elaborate that point. The House and the country are probably prepared to accept the case for some increase in Ministerial salaries as proven. All I need to do is to explain the precise provisions of the Bill.

The arrangements proposed are that a Minister at £3,000 should have his salary increased by £750. The only point I need make here is that it is proposed that the Financial and Economic Secretaries to the Treasury should be raised to the same salary level as a Minister of State. I think that that will probably be acceptable to the House. Successive Chancellors of the Exchequer, if they were to do their job efficiently, of necessity have had to put a very large amount of work on the other Ministers in the Treasury and the work and the responsibility of the work justifies their being elevated in this way. Parliamentary Secretaries at £1,500 and other holders of office at £1,200 or £1,000 a year all receive £1,000 increase. The changes are effective from 1st July.

Clause 1 of the Bill authorises the salary changes. Clause 2 relates to the amount of parliamentary pay to be drawn by Ministers. The Act of 1937 barred Ministers from drawing any salary as a Member of Parliament. That bar was eased to some extent by the Act of 1946, which allowed a junior Minister to draw £500 a year of his parliamentary salary. All the Bill does is to remove the bar altogether so that we might decide that when we discuss the Resolution dealing with the salary of Members of Parliament, which we are to do later this afternoon. That does not need to be pursued further in the context of the Bill. In future it will no longer be fixed by Statute.

Clause 3 deals with the case of Ministers who may suffer accident or other risks arising from their duties. It has long been the practice to compensate servants of the Crown whose capacity has been impaired by injury or disease suffered in the discharge of their duties. As the House will recall, that is done under the Injury Warrant in Section 41 of the Superannuation Act, 1949, and it has always been a little incongruous that among the servants of the Crown Ministers have not been included.

Under these arrangements, they will be treated precisely upon the same basis as any other servant of the Crown. That is to say, if they suffer an injury or disease in the discharge of their duties, they will get the same compensation as other servants of the Crown, although, of course, not if they are merely about their own private business. Although it is outside the context of the Bill, when we are considering the position of Ministers of the Crown, I should mention that we have been giving some thought to what might be done for Members of Parliament in the same position.

It looks as though a scheme can be devised which would cover Members of the House when they were travelling on the business of the House—again, like Ministers, not on their private business or discharging their duties in their constituencies, but when travelling, as Members very often do, either in this country or abroad, by air or other means. It looks as though it may well be possible to devise some insurance cover for them in matters of that kind. I mention it a little outside the context of the Bill, but simply to show that while considering the position of Ministers, we have also been considering the position of ordinary Members of the House at the same time.

Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)

Is there any possibility of making any coverage retrospective?

Mr. Thorneycroft

No, Sir. I do not think that it is possible to make it retrospective, but if the hon. Member has a case in mind perhaps he would like to talk to me about it.

Those are the purposes of the Bill, that the salaries of Ministers of State shall be increased by £750, that Ministers of a salary ranking below that—that is, Parliamentary Secretaries, Government Whips and junior Lords of the Treasury—shall have their salaries increased by £1,000, that the question of the extent to which a Minister should draw his parliamentary salary in his capacity as a Member of Parliament—for he still remains that and has his duties to perform—should no longer be governed by Statute, but by Resolution of the House, with which we can deal a little later, and that Ministers of the Crown should be treated like other Crown servants if they suffer accident or injury in the discharge of their duties.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)

I think that the Chancellor has adequately and amply commended the Bill to the House, and that he can be assured that it will be well received in all parts of the Chamber. What is being done for junior Ministers generally is something which has long been conceded as necessary, and I am sure that none of us wants to see an able Member, in any party, feeling that he has to turn down junior ministerial office on grounds which we have reason to think have been all too familiar in the past.

I should have thought that the elevation of the positions of Economic Secretary and Financial Secretary to the level of Minister of State was highly reason able. That does not involve any commentary on the adequacy or otherwise of the present incumbents of those offices, and certainly nothing I say in referring to that should be taken as implying any comments either way. The position is undoubtedly one of very considerable responsibility, and I do not think that there is any doubt that, in terms of their duties, they have been undergraded, so far as finance is any guide, compared, for instance, with the Minister of State, Board of Trade, and the numerous Ministers of State at the Foreign Office.

Until 1946, for example—indeed, until the present Government came into power —the Secretary of State for Overseas Trade was financially on the same basis as the Financial Secretary. Since 1952, of course, we have had the Minister of State, Board of Trade doing very largely the work of the former Secretary for Overseas Trade, and it has been anomalous that the Economic Secretary and the Financial Secretary—whose duties are, if anything, even more considerable—should have been on a lower grade. We certainly welcome that provision.

Again, I should have thought that most people would consider the parliamentary allowance to senior Ministers to be fair. It has always seemed to me a gross anomaly that a Minister who is a Member of the House not only received no additional parliamentary remuneration but was not allowed to offset against his ministerial salary a single penny of his expenditure in the fufilment of his parliamentary duties, and some of those, perhaps professional or business people in the country who may have been a little critical of this proposal would be astounded if they themselves were treated in the same way.

It is a fact, of course, that nobody can be a Minister unless he is either a Member of this House or a Member of another place. The number of Members of another place who can be Ministers is, fortunately, limited by Statute. Therefore, by far the larger number of Ministers must be Members of this House. It seems quite wrong that the essential expenditure that they have to incur in being Members of this House, whether on postage to their constituents, travelling in their constituencies, or all the other expenses with which hon. Members are so familiar, should be a deduction from the ministerial salary, because the ministerial salary could not continue if those drawing it ceased to be Members of the House.

There is one point at which I hope the Chancellor will look again between now and the Committee stage of the Bill. Many people think it rather anomalous that, in this present day and age, there should be in the list of Ministers printed in the beginning of every volume of HANSARD, and elsewhere, the rather anomalous and, perhaps, unhappy creatures, the Assistant Whips, unpaid. I think that it is wrong that these members of the rather grim and silent service which all of us know so well—silent, I should say, so far as their parliamentary performances are concerned—should not be included in the list of paid Ministers.

I wonder whether it might be possible for the Chancellor to think about this before we reach the Committee stage and, perhaps, take soundings about it in various parts of the House. There seems to be gross discrimination between Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, who are paid, and the Assistant Whips—of whom there are, I believe, four at present. Again, I say this without reference to the present incumbents because, quite frankly, when I look at the Front Bench opposite I do not know which are Lords Commissioners of the Treasury and which are Assistant Whips.

The right hon. Gentleman referred —again, I am sure, with the approval of the whole House—to the provision to extend to Ministers the arrangements already made for compensation or insurance of Crown servants in respect of death, injury, accident or disease in the fulfilment of their duties. This Bill limits the provisions to which the Chancellor referred to persons holding office in Her Majesty's Government as it applies to persons employed in a civil capacity for the purpose of that Government.

The right hon. Gentleman appeared to answer the anxiety of a number of hon. Members when he said that consideration had been given to the extension of this provision to hon. Members who are not Ministers. I would take it that when he referred to this he had in mind hon. Members travelling, for instance, on the work of this House—Select Committees, hon. Members travelling to the Council of Europe, or travelling under the aegis of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, or of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I do not know whether or not he had this in mind, but I hope that he will tell us.

I hope that he will also tell us whether he is considering journeys which have recently been very much in mind, where hon. Members, on the invitation of the Government, travel abroad—sometimes with Service facilities—to see the work of the Services abroad. The Chancellor said that it was very much in mind, but I was not sure whether he meant there was to be an Amendment introduced later this week—whether other legislation will be necessary, or whether it can be done without legislation. I gather from his indication that it can be done without legislation.

I hope that it will be possible to make a full statement about that, because I am sure that all hon. Members will want to know exactly what kind of journeys will be covered. Subject to that, I am sure that the whole House will want to endorse the Second Reading of this Bill.

4.27 p.m.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

This Bill is called the Ministerial Salaries Bill. On the back appear the names of four Ministers, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Financial Secretary. Before reading the Bill, one would have thought, in view of its title and of the names of those who back it, that it might, perhaps, deal with more than one of those four. In fact, as far as I can see, it makes no provision for the raising of the salary of the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Home Secretary, who are now sitting in front of me. I would like to ask, "Why not?"

It seems to me quite wrong that when servants of the Crown are to be rewarded according to the weight of responsibility they bear, these very responsible posts, held by such important people who, from time to time, have to give orders to people under them who are paid far more than they under the new regulations relating to the permanent Civil Service, should not carry increased salaries. I simply cannot see why their salaries should not be increased to keep them in harmony with the rest of the scale of public servants all round.

We have, rightly, approved the raising of the salaries of judges. We have only today approved of the raising of the salary of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Some time ago, the salaries of the higher civil servants were raised, and under my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer there are many men who are paid far more than he. What is the reason for this, other than modesty—and, I suggest, really a false modesty? If, in fact, power and responsibility are regarded in this world, as they still are, according to the way in which people are remunerated, and if Ministers are serving the Queen, as they all are, why should not their greater responsibility and power be acknowledged without this modesty which, I suggest again, is really false?

4.29 p.m.

Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)

I want to endorse what has just been said by the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) and to add this. An anomaly in the which has not been mentioned before is that relating to the expenses of Ministers in the discharge of their ministerial duties. I know that they have expenses as hon. Members, and that they also have expenses in relation to their ministerial duties. Each of the Government Departments has a small hospitality fund available for the Ministers of the Crown, but those funds are so small that they are really of no practical value to the Minister in the discharge of his duties. Very often when a Minister has to entertain somebody in his official capacity he has to do it out of his own pocket. In no other walk of life would such a thing have to happen. There is no provision either through Income Tax rebates, or in the Bill, to correct that.

A number of right hon. Gentlemen have to travel about this country in the discharge of their duties. They have a limited and very modest scale available for them. They have their train fares paid, and I think that they have a certain per diem allowance, but that very often does not meet the expenses entailed when they travel about the country. That ought to be put right, and I join with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) in saying that this is a question of priorities affecting our public servants.

The Prime Minister, in his announcement the other day, referred to the chairmen of the nationalised boards, and although that reference is beyond the context of the Bill, it is, nevertheless, relevant to the whole problem of the remuneration of our senior public servants. I know of a chief technical officer of a regional authority of a nationalised industry who was promoted to the deputy-chairmanship of his board. Thereby he had to lose £2,000 per annum— because of the promotion he received. I think that we have to get our priorities right as they affect our senior public servants.

In the Communist countries they have this sense of priority aright, and they are prepared much more readily to pay the rate for the job. [An HON. MEMBER: "Danger money."] It is one of the few things they have got right.

Mr. H. Wilson

Can my hon. Friend say whether there is compensation for loss of office as well?

Mr. Donnelly

No. Nor is there compensation for injury in the course of office.

However, the practical matter is that we ought to have a system whereby people who accept office are, at the end of their period of office, personally no poorer as the result of their service to the community. We ought to aim at that, and I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look again at this question of the expenses of Ministers in the discharge of their ministerial functions.

4.32 p.m.

Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

I would emphasise some words spoken just now by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) on the question of junior Whips. I do not think that many hon. Members realise that there is a large degree of sacrifice involved in the work of unpaid junior Whips. I think I am right in saying that there are four or five junior Lords of the Treasury and three Members of this House who are also members of Her Majesty's Household, and then there are three or four unpaid Whips, whose work is just as important, and whose silence in the House makes life for them sometimes intolerable.

Nevertheless, their function is most important. I cannot believe that it is beyond possibility to find some other sinecure jobs for them which would just as well enable them to be Assistant Whips. In their present posts they do no scrutinising for the Treasury at all. There is only one member of Her Majesty's Household of those three who does a job, and he is the Vice-Chamberlain, and I shall have a word to say about him in a moment. I think that the situation should be reconsidered, to see whether the unpaid junior Whips ought not to receive some sort of financial help.

As I say, the Vice-Chamberlain of the Household is the only one of the three members of the Household who is also a Member of this House who does a job at all, and it is a very hard one, as I know, having at one time been the Vice-Chamberlain myself. He has to work all the afternoon rather harder than anybody else does in the House, transcribing notes containing information and views and opinions, and expressing them in easily understood English. His position ought to be made somewhat better than it is at the moment.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Bryan.]

Committee Tomorrow.