HC Deb 12 November 1959 vol 613 cc610-20

Considered in Committee.

[Sir GORDON TOUCHE in the Chair]

3.55 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I beg to move, That the annual sum of four thousand pounds be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom, the said annuity to be settled in the most beneficial manner upon the Right Honourable William Shepherd Morrison, lately Speaker of the House of Commons, to commence and take effect on the twentieth day of October, nineteen hundred and fifty-nine, and to continue during his life, and that if Catherine Allison Morrison, his wife, survives him, the annual sum of one thousand three hundred and thirty-three pounds be granted as aforesaid, the said annuity to be settled upon her in the most beneficial manner, to commence and take effect on the day after his death and to continue during her life. I should like to make a short statement to the House on this Motion, because the Second Reading of the Bill and later stages will be taken next week, and, therefore, I do not anticipate that the Committee will spend much time on this matter today.

Earlier today, the House will have learned with pleasure that Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to appoint Mr. William Shepherd Morrison, now Lord Dunrossil, to be Governor-General of Australia. I am sure that all our good wishes go to him in this high office.

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I take this opportunity to explain what the effect of this appointment will be on the provisions of the Bill which will be published on Friday, and which we are to debate, as I said, next week. The Bill provides that one-half of Mr. Morrison's pension will be abated while he is holding any office under the Crown at a salary equal to or exceeding the pension. I am advised that the appointment announced earlier today, which is, of course, no responsibility whatever of Her Majesty's Ministers in the United Kingdom, comes within the scope of this provision. I thought that I would mention that so that when we come to the later stages of this matter hon. Members will have that in mind.

Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)

I should like to join with the Leader of the House in extending our good wishes to Mr. Morrison on this important appointment.

This is, of course, a new development. The procedure was recently initated which will lead up to the Bill regarding Mr. Morrison's pension, and I would feel inclined to suggest to the Committee that, in these circumstances, it may be wiser to defer the discussion of this matter, which will, no doubt, arise on the Second Reading of the Bill which, according to the business statement that has just been made, is to be taken next Wednesday.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

There is a precedent for opposition to the Speaker's pension Bill. It does go rather far back. I think that it might be useful if we were to refer to it at this stage. I find, for example, that on 23rd April, 1895, the then Member for South West Ham, Mr. J. K. Hardie, moved, as an Amendment, that the sum of £4,000 be deleted and that £1,000 be inserted in its place. HANSARD reports that Mr. Keir Hardie observed that it seemed to him that as the House of Commons seemed to have neither the time nor the inclination to provide a system of pensions for the aged workers of the country it should not be called upon to agree to a resolution of this kind.

Mr. Keir Hardie went on to say that he moved the Amendment out of no disrespect to the recent occupant of the Chair, that he cordially endorsed all that was said of him on the occasion of his retirement, but that there were such glaring anomalies between wealth and poverty in the country that it seemed to him that a protest should be made.

4.0 p.m.

I should like to say that, in recalling this, the protest has been made, but I should like to add, also, that although we understand from the Leader of the House that there are not to be two pensions awarded to the former Speaker the one in respect of the Governor-Generalship of Australia and this which we are granting under this Motion—

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

There are two, but one is to be reduced.

Mr. Hughes

I do not want to raise that at this stage, but a very important question seems to arise.

We understood that when a Speaker resigned and was given a retirement pension by the House of Commons it meant his disappearance from active participation in public life, and I was extremely surprised to see that Mr. Speaker Morrison, who, we understood, could not continue in the Chair of the House for reasons of ill-health, was to receive an appointment as Governor-General of Australia at £10,000 a year.

I do not wish to go into the details now, as I understand that the matter is to be considered next week, but it seems to me that this has very important implications. Does it mean that a precedent will be created and that in future a Speaker who is elected by the House can look forward to a very substantial salary in some other place when he leaves the Chair? The Leader of the House tells us that the Government have nothing to do with this appointment, but can it be that this appointment has come about absolutely independently of the Government and the House, and without the Government's knowledge?

It seems to me that we must continue the discussion on this matter at a later stage. Does it mean that the Speaker of the House of Commons, when he retires, can become a director of a big industrial concern in the City? Does it mean that, following the precedent of the former Colonial Secretary, he can become a director of Guinness? Does it mean that he can become a director of many other companies, in addition to receiving a substantial pension from the House? Without having had a great deal of time to consider it, I believe that this precedent brings out very unfortunate implications and that it should be very carefully examined before we come to our decision next week.

If we cannot have a satisfactory answer to this question, we should adopt the precedent of the Member for South West Ham, in 1895. The precedent of Keir Hardie's Amendment, for which he could not find a teller, should be followed on this occasion. I do not think that there will be a lack of a teller if the Government have not a more satisfactory explanation to give us.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

May I tell the Leader of the House that he should not under-rate the considerable feeling that has been aroused by this matter? I hope that he will take any objections raised today as being concerned with the dignity of the House, the precedence and the honour that we pay to a Speaker and that, as Leader of the House, be will try, as far as possible, to take such steps before Second Reading of the Bill as will obviate the slightest degree of difference and acrimony on the Motion.

I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to read, in column 549 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 19th February, 1959, the terms in which Mr. Speaker Morrison resigned. I think that we can reasonably envisage from them that here was a man of 66, with failing hearing, who was advised by medical advisers that he would be unwise to take on the work of another Parliament. Therefore, if the Government are exonerated from this, by implication we must criticise ex-Speaker Morrison for landing himself in this difficulty when he knew full well from all precedents that he could expect the mark of Royal favour since accorded to him, together with a pension of £4,000 a year. Indeed, it goes further this time. We are providing for Mrs. Morrison in the event of widowhood.

I beg the Leader of the House to believe that there is a good deal of feeling manifested about this sort of thing. We all desire the House of Commons to gather round unitedly to do honour to one who has been the First Commoner. It does not do to talk about a half-pension. We are not satisfied. My view, and I will state it now rather than next week, is that if ex-Speaker Morrison takes this appointment the pension should go into cold storage until he ceases to hold the office of Governor-General of Australia. That seems to me the only honourable and dignified thing to do.

All the precedents are that when Mr. Speaker is given a pension of £4,000 a year it is given to him because he steps down from public life. We often speak about the earnings rule for humbler people in the community. I am not one of those who always prates about the differences between the rich and the poor, but this will be looked upon in a most odious light outside the House and it will be difficult to persuade many people that the Government are not privy to this sort of thing.

There were Members who lost their seats in the last General Election. They may have been Members from this side of the Committee and they could be gentlemen from the benches opposite, Members who served the House for a considerable period, for fourteen or fifteen years and sometimes longer, who are denied under law even the right to claim unemployment pay, because they are self-employed persons. We have even wrapped it up into the Statute that a Member of Parliament, on losing his seat, would not be in a position to claim unemployment pay. Even worse than that, there is a provision that he can earn no right to stamps at all while out of work. He has to make that contribution.

There is an element of chance when one is appointed Speaker. We do a person honour in this form of selection, but nobody denies that there are other Members of Parliament who, according to their light, serve the House and the country with as much sincerity, industry and single-mindedness as even an ex-Speaker. And we cannot draw this sort of line between one who is lifted to the Chair and other people who have left our service and who literally have to be rescued in this sort of circumstance. The Government have not faced up to the conclusion of the Select Committee on Members' Expenses on the provision of even £500 a year for Members of Parliament who lose their seats.

The Leader of the House has admitted that there have been cases of dire distress on his side of the Committee—Members who have spent a lifetime of service to the State in the House and are thrown on one side and have to be dependent on one charity or another. I have had to pay tribute to the generosity of hon. Members opposite in some cases I have known concerned with Members on this side of the Committee.

The Speaker of the House of Commons is but a Member of the House of Commons. We insist that he faces the electorate and he is one of us to the end and we must look on all Members of the House in equity. This business outrages all principle of equity.

Mr. Speaker Morrison, in accepting this appointment, seems to us to a degree to outrage taste and a conception which I bring to his high office in accepting this post in this form. I think that I speak for all my colleagues on this side of the Committee when I say that the least we would accept is that not half but the whole of the pension should go into cold storage until such time as he retires again into private life.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

I, too, rise to oppose the Motion. I think that I can say without fear of contradiction from my hon. Friends that I must be in good company if, as ray hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has mentioned, so many years ago James Keir Hardie representing South West Ham also rose to oppose the original introduction of this pension.

I represent West Ham, North and I am sure that Keir Hardie then spoke not only on behalf of the people of West Ham, but for all the people of the country. I am sure that if I oppose the Motion today my constituents and my political party will support me up to the hilt. Why? Because they say that the Government have said that a man who has given forty years of his life to sweating in a pit or in the workship should have only a few shillings a week pension. If he wants any more, he was told during the last election that he must go to the National Assistance Board.

I am not suggesting for a moment that this should be the position in this case. If a man has served the House well, as undoubtedly the former Speaker did for a period of eight years, he should receive an adequate salary during that period, as I think he did, and should receive an adequate pension. I will go further and say that I think every man in the country, whether he be a miner, a bricklayer, a carpenter or a Member of Parliament, should receive an adequate pension. But I do not see why the former Speaker should receive £4,000 a year pension "in the most beneficial manner." I am not a lawyer, but that might well mean without losing too much in taxation. Certainly, £4,000 a year is as much as many Ministers of the Crown receive. It is two or three times what a Member of Parliament receives, even excluding the expenses he has to meet.

By all means let the former Speaker have an adequate pension, but I suggest that £4,000 is too much and that it is wrong in principle to introduce the question of a pension for his wife. Why? In every pension scheme of which I know, throughout the State service, the Civil Service, the local authority service, a prospective recipient is allowed to allot part of his pension to be paid to his wife if he dies before receiving it. I see no reason why the former Speaker should not adopt the usual practice and have his proposed pension of £4,000 reduced by the amount he may wish to allot to his wife.

The words "in the most beneficial manner" appear again in the Motion in relation to the annuity of £1,333. Again, does this mean it will be tax-free, or that there will be a tax arrangement? With great respect to the great lady that Mrs. Morrison is, one whom we all admire, I do not think that she has rendered all that amount of service to the House. It is true that she attended our debates frequently, and that we were pleased to see her, but this proposal means that she will draw by way of annuity more than a Member of Parliament receives for his job, if we take into account the expenses he must incur in carrying it out.

I suggest that the proposal is wrong in view of the salary which the former Speaker will receive for his new appointment. Even if, as is suggested, he receives only £2,000 of his pension, he will be receiving altogether £12,000 a year, £2,000 of which I assume will be "in the most beneficial manner". Now the old-age pensioner in my constituency, when he wants to work, and work very hard, for a few shillings a week, must have that deducted from his pension, and he is allowed to earn only a very small amount. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have told us that this is wrong.

I hope, therefore, that we shall most vigorously oppose the suggestion of an allotment by the State, or what might be termed an additional pension, for the wife of a former Speaker, whoever he may be, because there is nothing personal in this. I am against it on principle.

4.15 p.m.

If, of course, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Leader of the House could say to me that any man who has given eight years' solid service conscientiously to his employer shall receive a pension equivalent to what he was drawing previously, that his wife shall draw about a quarter of it, and that the Government will introduce a national superannuation Bill on that basis, I would agree with it, because it would affect the miner, the bricklayer and the carpenter, the Member of Parliament and any former Speaker. But unless something is done for pensioners in general, then this Motion is not right.

Also, I want to cross the t's and dot the i's of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). Why is it that a Member of Parliament can work very hard in this House for twenty or thirty years—and, in the case of one man I know, can become a Minister—and find that when he leaves it through no fault of his own, probably because of boundary redistribution, because of his age he is unable to get a job, whether a governorship, or some other sinecure—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am saying this frankly, and it is a statement of fact.

As my hon. Friend said, such a man cannot even draw unemployment pay. He cannot get a private employer to give him an appointment and, naturally, the boards of the nationalised industries say that, as he is getting near the age of 60, he cannot expect to come in and jump over others. So the poor chap is left high and dry. Why should not such a man have a pension? I am not sug gesting that he should be given £4,000 a year, or a pension equal to the salary he was getting while he was a Member of the House, but the Government are being unfair, they are being very biased. They treat the ordinary Member of Parliament with contempt in the matter of salaries, accommodation, facilities—

The Chairman

Order, order. The hon. Member is getting very far away from the Motion.

Mr. Lewis

I was trying to point out, Sir Gordon, why I feel that the Motion should be opposed. I was trying to explain that I thought the Motion was unfairly drawn. I was trying to point out that I thought it was very biased, inasmuch as the Government are doing something for two people while neglecting all the rest of the people of the country and, in particular, Members of Parliament, who are in a position similar to that of the former Speaker, namely, that they gave loyal service to the House, were loyal Members of Parliament, and, in some cases, were Ministers of the Crown.

I say with respect that the former Member for Lewisham, South gave equally good service to this House and to the country for many years, yet he does not get a pension of £4,000 a year. If he did, that would be fair enough, because then the Government would be treating the two Morrisons alike. Both have given good service to the country, one for eight years, the other for twenty or thirty years. This Motion shows bias in favour of two against the majority of Members of the House. Unless, therefore, the Leader of the House can say that he will look at the position again, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and I will do all we can to have a Division, if not today, on the Second Reading of the Bill.

Mr. R. A. Butler

With the leave of the Committee, may I say that the view of the Leader of the Opposition is correct. The Bill is to be published tomorrow, and this is an unusual procedure of having the Committee stage on receiving Her Majesty's Gracious Message even before we see the Bill or before we have the Second Reading. I am sure that we should all be perfectly satisfied if the points of view which have been made so strenuously were put and considered on Second Reading. Of course, I will undertake to consider what has been said already.

The only other observation that I would make before Second Reading, and before hon. Members see the Bill, is that the Bill is drawn according to precedent with the abatement provision originally in the Bill. It has not been brought in for the special purpose of the news we saw today, coming from Her Majesty's appointment. It emanates, as is known, from sources other than Her Majesty's Government, and is a subject which I think it was a good thing the House is aware of before we proceed further with any consideration of the Measure. I think that we should be wise to consider this discussion on Second Reading.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), not for the first time, reflects the serious opinion of a very large number of Members on this side of the Committee, and should not be ignored.

May I also express my regret that when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) produced a Report from a Committee which would have obviated a lot of the discussion this afternoon if it had been implemented, it was not adopted. Although it was carried by a free vote of the House, it was not implemented by the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House was a distinguished member. That may be one of the reasons for his being cynical about free votes.

Mr. H. Hynd

I appreciate very much what the Leader of the House has said about leaving this discussion until the Second Reading of the Bill, because I personally would be very embarrassed indeed in having to vote against a Bill on a subject like this connected with a gentleman whom we all respect.

I wonder whether it is not a good thing that this discussion should have taken place today, and whether it would not be possible for the Leader of the House perhaps to suggest to the former Speaker that he himself might voluntarily relinquish the other half of the pension, or put it in cold storage. After all, we are to accept the principle of the pension. It will be there, and he will be able to get it when he needs it, when he ceases to be Governor-General of Australia.

I am certain that the question of £2,000 a year is neither here nor there to the former Speaker in the post that he is to occupy. I suggest, therefore, that it would save the House a great deal of embarrassment if the Bill were not presented at present. I am quite sure that it is within the possibilities of the diplomacy of the Leader of the House to do something along these lines.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

I should like to support the plea put forward to the Leader of the House either to withdraw the Motion for the time being, or to postpone consideration of the forthcoming Bill until a date later than next week. It is quite obvious to all of us that the Government have also been taken by surprise as a result of the development that has taken place today.

I think that it would be in the public interest, and would obviate a certain amount of embarrassment which we all want to avoid, if the Government were to hold their hand for a short time until the position becomes a little more clarified. The whole idea of making a pension of £4,000 a year to former Speakers was to ensure that they should spend the rest of their lives in an independent and dignified way, without having to rely upon other employment. That is why we also give not unsubstantial pensions to High Court Judges and former Lord Chancellors, because it would go against the grain—would it not?—to see distinguished gentlemen of this kind, or even ex-Prime Ministers, having to rely upon City appointments, or even governor-generaliships, for the purpose of maintaining a reasonable standard of living in the final years of their distinguished lives.

I hope that in these circumstances the Leader of the House will not put us in the embarrassing position in which he has certainly placed the Committee, but will withdraw the Motion, or at least give an undertaking that the Bill will not come before the House as early as he has said it will—on Wednesday of next week.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the annual sum of four thousand pounds be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom, the said annuity to be settled in the most beneficial manner upon the Right Honourable William Shepherd Morrison, lately Speaker of the House of Commons, to commence and take effect on the twentieth day of October nineteen hundred and fifty-nine, and to continue during his life, and that if Catherine Allison Morrison, his wife, survives him, the annual sum of one thousand three hundred and thirty-three pounds be granted as aforesaid, the said annuity to be settled upon her in the most beneficial manner, to commence and take effect on the day after his death and to continue during her life.

Resolution to be reported.

Report to be received Tomorrow.