HC Deb 28 March 1961 vol 637 cc1195-206

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to the salaries and other emoluments of persons bolding administrative offices of State; to amend the Political Offices Pension Act, 1869; and to authorise payments out of the National Land Fund for those purposes and purposes connected therewith. The object of my proposed Bill is to increase the emoluments of Ministers of the Crown and to bring back to life, by making a few small amendments to it, an Act, relating to Ministerial pensions, which has fallen into disuse.

The holding of high political office in England has not always been a financial disaster. Nor is it right to think, as many do, that there is an old tradition in this country that great service to the State should be entirely divorced from any thought of material gain. On the contrary, a royal recognition of service rendered to the State was often lavish, if not wholly at royal expense. Many of the great personages, lay and ecclesiastical, to whom England owes so large a debt sought and obtained the endowment of their families in the service of the Crown.

Nothing that I propose today, even if accepted, would carry us any distance back towards those conditions. I mention them only to emphasise that the contrast between devoted public service and adequate remuneration which is so often drawn is not only unfair and not only contrary to the true public interest, but has not even the sanction of history behind it.

Indeed, the long decline in Ministerial reward has probably caused the loss to the direct service of the State of many outstanding men. For a time it even hung in the balance whether William Pitt, oppressed by his financial problems, would continue as Prime Minister of England, or return to his practice at the Bar on the Western circuit. In the end, Parliament discharged his debts.

It is to be remembered, in this connection, that the salary of the First Lord of the Treasury was fixed in 1660, or earlier, and not changed until 1937, when it had been the same for nearly 300 years. The salaries of other senior Ministers were fixed more recently, in 1831. They have never been changed since and they stand at £5,000 a year.

In 1831, £5,000 was a vastly different sum from what it is now. Over 130 years, not only have the burdens of office increased beyond all recognition, but the depreciation of money has raised the general level of remuneration in the community and eroded the vale of Ministerial emoluments until the man at the head of a great Department of State is now progressively, year by year, financially moving down through the grades of his own Department.

The Bill was in preparation before Dr. Beeching erupted upon us and his case is as much of an embarrassment to me as a help. But it shows what a disproportion has grown between rewards inside and outside the public service. Inside the public service, I note that the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury is paid £7,500 a year, half as much again as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Indeed, nine people in the Treasury are paid more than the Chancellor and it is only when we get to the level of Third Secretary, of whom there are six, including a woman establishment officer, that we find in the Treasury someone working for the same salary, £5,000 a year, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

In every other Department of State there are Departmental servants who are paid more than the Minister responsible to Parliament. I do not grudge those people their level of remuneration nor the security and pension which accompany it, but the comparative position reached should not be tolerated any more.

The Bill would raise the salaries of senior Ministers from £5,000 to £10,000 a year. For similar comparable reasons, I suggest that the salary of the Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury should go up from £10,000 a year to £20,000 a year, and that the pension attached to the office of Prime Minister should be increased from £2,000 to £4,000.

The salaries of junior Ministers were adjusted in 1937 and again in 1957 from the absurd level at which they formerly stood. They continue to be far too low and to impose on those who accept the offices a degree of sacrifice on the part of the Minister, and sometimes on the part of his family, which approaches real hardship and which no one serving in such an office should be called upon to bear. The Bill proposes to raise the salaries of Parliamentary Secretaries from £2,500 a year to £3,500 a year.

Ministers of State, who have been created piecemeal to avoid the niggardliness of the remuneration of junior Ministers, are now paid £3,750, which is the same as Treasury Secretaries. For those the Bill provides for a salary of £6,000 a year. Provision is also made for increase in the salaries of the junior Lords of the Treasury, but, for technical reasons, not those of the Officers of the Household.

There is no longer any statutory reason why Ministers should not receive their full Parliamentary salary. That they receive only £750 is due to the form of the House of Commons Resolution. There is a Clause in the Bill which would outflank any future attempt at this kind of ministerial masochism. Accordingly, in addition to the salaries which I have mentioned, each Minister would receive his full Parliamentary salary.

That would be proportionately a much greater benefit than it appears, because now if a Minister's Parliamentary expenses exceed £750 a year he has to pay the rest of them out of his net taxed income, and one knows that that is a great source of hardship to the holders of ministerial office. The anomalous rule that a Minister cannot claim any expense for living in London, away from his home in the country, is also to be abrogated.

The Political Offices Pension Act, 1869, provided a limited number of pensions of for ex-Ministers. I propose, in Clause 7 of the Bill, to increase the maximum number from four to seven and to repeal the provision which has required an applicant to make a declaration of financial hardship. No pension is being, or for a long time has been, paid out of that fund. It depends on a recommendation to the Queen, and I am sorry to say that for more than thirty years, so far as I can find out, no Government have thought fit to recommend the Sovereign to grant any such pension. My main object in making this small amendment is to try to bring the Act back to life.

It only remains for me to say that I seek to put forward the Bill on my own initiative, and have consulted about it only back bench Members on both sides. It may be thought a little presumptuous for a private Member to make these large proposals, and I confess that I have at time felt a little Olympian in deciding what each Minister should be paid. I have tried to reach my conclusions without any reference to the merits of the existing incumbents of the various offices. Also, I have no idea what Ministers think of my proposals, although I have seemed to detect, at times, an approval of the general principle underlying the Bill, which encourages me for the future.

The past is a sad story. Two Select Committees sat between the wars to consider this situation. They were somewhat frustrated by conflicting desires to raise salaries which they described as anomalous and inadequate while yet imposing no additional burden upon the public revenue. Not having at their disposal, as I have, the National Land Fund as a means of reconciling those conflicting purposes, they found no solution. I have fallen back upon the National Land Fund, and hon. Members will be glad to know that there is in that Fund sufficient to meet these charges for several years to come.

Nevertheless, those two Committees made many recommendations but no action was ever taken on any of them. The reason for that is simple, and it is the reason why I am now asking the leave of the House to introduce the Bill. It was given in evidence to the second Select Committee by Mr. David Lloyd George, who said that it was a very awkward thing for any Minister to come to the House of Commons and propose a vote to increase ministerial salaries. Mr. Stanley Baldwin, as he then was, also giving evidence before the same Committee, said: There has been a certain diffidence about it. I think each Government was a little nervous about it … the feeling always arose … would it look well if we were to vote increases of our salary? The Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, Sir Warren Fisher, when asked by the Select Committee why none of these recommendations had ever been implemented, said: I think there was a certain diffidence on the part of the various Administrations in raising the subject: I think there was nothing more to it than that. I hope that those of us on both sides of the House who are not subject to these exquisite and paralysing inhibitions will at long last thrust this bounty upon a reluctant Administration and upon its successors in office. It is for that reason that I now ask that leave be given to bring in the Bill.

6.42 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) has been very persuasive, but he has not persuaded me that this is an essential piece of legislation to which the House should give its assent. He has painted a picture of hard-up Ministers of the Crown who receive low salaries compared with others in industry. I suggest that there is no compulsion for hon. Members to stay in office as Ministers of the Crown if they prefer to go to the City or take up other responsible duties.

The House recently lost the services of a former Colonial Secretary, who is now Lord Boyd. He was receiving a salary of £5,000 a year as Colonial Secretary. He thought that that was too little, so he became a director of another empire—the empire of Guinness. He chose deliberately to leave the service of the State and of his country, where he was responsible for the administration of our Colonial Territories, to become a director, at a much higher salary, of a well-known national and international institution called Guinness. If Ministers of the Crown feel hard up it is competent for them to find other work.

We also had the former Colonial Secretary who is now Lord Chandos. He served the House and the country with great distinction for many years at an annual salary of £5,000. Then, feeling the pinch of poverty, he decided to go into the City and resume his chairmanship of Associated Electrical Industries. If Ministers of the Crown believe that they are performing greater services to breweries or large monopolies they can do the necessary thing—leave the service of the State and take up service in these other national institutions.

It is proposed to increase the Prime Minister's salary to £20,000 a year. I am opposed to that. I do not believe that the salaries of the Ministers to whom the hon. Member referred are their sole incomes. I was recently interested to learn about the payment of salaries to responsible Ministers of the United States Government. There, when somebody like Mr. Kennedy or Mr. McNamara takes high office, he goes before a Committee of the Senate and the American Legislature and is asked to give up every connection with every profit-making concern and with every monopoly, and to serve the State purely for the salary he receives from it. I would ask whether that is done in this country. When a Minister receives a salary from the Crown, just as he gives up his directorships he ought to give up any outside salaries he receives. He should retain only the salary provided by the State. There is no provision for that in the proposed Bill.

Mr. Ronald Bell

The hon. Member should know that it is not necessary. It is in invariable practice and the rule.

Mr. Hughes

It is the invariable practice for hon. Members to give up directorships, but not to give up their shares in various concerns. A Minister of the Crown who was receiving only £5,000 or £10,000 from the State might have shares in Guinness, English Electric, or I.C.I. He might be receiving quite a substantial income. I am not persuaded that the Bill is necessary to prevent Ministers suffering from poverty.

Mr. John Harvey (Walthamstow, East)


Mr. Speaker

Order. We do not have interruptions during the Ten Minutes Rule Motions.

Mr. Hughes

If the hon. Member had announced that his Bill would provide for a means test I would be tempted to examine the proposition, but I do not think that he has made out his case. It comes badly from hon. Members opposite, when some people cannot afford to pay for their prescriptions, or their false teeth, to start at the very top, with the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor and all the others. That is starting at the wrong end of the scale. The hon. Member has not convinced me that I should vote for the Bill.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

On a point of order. During the last Parliament, in the days of your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) tried to bring in a Bill the funding of which would come from the National Land Fund. I asked whether it was in order, and ultimately, after some argument, your predecessor asked the hon. Member to withdraw his Bill without prejudice. We never had the Bill presented because there was no certainty that it was in order, in the matter of its funding. Since this proposed Bill is based on precisely the principle which was contested in the last Parliament, I should be obliged if you would give the House your opinion on the matter, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

Further to that point of order. I introduced a Bill which was withdrawn at the request of Mr. Speaker, but it was introduced again the following week and was ruled by your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, to be in order.

Mr. Speaker

It is in order. The constitution of the National Land Fund is such as not to raise the point of difficulty

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

On a point of order. I should like to ask your advice, and possibly your assistance, about a habit which seems to have grown up recently of congregating in the entrances to the Division Lobbies at the moment when a Division is being taken.

which the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) has in mind.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 122, Noes 21.

Division No. 122.] AYES [6.50 p.m.
Allason, James Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd) Percival, Ian
Atkins, Humphrey Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Pilkington, Sir Richard
Barter, John Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Price, David (Eastleigh)
Batsford, Brian Hendry, Forbes Prior, J. M. L.
Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate) Hobson, John Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Holland, Philip Proudfoot, Wilfred
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm) Hollingworth, John Quennell, Miss J. M.
Berkeley, Humphry Hopkins, Alan Rawlinson, Peter
Biggs-Davison, John Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John Rees, Hugh
Bingham, R. M. Hutchison, Michael Clark Rees-Davies, W. R.
Blackburn, F. Iremonger, T. L. Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Box, Donald James, David Roots, William
Brewis, John Jennings, J. C. Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Bullus, Wing Commander Eric Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Scott-Hopkins, James
Burden, F. A. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Seymour, Leslie
Buck, Antony Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Shaw, M.
Carr, Robert (Mitcham) Kershaw, Anthony Shepherd, William
Chataway, Christopher Kimball, Marcus Spier, Rupert
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Kitson, Timothy Stanley, Hon. Richard
Cole, Norman Langford-Holt, J. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Cooper, A. E. Leavey, J. A. Stodart, J. A.
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Talbot, John E.
Cordle, John Lilley, F. J. P. Teeling, William
Critchley, Julian Lindsay, Martin Temple, John M.
Curran, Charles Litchfield, Capt. John Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Dalkeith, Earl of Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Thornton, Ernest
Deedes, W. F. McAdden, Stephen Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)
de Ferranti, Basil McCann, John Tilney, John (Wavertree)
du Cann, Edward McLaren, Martin Turner, Colin
Duncan, Sir James McLean, Neil (Inverness) Vaughan-Morgan, Sir John
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Maitland, Sir John Watts, James
Elliott, R. W. (Nwcstle-upon-Tyne, N.) Markham, Major Sir Frank Wells, John (Maidstone)
Farey-Jones, F. W. Marten, Neil Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Farr, John Mawby, Ray Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Fitch, Alan Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Woodhouse, C. M.
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles More, Jasper (Ludlow) Worsley, Marcus
Foot, Dingle (Ipswich) Nabarro, Gerald Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Goodhew, Victor Nicholson, Sir Godfrey
Grimston, Sir Robert Page, John (Harrow, West) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gurden, Harold Page, Graham (Crosby) Mr. R. Bell and
Hall, John (Wycombe) Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale) Mr. Gresham Cooke
Harris, Reader (Heston) Partridge, E.
Awbery, Stan Kerby, Capt. Henry Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Cliffe, Michael Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.) Warbey, William
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Manuel, A. C. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Pargiter, G. A. Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Fernyhough, E. Probert, Arthur
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Rankin, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hill, J. (Midlothian) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E. Mr. Hale and
Hocking, Philip N. Short, Edward Mr. Emrys Hughes
Kenyon, Clifford Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)

I am not suggesting for a moment that it is anybody's intention to impede any hon. Member in exercising his parliamentary duty and going into the Division Lobby, but I submit to you that it has always been recognised in the House that if there were any such attempt it would be most reprehensible and completely out of order. It has happened several times, and just now, when large numbers of hon. Members coming from both sides of the House were outside each of the Division Lobbies in such numbers and so densely packed—I use the word physically, not otherwise—in the mouths of the Division Lobbies that it required a physical effort to get through. I do not know whether anything can be done by direction to the Officers of the House, or in any other way, to make certain that the entrances to the Division Lobby are open and unimpeded at the time when a Division is taken.

Mr. Speaker

I think that usually we manage with mutual good manners. I am bound to say that I have known occasions—I am not saying that this was one—when, owing to the fact that there was some doubt as to whether a Division was really going to be effective, a number of hon. Members, actuated by no more vile motive than simple curiosity, have tended to congregate. I hope that we shall all remember the needs of other hon. Members at these times.

Mr. Silverman

I am much obliged for that, Mr. Speaker, but would you agree that if hon. Members are really in doubt as to whether a Division is effective or not effective the best way to find out is inside the debating Chamber, and from you, rather than from other sources outside?

Mr. Speaker

I think that we should perhaps get on with the matter.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Ronald Bell, Lord Balniel, Mr. Crosland, Mr. Gresham Cooke, Sir A. V. Harvey, Mr. Hobson, Sir H. Lucas-Tooth, Mr. Mayhew, Mr. Nabarro, Mr. Russell, and Mr. Strauss.