§ 11.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
The subject of the debate I want to initiate tonight—and which, Mr. Speaker, by calling me you have very kindly selected—is entitled, "Parliament 1440 and the Members thereof and the facilities they require for the proper performance of their functions."
I do not claim to have originated that phrase. I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works was the originator of most of the phrase. Many of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members have interpreted it to mean that I intend to talk solely about accommodation in this building and things which have been talked about at some length in this Chamber on former occasions. Recently we have had the Report of the Palace of Westminster Committee. The Report is to be debated after the Recess, as also are Reports on the procedure of the House. I should prefer to leave such subject matter largely to those debates. I deliberately used this phrase, however, to enable any hon. Member who wishes to join in the debate to be within its scope.
We are formally discussing the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill. Embedded in its intestines, if I may so describe Schedule B, there is an appropriation of a substantial sum of money to the purposes of this House, in fact to the expenses and salaries not only of all its staff but also of all hon. Members. I ask the ancient question, in the financial procedure of this House, are we obtaining value for money in respect of this item? The item in this Bill is based on a Supplementary Estimate produced some time ago—a very famous Supplementary Estimate in this case—because it is substantially the increase in salaries which we as hon. Members have voted to ourselves.
This obviously has been a matter of some concern to people outside, for reasons which most hon. Members—including myself—would not necessarily share. Before we finally appropriate this to what is literally our own purposes, it is appropriate to ask the ancient question, is the taxpayer obtaining value for money in respect of the salaries of ourselves? This involves asking the question, is the membership of this House of the highest possible calibre that it could be? Is it the most desirable membership there could possible be? My hon. Friends might say that it would be more desirable if there were more of us on this side of the House than there are hon. Members opposite, but I do not put 1441 this matter on a party basis. I am asking a serious question.
If one is selecting for a job in the Civil Service or in industry, the first thing one wants to ensure is the widest possible choice of candidates for the job. Clearly, to select the highest calibre of person, the wider the choice the more likely one is to achieve that object.
The first limitation we place on a wide range of choice is a purely financial one. It is in the nature of the salary itself. It is inevitable that a person who before he is elected to this House has an unearned income will find that it will not alter when he has been elected; a self-employed person who can still carry on his profession may be in the same position. But if a person is in a profession such as that of a doctor who cannot attend to his patients after being elected, he finds his financial position altered.
He is like the overwhelming majority of people who are employed. Some hon. Members of this House are still employed, perfectly legitimately, by firms which recognise that they cannot attend to their duties full-time but which nevertheless continue to pay their salaries; but generally the employed person will lose most of his income on becoming elected to Parliament and get in return a Parliamentary salary. If such a person's income is less than his Parliamentary salary then to that extent the job is financially attractive, but if it happens to be more than his Parliamentary salary it will not be an attraction. Whatever salary is devised, it would not satisfy everyone in this respect.
In another respect he will, if he is a self-employed person, lose any pension rights which he has accrued, although again this will depend upon the particular firm. This is something that is not exclusive to Members of Parliament. One sincerely hopes that Her Majesty's Government will, as soon as possible, complete what I know they are undertaking, the extremely complicated task of making pension rights transferable, through all forms of industry and employment. This is one of the things that, from the point of view of the economy of the country as a whole, is desirable in order to encourage mobility of labour, especially in these days when such pension rights are not only 1442 applicable to office jobs, but also to very large numbers of people on the factory floor.
The third unattractive possibility which might restrict possible choice of membership of this House would be the possibility of losing a seat after a person had been elected for a time. We have just passed in this House, for the benefit of most people, a Redundancy Payments Bill, which is, to my mind, an admirable Bill for its purposes. The Member of Parliament, however, is a self-employed person, technically and in law. If he loses his seat that would be the end of his Parliamentary salary; indeed his Parliamentary salary ends not merely when he loses his seat but when Parliament is dissolved, even if he is subsequently re-elected.
The intriguing thing is that this sort of situation has arisen in the past in other respects. It arose during the war on an enormous scale when people who were called up for National Service and subsequently, as legislation provided, had a right to their own job back, or a job similar to it. Such rights do not exist for Members of this House. I do not, quite frankly, see what great constitutional principle would be shaken if that precedent were to be followed in respect of Members of this House.
Another item recorded in the Estimate upon which this particular Bill is founded, is the travelling expenses of Members. I think that we should not, as Members, think solely of ourselves. We ought to think of the people who want to get here. These are people who, in many cases, are spending a large amount of their own money, not with any reward by being in this Chamber, but simply as candidates for Parliament. Is there any reason in logic why, if we are prepared to pay the travelling expenses, for example, of a Member of this House in going to his constituency from London or from his home, we could not pay the travelling expenses of a candidate, duly adopted by a political party, who is doing the same thing? He is very often spending money out of his own pocket. Not in all cases, but very often. It would seem that it would be not irrational to put the two opponents on a similar footing. One presumably would want some safeguard, that if a person did 1443 not, in the end, stand for election, the money would be paid back.
The last thing that deters people from membership of this House is the one about which we have talked so often here, and that is the facilities provided in order to do the job properly in comparison with the facilities provided in order to do any other job properly in the outside world.
As all of us, on both sides, know, the first thing that a Member of this House will understand (which the outside world largely does not understand) is that the Parliamentary salary is not what would be described as a salary in the outside world. It is not in those terms take-home pay; it is not what an individual in this House takes home to his wife and family, after tax, to spend. It is simply a sum of money from which come considerable and substantial expenses.
The Parliamentary salary is calculated to include the average amount of those expenses, which means, in the context of the Lawrence Report, that £1,250 of the £3,250 is regarded as the average amount of expenses. It also means, if one looks at the Lawrence Report, that a Member can spend, perhaps, the whole £3,250 or a very substantial sum upon Parliamentary expenses if he has income from other sources on which to live. Alternatively, if he so chooses, he can spend virtually nothing out of the £3,250.
The principle upon which the Parliamentary salary has always been founded is the ancient principle, which trade unionists like myself feel bound to support, that it should be the same amount for all Members—the rate for the job—and, in the context of this House, the other principle of the equality of each Member of this House within it. These are sensible and valid principles, but is it sensible and valid to construct the Parliamentary salary in this way?
Personally—obviously, one cannot do more than speak personally on an issue of this character, on which many hon. Members are clearly sensitive—I would be quite happy with substantially less salary than I now receive—"salary" being in inverted commas, as in this context it is—provided that I was given, as I would be in outside industry or in the Civil Service, the facilities that one needs for the performance of one's job.
1444 Let us consider what those facilities are. In this building—I am not being critical of all the facilities of the place, because some of them are excellent—we find an admirable post office. It is extremely efficient. If we vanish to other parts of the country, our mail will follow us wherever we go, speedily and efficiently. But there is, incidentally, the peculiar situation that if we want to write to a Government Department or a nationalised industry, we do not pay the postage, whereas if we want to write to a constituent, we must pay the postage. The rule seems a little strange. It is in no way comparable with what would happen if a civil servant were writing to one of our constituents or if anyone in industry were doing the same thing.
I regret to say, however, that I cannot give to the other side of post office activities in these premises the same tribute that I give to the place where we post our letters, because the telecommunications side of the activities of the post office in this building is quite archaic. As to telephones, we in this building have caught up with what could be done at the time of the First World War and we have never progressed further.
Nearly every industrial firm of any competence and comparable in size to this place, where several thousand people are employed, would have what is called a P.A.B.X. system whereby one can dial another extension number inside the building or, to make an outside call, one dials "0" or whatever the code might be and asks the operator for the number. This is, perhaps, too modern. This is replaced in this building by a system which could have been installed, and presumably was, for aught I know, before the First World War. We ask the operator for every call, even if it is only an internal call within the building. We have to be, in that respect, and financially—and this is what we are appropriating money for tonight—less efficient. We have, therefore, as a result, more telephone operators than we need; we are, therefore, as a result, delaying our own calls; we are, therefore, as a result, spending more money than we need, simply because we have not modernised our telecommunications within this building.
1445 I am not for a moment going to suggest that the Post Office has not realised this. Indeed, I understand that it is about to get or has got some consultants in to look at, for example, the telephone system in this building. It was not beyond the wit of the Post Office to have seen this before. The telecommunications branch of the Post Office is one of the best in the world. It is, perhaps, a little strange and significant that it is only here, not in a Civil Service office, not in industry, where the same Post Office provides the same sort of service, that it is inefficient, and one begins to suspect that it is not that the Post Office has been unable to see the system could be improved. I certainly give the Post Office credit for that; it saw it elsewhere, and I am sure it could see it here. One begins to suspect that what is at the back of it is lack of desire to spend the initial capital cost of putting in a modern system, and for that I think one must find the Treasury more to blame than the Post Office.
But our telecommunications system is strange in other respects. If, for example, somebody rings us up from the outside world the call is received and a note of the message left is duly made. There are three copies. Two follow us round the building and perhaps half an hour later, or perhaps one hour, sometimes two hours, later, we get the message. It is unfortunate if the message says, "Will you ring me immediately". It is all unnecessary.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
The hon. Member will concede, of course, that we have done away with the cleft stick?
§ Mr. English
I recognise that the cleft stick has gone. What is recorded on the tablets of stone, I am not sure. But we still have the hand that holds the cleft stick, because these messages are taken round by those excellent and reliable men, our doorkeepers. In the present age of communications this is unnecessary. Members could carry a receiver and could be called by means of a small radio transmitter with, say, half-a-mile radius, the sort of thing which is used in factories and hospitals. When there was a telephone call the receiver would buzz, or if there were objections to that happening in the Chamber, there could be a 1446 flashing light. It is quite simple, and instead of getting the message two hours late after it has been carried round the building—round our Commons, half of the 1,100 rooms in the building—one would get it immediately, go straight to the phone and take the call.
Here again, although this is a thought that could readily come to mind, no one has applied his mind to it, and no provision has been made for the relatively small capital cost of such an installation which would provide a considerable saving in the annual costs we incur to the taxpayer because we would not need so many people walking round the building all day carrying messages.
The same applies when a member of the public fills in a green card. What right have we to say that we will be so inefficient and so discourteous that we will leave people sitting in the Central Lobby for half an hour or an hour when they come to see us? This is an unnecessary discourtesy, because the system which I have just described would ensure that the Member knew that his visitor was waiting to see him. If the Member was in the Chamber, or was otherwise too busy to see his visitor, that would be different, but if he was available he could see him straight away. These are minor inefficiencies. These do not cost the individual Member anything.
When we come to the normal services which industry or the Civil Service would provide, we find the strange situation that the Member has to provide them out of his so-called salary. If he wants a secretary, or even only half or a third of a secretary, this comes out of his so-called salary. How different things are in, say, the United States where, provided that he does not pay over certain rates, and provided that he does not have more than a certain number, a Member of the Senate, or a Member of the House of Representatives, can have a definite staff of his own, not merely secretarial, but also for research work.
One sometimes wonders whether the accusation that has been thrown in the past, that the heart of Government, the Treasury, does not want the average back-bencher to be so provided with research facilities, is true, and whilst I am on that subject, let us consider the Library of this House, which includes a research department.
1447 On looking at the Estimates on which this Bill is founded, I discovered something quite extraordinary. Item H of Vote 2 is:Library—for the purchase and repair of books, &c.I do not know what the "&c." means, but presumably it means something more than just the purchase and repair of books. On that we estimate to spend £9,000 in the current year, and in the previous year we spent £8,000. This may seem a fairly substantial sum, but it is intriguing to note that the item immediately below that one—an item to which I do not particularly object—shows that we estimate to spend £16,000 onPresentations to the Legislatures of the Commonwealth.In the previous year we spent the same amount, and in the year before that we spent £17,000.
Roughly speaking, every year we spend half as much on books as we spend on gifts to our fellow legislators in the Commonwealth. We might conceivably think that charity should begin at home. I have no objection to the presentation of these gifts, which I think are not books, but are furniture and things of that kind, and which represent honourable and ancient traditions amongst Commonwealth legislatures, but, nevertheless, I think that we might consider spending something more in proportion on the facilities provided for this House. One would have thought that we would not be spending on Library facilities only half of what we spend on gifts to overseas legislatures.
There are other items that one could look at in these rather interesting Estimates. I turn, for example, to the question of the total salaries of the staff in the same Library—including not merely the salaries of the Librarians but also those of the research staff of the Library—and I find that in the current year it is estimated at £56,000. This, again, seems a substantial sum of money. But we estimate that we shall spend £80,000 on the OFFICIAL REPORT. We spend 50 per cent. more on seeing that our words go out to everybody than we spend upon the staff who provide us with the facts to go behind those words. We consider it more important that our words should be publicised—and I know that every 1448 Member, including myself, thinks this important—than that our words should be well-informed. We should be spending rather more on seeing that this is so. Again, there seems to be something rather disproportionate about this.
I have dealt with some of the main matters which might disconcert someone in an ordinary job from coming into this House. There are obvious reasons why people do. The average person in this House is here in many respects without having considered the difficulties that I have outlined. But it is wrong to have a system under which we pay Parliamentary salaries and provide that any expenses must come out of them. I say this because I am a bachelor, and the people that I pity most are those Members with wives and young children. They are at the point of highest expenditure in their lives. At the beginning and at the end of their lives they do not have so many personal expenses.
The system is wrong, because we should never present to such a person the dilemma that we do present to him. We say that every time he does his job—every time he sends a letter to a constituent, or does his job properly in other respects—he must lower by a proportionate amount the standard of living of his wife and family. He might be able to endure a reduction in his own standard of living, but he will find it hard to put up with a reduction in that of his family. But we place him in a dilemma arising from the knowledge that they will literally live better if he does his job worse, and vice versa.
I now turn to a subject which has not yet been broached in this Parliament. In fact, it has hardly been broached in the country. The elector is almost the last person to decide who becomes a Member of this House. As we all know, the average elector votes for a political party—I shall not go into the arguments about this—but he also votes for an individual who has been chosen as a candidate by a political party. The real determination of the question who will be a Member of this House has been made some time ago, by the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Parties—placing them in alphabetical order for this purpose.
It is interesting to note that hardly any study of the way in which this 1449 process takes place has been done in this country. In a well-known book on British political parties, written not by an Englishman but by a Canadian—Mr. Robert McKenzie—a few pages are devoted to this subject, and an American professor was in this country last year studying the question. But to my knowledge that is about the sum total of the research work that has been done in this country on the subject of the selection of candidates.
The methods by which both the major parties and, I believe, the Liberal Party, select their candidates are in broad terms very similar. I suggest that not merely from the point of view of the individual parties but of the country as a whole these methods, as much as any other feature of our Constitution, should be looked at, because we should consider whether as taxpayers we are getting value for money in our Members of Parliament.
The first stage of the selection is to compile a panel of possible candidates. This is done normally by interviewing. In the Opposition party one of its vice-chairmen is primarily responsible. In my party a sub-committee of the National Executive has responsibility for it. It is primarily done by interview and it is interesting to note that the interview alone is regarded by industrial psychologists and personnel institutes as not necessarily the best way of selecting people for jobs. Several books on this subject tend to prove that one might select a good salesman by this method but one might select inappropriately for other occupations. One could see a similarity between salesmen and hon. Members who have to promote the interests of their parties, but one wonders whether that is the sole desirable criterion. Industry spends vast sums of money, the universities spend considerable sums, and the Civil Service substantial sums on methods of selection and we might well consider whether in the case of Members of Parliament the best system is being followed.
The next and last stage in selection is that carried out by the constituency party. After a short list has been compiled it hears speeches, asks a few questions and makes its choice. This happens in all the parties and sometimes it leads to difficulties, as in a recent case, where a Member may turn out to have views completely different from those of the con- 1450 stituency party that selected him. I do not want to go into any detail now but it is possible that the system could be improved. It is certainly desirable that, in the interest of the country as a whole, it should be looked at.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
The hon. Member's arguments are surprising. If he is criticising the method of selection of candidates in all three parties, it falls upon him to suggest ways in which the method could be improved.
§ Mr. English
I could readily do that, but I do not think that the House wants to be wearied at 12.15 a.m. with detailed suggestions. There are other methods adopted in other countries: ours is not the only method. Let us not be parochial and think that our methods are the only ones. Because we are in this House we have a tendency to think that the methods by which we got here must be the right ones because we are here and other people are not. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Obviously, I sympathise with this view, but we are in duty bound to consider the question: is it entirely so? Might there not be other methods?
Obviously, this is a matter which the House would never permit anybody else to look at on its behalf. The ancient principle of this House regarding such matters is that it looks at them itself. If they were looked at—I think that they ought to be—the proper body to do it would be a Select Committee of the House. I hope that some day some Government—
§ Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)
Surely this is a matter for the political parties and not for this House?
§ Mr. English
This is the way in which it is constantly regarded. The political party does not exist in law, but it exists very much in practice, in our Constitution. It might be desirable, for the sake of the country as a whole, if we looked at this little hidden corner of the Constitution as a country, and not merely from a party political point of view. It may be that the Member who is the best from the point of view of a political party is not the best from the point of view of the country as a whole. Whether we share this view or not, there are substantial numbers of people outside the Chamber who do.
1451 Of course, the one thing which we have to consider when talking of anything of this character is the function of the Member of Parliament. If a constituency perpetually wants its Member to be in that constituency, he will not be doing his duty in Parliament. The House used, in times past, to meet on Fridays and Saturdays as well. I am not suggesting that that is what it ought to do, although that arrangement provided long recesses—[An HON. MEMBER: "It will do, the way we are going on."] It will not do for more than two minutes longer, at any rate.
Now, of course, the aim is to get back to a constituency immediately at the weekend, which is desirable from the point of view of the constituency's contact with the Member, but sometimes these weekends tend to spread over large parts of the week as well. We have to decide what is the function of our M.P.s. This is where we get back to facilities. If we are to provide these, they are presumably being provided for some purpose.
Although my suggested criticisms may be of the processes of selection to the House, what I admire in it very much is that, whatever these processes have been, they have created a tremendous variety of ability, talent and completely varied interests amongst the membership of the House. I am suggesting that we should look at modernising these processes, as well as others. The old adage is true, that the man who has been there is on one's own benches and the man who has done it is on the other benches. There is an immense variety of talent and, in some cases, lack of talent in this Chamber, which is what makes it one of the most interesting places in the world to be in.
Because that is so, we should not therefore assume that we are totally and always right. We should occasionally consider looking, first, at the facilities which are provided for us, and, second, at the methods by which we arrived here.
§ 12.19 a.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) is to be congratulated on raising the subject of Member's facilities for debate at the tail-end of the Session. I agree with most 1452 of what he said. It was an interesting and thoughtful speech. I dissented from his theme about prospective candidates and the choice a candidates, which has nothing to do with this House. Still less is it any part of the taxpayers' duty to pay for any expenses of a prospective candidate. I dissent from that view entirely. These are matters between the individuals concerned and the political parties. With that exception, I agreed with his speech, in which he put forward many interesting ideas. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply. May I add one or two further points, to which perhaps we might also have a reply.
I should be interested to learn how soon we can expect the new offices for Members to be constructed, ready and in use across the road. For architectural reasons most of these offices will be across the road, and I should therefore like to know which system of conveyance will be used between the Chamber and those offices. Will there be a horizontal elevator, if there can be such a thing? What method will be used to ensure that there is ready access for hon. Members to the Chamber without undue inconvenience? I should be grateful if the Minister gave us some indication of the range of facilities which will be afforded, and how soon, under the Government's new plan.
Before we look into the distant future, however, I believe that something should be done to improve existing arrangements within the House. I refer, first, to the allocation of rooms and desks to Members. We are nowhere near the stage at which each Member can have a room of his own. That being the case, it would be desirable to take account of the various interests and groupings of Members in the House. Members are herded haphazardly into rooms throughout the building and throughout buildings at various points of the compass across several streets adjacent to the House. My hon. Friends and myself in the Liberal Party are a fairly small and easily accommodated unit at present, but there is no thought of providing us with one room, all together; we are scattered all over the place. The same is true of the Members from Northern Ireland, who, I should have thought, had a joint interest. If they are to remain here by courtesy of the Government, they should be provided with a room, all together. A more economical 1453 use of existing premises could help to make the working of Members much more efficient.
Why is there a room still allotted to an entirely mythical and non-existent body called the National Liberal Whips? This is very difficult to understand. Indeed, I understand that the National Liberal Party no longer exists. There are six hon. Members who declare themselves to be hyphenated in some way—Conservative-National Liberal or National Liberal Conservative. But these are purely sentimental attachments without political meaning, and there is no separate body with a claim to such a room. These are one or two points which I should like answered.
For the general well-being of Members, I think that it is time that something radical was done in the kitchens of the House. I do not know what the Kitchen Committee is doing, but I know that the staff work under very great difficulties and work very long hours. I understand that the kitchen premises are totally out of date, and certainly those of us who work here most of the time and take our meals here regularly are getting a little tired of the monotony and lack of quality in the standard of meals in the dining room. These are simple matters which could be improved.
I very much agreed with the hon. Member when he spoke about providing facilities out of Members' salaries. To my mind, Parliament made a great mistake at the beginning of the Session in giving a dramatic rise in Members' salaries. I know that this was an all-party agreement, and I dare say that if I had been in the House at the time I should have voted for it, along with everyone else, but I think that it was thoroughly bad public relations. The average member of the public is ready to believe that Members of Parliament are now living a fairly comfortable life on £3,250 a year, but we all know that this is just not so. It would have been far more sensible to have retained the salary of £1,750 and to have provided funds for the necessary expenses of hon. Members. I say this not just because this would be sensible public relations but because I believe that it is unrealistic to suggest a figure of, say, £1,250 as representing the average expenses of hon. Members. There can be no such thing 1454 as average expenses because our expenses vary according to circumstances, constituencies and the positions we hold in our parties.
Very few members of the public realise that from his salary of £3,250 the hon. Member must pay for his own secretary, if he has one. I discovered, to my surprise, when I first came to the House that not only did I have to find my own secretary but I had to buy her a typewriter. The public do not appreciate these things. I also cannot understand the system of charging for telephone calls. If an hon. Member has a London constituency—and, in any case, does not have the same expenses as rural hon. Members—he is able to telephone constituents without charge because we are not charged for local calls. On the other hand, an hon. Member who represents a constituency outside the London area must pay for his calls. This is a ludicrous arrangement which penalises the hon. Member who represents a distant constituency.
A major item of expenditure for those of us who have constituencies some distance from London is accommodation. This is an extremely important and costly matter because I believe that we should be in our constituencies as often as possible. Naturally, constituencies vary greatly in the demands they make on us. By their nature, constituencies which are sections—slices of cake, so to speak—of big cities require perhaps less work on the part of individual hon. Members than rural constituencies, where the hon. Member may be the only person to whom the constituents can turn. In constituencies such as these—and this applies to the majority of constituencies in Scotland, outside the urban areas—it is vital for hon. Members, if they are to do their work effectively, to be in their divisions a good deal. The result is that hon. Members who represent such areas must either live in their constituencies, in which case they must pay for accommodation in London, or live in London and pay for accommodation in their constituencies. Either way, the cost is considerable indeed.
I hope that when the new buildings are being erected across the way we will copy some other legislatures and have a Parliamentary hostelry in which hon. 1455 Members who live in their constituencies and come here to work during the Parliamentary week may be accommodated.
In short, there is no incentive for an hon. Member to do his job effectively. In fact, there is every disincentive. The more letters he writes the more out of pocket he is. That applies to telephone calls and everything else. The more work he decides to do the more secretarial work is involved, thus costing him more. The more he visits his constituency, if he lives in London, the more out of pocket he is. The whole system is bad and needs overhauling. I would be in favour of a complete reduction in Parliamentary salaries—back to the £1,750 figure if necessary—if we were provided with adequate facilities and expenses.
The way hon. Members are treated stems basically from the part-time approach to the job, although that approach is all wrong today. We must be Members of Parliament first and any other interests we may have should come second. Only by adopting that attitude to the job can we serve our constituents and this House effectively. If that were the basis on which hon. Members' facilities were worked out and on which their salaries were arrived at, I do not believe that we should have the present system.
If an hon. Member has, say, a business in the City and spends his mornings there, with his secretary paid by his company, and if, in addition, his constituency is near London, on £3,250 he has a comfortable time. His only expense is postage for his correspondence. He has no living expenses or secretarial expenses. He has no trunk telephone calls. On £3,250 he is doing very well. Other hon. Members who are here as professional Members of Parliament, whose sole income it is and who have constituencies which demand a lot of attention and which, by their distance from the House, involve a lot of expense, are very badly off compared with some of their brethren. In my opinion, the system requires to be revised completely.
It used to be said, and possibly it still is, that the House of Commons is the best club in Europe. But it is time we stopped running this establishment as a club, and started running it as a business establishment. Speaking yesterday in the censure debate, my right hon. Friend the 1456 Leader of my party referred to the debate as beingthe House of Commons engaged in a party wrangle".He went on:This serves to confirm two growing suspicions. The first is that Parliament is not a serious instrument of government and that, while calling for everyone else to modernise, we in this House are quite incapable of modernising ourselves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1965; Vol. 717, c. 1112.]I would echo those words today, and I hope that the initiative that the hon. Member for Nottingham, West has taken in raising this subject will be carried through, and that we will take steps to cease stumping about the country on every political platform, calling on everybody in sight to modernise and work more efficiently, and then being content to come back to sit in our best club in Europe.
§ 12.32 a.m.
§ Mr. Evelyn King (Dorset, South)
I, too, am obliged to the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) for raising this subject tonight. It is a good thing that we should consider Parliament as a whole and forget our parties. At least, so far what we have heard has been nothing which is not concerned with Parliament. It is because I am jealous of the good name of Parliament, however, that I do not feel able to subscribe to either of the two speeches that we have heard so far. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) spoke of modernisation, and I am wholly with him on that. But there certainly crept into his speech and that of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West a plea for additional assistance to hon. Members, and I personally would oppose that because it would do Parliament a considerable degree of harm.
§ Mr. English
I hope the hon. Gentleman will recollect that both the hon. Gentleman for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) and I suggested that we would be satisfied with a reduction in our salary if the alternative facilities were supplied. I should like to make that clear.
§ Mr. King
I agree, and I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. The only point that I make is one of public relations psychology. I am one of those who 1457 have doubts in the economic climate which exists and in the light of the appeals made from both sides of the House to restrict wage demands. Rightly or wrongly, we have already been subject to a good deal of criticism for what we have given ourselves in this Session. It may be said that we had to do it—I am not disposed to reopen the subject now—but, having done it, I at least am conscious that, rightly or wrongly, among the general public as a whole we have aroused considerable criticism. That having been done, for goodness sake let us leave the subject alone. It will do Parliament no good, and we shall do ourselves no good if we seek any other advantage which is to our personal cash profit. That is a point that I would like to make, and I should like to think that someone else in the House would make it, too.
I turn now to the quite separate point of modernisation, which was a much better case. I found some of the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West a little difficult to accept. There was his suggestion that each Member should carry in his pocket some form of wireless set to keep a link with the messengers so that we could be "buzzed" at any moment. That seems to be a little impracticable. Is the buzzer to go in the middle of a speech? If I carry such a machine, is it likely to buzz me in mid-speech? Here, I cannot resist paying a tribute to the messengers, who do a first-rate job with the maximum of courtesy and efficiency.
The hon. Member referred to the Library. I do not for a moment quarrel with his view that additional research facilities should be available, but when he spoke of a sum of £8,000 being spent on books and of twice as much being spent on presents to other Parliaments, I could not see the relevance of the comparison. The only relevance of the amount we spend on books is: can we get the book we want when we want it? I can say that after six years membership of the House I have never yet asked for a book and failed to get what I wanted.
That being the degree of service, I find it very difficult to find reasonable grounds for criticism there. For my own satisfaction I would like to pay a most enormous tribute to the Library staff, who are the 1458 most helpful people I have ever met in any library in this country. In saying that I hope that I represent the whole House. I am sympathetic to the quite separate point about additional research facilities being provided. That is what I consider to be modernisation—there is no cash profit in it for ourselves—and it is the sort of thing on which money ought to be spent.
I cannot see how the Minister can reply to what was said about the selection of candidates—he simply cannot have any responsibility for that, so I do not see any point in the subject being raised. What I consider to be by far the greatest deficiency in this House is the lack of separate rooms for individual Members. I have not presumed to count the number of Parliaments I have visited, but I recall those in America, Canada, Japan, India, Germany, France, and most of the Middle East. I can honestly say that in no one of them have I found the lack of facilities of that kind so deplorable as in this House. There are, I believe, 107 seats in the Library, which often has to accommodate some 600 Members. A Member who wants to prepare a speech, write an article or prepare a broadcast, will often have to do so standing up. During all-night sittings, the facilities are quite deplorable.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles thought that it would be difficult to provide a room for each Member, and he may be right, but it may not be as difficult as it is sometimes thought. We have rather over 100 Ministers. I do not believe that each has a room of his own, although a great many of them have. That knocks off something like 100. If we take in the desk rooms now shared between three or four Members, that must also knock off a considerable proportion. We all know that a number of rooms are allocated to officials in a way that dates back a long time. There are more rooms that could and should be made available to hon. Members.
I am also conscious that we have been spending in recent years very large sums of money on providing for hon. Members rooms in which there are five or six desks. I ask the Minister for how long these rooms are likely to be in use before we get nearer the point when an hon. Member gets a room of his own. I am 1459 curious to know whether we would be accused of wasting money in providing a form of accommodation which, however well provided in that form, will not, in the end, be efficient.
I make the plea that the Minister will give us an indication of how long we are likely to have to wait before we achieve the goal of one room for each Member, what difficulties and what cost he foresees and where these rooms are likely to be.
§ 12.41 a.m.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
I, too, welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). One of the things we should emphasise is that this is not simply a matter of hon. Members raising something for their own benefit but of drawing attention to the fact that they cannot effectively, in existing circumstances, return their duty to their constituents as it should be possible for them to do. When we talk of facilities for hon. Members, we are talking about the performance of hon. Members as well, for that performance is affected immediately by the facilities available. This is extremely important.
I am a new Member but this applies equally to me as it does to older Members. What is an hon. Member concerned to do? First, to put the argument for an individual constituent and, secondly, although seemingly contradictory, to put the point of view of a party. The odd thing—and this is probably why the House and the country as a whole have been hesitant about supplying certain facilities—is that, inevitably, in supplying those facilities to individual Members one is not just benefiting certain individual hon. Members but also a particular party.
This is one of the things we must recognise. It is inevitable. We cannot dodge it. I do not think that, merely because we enable a particular hon. Member in a particular constituency to do his job well and, of course, incidentally benefit his party by so doing, that we must necessarily draw the conclusion that we should detract from his ability to serve as a Member because of party considerations.
1460 An hon. Member is concerned with argument. As the hon. Member said, how does he substantiate his argument? He is concerned, for instance, with argument of a constituent's case. How does he find out about that case and put it properly to the Minister concerned so that the Minister will pay attention to it? The first thing, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) is that he must, if he is effectively to serve them, move around among his constituents. He must meet them, talk to them and be available to them.
I represent the largest constituency in the United Kingdom. If I travel from Inverness in the eastern part to the extreme west, I cover more than 120 miles. Frequently at the weekends I drive 250 to 300 miles within my constituency. I do not do it for fun. It is not that I like Grand Prix rally driving. I like driving a motor car to some extent, but I drive that mileage in order to present a service to the constituency. Incidentally—and this is also true of Labour and Conservative Members—while to some extent I am also rendering a service to my party, I do it basically in order to render a service to constituents, irrespective of party.
We are given a salary which some newspapers have painted as princely. We are now regarded as people who earn a vast amount of money and can afford to go on expensive holidays and generally live it up. As we all know, we are allowed to write off certain expenses against tax, but they are written off against a fixed sum and there is thus a limit to what we can do. It is a bad thing for the limit to what a Member can do to be financial. He should be limited not financially, but by what he is personally capable of doing and willing to do.
I have no malice in saying that a Member for a constituency in London, or a large city such as Birmingham or Glasgow, travels to his constituency by air or train and then walks around his constituency, but a country Member frequently has to travel far if he is to do his job effectively and he also has to pay for doing so.
The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) may not have intended to do so, and I do not want to argue with him if he did not, but he seemed 1461 to imply that some of us were looking for more money in our pockets to benefit ourselves, possibly to have a higher standard of living. I assure him that that is not the case. I am not making a profit and I did not come to the House to make a profit. This is certainly not the occupation which I would have chosen had I wished to make a profit.
§ Mr. Johnston
It is a loss. What I am asking is that in exercising his ordinary and proper duties a Member should not make a loss. I do not want to make a profit out of this business.
Therefore, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles and the hon. Member for Nottingham, West, that the Lawrence Report made a fundamental mistake in not relating our productive work to our incomes. After all, we are talking about an incomes policy and relating productivity to wages and it is only fair and reasonable and sensible that there should be some relationship between a Member's productivity and the allowances which he receives for it. In present circumstances, at a certain stage a Member must say that while he wants to travel 70 miles to see X—and 70 miles back—he cannot afford to do so. That detracts from his ability to serve his constituents properly.
An hon. Member is involved in putting forward an argument and in order to do so he has to produce facts. He may have to see a constituent to obtain facts from him. He has to employ a secretary if he is to do his job properly. The question of research assistance has been referred to. With the hon. Member for Dorset, South, I pay great tribute to the Library staff. As a new Member finding my way about, I have had tremendous help from them. But they are heavily overloaded and if all hon. Members put on them the sort of load I feel I must put, they would not be able to cope with it. It is not unfair to ask whether there could not be some sort of research facilities, not necessarily on a personal but possibly on a collective basis, made available to members of all parties. This would be a reasonable thing to do, possibly on the American model.
1462 An hon. Member has to put his case by wording. As a new Member, one of the things I cannot understand is the number of times—as happened frequently on the Finance Bill and on other Committees—a Government spokesman says, "We accept the general sense of this Amendment, but the words the hon. Member uses are unsatisfactory". Why in heaven's name cannot back-bench M.P.s have the facilities of Parliamentary draftsmen? If an hon. Member on either side of the House wishes to make a case their services should be available to him so that he can use the sort of phraseology which is apparently legally acceptable. That seems a basic requirement.
From the point of view of facilities of M.P.s, there is the facility of the hon. Member to speak. I may have been speaking for a long time.
§ Mr. Johnston
Members of the Front Bench, on either side of the House, speak for an inordinate length of time. Frequently they speak for up to an hour. If it were lively, scintillating, provocative stuff it would be all right, but often it is drab, dull and repetitive. We have had examples of this in recent days. The time has come if all hon. Members want to participate in the work and thought of Parliament and in constructive debate, for a limitation to be placed on the length of speeches. Occupants of the Front Benches require rather longer time to justify themselves, but to allow them to speak for an hour is a wee bit thick.
I speak as a member of what is commonly called a minority party. Frequently when talking to hon. Members from all parts of the House in the Lobbies and other places, I am told, "Aren't you a lucky fellow! A Liberal is always called to speak in a debate."
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is getting very far from the Consolidated Fund Bill.
§ Mr. Johnston
I would not dream of contesting your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was merely making a simple point, that when one considers the salaries 1463 of Members of Parliament one also considers the facilities they have with which to make a contribution in this House. I feel that this was possibly a relevant point, but, of course, I would not dream of arguing with your ruling.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Nottingham, West in his remarks regarding the selection of candidates for this House. Let us be quite honest about it. This is a democracy, which very often works in an imperfect way. It very often throws up imperfect solutions. It is an imperfect fact that 3 million people should vote Liberal and 10 Liberal M.P.'s should be returned. Nevertheless I feel that when we consider the salaries of Members we cannot properly consider the way in which these people are selected as candidates. This is not a proper point for argument.
After what I have said the next point may be considered frivolous, but I feel that it is not unimportant. We have been engaged in some extremely long sittings in this Session, and the fact is that that profession, if that is the right word, of a Member of Parliament is a somewhat sedentary one. One sits in the House, one sits in one's car, one sits here, there and everywhere, and one becomes very unfit, very fat, very sluggish, and this is undoubtedly reflected in Member's physique and, from time to time, in their contributions.
I quite honestly believe that it would be a very proper thing if in this House where we are concerned so very much about fitness—and I know that the Government are concerned about the fitness of their Members—we had some sort of facilities for exercise. I think that a gymnasium, or something of that sort, would be a very desirable thing in this House.
§ Mr. Evelyn King
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there was a gymnasium, but I am told that it was removed because no one ever used it?
§ Mr. Johnston
Oddly enough, and I hope this will not be considered an improper remark, I remember seeing when I was young a picture in the Picture Post of the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) hanging upside down in the gymnasium. 1464 I think it is a great pity that this is not still available. This is not a question of asking for particular facilities to be available for Members. It is a question of recognising that we are engaged in a very difficult and arduous task. We come here willingly and voluntarily, but the fact is that something like 17 to 18 Members die in the service of the House a year. I think that some sort of facility ought to be available to Members who wish to maintain themselves in a reasonable condition of physical health.
§ Mr. William Yates
The hon. Member must understand that so long as the country is willing to pour more and more money into this ancient, shambolic building in this area of London, there is no chance of getting that or having any of the facilities that he wants, because by now he must know, and everybody knows, that this building is absolutely out of touch with the time and era which we we want to represent. There is absolutely no chance of getting any of the facilities he suggests in Westminster, such as a tennis court or anything else.
§ Mr. Johnston
I do not want to carry on much longer.
I echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Dorset, South that it is a wee bit unfair on the Minister for us to be posing this debate to him. He has newly come to office. He is certainly not responsible for the existing state of Westminster. Nevertheless, I suppose that any Government which comes to power, whichever one it is, takes upon itself the responsibility for supply facilities for Members.
Therefore, in conclusion, I should like briefly to ask the hon. Gentleman four questions. First, what are his views on the existing shape of the salaries of Members of Parliament and as to whether there ought not to be a close relationship between them and expenses? Second, is there a possibility within the existing framework of supplying the office facilities which Members of Parliament indubitably need, on all sides, to perform their duties adequately?
Third, does the hon. Gentleman regard it as of any importance that there should be facilities for Members to maintain themselves in a reasonable physical condition? It is easy to joke about this but it is important. Lastly, does he feel that the existing method whereby time is 1465 allocated in terms of contribution in this House is fair or equitable or offers the proper facility either for minority parties or, for that matter, for back-bench Members?
§ 1.2 a.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Public Building and Works (Mr. James Boyden)
No one can charge me with extra long speeches from this Box—I might be charged with tediousness, but not with that—and in view of the long list of subjects which it is hoped to debate tonight, perhaps hon. Members will forgive me if I am as brief as possible.
This debate has served as a useful curtain raiser to what will be a major debate in due course on the Palace of Westminster, when I have no doubt that the suggestion will be made for a House of Commons Services Committee, with a different sort of sub-committee to it from the kinds of Committees that we have had, which might well provide the forum for hearing the sort of discussion that we have had tonight, and allow hon. Members to make their case for change more easily than is done at present, and also to feel that they are participating more in the running of this establishment—I say that with an undertone as well—than has been done in the past. The changes which have recently taken place, and which are suggested in the Report which is before us, open the field for a great deal more participation by every Member of the House in running his own environment.
Reference has been made to the catering. It has always struck me that the catering service in this House has an admirable range of services. One can have almost anything from a banquet to an immediate snack. As the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) paid tribute to the Library staff, I should like to pay tribute to the catering staff. Anybody who brings a visitor to the House gets admirable treatment. The catering staff seem to have the psychology to adjust their service to the demands of one's visitors, whether they are a little hard and irrational or modest. Whatever the kind of guest or party one brings, it always seems to me that the catering service does admirably in providing the food.
§ Mr. Boyden
I will not give way. The hon. Member has only just come in to the debate. Time is short, a great many hon. Members are waiting to participate, and I shall not give way to him.
§ Mr. Boyden
The hon. Member might have waited for a more convenient moment anyway, because I would like to pay tribute to the catering staff, who manage under very considerable difficulties. I am well aware—indeed, my right hon. Friend is—of all the difficulties which the catering staff have, and I imagine that to get the kind of modern catering facilities which perhaps would be highly desirable would be very expensive and, of course, would involve a lot of reorganisation. There have been improvements in the last year or two which have made an amelioration of the conditions.
I am sure there is no Ministerial responsibility for one of the major points which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West made, that Ministers, or even this House, should have things to say about the people who are sent here. The historical precedents are rather unfortunate in cases where the House excluded people like Wilkes or Bradlaugh. History had some rather rude things to say subsequently about the House of those times. The House has never taken upon itself that it should decide what sort of people come here, except in those very bad cases, as history records, when it excluded Members.
My own feeling is this. However angry I may feel about a Member, however stupid I may feel him to be, I always think that anybody who has got into this House has got here by a rough path and must be a person of some distinction; and that always moderates any critical feeling I may have about somebody with whom, perhaps, I may be in conflict, because I think that to be a Member of this House is a great distinction. This the British public, I think, recognise. Indeed, I think that very often Members of Parliament get perhaps rather more credit for being persons of authority and ability and so on than they sometimes deserve.
1467 But still, I think that is the right thing, because if one denigrates Parliament or Members of Parliament—except for any specific action for which they deserve to be criticised—one is not serving democracy or the best interests of this country—or of other countries. One of the great contributions this country has made to civilisation is the democratic parliamentary way in which we conduct our business, a way which has been imitated all over the world. And, of course, parliamentary government generally is on the retreat. Although we fought a massive war to preserve democracy and to preserve parliamentary institutions, the fact remains that today there are fewer parliaments functioning in the way we think is the proper way for them to function than there were before.
Therefore I do very sincerely say to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) and the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) that I am not here for profit, and that most of us come here for a variety of reasons, but certainly not to make a lot of money; and that any kind of ill-considered criticism which damages the coinage of the Parliamentary system is against the things our ancestors struggled for and for which we ourselves still struggle today.
So I would say that the rugged individualism which charaterises M.P.s is a very good thing, and I would be loth to make them much more academic. That is not to say that facilities cannot be improved. They can be improved, but I think we should need to hesitate a lot before going as far as a Congress system of research facilities. I would have thought one of the things in favour of our Parliamentary system is that Members have contact with their constituents. Even though a Member has to travel 150 miles to meet them, it gives him political refreshment, gives him political and economic knowledge which he could not get from a library however good it might be. Also, Members have enough initiative and intelligence to go to their own sources of information—among the groups they are familiar with, the bodies they are associated with—and bring back here the benefits of that experience, very often vicarious, which does not come from reading books or even using the Library 1468 here. This is not to say—I am speaking not for the Government, but for myself—that within the new establishment that I have a strong feeling will be set up, there will not be many opportunities for making suggestions for improving the Library service, and I am sure that this will be done.
Perhaps I could turn, as the hon. Member for Dorset, South so wisely and forcibly said, to the limited amount of the debate for which I might be said to have some responsibility. What is likely to happen with regard to accommodation facilities? The second stage of the roof space scheme will, it is hoped, be completed towards the end of the year to provide accommodation for a further 28 Members. The Star Chamber Court scheme, which hon. Members know is getting under way—
§ Mr. Evelyn King
Can the Minister elaborate that? Can he say how many Members there will be in each room, or what space they will have?
§ Mr. Boyden
They will be small rooms, and it will depend to some extent on whether the Fees Office is brought across, as it is suggested it should be. I am afraid that Members may still have to share rooms. They may not all be one-Member rooms.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman felt that my intervention a little earlier was ill-timed, but I am deeply interested in this subject. Will he confirm that 28 Members could be accommodated individually in stage 2 of the roof scheme, and can he tell the House how many Members could be accommodated if the Fees Office did not come into stage 2, which would not appear to be the wish of the most recent Select Committee Report?
§ Mr. Boyden
The situation about the allocation of rooms is that the Serjeant at Arms allocates the space that he has, and I was going to make a point about this in relation to what the Liberal Party said. The Serjeant at Arms has given evidence to this effect to the Select Committee. He is anxious to please the House. He is anxious to arrange things so that those Members who want to share can do so, or at least be adjacent to each other. From the Liberal Party's point of view, I 1469 suggest that, when the allocation of rooms is made when this new accommodation comes in, the points that they have made in this debate should be put to the Serjeant at Arms, and I am sure that he will do his best to accommodate the hon. Members.
Ministers' rooms are allocated in a block by the Serjeant at Arms to my right hon. Friend who re-allocates them to Ministers. As far as the House is concerned, this is within the control of the Serjeant at Arms, and he is very anxious to meet the wishes of Members in this respect. I think that my right hon. Friend has shown a good deal of wisdom in the way that he has paired Ministers in rooms. I share a room with a friend and colleague. This has been done with a certain amount of sensitivity, and I am sure that it can be done with regard to Members sharing rooms in the House.
Going on to what accommodation is likely to be available, the Star Chamber Court scheme is about to be started, and is due to be completed at the beginning of 1967. It will provide about 9,000 square feet of usable office space, and again in terms of Members it will provide individual rooms for about 67 Members. My right hon. Friend estimates that by the time this is brought into operation there will probably be enough desk room anyway—not individual rooms, but desk room—to satisfy all the Members who want desks, and a fair amount of this accommodation can be single rooms.
I should like to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) about hostel accommodation. Beatrice Webb raised this in about 1900 in one of her famous tomes, in a footnote—she was probably thinking of this side of the house—saying that it would be good for us to live in hostels and get to know each other rather better. Things were rather different in those days, and nothing has ever come of that. When I first came to this House I thought that that was a good idea, but since then I have been worn down by the traditions of the place and I have found more and more that Members do not particularly want to be so close to each other in view of the hours that they are penned up anyhow. Therefore, there might be a strong argument for not having facilities of this 1470 sort, and for getting our own accommodation.
This comes back to the rugged individualism which characterises our pay arrangements, and the provision of facilities and accommodation. Partly because Members are rugged individualists and partly because they have very differing needs they prefer to have a sum of money and to dispose of it to meet their own requirements.
§ Mr. David Steel
I agree with what the Minister is saying. I am not passionately concerned about hostels as such. The point I was making was taken up by the hon. Member for Dorset, South, namely, that it might be more understandable to provide Members with a place to stay here, from the point of view of members of the public, than to provide them with a sum of money. I would prefer the sum of money and have to find my own accommodation—but I would rather have hostel accommodation than nothing.
§ Mr. Boyden
It is difficult to find accommodation near Westminster. In any case, I would refer the hon. Member to the Martin Plan, which has just come out, which provides, at the far end of the Palace, and in the far distant future—and this is a proposal upon which the Government has made no pronouncement—a nice little row of flats across in Victoria Tower Gardens. Both hon. Members who have spoken on the subject have time on their side, so if they can still resist the mellowing influence of this House they will be able to push for these flats to be built across Victoria Tower Gardens. But I am not authorised to make any Government statement on this issue.
I want to say a word about the communications system, which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West was stressing, including an electrical paging system. The servants of the House try to improve, and have improved, their own speed of communication. The Postmaster-General is looking into the possibility of introducing a better system. Again—and in this respect perhaps it is a case of a reactionary worn down by tradition—I cannot help feeling that if members of the public come to see their Members of Parliament, in nine cases out of ten, or even 99 cases out of 100, 1471 they should make some advance arrangements. To be buzzed when one is very active and busy, or heavily engaged, is undesirable.
But there is something more serious behind this. We live in an age where communications are becoming faster and faster, and sometimes they make the human being a victim of speed. One quality of this House is that it tends, in its procedures, to ignore speed. Perhaps that is not a wholly desirable thing, but to go to the opposite extreme in this somewhat cumbersome arrangement of buildings and procedures that we have and that we want to improve, and to impose upon them suddenly the latest method of communications with the constituent who has arrived in hot haste to demand something or other might be to create, somewhat rashly, the worst of both worlds.
I know that my hon. Friend is a moderniser, and I wish him well in his pursuit of more rapid communications. The matter is being looked at, as are improvements in respect of Division Bell facilities, and things of that sort.
I was made forcibly aware of the fact that some Members would prefer facilities rather than money. I do not think that I can do better than refer the House to the Lawrence Committee's findings. They were pretty universally accepted. The Report was accepted by both sides. The Committee went into very great detail. It asked any hon. Member who wanted to make a contribution to do so, and all these contributions were carefully considered.
The very points made by my hon. Friend and other hon. Members about the variations in money spent on travelling and other things were incorporated in the Appendix and collected up, and the Committee came to the firm conclusion, in Paragraph 38, that the amount of salary required to cover all individual needscan only be an act of subjective judgment. Parliamentary service is an occupation of which the nature is unique and therefore neither the principle of 'fair comparison' nor any comparative method can give guidance towards the appropriate figure. Nor is the remuneration of this service something which ought properly to be governed by the forces of competition or by market value.The Committee's subjective judgment was as reasonable a judgment as prob- 1472 ably anyone could arrive at. It is true that hon. Members, as they have said, would have liked it in another way but the report of the Committee which laboured so well has been pretty unanimously adopted. I agree with the hon. Member for Dorset, South that this is perhaps not the moment to raise the issue. As the Committee says, in the same kind of tone, in paragraph 67 on facilities:In reaching our conclusion on the amount of the salary for Members we have, for the reasons we have given, taken the present practice as we find it and on this footing have recommended a remuneration out of which they can choose and pay for such facilities as they personally decide best meet their individual needs.This is what has happened, but this does not militate against hon. Members making representations later so that they will be clearly heard and probably brought into more active consideration.
In considering our facilities and the things which we would like, we have to bear in mind not so much that by having improved facilities we serve the public better but the sort of improvements which have taken place over the last few years and our plans for the future. Undoubtedly we need to go faster but this place moves rather slowly. The pace is improving and, as was said on another famous occasion, no doubt will improve still further.