HC Deb 11 December 1969 vol 793 cc653-62

4.5 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

Mr. Speaker, with your per- mission and that of the House, I should like to make a statement on facilities for Members.

On 24th July, I announced to the House the Government's acceptance on several of the recommendations made in the Sixth Report of the Services Committee. I also announced the Government's acceptance in principle of the Committee's recommendation that provision should be made at public expense for secretarial assistance to Members.

Since then, I have consulted many Members about the arrangements for secretarial assistance which they would find most convenient and efficient. The great majority of Members wish to continue to make their own personal arrangements. Many Members stressed the confidential nature of the work, and the obvious advantages of having secretarial assistance familiar with their personal and constituency arrangements.

In the light of these replies, the Government have concluded that Members should continue to be able to make their own arrangements for secretarial assistance. The Government have, however, given careful and detailed consideration to what assistance from public funds should be provided towards Members' costs for this aspect of their parliamentary expenses.

The House will recall that in my statement of 24th July, I drew attention to the relation between the improvement of facilities and the level of Members' salaries, and I announced then that the Government considered that the whole question of Members' remuneration should be referred to the N.B.P.I., or its successor, during the next Parliament. Any further contribution to parliamentary expenses proposed now, therefore, would be of an interim nature, until the whole question of remuneration of Members is reviewed.

Against this background, and recognising that the present basis of Members' remuneration already takes some account of secretarial expenses, the Government propose that Members should be able to claim an allowance for secretarial assistance of up to £500 per annum.

The allowance will be payable on a quarterly basis, beginning with the quarter ending on 31st December, 1969. It will be payable only in respect of secretarial expenses actually incurred during the period for which a claim is made; and in making expenses claims to the Inland Revenue, Members will, of course, need to continue to substantiate expenditure of at least the amount claimed in the same way as they do for other expenses.

In the Government's view, this proposed new allowance marks a significant further step forward in the improvements of Members' facilities. I recognise that this sum will by no means meet the costs of those Members who employ a secretary full-time in their parliamentary duties. But it will be a considerable contribution to the secretarial expenses incurred by a substantial majority of Members.

I should also like to make an announcement on Members' car allowances. The Government propose that the present car allowance of 4½d. a mile should be increased to 6d. a mile. This follows the basis for calculating the car allowance adopted in the Lawrence Report, and broadly reflects the average cost of first-class rail travel. As at present, it is not directly related to the cost of actual car expenses. Such a change of basis will also have to await the overall review of remuneration.

In addition, the Government propose a number of changes to improve and rationalise our present travel arrangements. For example, it is proposed that payment of the car allowance should in future be made, in certain circumstances, when a car is used on a Member's behalf rather than by the Member himself, such as when it is driven back home from a Member's local railway station after the Member has himself continued his journey by train.

The Motion required to give effect to the proposals which I have just announced will be brought before the House as soon as possible.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

Will the Leader of the House make clear that these matters have been considered from time to time by the Services Committee and that, on the whole, it has been unanimous that this kind of step should be taken towards improving facilities for Members?

Concerning what the right hon. Gentleman has suggested today, is he aware that the method of approach will, on the whole, be welcome?

As to the amounts, on the one hand there are some Members, though not many, who think that nothing should be done and, on the other, there are others who think that much more should be done, particularly regarding the mileage allowance? But as this is an interim measure, perhaps the House would be wise to accept it, on the whole, as a reasonable compromise.

Mr. Peart

I am grateful for the view of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I should like to pay tribute to my colleagues on the Services Committee. I recognise that many hon. Members wish that it was a higher amount. However, this is a beginning—an interim measure.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Will my right hon. Friend recognise that the efficiency of a Member of Parliament depends largely on the secretarial assistance which he has and that he cannot obtain the secretarial assistance he requires, if he is to do his work as he should, if the allowance is only £500 a year?

Mr. Peart

I accept this; but my right hon. Friend will appreciate that this is the first time that we have made this breakthrough.

Sir R. Cary

Concerning the £500 a year allowance for secretaries, surely many of us are already making that sort of claim for ordinary expenses to the taxation authorities.

Mr. Peart

I am aware of that. The Fees Office will be sending out a circular about this matter.

Mr. C. Pannell

Whatever may be said about the secretarial allowance, is my right hon. Friend aware that nobody who knows anything about these matters will accuse the House of being generous to itself?

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the car allowance is absolutely derisory? Neither the smallest local authority in the country, nor the most parsimonious firm would pay executives in the £3,000 a year class an allowance on this minimum scale.

Mr. Peart

My right hon. Friend knows the problem and the recommendation of the Lawrence Committee. As I have said, there should be a major review. This is an interim award.

Dr. Winstanley

How can the Leader of the House reconcile his statement that Members' remuneration already takes account of their expenses when he knows that in many cases their expenses totally consume their remuneration? Is it maintained that a Member needs only half a secretary and that a Member's motoring costs precisely half that of a civil servant's?

Mr. Peart

I would remind the House that this is the recommended basis in the Lawrence Report. The hon. Gentleman has had conversations with me, quite rightly, and I appreciate that from his paint of view he would wish for a higher sum. But in the circumstances, when he examines this more fully, I think that he will agree that it is a good beginning.

Mr. Dickens

While any improvements to the pathetically low level of services available to Members is welcome, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that many of us will feel that he and the Cabinet have failed to fully implement the recommendations of the Sixth Report of the Select Committee on House of Commons Services?

As the Treasury is paying secretaries between £950 and £1,250 per annum, does my right hon. Friend recognise that to offer Members of Parliament £500 is a gross insult to this House and its Members?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept that. Indeed, if many of my colleagues, including myself, had not pushed this matter forward, we would not have had the statement that I have made today.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

As the mileage allowance figure was fixed by Lawrence long time ago and as the cost of petrol has gone up considerably since, is it not childish that Members of Parliament should get less than civil servants or any businessmen?

Mr. Peart

I have explained this matter in detail and referred to the Lawrence Report. Hon. Members know all about the details.

Mr. Tomney

In view of the complexities of the car allowance, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can recommend to me a good accountant?

Mr. Peart

I am sure that my hon. Friend, whom I know very well, can make that decision himself.

Mr. Crouch

As one who gave evidence before the Services Committee some time ago, and now enjoys free postage and the advantage of a telephone, I should like to say "Thank you" to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Heller

Is my right hon. Friend aware that whilst this goes some way towards solving the problem, some hon. Members have been forced to ask their secretaries to be self-employed because they were not able to pay S.E.T. and the insurance?

Is my right hon. Friend also aware that many secretaries have not been guaranteed full payment for holidays or sickness? Will he, therefore, look into the whole question again for the future? Does he also agree that the time has come when secretaries who work for hon. Members should be placed in the position of secretaries outside in industry and elsewhere?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the point made by my hon. Friend. Indeed, many hon. Members have written to me about it. But, as I have said, there will be a major review at another period.

Mr. Woodburn

Is not this an increase to those who exhaust the whole of their £3,000 salary on expenses, but practically no increase to those who charge their secretaries' expenses on their income tax in the normal way as part of their salary? Is not this giving to those who have and taking away from those who have not?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept that. I hope that my right hon. Friend will wait until the circular comes out from the Fees Office.

Mr. Hawkins

I should like to thank the Leader of the House for the fight which he has obviously put on behalf of Members. I have no doubt that it was a hard fight. However, he must recognise that a large number of people who know the cost of motoring will realise that it is derisory to put up the allowance from 4½d. to 6d. a mile.

Mr. Peart

As I have said, this was really the basis which Lawrence recommended, but it will be reviewed later.

Mr. Conlan

Whilst paying tribute to the efforts of my right hon. Friend, will he understand that to replace one inadequate sum with another is not justified? The increase from 4½d. to 6d. a mile will not be of great help to Members in doing their work. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has already compared this with the sums paid to local and national government officers.

Further, is my right hon. Friend aware that Members have clawed back by the Treasury up to one-third of the allowance in income tax?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of that. However, this is an advance. I would never regard that as defeat.

Mr. Fortescue

Has the Leader of the House taken into account the effect of today's announcement on the attitude of mind of teachers and nurses in their present pay claims?

Mr. Heffer

What has that to do with it?

Mr. Peart

We must look at the increase that I have announced in terms of improved efficiency of services to Members.

Mr. Henig

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in view of the difficulties that he has clearly had, many Members will think that he has done a very good job, will be grateful for all the improvements that have taken place over the last few months, and that many of us say Thank you".

Mr. Peart

I thank my hon. Friend.

Mr. Tom Boardman

Is the Leader of the House aware that the difference between cost and allowance will bear particularly hardly on Members with large and scattered constituencies which are now to be perpetuated?

Mr. Peart

I accept this. I have a large constituency, like many other hon. Members. But this interim award will, in the circumstances, be helpful.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on his partial success in battling with the Treasury, may I ask whether any secretaries employed by the Treasury receive £500 a year or less and whether any of them receive 6d. a mile car allowance? Did my right hon. Friend take into account the House of Commons Motoring Club's facts and figures before he came to this decision?

Lastly, why is my right hon. Friend wedded to Lawrence? That was years ago. He does not have to stick to it. The Government can decide what they want. They can ignore the Treasury and make the decision.

Mr. Peart

That would be a nice easy solution, but I have had wide consultation, including consultation with the Motoring Club.

Mr. Orme

Would my right hon. Friend not acknowledge that many people feel that there should be an end to the principle adopted by the Lawrence Committee of paying hon. Members on the basis that the less they do the more they get, and that Members who work in this place should be remunerated accordingly? In that respect this proposal does not meet the recommendations of the Select Committee. Could he say what will happen about the £500? Will there be yearly adjustment of the figure, otherwise in 12 or 18 months' time hon. Members will be placed in a difficult position.

Mr. Peart

On the wider issue, I know that many hon. Members feel that Lawrence was not the right standard on which to judge the matter. As I have said, the whole question of remuneration expenses, etc. should be considered at a later period. This is an interim award and my statement is in that sense an interim statement. I believe that my hon. Friend need not worry about the other matter. I feel that it will be satisfactory.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that, in view of the incidence of income tax, a sum paid to a secretary of more than £340 a year will still have to be paid out of the hon. Member's salary? Could my right hon. Friend say what percentage of the increase he expects the Inland Revenue to claw back? Will it not be a substantial percentage?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the first point. The second point depends on the circumstances.

Mr. Gardner

Although we appreciate the fight put up by my right hon. Friend, did he take into account in coming to the decision the kinds of services available to members of other legislatures, particularly those in smaller countries? Is he also aware that a great deal of unfairness will still exist since wealthy hon. Members will be able to get back four or five times the amount in income tax?

Mr. Peart

All the facts mentioned by my hon. Friend were taken into account.

Mr. Heath

The right hon. Gentleman said that the amount clawed back by the Inland Revenue will depend on circumstances. Does that mean that the £500 is liable to tax?

Mr. Peart

Yes, the allowance is a deduction from expenses incurred. The balance will be allowable for tax purposes subject to the normal rules.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

May I thank the Leader of the House for the fight which he has put up? Would he suggest to his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary of the Treasury that a solution might be found to the problem of car allowances by allowing Members of Parliament to buy their fuel tax-free, as English diplomats are allowed to do in foreign countries?

Mr. Peart

That is another matter.

Mr. Thorpe

Has it occurred to the Leader of the House that, in view of all the exchanges which have taken place today, 1½ hours might be a little short for the debate next week?

Mr. Peart

I think that hon. Members have effectively put their points of view today.

Mr. Walden

While sincerely thanking my right hon. Friend for his efforts, would he bear in mind the context in which he has had to make his statement when thinking of future consultations? Can nothing be done to get rid of the iniquitous system whereby Parliament itself has to determine the level of its own salaries and allowances?

Mr. Peart

I am aware of the point, but it embraces a wider issue.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson

My right hon. Friend will recollect stating that the £500 would meet the secretarial expenses of a substantial number of hon. Members. On what evidence does he base that statement? Has he undertaken a survey to determine the secretarial expenses of hon. Members?

Mr. Peart

It has been done by contact with hon. Members and points made in correspondence with them.

Mr. John Mendelson

Does my right hon. Friend recall that a number of hon. Members proposed that Members of Parliament should be treated in the same way as civil servants or members of Her Majesty's Government? In this way no money would pass through our hands, but a secretary would be appointed for us, hon. Members would then give their secretaries a form at the end of the month, and the Treasury would pay their salary.

This surely should be done, rather than to put hon. Members in a position in which nominally there is provision for £500 to pay a salary which, on the most favourable terms, will mean a sum of only £340. The public will get the wrong impression since they will think that the whole £500 is to be provided for secretarial purposes when, in fact, after payments to the Inland Revenue, the amount will be only £340.

Mr. Peart

I have nothing to add. Indeed, the original proposal in my hon. Friend's question would not be acceptable to many of my colleagues.