HC Deb 18 November 1970 vol 806 cc1230-3
41. Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Lord President of the Council whether, in view of the increases approved for civil servants, chairmen and members of the nationalised boards, judges, local government officers and public employees since 1964 and the arrangements made for continuing increases, he will give the reason why he will not move to increase the salaries of Members of the House of Commons.

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not believe that it would be right to increase the salaries of Members of the House of Commons in present circumstances.

Mr. Lewis

This may or may not be right, but could the right hon. Gentleman explain why everybody in the country, including civil servants, have had consistent and regular increases since 1964 and that the latter are due to get further increases in January totalling some 43 per cent.? If it is fair for them, why is it not fair for Members of Parliament?

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his supplementary question that my answer "may or may not be right". I believe that it is right.

Mr. Lane

Although I support my right hon. Friend's attitude to salaries at the present time, I wonder whether he could confirm that throughout this Parliament he will do his best to keep up the momentum of improvement in our general facilities?

Mr. Whitelaw

There were improvements in facilities produced by the previous Government under the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). I have made one improvement in regard to Members' car mileage allowances, and I believe that that was right.

Mr. Pearl

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about improvement in facilities. Is he aware that, although we should seek to improve facilities, we should not dodge the issue of proper and adequate remuneration for Members? I believe that some sort of machinery should exist to look into these matters. We had the Lawrence Report some years ago which, in the end, produced an increase. In view of what the Services Committee has done, and remembering that it is an all-party matter, I believe that it can be said that there is general agreement on all sides that something should be done at some time.

Mr. Whitelaw

I would not dissent from the right hon. Gentleman's view that something should be done at some time. At the present time I will stick to my original Answer.

Sir R. Thompson

Since hon. Members are about the only people in the country who, at the drop of a hat, can increase their salaries if they so wish, should we not be exceedingly reluctant to do so?

Mr. Whitelaw

In present circumstances I am bound to agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Heffer

Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that there are many Members who are not millionaires, who are not company directors, and who do not receive any retaining fees from anybody outside this House? Is it not clear that, firstly, whether or not we increase salaries at this particular time, something must be done to give Members further assistance in regard to secretarial help so that such people may be paid a proper and decent wage and be given proper conditions in which to work, and, secondly, that there should be assistance to Members, particularly provincial Members, so that they can lodge in decent conditions when they have to come to this House?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am certainly prepared to accept the facts which the hon. Gentleman produced at the beginning of his question. I note his other points, and I am certainly prepared to consider them, but I cannot at this time go further than my original Answer.

Mr. Marten

In view of what my right hon. Friend said, could he nevertheless take a sympathetic look at the situation of widows of Members of Parliament?

Mr. Whitelaw

Yes, I am perfectly prepared to look at all these matters, and, indeed, at pensions as well. There are many matters involved, and I should not like anybody in the House to think that in my replies, restrictive as they have been, I do not appreciate many of the problems raised by this Question. I do appreciate them. In present circumstances I must say that I will consider them all, but at this time I must stick to my original Answer.

Mr. William Hamilton

If the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to accede to the request in the Question, will he not consider the desirability of producing a public register of Members' outside financial interests so that the public may know which Members have to live on their salary full-time and which do not?

Mr. Whitelaw

That raises quite other questions from that which I originally answered.

Mr. Bob Brown

Is the Leader of the House aware of any other group of employees in this country who have not had a salary increase in six years? If so, will he list them in the OFFICIAL REPORT?

Mr. Whitelaw

I personally would not like this House to become engaged in a form of pressure over its own remuneration. I recognise many of the problems involved and have said so. Equally, I feel it right in the present national circumstances to stick to my original Answer, and I do stick to it.

Mr. Tugendhat

In view of the tone of the questions on this subject, would my right hon. Friend agree that it would be desirable for Members' salaries to be linked to a grade in the Civil Service, so that increases would be automatic and we should not need to have this sort of discussion?

Mr. Whitelaw

These are all matters which can properly be considered.

Mr. Sheldon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when the Lawrence Committee met it was not under the impression that price rises would continue in all countries as well as in ours? This being so, and since inflation is a natural phenomenon with which we have to come to terms, surely what we now need is another committee impartially to examine this matter and to operate a wage-price link such as applies in other Parliaments?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman says.