HC Deb 29 July 1974 vol 878 cc30-42
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement.

As the House knows, the Top Salaries Review Body, under Lord Boyle's chairmanship, has been reviewing Members' allowances. Its terms of reference were: To review the current rates of allowances payable to Members of the House of Commons and to recommend the levels to which they should be increased The Review Body has now reported to the Prime Minister and its report is being published today as a Command Paper. Copies are available in the Vote Office. I am most grateful to Lord Boyle and to the other members of the Review Body for having completed the review so quickly.

The Government accept the Review Body's recommendations, which are as follows: The allowance payable for journeys by car in the performance of Members' parliamentary duties should be increased from 5p to 7.7p a mile. London supplement paid to Ministers and office holders and to Members who represent London constituencies should go up from £175 to £228 a year. The limit within which a Member may claim the additional cost of living away from home when engaged on parliamentary duties should be raised from £750 to £1,050 a year.

The Review Body recommends that the annual limit within which Members may claim the cost of secretarial assistance should be increased from £1,000 to £1,750. This new rate allows for increases in secretaries' pay and also takes into account that Members need more secretarial assistance than previously. Payment for research assistance may also be met within the limit of this allowance, up to a new maximum of £550.

The report also recommends that those Members who represent constituencies in the Greater London area but who, under the present rules, do not qualify for London supplement because their constituencies are outside the inner London area might in future be allowed London supplement as an alternative to the additional costs allowance.

The Government also intend to introduce a minor change in the rules governing the issue of railway warrants. This will benefit Members who represent distant constituencies and use the motor-rail service. It would allow these Members to reclaim the actual cost of such a journey within the limits of the motor mileage allowance that would have been payable if the journey had been made by car.

A motion giving effect to these changes where necessary will be tabled this evening, and it is proposed that the operative date for the changes should be 1st August 1974.

I would like to stress, Mr. Speaker, that none of these increases is an increase in pay. They recognise that allowances, which help to meet expenses arising from parliamentary duties, have not kept pace with the cost of living.

I know that many back-bench Members feel they could make a greater contribution to the work of Parliament if the research services available to them could be strengthened. I propose, therefore, to set up a Select Committee after the Summer Recess to examine the present support facilities available to back-bench Members carrying out their duties in this House, in particular research assistance on matters before Parliament, and to make recommendations for such improvements as they consider necessary. This Select Committee will have a most important task before it on behalf of back-bench Members.

The Government believe that further measures are needed to strengthen out parliamentary democracy. The health of a democracy necessarily reflects the stand- ing and independence of its political parties. For this reason, many Western democratic countries think it best that their political parties should have part of their finance provided from public funds. We take the view that whether or not some form of financial assistance for the parties' work outside Parliament is desirable in this country needs thorough study by an independent committee. I propose to establish such a committee after the recess. I will, of course, discuss its terms of reference with all the parties opposite. I would envisage an independent chairman and representation from the parties and others.

A more immediate need is to provide additional support for the Opposition parties in Parliament—support which they certainly require if they are to play their full part here. The then Opposition and, I believe, the whole House benefited greatly from the Rowntree scheme, but more permanent arrangements are now necessary. Following our commitment in the Queen's Speech, I have had very helpful discussions with the parties opposite. I now plan to bring firm proposals before the House in the autumn.

The main areas of support which we believe are needed are in the staffing of the Opposition Leader's and Chief Whip's offices, and in research assistance for shadow Front Bench spokesmen. The smaller parties also need staff support, but, naturally, on a smaller scale. We take the view that the parties should decide their own staffing arrangements, and I shall propose, therefore, that they be allocated funds for this purpose, borne upon the House Vote. These would be calculated by a formula based on the number of seats and votes won, the details of which I should like to discuss further with the parties opposite after the recess.

Mr. Speaker, I firmly believe that all the measures which I have announced this afternoon will do much to strengthen the effectiveness of Parliament. It is for that reason above all that I commend them to the House.

Mr. Prior

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we join him in thanking Lord Boyle for his speedy report? We confirm the right hon. Gentleman's emphasis that these allowances are for expenses incurred by Members and are nothing to do with their salaries. I believe that particularly in time of inflation, such as we are now experiencing, some rather more frequent review would meet the needs of the House and perhaps be more explainable to the country than the long period between reviews which has been the custom in recent times. I know that not all of my right hon. and hon. Friends agree with me on that matter, but I still believe that it would be generally acceptable to the House.

Regarding the point that Lord Boyle has suggested about the special arrangements which are now to be made for London Members who are outside the Inner London Education Authority area, I think that the right hon. Gentleman has done the right thing and I am certain that many London Members will be deeply grateful to him and to Lord Boyle for what has been put forward.

The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the far more difficult and far more controversial steps about assistance for the parties' work outside Parliament. I should make it clear that we believe it is right that the matter should go to a committee, and we would support that. But this is a matter which the House will have to decide for itself, and the House will have to take into account the very serious implications that this involves, as to whether taxpayers' money should be used for a purpose of this nature. Therefore, I do not think that it would be right in any way for us to comment, certainly until we have the committee's report, or the inquiry's report, available to us.

Concerning additional cash for Opposition parties, I suppose that one of the benefits of the change in Government in recent years is that it has brought to the notice of Governments the very great difficulties from which Oppositions suffer, particularly Shadow Ministers. Therefore, I think that the whole House recognizes —

Mr. Russell Kerr

The right hon. Gentleman will get used to it.

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman may say that, but others may have to get used to it before long.

But certainly, as far as this proposal goes, I believe that Front Bench spokesmen, with the additional correspondence and additional research work that is now required of them—which is far greater than it was even a few years ago—do need the sort of assistance that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned. Therefore, the Opposition are grateful for this consideration and will wish to co-operate in the talks that take place after the Summer Recess.

Mr. David Steel

May I ask the Leader of the House to confirm one point—that the question of aid to Opposition parties when they are in the House is not a new principle, because under both the present Government and the previous Government aid in the form of salaries and staffing to the official Opposition has been running at a rate of about £30,000 a year? Before anyone gets too excited about this principle, let us remember that it has been established in the House for some time.

Second, on the question of Members' salaries, does the right hon. Gentleman have it in mind to refer this question, which he rightly says has nothing to do with the present statement, to the Boyle Committee at some time in the future? Otherwise, Members' salaries would appear to be in the unique position of being permanently frozen.

Mr. Short

Lord Boyle suggested that salaries should be reviewed once every Parliament roughly. The last review was four years ago in January, so the end of the year would be the appropriate time for a review.

Mr. Prescott

Will my right hon. Friend accept that what he has announced in regard to secretarial facilities is again emphasising the fact that it is less than the rate for the job, and it means part-time secretarial work for part-time Members? Does he agree that this means that a Member of Parliament must seek further employment outside the House in order to provide such things as a typewriter and a pension for his secretary, and does he agree that this also means that political advisers, who get more for their secretaries and their facilities than a Member of Parliament, contribute more than we do to the political system?

Mr. Short

When I referred this matter to Lord Boyle I told the House that this would be a very quick interim report. My hon. Friend will remember that. I said that after the recess I hoped to ask Lord Boyle to review the whole basis of the allowances.

Sir David Renton

Is the Leader of the House aware that in recent weeks, even if we had had all the secretarial and research assistance that we could possibly have desired, we should nevertheless still have been gravely handicapped by the lack of adequate printing of parliamentary papers? As Question No. 45 was not reached, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what future arrangements he is able to make in order to overcome this very serious problem?

Mr. Short

That matter is quite unrelated to my statement, but if there should be another occasion, unfortunately when this occurs the Government, as they have done in the recent crisis, will make all the necessary parliamentary papers available.

Mr. Ford

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Members in all parts of the House may sleep easier in their beds this evening, and that he is to be congratulated —[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must say that that was not a very tactful remark, so far as the Chair is concerned, in view of the business tonight.

Mr. Ford

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we all try to spread a little light in our way, and that he is to be congratulated in coming forward with this interim statement and the statement regarding assistance to the House in the discharge of its functions? Is he aware, however, that a little retrospection in the announcement of the operative date would have been welcome to those Members who have lived on promises to their secretaries in recent weeks? Will he kindly say whether any portion of the secretarial allowance may be used in purchasing equipment and stationery to assist in secretarial work?

Mr. Short

There is no problem about the purchase of stationery. There may be a problem over the purchase of equipment, and I will look into that matter for my hon. Friend. I hope that there is no breach of promise to any of our secretaries. I thought that my hon. Friend was a bit tactless to talk of us sleeping peacefully and safely in our beds, on this night of all nights, so far as you, Mr. Speaker, are concerned.

Mr. Douglas Henderson

Surely the Lord President has considerable support for his view that an independent inquiry into the financing of political parties should be undertaken. Does he agree that it is quite intolerable that one large political party should be financed by the trade unions and the other party by big business, while there are other political parties—[HON. MEMBERS: "Fraser."]—which have to raise their funds the hard way? Second, will the Lord President accept that there is also considerable support for his view that support from the Government should be given to Opposition parties to enable them to carry out their functions? Is he able to say whether the views that he has expressed on this subject today will have the full and committed support of the main Opposition party in the event of a change from one Front Bench to the other after the General Election?

Mr. Short

I cannot speak for the Opposition parties on this matter. They must speak for themselves. On the other point, however, this is the practice in a great many Western countries and in New Zealand now, and there is a case for looking at it. There is no real comparison between the money which the Labour Party gets from the trade unions, where any trade unionist can contract out and a subscription from a firm to the Conservative Party, where the customer cannot contract out.

Mr. Faulds

May I stress that, generous as the secretarial allowance increase may appear to be, not only does the allowance mean that we shall still have to continue sharing secretaries, which may be an inconvenience for us, but it means for the girls concerned that there is two girls' work for one girl's pay? Many of us find the continuation of this situation quite unacceptable.

Mr. Short

This is a matter of getting the right balance. Some Members have not sufficient work to keep a secretary fully occupied, and some share. But in other cases a Member may have sufficient work to keep a secretary fully occupied.

Mr. Faulds

That is the point I am making.

Mr. Short

The increase is based upon the increase in the salaries of typists in the Civil Service.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Lord President aware that we welcome very warmly his statement as far as it goes. However, will he clarify the situation for the minority parties which are geographically definable and which would be limited, however many seats they can win within their own orbit, if it is a linear scale that he takes between minimum and maximum?

Mr. Short

I have discussed this with the hon. Gentleman. There must be a limit. Almost any formular based on votes or the number of seats produces too much for the large parties and too little for the small parties. There has to be a ceiling and a floor. It is a matter for discussion in the autumn as to where we fix the point.

Mr. William Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be much more honest if we were to be paid an adequate salary and allowed to decide how much we chose to spend on secretarial assistance and other things? Does he not further agree that the impression will be created outside that this is a backhanded way of giving increases to Members? Will he further explain to the House a remark in the latter part of his statement with regard to the provision of financial facilities for minority parties in the House? I believe he referred to this being related both to the number of Members of Parliament and to the size of their vote in the House. Does he appreciate that the one can contradict, and has contradicted, the other—in the February 1974 General Election—and probably will do so in the autumn? That point ought to be clarified.

Mr. Short

I will bear that point in mind. I have done a fair amount of work on this. If we take either votes or seats alone it does not produce the right answer. If a formula can be devised to combine the two it is much nearer to the right answer. I must disagree completely with my hon. Friend on his first point. I have talked to many Members on both sides. It is plain that this is not a backdoor method of increasing salaries. I know that Members are having difficulties in carrying out their duties efficiently. These modest increases, which barely keep pace with inflation, are long overdue.

Mr. Thorpe

May I revert to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson)? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that when the first Boyle Report was under consideration there was agreement in advance that, whatever might be the electoral fortunes in this House, the broad principles would be accepted on all sides or at any rate through the usual channels? Taking the present case, the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) went through a list of things with which he found favour but carefully refrained from passing any judgment on aid to Opposition parties other than the official Opposition. Are we to take it that that was a mere slip and that the official Opposition are in agreement in principle on this matter, or is this a matter in respect of which the Leader of the House has still to negotiate with the Opposition?

Mr. Short

I cannot speak for the Opposition but I will study very carefully what the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said and what the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) has said.

Mr. Kinnock

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, while these increases in allowances are welcome, we are still only chipping away at the basic problem confronting the modern, active, diligent MP, a description which applies to the overwhelming majority of Members on both sides of the House? Why do we not have a system whereby secretaries are paid directly by the House and not by Members? Why do we not have a system whereby each Member has the research assistance he or she requires? Is he aware that the fears expressed by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) are misplaced, because if taxpayers' money is not used to sustain, aid and advise the representatives of the taxpayer, private money will be used to do so, which carries with it all kinds of difficulties and implications?

Mr. Short

The point raised in the latter part of my hon. Friend's observations is the very reason why I propose to set up a Select Committee to look into this issue. As for the suggestions in the earlier part of his remarks, this is the kind of radical look which I hope Lord Boyle will take when we submit to him the whole basis of our allowances in the autumn.

Mr. Crouch

May I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that it is always a very difficult matter when Members of Parliament are examining in this House what they should be paid. Is the Leader of the House aware that outside the House we shall not be regarded with very great admiration, bearing in mind our incompetence and fear of tackling this question of Members' pay, at a time when inflation is running at 20 per cent? While I know that there is no one in this House who is saying that we should put in a pay claim, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it exhibits an incompetence and a failure to be aware of the realities we face as a nation? While we thank the right hon. Gentleman for the car allowance, may I ask him whether he is aware that it is derisory compared with what is paid in local government, the health service or our universities? Does he realise that it is comparisons of this sort that people outside will draw and conclude that the House is not facing reality?

Mr. Short

The car allowance is equated with the Civil Service car allowance.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

While I am grateful for what my right hon. Friend said in his comprehensive statement, may I ask him whether he is aware that in The Times appointments page this morning equivalent secretarial payments are being offered at the rate of between £2,000 and £3,000 a year? Is he further aware that our secretaries still do not have an adequate salary, still work in appalling conditions and still have no security and no pension? For how much longer is he prepared to continue with secretarial employment in the House of Commons on the basis of refined labour-only subcontracting?

Mr. Short

There is a problem about secretarial assistance. This is the kind of question which we might ask Lord Boyle to look into. We are asking him to look into the whole basis of our pay and allowances in the autumn.

Mr. McCrindle

Following upon the point raised by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will accept that there are many of us who would wish to keep the payment of our secretaries within our control? Could a future review consider the possibility of these girls being considered to be employees for tax and national insurance purposes?

Mr. Short

This is certainly a point of view. Many people would support it. There are considerable difficulties about it. It can be looked at.

Mr. Strauss

My right hon. Friend said that he proposes to ask Lord Boyle to look into the whole question of pay and allowances after the General Election. Is he aware that on the last occasion Lord Boyle also looked at the important question of pensions? May I assume that he will do so again and that it was a slip of the tongue on the part of my right hon. Friend that he did not mention this point?

Mr. Short

Perhaps by a slip of the tongue I did not say that the relationship between pay and allowances was to be examined in the autumn. That was what I was meaning. I did not mention pensions because this is a matter for legislation. I have some minor changes to propose in the autumn in our pension scheme, which is not all that good. This must await the Government's national pension White Paper.

Captain Orr

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what he has in mind about the shape of the Select Committee when it ultimately sits? Is it to be composed purely of back benchers, and, if so, does he envisage the minority parties being represented on it?

Mr. Short

I have nothing in mind at this point except a Select Committee. I would be happy to discuss this.

Mr. George Lawson

While I welcome the announcement made by my right hon. Friend and agree that it can only assist in building up the standing and prestige of Parliament, may I ask him to throw his considerable weight against any move which seeks to retard the opposite tendency now taking place as seen in the proposed setting up of separate elected assemblies in Scotland and perhaps elsewhere, which can only weaken Parliament, and the encouragement of the principle of referenda, which is detrimental to the interests of Parliament?

Mr. Short

I never cease to be astounded at the ingenuity of my hon. Friend. I cannot find any connection between his remarks and my statement.

Mr. Hurd

Does the right hon. Gentle man agree that there is a distinction in this House drawn between help given equally to all Members and help which is given to leaders of parties and their colleagues? While the right hon. Gentleman's proposals are a modest step, do they not represent the chipping away at a rather important distinction? As for this question of a party's activity outside the House, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would accept that many of us would feel worried if we followed the example of Germany and Italy, countries with quite different political structures, and formed a compact among the political parties to dip our fingers into taxpayers' money?

Mr. Short

As I pointed out, we all have to subscribe towards the Conservative Party in many of the goods that we buy. We have no choice. We cannot contract out, when we buy certain commodities, of the element in the price which goes to the Conservative Party. That factor has to be taken into account. As for the point about the aid to Opposition parties, this is not chipping away at the problem; it is a major step forward.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will my right hon. Friend recognise that of the four allowances he has dealt with today, the one which is closest to being an element of salary is the London allowance? Is he aware that it will be noted with some pleasure outside that we have given ourselves a figure far short of what the Pay Board's report would have justified? Does he also agree that he has announced today research help for Opposition parties and for every section of the House except Government back benchers? Does he agree that parlia- mentary democracy rests almost exclusively in this country in the trust of Government back benchers? Can he give us some reason to understand that a Select Committee on research assistance will be summoned in the autumn that will look at the possibility of a great expansion of the research possibilities of the Library?

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend is quite correct on the first point. What Lord Boyle proposed was lower than the Pay Board's proposal for London weighting. There are two reasons for that. First, Lord Boyle did not know about the Pay Board's report because he made his decision before it was published; secondly, the criteria in the case of Members of Parliament are rather different.

On my hon. Friend's second point, I proposed that we should set up the Select Committee to look into the question my hon. Friend has raised, because I agree with my hon. Friend that all Members need a great deal more research support than they are getting.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have tried to call every Member who rose immediately after the statement was made. If hon. Members keep joining in, it makes it more difficult for me.

Mr. Prior

In reply to what the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) said, I should like, on behalf of my party, to make it clear that we accept in principle the suggestions put forward by the Leader of the House for additional financial help to be given to Opposition parties in the House and connected with the House. In fact, it already goes on in various forms. However, the major issue of help for Opposition parties in the country as a whole is a completely separate matter on which the House is not called upon at this stage to make a decision. It is right that a committee should consider the matter, and the House must then make up its mind.

Mr. Short

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has just said. I make it clear that the Government have no view on this matter, but they feel that it should be looked at by an independent committee.