HC Deb 23 July 1976 vol 915 cc2321-5

Motion made, and Question proposed. That the Junior Ministers' and Other Salaries Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 14th July, be approved.—[Mr. Foot.]

3.46 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

It is not in any sense because I was unable to contribute to the last debate that I rise to speak on this Order, although the issues are somewhat similar. I first wish to complain about the drafting of the Order. The Order states that Parliamentary Secretaries other than the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury shall be eligible for the £312 increase whereas it is intended that only Parliamentary Secretaries in another place are to receive that increase, or so I am informed by a letter which the Lord President was kind enough to send to me in response to my amendment, which has not been selected.

The letter says that: Using the provisions of this section, out intention is that only Parliamentary Secretaries in the Lords will receive the increase, as I said in my statement on 12th July—but this was the only way in which we could achieve that object. The Lord President has devised a new form of government, which is that what he says goes.

I want strongly to object to the new oracular powers which he has taken upon himself. It is his say-so, in a hitherto private letter to me, which tells us that although the Order says that all Parliamentary Secretaries are to get the increase, he has decided that they are not to get it. I realise the power of patronage held by the right hon. Gentleman. I realise that any Parliamentary Secretary in the Commons, like his hon. Friends sitting on either side of him, who is rash enough to say "the Order has gone through and I want my £312" would find himself dealt with summarily—and he would not even be eligible for compensation on dismissal or redundancy payments.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Is not the hon. Gentleman overlooking the Appropriation Act, which will presumably provide that certain Parliamentary Secretaries will receive rate X and certain others rate Y? Is not that the Act which constitutes the legal authority?

Mr. Ridley

I must explain to the hon. Gentleman that the Order is based on the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975 in Schedule I of which there is a table of all the categories of Ministers. The item: Parliamentary Secretary other than the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury is lifted out of that and placed into the Order as a category able to receive the increase. This would therefore empower the Government to pay increases to all Parliamentary Secretaries. It has not been enacted or moved or accepted by this House that this should be limited to those in another place.

It is, of course, an extremely sloppy piece of drafting. The right hon. Gentleman was quite wrong in saying that this was the only way the Government could achieve the object. It was not at all. They could have legislated. The right hon. Gentleman, as he should have done, could have brought a Bill before the House so that we could debate the proposition that two noble Lords in another place should be given an increase whereas the many Parliamentary Secretaries in this place should not. It is that proposition which deserves serious consideration by the House and which we should be able to pursue at length and seek to amend.

That is quite wrong on two grounds. First, Parliamentary Secretaries in this place are, in my opinion, the dogsbodies of the Executive. I should declare a past interest, having been one. They work very hard. They have a very heavy burden to carry. They have to reply to the Adjournment debates when their seniors have gone home to bed. They have to do the bulk of the Department's letters. They have to deal with a whole mass of work and at the same time they have very little say in what happens. It is a rare Secretary of State who gives his Under-Secretary of State much opportunity or authority in the Department. I think that they are deserving of an increase and I am disappointed that they should be left out.

Secondly, it is odd that the Government feel that those in another place should be rewarded at this time. Those in another place do not seem to me to have a problem of keeping a constituency. They do not seem to me to have anything like the burden of parliamentary work which the Parliamentary Secretaries in this House have. They do not normally have anything like the departmental load. Yet these two noble Lords have been singled out from the whole of the Government to be so rewarded. I wonder how it is that they should be the sole beneficiaries of the Government's munificence on this occasion.

I have noted time and again the Government's desire to preserve and, indeed, enhance another place. Here is another example. It is a strange phenomenon that as part of the country's incomes policy the only substantial beneficiaries in the Government from the £312 are those Parliamentary Secretaries who sit in the House of Lords and those Gilbert and Sullivan characters, the Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms and the Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard. They are the deserving cases, as it turns out, in the Government's incomes policy.

The problem is the limit of £8,500. I admired the witty speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office when he lambasted the absent gentlemen in the Gallery upstairs and made the clear distinction that there were part-time and full-time Press reporters. He did not suggest that they should be paid according to full-time and part-time scales, but perhaps that will follow when he has listened to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and been converted by him to the principle of part-time and full-time.

The hon. Gentleman advanced some good Socialist egalitarian principles in regard to pay. I am not an egalitarian. I do not agree with egalitarianism. I do not believe a word of it. I have voted against all incomes policies and will continue to do so. I do not believe in them. I find it difficult when the Leader of the House, writing to me about the £8,500 limit, says: I recognise that compliance with this guidance may not have been universal under the present voluntary policy, but I hope you will agree that it is incumbent on Members to be seen to be observing the spirit of the policy to the full. I do not agree with that. It is incumbent upon me to make it clear that I reject the policy, and I will do so.

In relation to my own position—and this should be said in public—although I think I am over the £8,500 limit in total earnings, I am going to claim the £312, I am going to pay tax on it, and I shall donate what is left after tax to charity. I shall do so as a protest against the £8,500 limit and the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that it should apply to me or to other people.

I also want to take exception to the right hon. Gentleman's oracular utterances. I asked him for a justification for applying the £8,500 limit to those with several occupations. No doubt other Ministers in the Government and other noble Lords who have been excluded from this cherished list are being excluded because their emoluments from their membership of this House or from ministerial salaries are over £8,500. He wrote to me that although there was nothing about this in the White Paper … on 23rd July 1975 I said that 'no one earning £8,500 or more should take an increase of any kind in the coming year whether in the form of increments, prior commitments or anything else.' I think that it is hard for the citizenry to have to sit in the Gallery and listen to what the right hon. Gentleman says or to plough through Hansard in order to determine what they are or are not allowed to do.

If that is what the Government's policy has been—and this is the first time I have heard that those with more than one source of income were supposed to total them up—it should have been in the White Paper. It should perhaps have been in the legislation. But it is not in the White Paper and it is not in the legislation. It is hard that this new doctrine should be trotted out and given authority simply because the right hon. Gentleman says it. He has said many things in his life, and we admire many of his speeches, but the fact that he has said this is not sufficient for him not to allow these Parliamentary Secretaries to claim the increase. It is a curious way to run a Government to require people to behave according to what the right hon. Gentleman is now dredging up from what he said last July.

Nor do I think that the definition of the £8,500 is clear when we consider the particular brand of Socialism in the Government. As we have pointed out, members of another place very often have inherited wealth, although whether any of them are included in this lot I do not know. But that unearned income does not have to be aggregated with their other earnings or ministerial salaries. So there is the curious position that noble Lords mentioned in the list who go out and earn extra money or have highly paid ministerial appointments will be denied an increase whereas those with private wealth are to be allowed one from public funds.

It is a strange doctrine if we are to have this upper limit and to apply it in difficult situations such as those of Members of both Houses. The matter is not straightforward but complex. If we are to apply that nostrum, we should spend a little time on defining the term "earnings" and on defining what sort of deductions may be made from earnings.

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.