HC Deb 26 July 1977 vol 936 cc525-38

1.42 a.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

I would still seek to ask the House to approve the motion dealing with ministerial and other salaries. It would be unfair not to Members of this House but to some Members of another place if we were not to pass the motion. [Interruption.] I understand that some of my hon. Friends may say that they do not wish to take any action which may assist to enhance the pay of those in another place.

The motion will not be of general application to everybody in another place. It will be of application to some who are amongst the very lowest paid of the lot, to some who, though conducting operations on behalf of the Government, are paid less than ocher Members of that House and others engaged in other public activities.

I know that the motion has anomalies in it similar to some of those which were accepted by the House and with which there is no simple way of dealing. I hope that the House will approve the motion. I do not believe that it is necessary for the House to debate it at length.

I repeat, now that I am not merely speaking on a point of order on the question of the £312, that if the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) could have been put, and if the House had voted for it, my understanding is that we would in any case have had to bring some motion—possibly some form of legislative change—before the House to regularise the position. We will look at the matter and bring a proposition before the House when we return so that we can renew this discussion. In the meantime, I ask the House to deal with the motion dealing with ministerial and other salaries, which deals with some of the anomalies further.

If I may stray slightly beyond the general discussion, I will say this further. Of course I agree with what has been said generally in the House tonight. I was seeking to say at the end of the discussion—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. May I, as this is a timed debate, ask the right hon. Gentleman to indicate to the Chair the point at which he intends to move the motion? I do not wish to be disrespectful. I am merely anxious that we keep in order.

Mr. Foot

I thought that I had already moved it. If there has been any misapprehension in any quarter on that subject, I will put it right by moving the motion again. I beg to move, That the draft Ministerial and other Salaries Order 1977, which was laid before this House on 29th June, he approved. I am happy so to move.

I ask the House to accept the motion and to return to the other matter and, I have no doubt, to the more general subjects when we return after the recess.

1.45 a.m.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

In case it should be thought that I am rising to speak against this order only because of what has just happened, let me assert that that is not the case. There are two reasons why I insisted that this motion should be taken separately from motions Nos. 4 and 5, even though they were taken together. The first is that I have something to say about this order which did not relate to what has gone before, and the second is that before remotely committing myself in respect of motion No. 6 I wanted to see what happened on motions Nos. 4 and 5. Experience has shown that my attitude was justified.

Motion No. 6 is of an entirely different character from motions No. 4 and 5 because it is to approve a statutory order laid under the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975. As I understand it, and the Lord President might want to confirm or deny this, the intention here is to increase by £208 the salaries actually paid to Ministers in the House of Lords. Can the Lord President confirm that that is what he wants to be able to do, and that that is all he wants to be able to do?

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that this debate is completely out of order in that in the Business Motion put by Mr. Speaker at 10 p.m. this motion is not identified as one of those which can be debated after 10 p.m. I believe, therefore, that it is out of order for us to debate it now.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. This is an order which runs for 1½ hours, under the apropriate Standing Order.

Mr. Cunningham

As I understand it, the motion is automatically suspended and does not need a suspension order to be taken after 10 p.m. That is another of the oddities of our procedure.

I was seeking to get, by means of an intervention from the Lord President, confirmation that what he want to be able to do—and all that he wants to be able to do—as a result of this order is to enable the Government to pay £208 a year more not to all Ministers but to most Ministers in the House of Lords. I think that I see the Lord President nodding. I thought that is what he wanted to do. It is interesting to note how different, therefore, the reality will be after this order is passed, if it is, from the provision on the statute book.

If the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) were present I would apologise to him because a year ago he raised precisely the same point. I am not sure whether he had gone into it a great deal and I certainly had not gone into it at all. I rather poured cold water on the objection he was raising. He was pointing out that last year's order raised the salary to be paid to a large number of Ministers, whether in the House of Lords or the House of Commons, but that there was no intention that that increase should be paid. The Government are coming to the House saying "Let's amend the figures that can be paid to a large number of Ministers". This does not concern all Ministers, not the Prime Minister for example, but the list certainly includes the Lord President's salary. The Government are saying "We want legal authority to increase all those salaries by £208 but we shall only actually pay it to those Ministers who are in the House of Lords because the others will already be getting £208 as an addition to their salary as Members of Parliament". That is what this is about.

The Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975 prescribes the salaries which are to be paid. These are not the salaries which are payable but the salaries which are to be paid to all Ministers. But the figures, and only the figures may be altered by order subject to affirmative resolution of the House. That power is contained in Section 1(4) of the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975, which reads: Her Majesty may from time to time by Order in Council substitute another figure for that given by subsection (2) or (3) above or by Schedule 1 or 2 to this Act". An order which is intra vires by that Act can only alter the figures. It cannot separate, for example—and this is the key point—Ministers in the House of Lords from Ministers in the House of Commons. Yet that is precisely the object which the Lord President wants to achieve. He wants to increase the ministerial pay of Ministers in the House of Lords because that is the only way they can get the £208 increase. He does not want to increase the ministerial pay of Ministers in the House of Commons. He has got no intention of actually paying that increase, but he is providing for this to be increased legally. He says "We shall not pay them all. We shall pay it only to the people in the House of Lords."

The natural way to deal with that situation, one would have thought, would have been for the order to come forward saying that these increases will be made to the following Ministers so long as they are in the House of Lords. But there is only one class of office holder which is designated, and that class covers the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Opposition Whip in the House of Lords. They are designated in the Act as such. All the others are designated by their ministerial titles, and the Act does not allow one to mess around with that and to distinguish between Ministers in one House of Parliament and those in the other.

Therefore, a clever civil servant asked: "How can we deal with this situation?" He said to the Lord President: "What you want to do is not legal. We cannot bring forward an order to do what you want to do because, if we do, it will get hung up by Graham Page. That is what was said.

The Committee chaired by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) would have flung it out. It would not have mattered a hoot whether that Committee had flung it out, because the courts would have flung it out. It would have been ultra vires act. So the Government bring forward an order which is intra vires and which they do not intend to adhere to.

The Act says: There shall be paid to the Lord Chancellor"— one of the poorly paid for whom this increase is intended— a salary. … There shall be paid"— I shall leave out the Speaker of the House of Commons because he is not involved in this one.

But the schedule to the Act further lists ministerial offices and puts a figure against each one. It says: The salary to be paid to the holder of any office mentioned above in this Schedule shall be of the annual amount stated in relation to that office in column 2"— and so on.

There is no provision there for a lesser sum to be paid at the whim or wish of the Government. If we pass the motion as it stands, what we are doing is to increase all these salaries and to provide by statute, because we are amending the statute, that all these increased salaries shall be paid.

I accept that no court would hold that because a statute said that such-and-such a sum should be paid that would prevent the beneficiary from asking the Paymaster-General to pay him or her a little bit less. I assume that what the Government have in mind is the Prime Minister or some other unfortunate Minister having the task of sending out a minute to all designated Ministers who are not in the House of Lords and asking them to sign an attached copy letter to the Paymaster-General saying that they do not want the last £208. If they did not do so, the Paymaster-General would have to pay up.

There are very few Ministers in the House of Lords who are involved, but in order to give these people an increase the Lord President has to change the law and increase his own salary by £208, although he already has £208 as a result of what we have done tonight. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Chief Whip, all Ministers of State, all other Ministers who are heads of Departments and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury all get a double ration as well. Parliamentary Secretaries for some reason that I cannot fathom out, get a double double ration because their salaries go up by £520 instead of £312.

I wonder what the comparison is between this and what applied before tonight. When I was arguing with the Lord President that my modest little amendment, which has been manoeuvred out of existence, should be adopted, the Lord President agreed that it was not contrary to the pay policy. But he claimed that the great British public would not understand that. They would think that we were grabbing too much for ourselves.

I cannot understand why, if the great British public are so stupid that they cannot understand my little amendment, they will not get into a sweat about the Lord President's having a double ration increase on his salary. According to him they are quite clever enough to understand that but too stupid to understand my little amendment. I wonder at the ease with which the Lord President conjures up this picture of the great British public as always being dead set against anything that I want and very happy with anything that he wants.

I suggest seriously to the House that if there is no way of legally increasing the salary of Ministers in the House of Lords by £208 without having legally to increase the salaries of a very large number of other Ministers by £208—quite contrary to pay policy, that is without doubt, and even the oracle would certify that on tablets of stone—it should not be done at all.

I believe that the order should simply be dropped. The Lord President has a worthy objective, to increase the salaries of Ministers in the House of Lords by £208, but it cannot be done without abuse of the order and without rigging it to get it to comply with the Act and not get hung up in the Statutory Instruments Committee. Yet is it in an order which he has no intention of implementing. I do not know whether the Lord President is content with that sort of jiggery-pokery, but I suggest that the House should not be.

A year ago the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) was on to this point and we all missed it. But he was right, and this year it has been noticed again. I seriously believe that an order of this kind is an abuse and should not be passed.

2.1 a.m.

Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Maylebone)

I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) on the perceptive way in which he has made a telling point against this order. The whole House has nothing but admiration for him. It is about time the Lord President invited the hon. Gentleman to join him on the Treasury Bench. If the hon. Gentleman were to become a junior Minister in the Privy Council Office, not only would the Lord President's life be easier but so would the lives of us all.

This order relates to the previous order, and the Lord President in the short time he had to answer the previous debate was unable to answer some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas) and other hon. Members. May I ask the Lord President to reply to some of the points on linkage and what is to happen in a year's time? This also affects ministerial salaries.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's generous gesture, following the procedural mix-up over the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. The House will welcome a return to the subject of pensions in the autumn. I hope that that sort of attitude will prevail in future on any recommendation if Boyle is asked to report again, so that the recommendations are tabled for the House to decide. It should not be left to the Leader of the House to pick and choose, it is the House that should be asked to approve or not to approve. I believe that the whole of the Boyle recommendations should be tabled so that the House may decide. What the right hon. Gentleman said half an hour ago seemed to indicate that that sort of thought was not alien to his attitude.

2.3 a.m.

Mr. Foot

Let me first say a word or two about the motion—and I shall come to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) in a moment. I wish to make it as clear as possible in the circumstances our purpose in moving this order. I think the situation was fairly stated at the beginning of my hon. Friend's remarks, although I would not accept what he said towards the end.

The motion seeks approval of a draft Order in Council to authorise salary increases of £208, or 5 per cent. where this is less, for all Ministers and Office holders in the other place who have no parliamentary pay that could be increased. The maximum salaries for all Ministers and Office holders are laid down in the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975, but the rates in the schedule to that Act may be amended by Order in Council subject to the draft being approved by resolutions in each House. The Act gives no power, however, to differentiate between rates paid to Members of this House and those paid to Members of the other place.

Mr. George Cunningham


Mr. Foot

"Exactly", as my hon Friend says. But it does permit a lesser amount to be paid in any individual case than that authorised in the schedule at any time. Section 4(2) of the Act gives statutory cover not to pay the rate promulgated in the schedule. That covers part of the point made by my hon. Friend.

Last year we had to increase the salaries of Parliamentary Secretaries on the understanding that the increase of £312 would be paid only to Members of the other place. This year, when there is no £8,500 limitation, we have to follow the same procedure also for Ministers of State and certain Cabinet Ministers. The effective date for this year's increase of £208, which will accordingly be paid to Ministers and Office holders in the other place, will be 30th July 1977, 12 months after the last increase.

I come now to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. As I said, I do not accept the deductions which he adduced at the end of his speech. I fully accept that it is an anomalous situation with which we have to deal, and this is a roundabout method of seeking to achieve what we want, but there is no simple method that I have been able to discover. No doubt, when my hon. Friend arrives on the Front Bench, some years hence, whenever that will be, some more ingenious method of achieving this result will be found.

I do not think that my hon. Friend quarrelled with the purpose here and the proposals which we put on the Order Paper, as last year, to achieve that purpose, however difficult it may be. Indeed, I feel that my hon. Friend should have congratulated me on my ingenuity, since, obviously, this elaborate device was entirely thought out by me. It was worked out in spare moments between listening to debates on other subjects. I have, therefore, taken to heart what I feel must be my hon. Friend's congratulations. This is a great moment in my parliamentary life—to have a tribute coming from such a quarter—and now, knowing that if anyone is a master of pedantry it is my hon. Friend, having produced a motion of this character I feel that I can have some pretence to be in his class. On that happy note, therefore, I hope that I can seek his support.

I turn now to what was said by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr, Baker). I do not wish to be out of order on this motion, having so far succeeded in staying in order, but I wish to say a word in response to the hon. Gentleman and to the House generally. I fully acknowledge what has been said to me and to the Government and to others in the debate here tonight. What we have proposed is, of course, a series of interim measures for dealing with the situation, and that in turn gives rise to some fresh anomalies, all of which have been exploited in the debate. I make no complaint on that score, because that is what the House of Commons is for, and very often the discussions of one year can lead to the reforms and improvements of a later period. It is all very well for hon. Members to laugh. They, too, have to seek some kind of accommodation in trying to secure better pay, and a better pay system, for Members of Parliament. Both better pay and the better pay system are among the requirements. I am strongly in favour of that. But it has to be achieved in some conformity with the policies which are being applied in the rest of the country, and Members of Parliament have to accept some of the burdens and some of the intricacies and anomalies which are imposed, in my opinion inevitably under some forms of pay policy, on the rest of the country.

On those grounds, therefore, I hope that the House will be prepared to accept the motion. I hope that it will accept from me the undertaking, which I repeat, that we shall come back to the particular question on which my hon. Friend was not able to have a vote. We shall come back to that question, as we should have had to do in any case if he had been victorious in his amendment. That is not a promise to accept my hon. Friend's proposition, but it is a promise to debate it afresh. We shall come back to that, but we shall come back, I hope, in a measurable time to a much fuller and more adequate discussion of all the matters which have been debated in the House tonight.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

Can the Lord President find it possible to use the word "linkage" and refer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) and his hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas) and Nottingham, West (Mr. English), and refer also to the motion which was passed two years ago? He has been asked to talk about this on several occasions tonight, and I am sure that it would be a great help both to the House now and to the future prospect if he could deal with that specifically.

Mr. Foot

I referred to that earlier, although it is not in order on this matter. I referred to it when I replied to my hon Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) earlier tonight. A resolution was passed by the House on the subject of linkage. I entirely agree that that is the way in which the House should proceed to secure a more adequate method of dealing with the matter. However, it has not been possible during the past two years for the House to deal with the matter in that manner because of the pay policy. It has not been possible since the original decision was made in 1975—and it was agreed by almost the whole House—to proceed to that resolution. I fully accept that that resolution is the proper way in which the House should eventually deal with the matter, although I cannot give any date when it will be possible. Certainly, I am sure that when the House comes to a more general discussion of the whole matter that resolution will be followed.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

The resolution says "in the next Parliament". What is there to stop the Lord President from setting up a procedure that would operate in the next Parliament or after 31st July 1978, whichever is the later?

Mr. Foot

There would be problems with the pay policy in giving an undertaking that an increase would be made at a future date. If all pay agreements were to be settled on that basis there would soon be a breakdown of any possible pay policy. I could not give such an undertaking.

The resolution has been passed by the House and it is an indication of the way in which the House wishes to proceed. It is the proper method by which the matter will eventually be settled.

Mr. Mike Thomas (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that we are placed in an unfortunate position in this matter of salaries? The Lord President's judgment of when the time is right in these matters is of paramount importance because he is the only one who can bring the matter before us. That is why we are dissatisfied when the Lord President says "In this Parliament or some time after, eventually, some time, never". Can my right hon. Friend not give us something more concrete?

I find it hard to credit that if my right hon. Friend were to find a form of words that would make us happier, a flood of claims on the same basis would rush through every trade union negotiating gate in the country. I do not believe that, or that my right hon. Friend is prevented from giving us just a little more.

Mr. Foot

I have already, during an earlier debate, given all the indications about how we should proceed. I have nothing to add. I do not believe that it is possible for hon. Members to believe that they can divorce themselves from what is happening with the pay policy. That is why so many anomalies have arisen. Hon. Members must face that as well as other people. Hon. Members who have voted in these matters cannot come along a few months later and complain about what they have voted for. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas) does not always accept responsibility for what he has advocated in these matters. I hope that the order will be accepted and that we can seek ways of escaping from all these anomalies and of moving towards the linkage resolution. However, the method of overcoming these difficulties will have to take account of the pay policy. All hon. Members should recognise that.

2.14 a.m.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

I should like to make another brief intervention. I am not happy about the order. I acknowledge the perception of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) in raising the issue and preventing it from going through on the nod, and so obtaining greater explanation of the order from the Lord President than was forthcoming when the right hon. Gentleman first explained it to the House. The right hon. Gentleman was seeking to avoid giving the House an opportunity of taking responsibilities and facing things in a proper way.

The Leader of the House has attempted to protect the House from having a debate and settling its own conditions and those of Ministers. We are no longer living in a deferential society and the right hon. Gentleman has to face debates such as this because Ministers are unwilling or unable to say to the House that they seek certain considerations but that the House has the freedom to make the decision.

The Leader of the House would do his own reputation a service and would get rid of the deferential society that we seem to have in the Chamber if he were willing to put the issues to the House. I hope that he will assure us that we shall have an opportunity to make decisions on pay of hon. Members and Ministers and that we shall not be protected from accepting the responsibility and facing the issues in the way that the right hon. Gentleman has sought to protect us tonight.

Question put:

Division No. 219] AYES [2.16 a.m.
Ashton, Joe Glyn, Dr Alan Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Baker, Kenneth Graham, Ted Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Beith, A. J. Harper, Joseph Snape, Peter
Biggs-Davison, John Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Stoddart, David
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hurd, Douglas Stradling Thomas, J.
Bryan, Sir Paul Lamond, James Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Lament, Norman Urwin, T. W.
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Mahon, Simon Ward, Michael
Coleman, Donald Marks, Kenneth Weatherill, Bernard
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Mather, Carol White, Frank R. (Bury)
Deakins, Eric Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Whitehead, Phillip
Dormand, J. D. O'Halloran, Michael Wrigglesworth, Ian
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Ford, Ben Rathbone, Tim TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Roberts, Gwllym (Cannock) Mr. Alt Bates and
Freud, Clement Roper, John Mr. James Tinn.
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Rocker, J. W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Bottomley, Peter Skinner, Dennis Mr. George Cunningham and
Kitson, Sir Timothy Smith, Dudley (Warwick) Mr. Michael English.
Madden, Max Winterton, Nicholas
Molyneaux, James Wise, Mrs Audrey

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the draft Ministerial and other Salaries Order 1977, which was laid before this House on 29th June, be approved.