§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to move his motion, I will explain the course that we shall follow in the light of the business motion to which the House earlier agreed.
The debate on the first of the four motions before the House may continue until 10 o'clock. During the course of that debate it will be open to any right hon. or hon. Member to discuss all the other motions and amendments which stand on the Order Paper. It will be one broad debate.
At 10 o'clock or at an earlier conclusion of the debate, I shall call upon hon. Members to move formally any amendments to the first motion which are shown on the selection list. When any such amendments have been disposed of, I shall put the main Question or the main Question as amended.
I shall then call upon the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to move formally his second motion. When he has done so, hon. Members whose amendments to the motion have been selected will be invited successively to move them formally. When those amendments have been disposed of, the main Question as amended or unamended will be put.
There are no amendments to the Chancellor's third motion, so I shall call upon him to move it formally and put the Question on it.
On the Chancellor's fourth motion, to which there is one amendment which I have selected, the procedure will be the same as on the second motion.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Thirteenth Report of the Review Body on Top Salaries [Cmnd. 7825].The programme for reform of the House of Commons is a continuing programme and the purpose is clear. It is not to assert the right of the House to govern. Historically, save for a brief and disastrous period in the seventeenth 266 century, the House has never made out a claim to govern. Parliament's function has been not executive but supervisory. It has sought to subject the Executive to certain limitations and controls, to protect the liberty of the individual citizen against the arbitrary use of power, to focus the mind of the nation on the great issues of the day by the maintenance of continuous dialogue or discussion and, by remaining at the centre of the stage, to impose parliamentary conventions or manners on the whole of our system.
The Government came to power on a clear economic programme, but economics, the dismal science, is not the subject of our debate today. Economics is subject to as many variables and is just as unpredictable as another science, psychiatry.
A clear undertaking of parliamentary reform was made in the election manifesto. We have come to the House with successive instalments on which the House has made a decision. The first and most important was the new system of parliamentary Select Committees, now well into their stride and making a major impact on all our parliamentary procedures. They have already fully justified the faith of those who saw them as a major means of reasserting the sovereignty of Parliament and the central constitutional importance of the House of Commons.
The second instalment of reform was to rectify the scandalously low level of parliamentary salaries. They had fallen so far behind as to justify the description not of top salaries but rather of bottom salaries. We have now ensured that the basic salary for a Member of Parliament, if not generous, is adequate. It enables a Member if he so wishes to devote all his time to the House without reducing himself or herself to need and families to want.
This year the updating of the second-stage payment by the Review Body on Top Salaries has been accepted in advance by the Government, and the Government are committed to implementing the updating from this summer. That also will be applied to the third stage of the payment.
Furthermore, we propose that the review body undertakes annual reviews of 267 parliamentary salaries from next year onwards. It is the Government's firm intention, save in the most exceptional circumstances, that any recommendations made by the review body will be implemented. I believe that this method rather than indexing is the right way to approach the problem. In the prevailing economic situation, I do not believe that the indexing of Members' salaries is a viable political option.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
The Leader of the House said that save in most exceptional circumstances the Government will refrain from interfering with the periodic upratings. What does he mean by "the most exceptional circumstances"? Does he mean a change of policy on incomes policy generally?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
It is unreasonable to ask me to go into details about that reservation. It is no less and no more than a firm statement of Government intention to implement the review body's recommendation, with the saving that there may be very exceptional circumstances in which that is not possible. That is a reservation which any Government have to make, and hon. Members should not read into it more than that.
The third area where improvement is necessary—
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
The Leader of the House said that there would be two upratings on the 1979 prices. Will there be any allowance for inflation at 1980 or 1981 prices?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
That is the matter for the Boyle committee to decide. My commitment and that of the Government is that the first of those upratings which will take place in the summer of this year, whatever the Boyle committee recommends—obviously the Boyle committee will take inflation into account—will be implemented by the Government.
The third area where improvement is necessary is in the services which hon. Members draw on to do their work of serving their fellow citizens. It is these, in the main, that are the subject of the latest Boyle report and that are the major, but not the only, subject of our debate today.
268 That is the setting in which we are considering the motions, which give effect to the proposals I made last month concerning the thirteenth report from the Review Body on Top Salaries relating to Members' pay and allowances. There is a general "take note" motion enabling us to debate all aspects of the report's recommendations and conclusions. Before turning in more detail to the motion, I should like to comment on some of the points that hon. Members have raised.
I know that some hon. Members feel that the recommendations for a revised secretarial allowance of £5,500 and a new research assistant's allowance of £1,250 are not generous enough [AN HON. MEMBER: "Peanuts."] They are not peanuts. They may not be excessively generous, but they could not be described as peanuts. That is a ridiculous remark. The review body believes that the recommended levels are adequate. The Government accept that view. They may not be generous but they are certainly not peanuts. They are a considerable improvement on existing arrangements.
When I originally announced the Government's proposals to the House on 14 February, I accepted that there should be two separate allowances—one for secretarial and the other for research purposes. Although I suggested there should be flexibility between the two, I have since had strong representations from hon. Members that it would be for the convenience of hon. Members that these sums should be merged and that one allowance should be applied for both these purposes at the discretion of hon. Members. I believe that there is much in those representations. I have accordingly tabled a motion that gives effect to the wishes of hon. Members in that respect.
As I said in my last statement on the subject, the Government do not believe that it would be right to make it obligatory that hon. Members should have their secretaries paid directly by the Fees Office, as the review body suggests and as the Select Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) suggested in the past. I would, however, strongly urge hon. Members to adopt that method of payment. The Fees Office agency scheme can operate only for secretaries 269 who are subject to PAYE and class 1 national insurance contributions. I should like to assure hon. Members that it is not the Government's intention to place any restriction on the conditions of service that can be agreed between an hon. Member and those he employs.
As hon. Members know, there are wide variations in the secretarial arrangements made between individual Members and their secretaries. We believe that it is vital to preserve the maximum flexibility in this regard.
The suggestion is also made in the report that the House might wish to reconsider the question of secretaries being employees of the House rather than of hon. Members. I am sure that hon. Members will wish during the debate to comment on this suggestion. I am aware that many hon. Members feel that they should remain their secretary's employer. That is also a view shared by many secretaries, who have represented their views to me. I am also not unaware of the problem that the House authorities would face as the new employer. They would find it difficult to accept responsibility for the management and perhaps the careers of staff they had no part in choosing. There would be occasions when the reallocation of a secretary due to a Member's departure from the House could be difficult. For these reasons, the Government view is that secretaries should remain the employees of individual Members.
I know from what has been said to me that many hon. Members would have liked specific provisions to be made for pensions and severance pay for their secretaries. Personally, I have considerable sympathy with that point of view. The review body examined these questions with a certain amount of care but felt unable to recommend their introduction.
The review body considered, on pensions, that it would be inappropriate to make specific provisions within the allowance for the additional cost of contributing to an occupational pension scheme outside the State scheme. The cost, it said, was likely to vary and no yardstick was available to assess the extent to which these costs would be reasonable.
I might point out, however, that secretaries are included within the State scheme and the revised allowance takes 270 account of the last increase in the employer's contribution. The benefits provided by the State scheme are not ungenerous. I give the House an example. On maturity of the scheme, anyone who has contributed for 20 years will receive, on retirement, a pension of approximately 50 per cent. of salary, taking the basic pension and the earnings-related pension together.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that an hon. Member who is not subsidising his secretary's salary out of his own pocket must, if his secretary is gaining the benefit that the right hon. Gentleman has described, pay her 131 per cent. less than the maximum allowance? That represents a considerable restraint on the salary that can be paid to secretaries.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
That could be one case that would arise. It does not arise in every case. Not all hon. Members, for example, have a full-time secretary. It would be possible in such a case for a full proportion of the allowance to be paid, plus the 13½ per cent., plus some kind of pension allowance within the total allowance. While the hon. Gentleman is stating part of the truth, it is not the whole truth.
The review body also carefully considered whether some form of severance payment should be available to secretaries over and above the State redundancy pay provisions. It concluded that this would not be appropriate for a variety of reasons. These are the reasons of the review body. They are not mine or those of the Government. The report states:It would add an additional cost without any commensurate benefit in the deployment of staff such as is achieved by the House authorities. It would be wrong to provide a fixed allowance to all Members irrespective of need; but it would also be difficult for any central authority such as the Fees Office to adjudicate on need.The report also states that it would be inappropriate to increase the maximum of the secretarial allowance that is expressed as an annual limitto provide for some possible future expenditure that may never be incurred.It is often argued that the same payment should be made to secretaries as to Members of Parliament. But the point must be remembered that hon. Members 271 are not covered by the State redundancy provisions. Those are the arguments of the report. Those are the reasons for its recommendations.
I turn now to the pensions recommendations. In the exchange of views that took place three weeks ago, hon. Members expressed concern over the position of those who left the House before 1964. I am equally concerned. I feel, however, that the review body has come to the right conclusions in suggesting the use of the Members' fund to provide benefit.
I shall come to the issue of severance pay and spouses' travel in explaining the motions in a moment. I should like to make clear, once again, where the Government stand on the recommendation that all Members' travel within the United Kingdom should be free. The Government accept that hon. Members might be better able to inform themselves on their work and carry out their duties more effectively if they had greater assistance with travel costs. However, we feel unable to propose acceptance of the recommendation at present because of the potentially high costs involved.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
If the Leader of the House is not able to go all the way on the recommendations, will he widen the scope of the definition of a Government Department? Recently I visited Preston prison to meet two constituents who were in dire circumstances. I claimed my travel allowance from the Fees Office but I was told that Preston prison was not regarded as a Government Department. That means that I can go to Swansea to talk about a constituent's driving licence and claim my travel allowance but I cannot claim if I go to Preston to discuss more important matters.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
That is a reasonable argument. The principle is that genuine travel on parliamentary business should be reimbursed, if possible within the parameters of Government Departments. I shall be glad, as Leader of the House, to take up cases such as that referred to by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden).
The second motion gives effect to the change in the secretarial allowance that I have already outlined. We propose 272 that the effective date should be 14 February. That date has nothing to do with St. Valentine; it is the date on which the Government proposals were first put to the House. As previously, the amounts quoted in the motion are limits within which expenses actually incurred may be reimbursed. The two allowances have been merged. That recognises that the roles of a secretary, a personal assistant and a research assistant, while they may be divided in theory for purposes of methodology, in practice may overlap. Many hon. Members' secretaries are also personal assistants who, in helping hon. Members to deal with the ever-growing volume of paper which threatens to engulf us all, are an increasing feature of parliamentary life. These persons may also undertake some of the tasks normally associated with a research assistant. However—and I put it no higher than this—hon. Members may wish to be guided by the recommendations in the Boyle report on the general level of expenditure in the two areas of activity.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
The last remarks by the right hon. Gentleman suggest that he is encouraging hon. Members to limit expenditure on research assistants to £1,250 a year. If an hon. Member did that, he would impose upon himself a limit which is not imposed at present because now he is free to spend about £4,500 a year on research. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his advice?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
It is a mild piece of advice hedged by various caveats. Of course, hon. Members are absolutely free to reject that advice. I put it forward as a possibility. It has almost faded away in its phraseology. The practical effect is that hon. Members must be free to decide on the distribution of the allowance according to their individual needs.
§ Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)
Will the right hon. Gentleman come out from behind his caveats a little more? Does he agree that if we accept the spirit and the letter of the Boyle recommendation, as he has done so tepidly, we are saying that it is not right for an hon. Member to employ a full-time research assistant unless such a person can be found for a salary of £20 a week?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I do not believe that that conclusion flows from the premise. The allowance represents an improvement. Many hon. Members would not know what to do with a research assistant if they had one. To some a research assistant would be an encumbrance rather than an aid—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speak for yourself."] I do speak for myself. When I had a research assistant, one of my great problems was to find that assistant something to do all the time. It was a continual worry that I could not keep the assistant fully occupied. Hon. Members have different views. The allowances are to be amalgamated and hon. Members must judge how they use them.
The third motion gives effect to a change in the arrangement for hon. Members' spouses' travel. I did not describe that recommendation in detail in my previous announcement. The recommendation is that spouses should be able to claim car mileage allowance as an alternative to using rail vouchers for their limited number of free journeys to Westminster. I am sure that this will be convenient for many hon. Members.
The final motion implements the improvements to hon. Members' severance pay scheme. Under the new arrangements hon. Members over 50 years of age who have served in the House for more than 10 years will, when they lose their seats, receive a higher severance payment. The amount will vary according to the scale set out in the motion, which is the scale in the Boyle report. Hon. Members will see that the maximum payment for those in the age range 55 to 64 and who have served for 15 years or more is 50 per cent. of salary.
I turn to the issues raised in the amendments about linkage. The review body has considered the matter carefully once more. It has concluded that linkage is inappropriate for hon. Members' salary. It found that there is no similarity between the functions and responsibilities of any professional group and those of hon. Members. Most hon. Members will accept that our work is unique. Even if a suitable link could be found, the sensitivity currently attached to hon. Members' pay might be transferred to the analogue.
The alternative is a link with general indices, but that would provide guaranteed 274 salary inflation proofing which the majority of our constituents do not have. No Government could put forward such a proposal in today's economic conditions. For those reasons, I am sure that we should accept the review body's recommendation that regular, independent review remains the best way of dealing with parliamentary pay.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
There seems to be an inconsistency in the report between the assertion that there is no similarity between our job and any other and the argument about severance pay and pensions. The review body says that it is inappropriate for us to take for ourselves conditions which are different from those in other occupations. Either we are the same and there should be linkage, or we are not the same and we should have special provision for pensions and severance pay.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
That is an interesting and logical argument. However, it is not my job to explain the working of Lord Boyle's mind. I am here to give the Government's view of the recommendations. Whether consistent or logical, a simple political fact of life is that it is impossible at this time to recommend that Members of Parliament should have an index-linked salary when all the pressure is the other way and when there is widespread dissatisfaction with the index linking of existing pensions.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
Will my right hon. Friend detach the linking of hon. Members' pensions from the public service to which reference has been made by Lord Boyle and his colleagues? We come to this place later in life than those who join the Civil Service, but Lord Boyle stilll insists upon applying the same rules to hon. Members as to civil servants. It seems that Lord Boyle and his colleagues want it both ways. He cannot link our pension allowances directly with the public service while rejecting that linkage on our salaries. It must be one or the other. I agree with my right hon. Friend, but let us detach the pension problem from the public service.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
One beneficial side effect of the linking with the public service is that Members of Parliament's pensions are guarded against inflation. I do not know whether my hon. Friend 275 is suggesting that that linkage should be broken.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that there are reasons for dissatisfaction with the existing pension scheme, especially because in order to draw the full pension a Member has to serve 40 years in the House, which although possible for some is not possible for all Members. No amendments on that subject have been placed on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
It is difficult to table an amendment when the Boyle recommendation was negative. We are discussing a take-note motion, and I know that one could have expressed a feeling if one had wished to do so.
Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the extraordinary inaccuracy in page 12, paragraph 43, of the Boyle report, from which it is quite clear that Lord Boyle and his review board were not aware of the judges' pension rules? The accrual rate for judges is 15 years, because judges come into office late in their careers—in some cases too late. I am not suggesting that our service need be as short as that. However, it is clear that the average person does not come into the House in his early twenties and remain for 40 years.
A pension which is based on that assumption is false. It holds out the belief that we receive a certain pension, when quite clearly the average Member and his wife, widow or children will never receive such a pension. I know that the right hon. Gentleman could not implement my suggestion on this occasion, but I hope that he will take it away, allow himself 12 months' thought on the matter, and compare our pension scheme with the judges' pension scheme. He could then correct what is clearly a total omission by Lord Boyle, who knew only of the police and the fire service and was not aware of the judges' pension rules.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I must leave the hon. Gentleman to catch out Lord Boyle, if that is what he wishes to do. I cannot believe that it was beyond the ingenuity of the hon. Gentleman to have phrased an amendment had he so wished. After all, the hon. Gentleman is the greatest living authority on amending the procedures 276 of the House. I regret that his talent has not been recognised by the Opposition.
With regard to the question of Members' pensions, to get a fair picture of the position hon. Members should take into account that it is possible to bring in pension rights from a previous occupation and to have them incorporated in the scheme. That is an important concession.
I turn to the question of severance pay for Members. The change in the arrangement recommended by the review body is an improvement on the existing arrangements. It was made after careful consideration. The present severance payments for Members are, in general, reasonable. They are more advantageous in many cases than the age and service related payments that would be available to those of similar age and service under the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978.
I accept that they may not be as advantageous as some of those available elsewhere, but I do not think that it would be right, at the present time, to go beyond the review body's recommendations.
I am not unsympathetic towards the problems that a Member might face when, as a good employer, he wishes to pay his secretary through a prolonged period of sickness but finds that he has to pay also for his secretarial work to be done. However, I do not think that it would be right to increase the secretarial allowance to cover all possible unforeseen eventualities. One can get into a position when one is almost neurotic about these matters, trying to find every sort of difficulty, calamity or disaster that might strike and insure against it. We cannot do that. We can make a general provision, but we cannot deal with every detailed case. We should accept the review body's recommendation, although these important matters can be drawn to the attention of the review body at the next review.
Another amendment seeks the automatic adjustment of secretarial allowance to take account of any increase in employer's national insurance contributions The review body takes that into account, and regular review of the secretarial allowance would be the right course to follow and would meet that difficulty.
277 As to provision of general office equipment, when any review has taken place there are always items that some Members would have wished to see recommended. However, I do not think that it would be right, in the present economic climate, to go beyond the carefully considered recommendation of the review body. I will, however, ensure that that question is kept under review for the future.
I do not claim that the proposals that the Government are placing before the House are perfect. Nor are they the last word on the matter. The ultimate decision on these matters, as I have stressed before, is a matter for the House. In the nature of things, there cannot be a last word on these questions; they have to be reviewed in the light of changing circumstances.
Nevertheless, I believe that they amount to a substantial improvement in the position of Members and their efficiency in discharging their duties. At a time when the whole nation is having to make economic sacrifices, I believe that the proposals strike a fair balance between the needs of Parliament and the condition of the nation. Accordingly, I commend them to the House.
§ 5.8 pm
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
In each of the last few years we have had one debate of this sort, normally in July, dealing with Members' salaries and all the allowances that are mentioned in the report before us. I take it that this year we shall have to undergo two such debates, although I hope that the second one will be rather brief. We are not dealing today with the immediate issue of what happens to Members' salaries this year. I hope that at a later stage in the debate the Leader of the House will tell us how he intends to deal with that, when we shall need another motion to approve whatever is to happen to Members' salaries from June of this year.
Despite the many different matters that are before us, I wish to speak briefly because later today we are to debate the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976. That is a matter of substantial importance, and I do not think that the House should take the whole of the day to deal with these 278 domestic matters as against something of such great, substantive importance.
These debates are always rather embarrassing to most Members, but the embarrassment is unavoidable in that there is no means by which, ultimately, we can abdicate our responsibility to determine matters to do with our pay and the various allowances that so closely affect our ability to do our job.
The Leader of the House began his speech with a few philosophical remarks about the role of Parliament in relation to the total Government picture, from which, regrettably, I have to dissent. He appeared to suggest that the role of Parliament was to be—I think that he almost used the phrase—a school of manners or a forum in which the affairs of the nation are discussed. However, he did not use the words "a legislature".
It is not the role of this place just to second guess the Government, to be a long-stop for the Government, to embarrass the Government or to expose the Government. It is the role of this place to substitute its decision for that of the Government where enough Members think that it is important enough to do so. That vital and inescapable role of any legislature is in part affected by the services with which Members provide themselves to do their job.
Before coming to the specific proposals that are before us, I should like to make a general point relating to a difficulty that we are always in when we discuss these various allowances. We are often reluctant to invent a new allowance or to raise an existing allowance, because we know that once we have passed the motion there is very little control over the manner in which that motion is implemented. In effect, we give to a Member a right to draw from a fund, very much at a Member's discretion. There is no Committee of the House which supervises that. There is no person in the House, not even Mr. Speaker, who supervises that.
There are other Parliaments which do it differently. There are European Parliaments, and there is the European Assembly of the European Community, which either have committees or, in the case of the European Assembly, what it calls "quaestors", which have a measure of supervision over the use made of the 279 various allowances. It is disputable whether that is a good device to adopt, but it is certainly worth thinking about now that we have larger allowances and a greater complexity of allowances. It is particularly worth thinking about at a time when we have just given to ourselves the House of Commons Commission. It may be that under that Commission there ought to be some intermediary committee or group of senior Members who would exercise at least some reporting function upon the drawing of these allowances, and even conceivably some form of control over them.
§ Mr. English
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is precisely because of the point that he is making that many of us would rather have these things in kind instead of in cash? We would rather have typewriters provided than have to buy them out of any sort of allowance, and we would rather that we were able to put our secretaries on the normal payroll of the Palace of Westminster, as one could if one worked in business. In many cases we do not want the money; we want facilities.
§ Mr. Cunningham
But we do not work in business. Therefore, some differences are inevitable because of the fact that we are Members of Parliament and are not part of a normal office. We must accept that limitation. Payment in kind might get round some of the difficulties, but there are other difficulties that could not be got round in that way.
There is one recommendation in the report which is not reflected in any of the motions that are before us. That relates toMinisters and other office holders in the House of Lords.The Leader of the House did not mention that in his speech, I take it because that would be regarded as a matter for the House of Lords to decide. I do not see the right hon. Gentleman indicating assent or dissent from that proposition, but perhaps he will tell us later what the position is with regard to the recommendation on page 24 of the report relating toMinisters and other office holders in the House of Lords.Let us leave aside the other domestic office holders of the House of Lords. As 280 the important House of the legislature, we have an interest in the treatment that is accorded to Ministers who happen to be Members of the House of Lords.
The least controversial motion before us is the one which would allow spouses to have the car mileage allowance rather than vouchers. I do not think that anyone would object to that proposal. More controversially, we have the modest recommendations—and they are indeed modest—to enhance the severance payment, if that is the term for it, available to Members who are defeated in an election or who lose their seats as a result of redistribution. It is important to mention that those are the circumstances in which this payment is available. It is not a payment that is available to Members who simply decide to resign. That is an important point to make, because that is the source of the difficulty.
It would be possible to enhance the payments even more than Boyle recommends if we could find a way of distinguishing between a Member who simply decides to resign and one who, as it were, has lost his position in the House through no desire of his own and in circumstances in which he could not have anticipated it for any great length of time.
Points have been made about the proposals which Boyle has made in that regard. For myself, I accept the proposal that there should be enhancement above the age of 50 for Members who have been in the House for more than 10 years, but the view has been expressed to me that there is some oddity about making that enhancement available to Members who are well above normal retirement age. It is arguable that the amounts of money ought not only to rise with age but should tail off at the end of a normal working career, and that is something which the House and Boyle ought to look at on later occasions.
We come to the issue of the accrual rate in the Members' pension scheme. I do not share the view that because Members tend to spend, on average, 10 or 13 years in this House it ought to be possible to earn a full normal pension in right of that number of years of service in the House. That may be done for judges, but it may be that it is the arrangement for judges that is wrong and not the arrangements here. The legislation which this House passes on pensions in general does not 281 provide full pensions for people who, for a limited period, have been in a certain profession.
What we have tried to do over the last six years or so is to enforce some degree of transferability between one pension scheme and another. We have improved our own pension scheme to accept into it payments resulting from other pension schemes. It may well be that we shall have to improve that still further, not only for ourselves but for everyone in the country, so that when people have paid into a pension scheme they never lose the benefits which they and their employer have paid for, and so that those benefits are always enhanced in the light of inflation as they move from one job to another. Members of Parliament are not the only people who move from one job to another, and whatever needs to be done in terms of pensions to take care of that situation needs to be done for everyone, not only for ourselves.
Members of Parliament are different from others to a slighter extent than has been suggested, but still to some extent. The arrangements adopted in most other Parliaments are certainly more generous than we have adopted for ourselves. That comparison is one which the Boyle committee ought to look at in any future examination of this question.
The Boyle report touched upon a large number of suggestions that were made to it and for the most part dismissed the more minor ones. One of the most valuable which it did not dismiss is the suggestion that Members should be reimbursed for the costs of travel throughout the United Kingdom when on parliamentary duty. This being the second time that Boyle has forcefully made that proposal, I am sorry that the Government have decided that they do not want to touch it at all. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said in his statement the other week that the Government were not prepared to accept this proposal "at the present time". I hope that he will say something later to qualify those words.
Does the Leader of the House envisage bringing forward a proposal at some other time within the next few years to reimburse travel costs? A Member who needs to travel about the country on parliamentary duties should not have to 282 find the cost out of his own pocket. Members of other Parliaments do not, for the most part, have to do so. The problem cannot be escaped by reimbursing the cost of travel only to Government Departments. There is no reason to suggest that a Member is working on parliamentary duties only if he is visiting a Government Department. He is just as much engaged on parliamentary duties if, say, he is visiting British Leyland before it is a public undertaking as he is when it is a public undertaking. We should remove that distinction.
It would be possible—I put it to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for consideration—to have an arrangement with British Rail on a lump sum basis whereby the House paid a lump sum to British Rail, in return for which Members were able to travel free by rail—not by car or by air—in the performance of their duties. There would be disadvantages and anomalies. It would mean that a Member could not go to Shetland but that he could go to Aberdeen. But it would at least go some way towards the principle that such costs should not be met out of Members' pockets.
I turn to the largest proposal, that of raising the so-called secretarial and research allowance. It is time that we found another title for this allowance—possibly staff budget or something similar —because it is no longer a secretarial allowance.
I thank the Leader of the House for agreeing that the Boyle proposal of two allowances should be refused. The circumstances of individual Members are different. My constituency is only two-thirds of a constituency in terms of its electorate. Therefore, my need for purely secretarial assistance is less than that of Members who have twice the number of constituents, though I may have more need for research assistance than do other Members, or more desire for it or more willingness to use it.
There is no way in which we can squeeze the 635 Members into one pattern, so it is right that the Leader of the House should have agreed to the suggestion that we should overrule Boyle and substitute a measure which reflects our knowledge of how a Member's work has to be carried out. I do not say that as a criticism of Boyle. I shall return later 283 to the problems that we experience because we rely on a committee which is not a Committee of the House.
Boyle refers—and almost apologises for doing so—to the facilities that are available to Members in the Library. The Library could substitute for much of the work for which Members otherwise have to pay. To do that, the Library research staff would need to be expanded fourfold. At present the people working in the Library on different subjects cover such a wide spectrum that they have to search for information when a Member requests it. The right course is for each staff member in the Library to cover such a small area of work that he has most of the answers in his head. The quadrupling of the Library staff, which would pose problems of accommodation, would avoid much of the expense that Members would otherwise have to meet from the various allowances made available to them.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I would guess that in the last 15 years the Library staff have come to occupy physically one-third of the Library, which is no longer available to Members. Even if the fourfold increase were not physically located in the Library, because of having to look up books and records physically in the Library there would be still less room for Members, who are still permitted to enter the Library but for whom there is tragically decreased accommodation.
§ Mr. Cunningham
Our problem is that this building is the opposite of Dr. Who's police box. It is smaller inside than it looks from the outside. The only solution to that problem is to give ourselves another building. The Government have decided that they are not prepared to do that now, but there is no solution to the problem of proper working conditions of individual Members and committees without another building. One of the troubles is that fire precautions have killed every Parliament's prospects of a new building. If we look around the world, we see that the only way in which Parliaments obtain new buildings is by burning down the old ones. Unfortunately, however, fire precautions have made that impossible.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Will my hon. Friend accept that there is plenty of room inside the Palace of Westminster? There are about 200 rooms just down the corridor in the Lords. The Lord Chancellor's Department is housed in this building. Could not we obtain far better use of that space by taking over for the use of the Commons, the major Chamber, some of it?
§ Mr. Cunningham
That is an attractive proposition, but I have no desire to get rid of the House of Lords and to end up with a senate. That is the danger in going down that corridor in the search for accommodation.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster raised the question of the general status of a Member's secretary or other members of his staff. It has been suggested—the idea is contemplated sympathetically in the Boyle report—that the secretary of a Member of Parliament might be employed by the House of Commons. My impression is that most Members do not like that idea and that a large number of secretaries do not favour it either.
Boyle suggested that there should be an optional arrangement whereby a Member's secretary might be employed by the House if that Member and his secretary wished. If the facility were used by only a few Members—say, by a quarter of the Members—the difficulties of taking those secretaries on to the staff of the House would be the greater. There can be a degree of flexibility in the 500 secretaries, but I doubt whether it can be done with 100 secretaries. It must be stressed that the responsibility for employing people and for determining their conditions of work, the projects on which they work and their pay can only be that of the individual Member if the Member is to retain his control over his work.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a parallel? An institution was set up by the House a short time ago to split those Members who wished to retain the present system from those who wished their secretaries to be paid by the House. That is the agency scheme that is operated by the Fees Office. Some Members support that scheme and others dislike it, and that would be the case with the scheme to which my hon. Friend has referred.
§ Mr. Cunningham
I agree with my hon. Friend, but there is an additional problem. If a secretary were employed by the House, the House would have some responsibility for redeploying that secretary if he or she were no longer wanted by the Member. An optional arrangement is the most that Members would want.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster stressed that at present secretaries attract the additional pension under the State scheme. The Boyle Committee and the Chancellor have said that the allowances proposed in these motions ought to be sufficient to cover the employers' national insurance contribution as well as basic salary. That means that if the Member is spending nothing on research and is spending nothing on office costs, the most that he can pay his secretary is about £4,800 a year. That certainly is plenty to pay a typist, but whether it is plenty to pay the kind of secretary that a Member requires to do his job is very much another matter. Many secretaries feel—although they have not always felt so—that there ought to be some arrangement which provides the likelihood of pension additional to the State scheme, the equivalent of an occupational scheme.
I have always felt that the right way to deal with that problem, and the one most favourable to Members' secretaries, is to deal with it by the private annuity system under the Finance Act 1956, attracting complete tax relief. In that way the secretary would have an input to a scheme which she never lost, which was always with her, and where the employer's contribution, if there were one, and there should be one, also always stuck with the secretary.
But if that is to be done there will need to be an addition to the secretarial allowance to allow that amount to he paid into the private annuity. We shall have to do something, as is suggested by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), to ensure that that money is available only for that purpose and not generally. The hon. Gentleman has tabled an amendment which would serve that purpose. That amendment, or something like it, is highly desirable, I think, for the future.
The Boyle report has returned this time to the issue of salary linkage. Now that 286 the committee has told us about three times that it is opposed to our idea, which the House passed in 1975, of linkage, I am beginning to understand why it is that the Boyle committee repeatedly rejects this idea. The Boyle committee rightly says that the job of a Member of Parliament cannot be compared with any other job in the country. The Boyle committee is engaged in its normal work in the business of comparing one job with another for pay purposes. It is staffed and served by the Office of Manpower Economics, or whatever it is, whose job is even more of that nature. It seems to feel that it would be professionally not respectable for it to overcome that objection to equating the job of a Member of Parliament with that of any other person.
We in the House have a completely different approach. We are not saying that the job of a Member of Parliament is like that of such and such a rank in the Civil Service or of a county court judge or whatever. We know that that is nonsense, too. What we are trying to do is to avoid the embarrassment of trying to raise our own salaries by finding some other way of dealing with the problem. So for us it is an escape, but for Boyle it has to be an escape which is not defensible by its normal standards. The Boyle committee always says, when it addresses itself to this subject—it has certainly done so this time—"We are against linkage, but if the House wants to go for linkage, here is the way that we suggest you do it." It does that in paragraph 98 of this latest report.
In 1975 the House passed a motion by a large majority of about 90 in favour of linkage in principle. It did so in circumstances where the then Government put the issue quite explicitly and intentionally to the House for a decision of principle, and the House took it. The flesh that has been put on the bones may not now attract the House, the particular form of linkage may not attract the House now, but surely there still is a majority of the House that is in favour of some kind of linkage so that we escape this eternal wrangle.
Linkage is not indexation. It does not mean that Members are automatically protected against inflation. It means that they are linked to some kind of band of other salaries, or perhaps an individual 287 salary, something like that. It does not mean automatically taking account of inflation. So we have tabled an amendment—we shall decide what to do with it in the light of the reception that there is in the course of the debate—which would reaffirm the attachment of the House to the principle of linkage, without suggesting what form of linkage we would adopt.
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
When the House passed the motion in 1975, to which my hon. Friend referred, it also approved the linkage of both the subsistence allowance and the petrol allowance to avoid the embarrassment of having to discuss the mileage rate once a year or more frequently. It is as well that we do not have to discuss the mileage rate that Members of Parliament receive. It is linked to a rate that is tied to the Civil Service in the same way as the subsistence allowance. Exactly the same argument applied. We wanted the linkage for the same reasons. It was good enough for the House in 1975. The Boyle committee has never argued against what the House did in respect of mileage and subsistence. It is totally illogical for the Boyle committee to continue the argument that it is advancing on Members' salaries and linkage.
§ Mr. Cunningham
I have a great deal of sympathy with that. Of course, what the Boyle committee says can only ever be recommendations. It is up to the House to take the decision. The only trouble is that the House has always been reluctant to take this decision for itself.
In conclusion, I want to throw out a thought about the status of the Boyle committee, which I think it is time we were thinking about. It is now nearly 10 years since this subject matter was handed over for initial consideration by the Boyle committee. It is important to remember that it is not asked to consider these matters by the House. The House has never asked the Boyle committee to look at the subject matter. The Government ask the Boyle committee to do so, and the advice of the Boyle committee is tendered to the Government. On reading the report this year I could not suppress the thought that the Boyle committee was getting involved in detailed matters about travel allowances and paying for typewriters, matters touching upon 288 the work of a Member of Parliament, where frankly it does not have the expertise and it does not have the experience that fits it to take the decision better than we can ourselves.
§ Mr. Cunningham
When I look at the names of those who have signed this report—let me say that I pay great tribute to the hard work and long-suffering work of the Boyle committee, because it makes recommendations and does the job very well and the House, or the Government, promptly rejects half of what it recommends, so one is making no criticism of the members of the Boyle committee in saying this—it seems a bit odd, does it not, that these arrangements, so intimate to the working of the House, are drawn up by seven members, four of whom are members of the other place?
There is, of course, the chairman, who has been a Member of this place, and we pay great tribute to him. His knowledge must be invaluable to the committee. But the others, worthy though they are, hard working though they are and very helpful to Members though they are, are not the people whom we would choose if we were looking for people to understand how a Member of Parliament does his job and what he needs to do it.
§ Mr. Beith
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Is it not true that the Boyle committee is a top salaries review body? Does he agree that it shows a woeful lack of understanding of the going rate for the rather lower salaries of secretaries in central London? Does not accept that it is not well equipped to deal with that aspect of the problem?
§ Mr. Cunningham
I suspect that the Boyle committee would secretly very much agree with us that it does not really want to get involved in this at all, but it has been saddled with it by the Government and it is not able to resign from the task. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is even less appropriate for deciding Members' secretaries' salaries. Maybe it is time for the House to start looking at another way in which it can distil its own thoughts on these matters before they come before the House for a decision.
As I said, we now have the House of Commons Commission. I do not think 289 that it would be right—nor would it be welcomed by the members of the commission—to saddle it with this job, but something working in the direction of the House of Commons Commission might be useful.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
Can anything be less generous to the needs of hon. Members than hon. Members of the House who are advancing towards retirement who look back at what happened a long time ago when deciding whether it is right to make the payments now? Surely, Boyle has been more generous to us than we have ever been to ourselves.
§ Mr. Cunningham
I agree, but I am making a point about something that we need to consider. I am referring to the House of Commons Commission only in the sense that we have now equipped ourselves with something like an executive committee or bureau of the House, which we have never had before. I am not suggesting that this job should or could be done by the House of Commons Commission. However, perhaps it is time for the House to start thinking again about an idea tossed out by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) when we discussed the matter in 1975. He mentioned the possibility of a Select Committee. After 10 years of operating with the Boyle committee it is time for us to think about whether that is how we want to continue.
While paying great tribute to the work that it has done and the help that has been given to us compared with the decisions which, as that committee frequently says, we have foolishly taken ourselves, I think that the proposals that are before us today will certainly increase the facilities that are available to hon. Members for doing their jobs. With the new Select Committees off to a good start, it is all the more important that individual members on those Committees and elsewhere in the House should have the facilities so that the will that exists to do the job is backed up.
§ Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)
I agree with most of the points made by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) in what was a typically thoughtful speech. I agreed especially with the point that he began to develop at the beginning of his speech and said a good deal about at the end of 290 his speech. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will seriously consider his constructive suggestion. It has my full support, and I fancy that it has the support of most, if not all, of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
Like the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, I acknowledge that there are other important matters for discussion and, therefore, I shall speak only briefly. I support the four motions tabled by my right hon. Friend, but I add the words "on this occasion", for I have a number of reservations about them that I shall develop.
I begin on a note of pleasantness which I believe is appropriate on such a nonpartisan occasion. Although I am not a delegate and can speak only for myself, I have no doubt that I speak for many others when I express my appreciation of the continuous helpfulness of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to us all in his consideration of these matters. He spoke of his strategic ideas and plans for our work in the House. He has made a notable contribution to the work of Parliament in that regard and I hope, in the long term, to its effectiveness. Although we had to apply a little pressure to get our way on the last occasion, he has been prompt in dealing with the Boyle report. He has gone out of his way to ensure the widest possible consultation. I assure him that that is greatly appreciated.
I turn now to a note of dissent. I must state my view plainly to my right hon. Friend. While I regard this document as representing some improvement, in all seriousness it is a modest package. Whether the world outside agrees with me, in my opinion we in the House pay ourselves and Ministers far too little. We provide ourselves with facilities that are woefully and pitifully inadequate to enable us to do our job. It remains a burning ambition of mine to see that the position is improved.
I regard it as invidious that these motions should have to be tabled by the Leader of the House. These are House of Commons matters. My right hon. Friend, who has the widest possible view of these matters, none the less stated plainly "I am the spokesman for the Government". Such motions should never 291 be tabled by the spokesman of the Government, however much he may be a friend of the House as a whole. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was entirely right. Between now and July, when we are likely to have another debate, we should give much thought to whether we can find another way to proceed.
I turn now to the individual motions on the Order Paper. Dealing with the first motion on the Review Body on Top Salaries and the take-note proposal, I join with my right hon. Friend—it is important for someone to say this from the Back Benches—in paying tribute to Lord Boyle and his colleagues. It may well be, as the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, that the members of that committee are finding their responsibilities increasingly invidious. They may find it tiresome to have to go into such considerable detail. Perhaps we should ask someone else to report or take more of the responsibility. However, I am sorry that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury made his remarks in the way in which he did, because my tribute to Lord Boyle and his colleagues is unreserved. I, together with some of my hon. Friends, gave evidence to that committee on a number of occasions. I pay eloquent tribute to the painstaking, careful and well-informed way in which it has conducted its work.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
I hope that carelessness of language did not make me suggest that I was in any way not appreciative of the work that Lord Boyle and his committee have done. I am sure that they have all been exceedingly painstaking. I was only questioning whether any committee from outside the House is able to go into the more detailed aspects of the matters that the committee covered in its report.
§ Mr. du Cann
If that is so, I am happy that the hon. Gentleman made that intervention.
I was worried about a remark made by my right hon. Friend. He said that looking at our remuneration, allowances and so on is a continuous process. I do not believe that we can go on in this way, constantly referring the minutiae of our situation to the Boyle committee. I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, 292 South and Finsbury that we must find another way.
Furthermore, the House should reflect that in the 10 months of this Parliament we have had two statements from the Government Front Bench, this is our second debate which may take some time and, as has been said, we are likely to have another debate in July. That means that we have taken up five tranches of parliamentary time discussing our own affairs when there is a great catalogue of claimants for parliamentary time such as steel, Afghanistan, terrorism, Africa and the economic situation. I repeat that we cannot go on as at present. We must find some new form of reference point.
The second motion on the Order Paper deals with Members' office, secretariat and research allowances. I have already said that we do not provide ourselves with adequate facilities to enable us to do our job. I endorse what was said about the amounts payable for research assistants or secretaries being lower than they should be. I agree with the Boyle report that we should not put our secretaries and research assistants into the employ of the State or the House of Commons. The relationship between a Member of Parliament and his secretary and research assistants is inevitably too personal to allow that to happen.
The mistake that is constantly made is to apply the doctrine of universality. We are not all the same. Our responsibilities are not the same. An hon. Member who is Chairman of a Select Committee may have three four or five times as much work as a member of that Committee. The House is very familiar with the distinctions.
The real advantage in finding a new reference point is that these points would be much better understood by any group of people other than ourselves. The truth is that we operate on a wholly different basis from that of any commercial undertaking. If one gives a man a job, one sees that he has the equipment to do it, whether he is working on the shop floor or in an office. That is what we have consistently failed to do here. The sooner we change the position, the better.
I am sure that it is absolutely right for the House to heed the wise advice of my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member 293 for Islington, South and Finsbury on the subject of accountability. That is mentioned in paragraph 16 of Boyle. When one is dealing with public funds, it is more than ever necessary to be carefully accountable for them.
I endorse motion No. 3 on car mileage allowances for spouses of Members of Parliament. If the principle of travelling expenses for spouses is accepted, it must be immaterial how they travel, and not every constituency is fortunate enough to be served by the railways.
On the question of the grant for former Members of Parliament, I should like to give some advice to those who have sponsored amendments under this heading. I was surprised to see that none of the leading names was included in the list of those who gave evidence to Boyle. That is a pity. When individual Members have views that are so strongly held that they put down amendments, they should go and see Boyle and tell him what they think. How else can they expect Boyle to reflect fairly the views of the House? I think that what Boyle has decided by and large is right.
I now come to one or two matters that are not mentioned in the motions. Paragraph 47 of the Boyle report refers to pre-1964 Members. I am very disappointed that nothing is to be done for these people. This is a piece of meanness, and the idea that they should be referred to the Members' fund smacks of charity and is totally unsuitable. I think that any reasonable commercial organisation would behave in a better manner towards old servants in the evening of their lives.
I turn to paragraph 74 on the question of travel. I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that the present position is ludicrous. An hon. Member can get travelling expenses if he or she goes to a Government Department locally or if he or she is a member of a Select Committee. However, if an hon. Member wishes to do anything else, he cannot get travelling expenses. Why are the Government not prepared to agree to this? My right hon. Friend said that it was a matter of cost. But the costs are likely to be trivial, and any small amount is justified if it enables a Member of Parliament to do his job better. It would perhaps save a large sum of money in the long run.
294 I turn to the question of linkage which is raised in paragraph 90 onwards. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury put it well when he said that linkage was not indexation. It is not, and to pretend that it is is to mislead the House a little. I agree that it is very difficult to find an analogue—that ghastly word—that is exact, but the proposal which the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party and I put to Boyle deserves further examination. We pointed out that as Boyle was already working regularly on a group of professions—senior officers of the Armed Forces, chairmen of the nationalised industries, judges and others—it should be possible to make an index from their positions and apply it to Members of Parliament. That would be a rough yardstick. The fact that we would not have to be bothered with these matters in between the main reviews every four years would be a great advantage to everyone. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not say that he has closed his mind to linkage for all time.
Then there is the question of the recommendation of paragraph 24 on Ministers in the House of Lords. I do not know whether this is an appropriate matter for this House, but I hope that it will not be overlooked.
I hope that I have said enough to illustrate the matters which I believe every hon. Member has in mind. There continue to be an irritating and absurd group of anomalies in the way in which we do things. We need to find some method by which, on a continuous basis, we can iron out these anomalies—whether they are about pensions or Ministers' salaries. It is necessary for our own health and peace of mind and for the proper working of Parliament that we do so.
It is even more important that we should try to avoid the absurd spectacle of continuous debates about our own circumstances. I am sure that this Chamber is not the proper place to have these matters thrashed out. One cannot keep on making great speeches about paragraph 24, or recommendation 13, or about the principles of secretarial allowances. These matters are for a Select Committee or for a group of Members acting on our behalf. It is very gratifying that the Parliamentary Labour Party, the 1922 Committee and the Parliamentary Affairs Group have come together to discuss these 295 matters from time to time. There is already a forum and a precedent, and there is no reason why this should not be built upon. In fact, there is every reason why it should be built upon.
If we can find some other body to work on these matters and take the lead on our behalf, that will enable the constitutional development of the House of Commons to continue. This is an area in which my right hon. Friend has made a notable beginning, and it is something which is dear to his heart. This will give him more time for his proper responsibilities and enable us to deal with matters which are much more important to the general public than our personal circumstances.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I wish to direct my remarks to the motions and amendments concerning the allowances and facilities available to Members rather than to the salaries and provisions directly for Members. Those who work for us have more cause to be dissatisfied with the present position and the proposed improvements than we have, even though we have our problems and grievances. Those who work for us and give us excellent service have strong reason to be dissatisfied with they way in which their case has been considered.
I wish to put two points on the record. First, the Liberal Party continues to support the idea of linkage of Members' salaries to a suitable analogue. This does not mean indexation for inflation, which is quite a different principle and one with which I do not agree. What the House has asked for is a link between Members' salaries and those of some outside group, and we should still implement that principle.
In a number of ways we still place a burden upon those hon. Members who work the hardest and upon those who are most conscientious. Many of us resent that. A pattern still exists in some of the allowances. It is financially favourable to an hon. Member to do as little as possible. That principle should not be built into our provisions. There has been a continuous failure to do anything about office expenses. If a constituent writes from abroad, the hon. Member who is most punctilious in maintaining correspondence and who replies and sends 296 papers to his constituent will find himself penalised by overseas postage rates. In former years the principle has been advanced that if an hon. Member puts his correspondence in a waste paper basket, the constituent will not write again. He who replies most fully will incur the greatest expense.
In my constituency it costs about £1,500 a year to advertise and provide the system of surgeries that many hon. Members enjoy. The cost of hiring rooms and—even more—of advertising in local papers will be high if an hon. Member represents a widely scattered community. Many local authorities provide councillors with such facilities. However, the Boyle committee lightly dismisses that aspect. It makes the naïve assumption that the Houghton report on financing political parties is bound to be implemented. I have seen nothing that provides evidence for that assumption.
The Leader of the House has sought to help hon. Members in a limited way. Indeed, some hon. Members have suggested that he has fused the two allowances. The right hon. Gentleman has therefore implied that many hon. Members should forget about assistance for research. He is suggesting that hon. Members should recognise that the secretarial allowance is inadequate but that it can be boosted by means of the research allowance. The fact that that is felt to be necessary bears out a point that I made earlier. The Boyle committee has failed to come to terms with the needs of many hon. Members who employ full-time secretaries of some experience and ability. They wish to see their secretaries rewarded on a basis comparable to that which can be obtained outside the House or in Government Departments.
Secretaries' salaries should be comparable to those of others who work within the building and who are employees of the House of Commons. The Boyle committee has failed to understand the going rate in central London. It does not understand the effect of making hon. Members pay the national insurance contributions of their secretaries. It has not considered what the possible effect might be if more hon. Members made pension provision for their secretaries comparable to those obtained outside the House.
The Boyle report states that the allowance of £5,500 will permit hon. Members 297 to provide the employer's national insurance contribution. Therefore, from that £5,500 we must immediately deduct 13.5 per cent. for national insurance contributions. Unless the Boyle committee expects us to make up our secretaries' salaries from our own salaries, we must assume that the amount available to pay a full-time secretary will be about £4,750. The Boyle committee assumes also that we do not deduct any amount for office expenses and for further pension provision. It does not assume that we will set aside money in case our secretary falls sick and has to be replaced for that period. Those expenses are reckoned to be part of the existing secretarial allowance.
We may therefore assume that only about £4,000 per annum will be available for a secretary's salary. Several hon. Members make provision for their secretaries to become members of contributory pension schemes. Several Liberal Members do so through the party's pension scheme. They therefore pay the employer's contribution on the secretary's salary. They are paying not 13.5 per cent. but 20 per cent. of their secretary's salary in combined national insurance and pension contributions. As the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) said, other hon. Members may make annuity arrangements under existing Finance Acts. They also pay more than 13.5 per cent. In all those cases, the amount available for a secretary's salary will be a great deal lower than that specified.
A secretary is forced to expect the hon. Member for whom she works to subsidise her salary from his own. If that does not occur, she will have to accept a rate that is not slightly but enormously lower than the prevailing rate for an experienced and competent secretary in London. The bands that operate in the Civil Service go up to £5,500 for such secretaries. Those rates are part of a system in which the secretary need not make pension contributions. Those salary scales assume a non-contributory Civil Service pension scheme. Those who work for us are placed at a substantial disadvantage in every way.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
The hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Civil Service tell some of the truth but not the whole of it. The figures for a personal secretary start 298 at £4,057. That salary goes up by six increments to £4,830. A senior person or secretary will receive £4,603, rising by five increments to £5,573. Of course, those figures include the sum of £780 for inner London weighting. Therefore, the gap is not so great. There has always been a gap between the salaries paid to secretaries in the House and those paid to secretaries working in financial organisations in the City. Such organisations may pay more, but they do not have the interest of a job in this House.
§ Mr. Beith
Let us not argue whether Civil Service scales are comparable to commercial rates in central London. Let us take those scales at their face value. All those bodies that have ruled on pay have repeatedly said that these rates recognise the particular position of Civil Service secretaries. They do not have to make an employee's contribution to the cost of their pensions.
There is a difference between those secretaries and the ones that I am discussing. Secretaries who work in the House of Commons must pay their own contributions to a pension fund. The allowances described do not allow hon. Members to pay their secretaries on that scale, once deductions have been made for national insurance contributions and for office expenses. The allowances might just allow an hon. Member to pay his or her secretary if she is employed on the bottom point of the ordinary scale. Unless an hon. Member subsidises his secretary's salary, he will not be able to pay salaries at the top of that scale. He will certainly be unable to pay salaries in the upper reaches of the senior secretary scales.
Many secretaries who are employed in the House have worked for the same hon. Member for five or 20 years. They have enormous knowledge and experience of the House. They are of the highest possible standard. By any comparison, they should be in the upper reaches of that scale. I have received support from hon. Members of all parties. I have therefore tabled an amendment that will remove any assumptions about contributing to the pension scheme out of the secretarial allowance. That is not the only thing that I would like to do. I would like to ensure that the scale provides adequate provision for paying the going rates.
299 However, we should ensure tonight that those hon. Members who so wish can put their secretaries on a proper pension footing. They should do so either by the type of annuity that has already been described or by paying into a variety of occupational private pension schemes. There are various ways in which that can be done. However, hon. Members need some money in order to do that.
My amendment makes clear that I do not want this to be a general addition to the alllowance that could be claimed by those who do not make provision for their secretaries. I agree that it will be to the disadvantage of those who work for us if we do not ensure full accountability and if we do not make provision for moneys to be available for particular purposes. The amendment is specific in its requirement. The sums of money made available would represent 10 per cent. of the amount that is available to those employed. However, those sums could be made available only for payment into pension funds.
Such sums would allow an hon. Member to have a pension contribution made in respect of not just one but, if necessary, two or three people employed out of that sum, whether part-time or full-time. An hon. Member could make that contribution in respect of not only a secretary employed out of the £5,500 but a research assistant out of the other sums, if he employed one. I have simply tied to secure the principle that it is 10 per cent. of the amount available for the secretarial allowance.
I appeal to hon. Members to try to make it clear tonight that we believe that our secretaries are entitled to reasonable pension provision and that we are prepared to make available an allowance that can be used solely for that purpose. If we did that, we should go some way towards meeting the justified criticism of the way in which we handle these matters.
The provisions available to hon. Members in respect of travel and other matters can be improved in many ways. We have an obligation to those who work for us to ensure that they are paid at reasonable levels and that provision for their old age is made on an adequate basis and is not regarded as something that 300 should be prevented or discouraged because they happen to work for Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
I welcome the report and the Government's prompt acceptance of its main proposals. I venture to suggest that had previous reports been accepted and implemented as so promptly, at any rate in regard to the main recommendations, we should not be in some of the difficulties that we are discussing now.
It is unfortunate that what has occurred previously has given rise to pressure for linkage, particularly with regard to hon. Members' salaries. I supported the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) several years ago in his motion for linkage. I did so more in a sense of frustration than because I was entirely convinced by the case. It seemed the only way in which the matter would be adequately settled.
There is difficulty in achieving an appropriate linkage for hon. Members' salaries. By far the best system must be regular review, as suggested in paragraph 90 of the report. I welcome the assurance from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the Government accept the recommendation, that there will be regular reviews and that, subject to the vague reservations made by my right hon. Friend, the outcome of the reviews will be implemented.
Having welcomed the main recommendation in the report with regard to secretarial allowance, I want to make two comments. I am not sure whether it is clear to those outside the House that the allowance is not a perk. I wish to make it clear that it is simply to enable hon. Members to have facilities that are automatically provided in virtually every other job. One would automatically have a secretary, with equipment to enable her to do the job. It is often implied, particularly in the press, that it is a supplement to our salary. That is unfair and untrue.
Reference has been made to the accountability of the allowance, and interesting proposals have been put forward. There should be a degree of accountability, but there already is accountability to the extent that the Inland Revenue is entitled to ask—and does from time to time—how the allowance has been spent. If an hon. Member indicates how he has 301 distributed the allowance, the Inland Revenue can check up.
I am glad that the Leader of the House indicates that there will be more flexibility in the sums available than was at first thought. However, I am bound to endorse strongly the view put forward by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about the lack of generosity of the figure recommended.
The report recognises that most hon. Members have and need a full-time secretary. The days when a secretary could divide her time between two or three hon. Members are passing. She is a secretary and not just a shorthand typist. She is expected to perform all the duties of a personal secretary employed in commerce or industry. We expect a high standard, and we need secretaries who in commerce or industry would be working for a senior manager or director. We should have secretaries of that calibre, not only to make our work easier but in the interests of our constituents, who expect us to do a proper job.
Such secretaries expect reasonable working conditions, which many do not enjoy if they work in the Palace of Westminster or the outbuildings. Having served on the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee of the Services Committee, I realise the difficulties of providing satisfactory working conditions. However, in other circumstances a secretary of the calibre that I have indicated would not have to work in a room with a dozen other secretaries. We do the best we can. The shortcomings of the accommodation should strengthen the case to ensure that our secretaries are adequately paid.
As has been said, the £5,500 would not all end up in the secretary's pocket. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed indicated the deductions that are necessarily made. The remaining figure that we pay to our secretaries is modest by any standards, whether we compare their pay with the Civil Service or walk down Victoria Street to see the agency notices and the salaries quoted, to which can be added generous pension schemes and luncheon vouchers, which are now no small consideration.
§ Mr. Sims
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right.
The report also refers to surgery costs. I agree that it is not possible to quantify the costs incurred by an hon. Member in performing his constituency job. They are bound to vary. Many of us conduct our surgeries or advice bureaux in our party headquarters. Expenses are involved in lighting and heating. Often our agents act on the spot as secretaries, to the extent that they deal with correspondence and telephone calls in respect of our work not as the local representatives of political parties but as Members of Parliament. They work on our behalf in the constituencies, with the obvious expenses involved.
Those expenses are difficult to quantify, and I accept that the report cannot put forward recommendations. However, if an hon. Member is asked or offers to contribute to his local party to meet those costs the money has to come from his own pocket—which is not entirely fair—or has to be deducted from his secretarial allowance, and his secretary gets less. It is not satisfactory either way. If it is not possible to have a surgery allowance—and I accept that it is not—the secretarial allowance should take that factor into account.
The cost of travel outside the Westminster-constituency-home triangle has been mentioned. The report repeats the obvious fact that to do the job properly a Member of Parliament, particularly on the Back Benches, needs to travel to other parts of the country to visit, for instance, prisons, defence establishments, factories and community schemes. At present the expense of such travel comes from his own pocket.
My right hon. Friend does not dispute the merit of this aspect of the report and previous reports, but he is not prepared to implement it at present on grounds of cost. He did not indicate what the estimated cost might be. I appreciate that that might be difficult. In those circumstances, I endorse strongly the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that we should consider some form of railway season ticket that was valid throughout the country. That facility is enjoyed by Members of many overseas legislatures. The suggestion has a number of merits. 303 It would enable Members of Parliament to make the visits that I suggested. It would have the incidental effect of encouraging the use of rail rather than road. I do not think that the system is likely to be abused. After all, a Member of Parliament's life does not allow much scope for joy-riding on British Rail. It would save the time and trouble of having to complete and exchange a warrant every time a Member of Parliament made a visit to Westminster or elsewhere from his nearest station, with all the business of exchanging warrants.
Some costs would be involved in this scheme, but they would not be enormous. It should be possible for the House to negotiate special rates for the scheme with British Rail. There would be a saving in one direction. It would no longer be necessary for the Fees Office to check and process large numbers of warrants, which are at present issued on an individual basis. I ask my right hon. Friend to give the scheme serious consideration.
I commend my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor for his promptness in implementing the report. I thank him for his sympathetic approach to the report and to hon. Members' problems.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
May I follow the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) in his congratuations to the Chancellor? As long as the right hon. Gentleman makes his own decisions and keeps them as far away as possible from the Cabinet, he seems to do very well. I hope that he will continue to do so.
In this case he had poor material on which to work. I regard this as the worst Boyle report that I have seen. I shall give an illustration. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) did not like my comparison of the rate for judges in their pension scheme with ours. I said earlier that Boyle, from his wording, was not aware of that. The Office of Manpower Economics never mentions the existence of the accrual rate of 15 years in the case of judges. Paragraph 43 of the Boyle report says:Faster rates of accrual are not common and are mainly related to particularly hazardous and physically demanding jobs.304 I do not know about you, Mr. Speaker, but Lord Denning seems to continue to do a physically demanding and particularly hazardous job well into his eighties.
I am irritated by the last sentence of the paragraph. Apparently we are supposed to receive a pension of two-thirds of our salary as long as we have been here for 40 years. I was elected to the House at a fairly early age. Even so, that would mean that I must stay until I am 73. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long".] I agree. I was making the point myself.
The country would be better served it Members of Parliament were not encouraged to stay in this job long after, in some cases, they are physically and mentally fit to do so. Lord Boyle says that this does not matter and thatMoreover, the ability to purchase additional years of reckonable service goes a long way towards meeting the citicisms of the present rate of accrual without imposing any further financial burden on those MPs who regard the present rate as adequate.I regard that statement as extremely arrogant. It shows a complete lack of comprehension of the financial circumstances of the majority of Members of Parliament. That is true of Government supporters as well as members of the Opposition. The day when Members of Parliament all had land in Middlesex and spare capital with which to buy added years have gone. Some Members of Parliament are extremely rich in their private capacities or because of the work they do outside. If they want to buy added years, good luck to them. However, the assumption that we should all be satisfied, because some Members of Parliament have spare capital to invest in added years, is erroneous.
It is not only Members of Parliament who are involved; we are talking about our wives and children. If an hon. Member dies, his widow's pension is half the supposed two-thirds after 40 years. For a child, it is one-quarter, up to a maximum of two children. When we talk about added years, we are thinking of the standard of living of our widows and underage children.
Lord Boyle arrogantly assumes that everyone has a bit of spare capital with which to buy these added years.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
May I add a slightly less contentious footnote to what 305 Lord Boyle said? It is not possible for Members of Parliament, even if they have the spare capital—which the hon. Gentleman says they do not have—to buy additional years. The qualifying date has passed. It is not possible to buy additional years.
§ Mr. English
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He further proves my point. I forgot the point that he mentioned. However, he proves my point that this paragraph in the Boyle report is completely inadequate because of its omissions of fact.
§ Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)
Would the hon. Gentleman confirm that it was not necessary to purchase those additional years out of capital but that arrangements were available to Members of Parliament to buy them on a scale basis?
§ Mr. English
I do not want to go into details at this stage. The hon. Gentleman may well be correct. The arrangements were not particularly advantageous in terms of saving and investment.
§ Mr. English
I gave way twice on this point. If I continue to give way on one point, my speech will be very long. I hope that my hon. Friend will get the opportunity to make his own speech on this subject. No doubt he will then tell me that I was wrong, as we all so often do.
I turn to another point about which Lord Boyle is petty. The costs involved are almost negligible. We have been talking about travel. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury; even the councillors in the city of Nottingham get a free bus pass throughout the city. It is appropriate that Members of Parliament should be entitled to a pass on the railway system. A pass is precisely accountable. It could hardly be misused. Members of the National Union of Railwaymen would notice if a Member of Parliament perpetually went to the Lake District or the Highlands of Scotland merely for the joyride. The news would soon get out. No cash would be involved. That is one of the proposal's greatest merits.
The pettiness of Boyle is illustrated by the fact that he thinks that Members' 306 wives should be allowed 15 car journeys a year but that no provision should be made for Members' children. He assumes that an hon. Member never wants to take his children by rail, because he will drive them in a car as he receives a car allowance in any case. The only anomaly is that the parents must pay for the poor kids if they go by rail. It is a petty matter. It would cost very little and is simple to deal with.
The one burden that Members of Parliament have that most other people do not is the necessity of virtually living in two different places—in one place at the weekends and in London during the week—for most weeks of the year.
I now turn to linkage. We are always told that there is no job like ours. That statement is totally false. There are plenty of jobs like ours. There is an elected legislature in every democratic country. I am beginning to think that we may have made a mistake when we linked the salaries of our Euro-Members of Parliament to our salaries; we should have linked our salaries to what theirs should be. When I say "linked", I do not necessarily mean that we should pay ourselves salaries as high as those paid, for instance, in the Federal Republic of Germany, which are roughly what govern the Euro-Members' recommendations; I mean coincident with—we can say 50 per cent., or 30 per cent. or 60 per cent.—whatever it is chosen to link them with.
To say that there are no comparable jobs is not true. It is a very parochial attitude to make the assumption that all the jobs with which ours are compared have to be in our own country. Let us by all means link our salaries to the new earnings survey, or whatever the House generally wishes, but do not say that there are no jobs with which Members of Parliament's jobs can be compared, because there are plenty.
Finally, on the question of secretaries, this has not yet been stated but it is there in very shrouded language in Boyle: we all know that the vast majority of hon. Members of this House work extremely hard and spend their secretarial allowance on their secretaries and on office equipment. I have never been able to understand the peculiar way in which the whole pay and allowances of Members 307 of Parliament are determined. It is amazing but true that for tax purposes we are regarded as employees, yet, unlike employees in, say, industry, who walk into an office provided by the organisation and have a secretary provided by the organisation, we are supposed, on a tax basis as an employed person, to act as if we were self-employed persons.
As a result of this, if I go out and buy "Erskine May"—which is not corn-manly regarded as light reading, except by you and me, Mr. Speaker—it must be paid for out of my taxed income, because I am not supposed—there is a decided case on it—to acquire information. The amazing but true fact is that on the basis of our tax position as Members of Parliament we are not supposed to spend any money on acquiring information. I suppose the idea of the Inland Revenue authorities is that if MPs were well informed, things would perhaps be too difficult for them. That must be the idea of the Exchequer and the Revenue.
That is the tax situation. When we come to the allowances, on the other hand, we are supposed to be paid an allowance, which, as the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has already said, is not really adequate for a full-time Member of Parliament if he is doing his job thoroughly.
But the problem with paying cash is that there are a few Members of Parliament here whom we rarely see, who are not often here and who pay relatives—who, one suspects, do not work quite as hard as some of the secretaries who are working in offices in central London. I do not wish to go into the details of this, but that is the problem of accountability, as Boyle puts it. That is precisely why many of us would like to be able to say of our secretaries—as would be the case if we worked at ICI, Rio Tinto, Turner and Newall or any other straightforward company—that they are secretaries paid for and pensioned by the organisation. We would not have the trouble of taking in cash and working out and arguing about whether we were spending it properly or improperly or whether any of our colleagues were.
Surely that would be much more sensible from the point of view both of the 308 taxpayer and of public expenditure. We should be saying clearly to the public that we do not take in and handle spare cash, that our salary is our salary and that that is the end of the matter; the costs of our offices and secretaries are paid by the State and we have nothing to do with this; the money does not pass through our hands.
The Leader of the House may well have been right when he said that the majority of hon. Members of this House do not want that, but some of us do, and all that we are suggesting is that we have the option. I am not trying to stop other hon. Members doing their own thing. I am not trying to stop hon. Members sticking to the existing system if they so wish, but I hope that other hon. Members are not trying to stop people like myself having what we are here suggesting as an option. If they are, I must ask why. The only reason I can suggest is that people who are not properly accounting for the money that they are receiving clearly would not want to adopt the system; and if they do not want other people to adopt it, it is presumably because they might then be isolated and noticeable, as it were.
I cannot think of a fairer basis than that which Boyle recommends, and I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not agreed to it. I cannot think of a fairer basis than to adopt the Boyle recommendation and let us decide for ourselves whether, as individuals, we wish to take and account for actual cash or to have nothing to do with it and simply have our secretaries—who in many cases work here—put on the same conditions and the same salaries as the girls whom they meet over coffee, who also work here, but for the House itself.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I have great respect for the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) but I must say, speaking personally and as one who has had some experience of these matters, that I disagree to some extent with both the tone and the content of his speech. I am sorry to say this.
In general, I welcome the latest Boyle proposals about the secretarial allowance and the allowance for research assistants. 309 I think that it is sound to put them together. I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who has now left the Chamber, that probably they are a little mean if we take the pension fund contribution into account. Perhaps that can be remedied next year.
On the question of linkage, I still maintain that our job is unique. Although it may be disagreeable and distasteful to have to discuss our salaries once or twice a year, I would far prefer that to our being linked to a band of other professions, because immediately members of those professions had their salaries changed there would be the question of the effect on the salaries of Members of Parliament. Great practical difficulties are involved in linkage.
I support the grants for former hon. Members who have had to leave. I still maintain that the basic pension fund for hon. Members is unfair and unsound and really should be altered, if possible within the next 12 months.
On the question of these allowances, I admit that after nine and a half years in the House I have changed my mind somewhat. When I first came here I thought that only a part-time secretary would be needed by most hon. Members and that a research assistant was an unnecessary piece of window dressing. However, since then things have changed, even in that space of under 10 years. Government, unfortunately, has become more complex. The amount of legislation and the introduction of the new and, we hope, more effective Select Committees lead me to believe that if we Back Benchers are to fulfil one of our prime duties here—that of checking the power of the Executive and probing its expenditure—we need full-time assistance by a competent and experienced secretary and in a number of cases the help of a research assistant as well.
I warn the House, though, that these tendencies must be watched. We do not want to end up, for instance, with all the office and secretarial paraphernalia that goes with being an American senator. I also devoutly hope that the Government, as they continue in office, will legislate less and less. Once we have demolished the Socialist State and all its apparatus—to which, I regret to say, both Labour and Conservative Governments have contributed 310 since 1945—and once we have introduced our own vital legislation, I hope that we can look forward to a legislative holiday, with better and more strictly controlled government and administration. In our great days the House did not sit in the autumn, we spent much less time here and the country was much better governed. Also, we were not reported, dissected and mucked about with by the media.
I support the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) about hon. Members who travel in the triangle between home, constituency and Westminster. I am one of those involved, and I am taking up with the Treasury the question of taxation.
I want to add a word of warning about the amount of work that we are all called upon to do. I refuse to call my personal interviews either surgeries or advice bureaux. I may be able to give advice, I may have some knowledge of life, but I am neither a doctor nor a lawyer. I do not hold myself out as giving cheap advice to people who will not consult professional experts.
Personal interviews can become excessive in number and time-wasting. It is right that we should all hear our constituents' complaints, especially hon. Members with no outside job who may be Westminster- or Whitehall-oriented and who do not see enough of real life outside this place. However, in my interviews I find that in most of the income tax cases that are brought to my notice by constituents—the Treasury is very good at taking up these matters—the constituent is far too often right and the Inland Revenue wrong, and that is very disturbing.
In my experience of an industrial constituency of 85,000 souls, apart from tax complaints most complaints are on local matters. That is why I always have a local councillor ready in the next room to join me when a subject comes up that might be or is within the council's jurisdiction. We should not duplicate councillors' work, but we can make sure that they get on with the job.
Our constituents are bound to write to us from time to time on personal or political matters, and it is right that they should. I try to follow the example of the Iron Duke 311 and reply to every letter received on the day I get it. Constituents are right to expect a prompt answer, and that is what we all try to give, but to give that service we must have the necessary secretarial back-up and assistance.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will agree that the House is far too busy; there are far too many Committees. We all expect some relaxation of this hectic pace by next autumn. It sometimes places an intolerable load upon us and an even greater load upon our secretaries.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)
Most of the amendments on the Order Paper have been signed by new Members of Parliament. I do not suggest that new Members have a monopoly of concern, but some of us who came to the House for the first time on 3 May last year are taken aback to find ourselves part of an institution that is trying desperately to get from the eighteenth century into the nineteenth century or, in deference to the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), from the seventeenth century into the eighteenth century. When we have complained about this to longstanding Members, we have been told "You think it bad now, but it was worse when we came here." That is an expression I have heard perhaps 30 times, and I no longer take note of that comment.
The issues we are debating today are more important than merely the question of Members' pay. They are concerned with helping us to do our jobs better for our constituents. However, it is probably desirable that the country should see Members of Parliament as being, if anything, underpaid but adequately backed up to enable them to do their jobs decently.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)
Why? The only purpose of underpaying any group of people is so as not to attract into the profession someone who might otherwise consider it.
§ Mr. Dubs
The hon. Gentleman has answered the question he put to me. Our constituents are not impressed by the constant moaning of Members about their pay and conditions of work. Their general attitude appears to be that we 312 should be able to sort it out. That is what we are here for, and I hope that that is what we shall be able to do today.
The Leader of the House said that because the country was facing economic difficulties some of the suggestions contained in the Boyle report could not be implemented. But those very economic difficulties tend to have a dramatic effect upon the work load of Members of Parliament. In dealing with case loads, the more diligent is the Member, the more work he has to do. It is one of the rare occasions in life when virtue is punished and sin rewarded.
The country wants us to get on and do our jobs properly. It wants us to employ our secretaries in conditions that are at least similar to those applying elsewhere, and it wants us to be fair to former Members. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the problems we are talking about might have been solved some time ago if most Members of Parliament were full-time. Some conditions have continued to apply until the present day mainly because a fair number of Members of Parliament do their parliamentary work not from the House but from offices connected with their other jobs. They are therefore under less pressure to have the sort of facilities that full-time Members of Parliament need to do a decent job.
I have tabled an amendment dealing with the reimbursement of Members for the cost of travel within the United Kingdom. I do not agree with the Leader of the House that a large sum of money is involved. If a large sum is involved, will he give us an estimate of it? I am concerned with travel specifically and exclusively on parliamentary duties. Many Members have to use their own money for this. If we want to visit a prison, we have to pay the fare out of our own pocket. The sums involved might not be very large, but sometimes the journey is a long one. If a Member is interested in visiting the North Sea oil rigs, he has to pay his fare to Aberdeen, and that would be quite expensive. Private firms would be only too happy to pay Members' fares to distant parts of the United Kingdom to visit some of their installations. It is undesirable that Members of Parliament should have that sort of inducement, which would make it difficult for them afterwards to disagree with a firm's 313 policies. There is a point of principle here. It would be better for Members of Parliament not to have to depend upon charity to enable them to make necessary visits in the United Kingdom.
It has become increasingly obvious that it is impossible for a Member of Parliament to do his job properly without a full-time secretary. One needs only to look at the salaries offered not only in Victoria Street but in the secretarial pages of The Times and The Guardian to see that most of us would not dare to advertise for a secretary in those newspapers. We simply could not compete with the going rate, taking into account the work and the responsibility.
I do not wish to make comparisons with the United States. It is well known that the average American representative has a staff of 18. I do not think that we need to go along that path, but at least some small progress in the appointment of a full-time secretary and a full-time research assistant would enable us to do our jobs better. I have a suspicion that the Front Benches—this may be unfair to them—may have an interest in keeping Back Benchers hard pressed dealing with constituency matters so that we do not have time to go into some of the political issues in order to make a better attack on what the Front Benches are doing. Perhaps the Front Benches prefer things as they are.
We have an excellent Library. Hon. Members pay tribute, without fail, to the high standard of help and work that the Library staff provide. They are limited. We cannot depend upon them to carry out work that research assistants would perform. I would commend to the House the suggestion that we should not depend upon the Library but that we should have our own research staff to supplement the work of the Library.
I turn to the question of the central employment of secretaries. This has been put down in an amendment as an option for hon. Members. It clearly must be that. At one stroke, it would tackle many of the difficulties now faced by hon. Members in employing secretaries. It would deal with all the problems of pensions, severance pay and so on. It seems to me reasonable for the House to express the view that those hon. Members who wish to avail themselves of such an option 314 should be allowed to do so. It would also tackle the problem, which is the subject of another amendment, of what happens when a secretary falls ill for a long period.
At the moment, our salaries will pay for secretarial help while our secretaries are on holiday, but a lengthy illness presents difficulty. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could explain what action an hon. Member is supposed to take if, by chance, his secretary were to fall ill for two or three months. How is one supposed to manage? Is one supposed to fire her while she is ill? Or is one supposed to pay two or three months' secretarial pay for temporary help out of one's salary while one's secretary is ill? The amendment that deals with this matter is of some importance.
I have never been in the House when it has been dissolved. It seems to me that, given the number of ongoing problems with which an hon. Member will be dealing, there are bound to be a large number of letters that arrive in the period between the Dissolution of the House and the time after the election. At the very least, an hon. Member should have a secretary to cope with those letters. There are bound to be problems that still arise and constituents will want to get hold of hon. Members. Perhaps they are not permitted to do so. Certainly matters in the pipeline have to be dealt with. Constituents want to know the outcome of problems, whether they relate to immigration, housing or social security. We owe it to them to have some system for dealing with their letters or sending them ministerial answers even if the House has been dissolved.
I should now like to turn to the issue of office equipment. The amendment suggests a figure of £1,000. That is what it has basically cost me to provide the office equipment that I feel is necessary to do my job. Initially, when one comes to the House one is faced with more expense than perhaps might be the case on an ongoing basis. That is a matter that needs to be examined in the future.
§ Mr. R. A. McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that as we are reimbursed for our postage and for our telephone expenses and have no outlay on stationery, there is a strong argument for saying that we should not be expected to spend the considerable 315 amount of money needed to install a typewriter or a dictating machine? This seems one of the strongest amendments that the hon. Gentleman proposes.
§ Mr. Dubs
I take the point.
I turn briefly to the question of severance pay. At least until recently, there were former Members of this House who lost their seats at the last election and who had still not managed to find jobs. Having been a Member of Parliament does not appear to be a qualification for a job. If former Members are to be believed, it appears a major disqualification. Many employers are scared or apprehensive about taking on someone who has been a Member of the House unless he has been a Minister, in which case I understand things are different.
I commend all the amendments on the Order Paper. They would represent a significant improvement in the service that we provide for our constituents and in our ability to do our jobs properly. They would represent a significant advance in fairness towards former Members of the House.
§ Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)
In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that he thought the pay of hon. Members was adequate rather than generous. I agree. I regard that as right and proper. I believe that most hon. Members will agree that it is a privilege to be in this place and that hon. Members should not therefore be surprised if there is some sort of a discount on their salaries.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) compared the salaries of hon. Members of this House with those of highly placed executives in Rio Tinto and Turner and Newall. I doubt whether employees of those firms regard it as a high privilege 316 to be working for them. We must accept some discount for Members of Parliament. It is also right that hon. Members should show a becoming modesty in talking about rises in their own salaries.
I do not wish to take up too much time in this debate. Many hon. Members wish to speak. I wish to refer to the amendment in my name and the names of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and other hon. Members, which provides that hon. Members should be given 10 per cent. of the allowance, amounting to £675, to be devoted entirely to providing some sort of additional pension for their secretarial staff.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has already alluded to the sort of work that secretaries are expected to do. He said that they are much more than secretaries; they are personal assistants and research assistants. All hon. Members accept that many of these girls carry out a lot of extra work. The girl who works for me is often in the House at 8 pm, having come to the House at 9 am, simply because I am sitting in a Committee or in this Chamber and she feels that she should wait to ensure that the mail for the day goes out.
My right hon. Friend said that there was a considerable interest—he almost implied a romantic interest—in working in this House. I am sure that working for my right hon. Friend or for any hon. Member is an interesting and stimulating job for any secretary, but it is surely the last argument, when trying desperately to defend what is an indefensible position, to say that this is a nice place in which to work and that all the chaps are jolly and interesting and enjoy being in the House. The discount theory can, and does, apply to hon. Members. I have suggested that I believe that this is right and proper. It is wrong that those who work for us should be subject to the discount to which we are subjected. I was pleased that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) said that he thought that an annuity was desirable.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) said that we shall not make progress if we continue to ask the Boyle committee to examine the minutiae of a Member of Parliament's life. We should not ask the Boyle committee to investigate the provision of typewriters and travel allowances, 317 because only hon. Members have an intimate knowledge of their needs.
Tributes have been paid to the Boyle committee. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) said that Boyle had been more generous to us than we have been to ourselves. That is true. I am sure that Labour Members do not wish to be backward in coming forward. They will agree that the Government and, in particular, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster have been prompt in implementing the recommendations. We should be grateful for that.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
I shall confine my remarks to the amendment tabled by myself and 20 other long-serving Members dealing with the severance pay received by hon. Members when they lose their seats. Boyle slipped up when he compared the three months' salary which an hon. Member receives when he loses his seat with the normal State redundancy pay. The committee failed to recognise that there are two types of redundancy. One type of redundancy involves, for example, a lathe operator who loses his job because he is made redundant. That is a serious blow and a major disturbance to his life. However, there might be other factories half a mile down the road to which he can apply for a job. I was a lathe operator many years ago, and I know that such workers can apply for jobs in their own trade. State redundancy pay is a buffer for such an employee.
The other type of redundancy is caused when a market vanishes. For example, a steel worker in Corby or a shipyard worker in Jarrow or Clydeside can be made redundant when a works closes down. He is left with nothing. The market place has disappeared. That is a totally different type of redundancy. That type of redundancy is experienced by a Member of Parliament when he loses his seat, and the Boyle committee should have recognised it.
When an hon. Member loses his seat, he cannot apply for another. One or two such Members are returned at by-elections, but they are few and far between. Fewer than 10 per cent. are returned. Being a Member is not a trade that he can peddle around the country. 318 One cannot sell one's skills in Committee or in debate and find a job in another industry. For an hon. Member, the market vanishes when he loses his seat. It was wrong of the Boyle committee to compare our three months' salary payment with redundancy payments outside.
We do not receive redundancy pay. The job does not vanish. If we lose a seat, another person moves in and we are therefore not eligible for redundancy payments. Technically, we are not entitled to a penny. We cannot apply to the unfair dismissals tribunal and argue that we are incorruptible, have worked hard and have done nothing wrong. Once a Member is out, he is out. Many of us found that out last May.
Let us compare a Member of Parliament with a teacher. Some teachers were made redundant two years ago when some teacher training colleges were closed. An hon. Member aged 45, who loses his seat after 10 years' service receives three months' pay. A teacher of the same age with the same length of service receives 10/60ths of his annual salary as long-term compensation and one and a half weeks' pay for each year served. In total he receives 23 weeks' pay. The MP receives 12 weeks' pay.
A Member of Parliament, aged 53, with 15 years' service receives 22 weeks' salary. A civil servant of the same age and with the same service record receives 24 weeks' salary, a lump sum of £7,921 and about £50 a week until he is 60 years of age. That is a massive difference. Our amendment does not suggest that we should be treated that well.
A Member of Parliament, aged 62, with 25 years' service receives 26 weeks' pay. A manual worker of the same age and service in a shipyard town receives £3,600 from the State redundacy scheme, and £4,080 from the industry redundancy scheme—about 40 week's pay—as well as £46 a week for two years. In total, the shipyard worker receives £12,000, compared with the Member's £5,000.
Our amendment is modest. It was carefully canvassed. I asked only those hon. Members with safe seats to support it. No one can accuse us of lining our pockets or begging a good future for ourselves, because the majority of those who support the amendment have fought four or five 319 elections and do not expect to lose their seats. We did not ask hon. Members representing marginal seats to sign the amendment, because that would not have been fair. The proposal is to double the severance pay. Even if that were accepted, a man aged 49 years with 15 years' service would receive only six months' pay when he lost his seat. That is not a fortune when one has to learn a job and a new technique in a totally different industry.
We all know what happened after the last election. I do not want to name names, but hon. Members will know about whom I am talking. Two former MPs living near me are still out of work. One, aged 59, was a highly qualified skilled engineer when he was elected and he became a Minister of State. Nobody wants to know him 15 years later. He teaches two nights a week, and his wife now has to go out to work.
Another ex-Member has been driven to sell his house and open a newsagent's and tobacconist's shop. I am not saying that there is anything wrong in that, but that is what happens. The former hon. Member for Scunthorpe, Mr. John Ellis, was a weather forecaster before he was elected. Trying to find a job as a weather forecaster in Scunthorpe is no laughing matter. He was out of work from May until November. The only job that he could get was in the steelworks—a manual labourer's job. He was working for two months when the steel industry came out on strike. He had some bad luck when he lost by 400 votes in a split election.
I understand that another former Member of Parliament, who is still out of work, trained in his early days to become a priest but eventually became a politician. It is difficult for him to find a job. I have heard of another former Member of Parliament who has eventually found a job after making 187 applications. He is now the press officer to a charity, which probably pays one-quarter or one-third of what he would have earned if he were still in the House.
We are not pleading hard luck cases for ourselves. We have a duty to those who pack up a career and take on a job in a marginal seat. Someone has to represent these marginal seats. We do not need to research deeply to find what has happened to them once they have lost their seats. We tend to forget about 320 them and say "He has gone, so it is not our problem".
We are not asking for an enormous sum of money. Nobody could say that it would milk the taxpayer or cost a fortune. It would apply, on average, to about 50 people every four and a half years. In the last four general elections about 222 Members lost their seats. The figures are not exactly accurate because of boundary changes, and there are 16 Members who may have lost their seats due to those changes. Of those 222 former Members of Parliament, 134 were Labour Members and 68 were Conservative Members. Labour Members who support the amendment will now be helping Conservative Members who hold marginal seats.
I have served in five Parliaments, and so have many of my colleagues. We have seen colleagues, who have families and mortgages, lose their seats. They have suffered for giving service to the House. They have been thrown on to the scrap heap because of the fluctuations of the electorate.
The cost of our proposal would be about £170,000 every four and a half years. The amendment is just and fair. It would not provide the same amounts as would be received by other redundant workers in the comparisons that we have made. It is the least that the House should award to those who lose their seats. I hope that when the proposal is put to the vote tonight the House will support it.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I support the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton). If I had been asked to sign it, I would have agreed to do so.
I am not in a marginal seat at present. However, when I started my career as a Member of Parliament I was very much in a marginal seat, with a majority of 123. The severance pay may not be vital to me but I know of cases, such as those mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, where it could mean a great deal. We are not being too demanding in asking for that. It is right that people who have given up a career to serve a constituency should be treated fairly. The amendment does not 321 ask for more than fair treatment. I certainly support it.
I turn to the main point of my speech. I have always battled for improved conditions in the House; I have never asked for improved pay. When I entered the House I had a locker outside the Members' Dining Room. One day I was kneeling down, trying to put papers in the bottom layer, when a waitress carrying a tray of soup tripped over my feet. The next day I handed in my locker key and asked for a filing cabinet. After six months the Serjeant at Arms gave me a filing cabinet. He put it in what was then the Gentlemen's Cloakroom. I inquired when my secretary could visit it to do the filing, and he said "Never". At the time of my first Adjournment debate I was somewhat annoyed at the lack of facilities in the House.
That was the start of a campaign in which I was joined by several other Members. Despite what has been said by Opposition Members, immense improvements have taken place over the past 14 or 15 years. I pay great tribute to the former Leader of the House—now Lord Peart—who did as much as he could to improve the conditions in the House.
Conditions have improved but, at the same time, work has increased. The letters received and the number of pressure groups have grown enormously. I am not in favour of most of the pressure groups, because they often represent a minority view, which overlays the vast majority of those who do not express an opinion and do not hold those extreme views. However, we have to answer the letters and deal with the issues. We need far more secretarial assistance than ever before.
There is an argument whether a Member of Parliament is a full-time or a part-time Member. I am a full-time Member, but I do overtime in another job, as do many other hon. Members. I spend about 80 hours a week on my constituency work. That is much more than most trade unionists would regard as fair on normal pay.
We need good back-up services. I realise that we cannot spend a great deal of money on new offices. However, I hope that Members will not forget the scheme in Bridge Street, which could make a great deal of difference to our lives and to the lives of our constituents. 322 Much time and energy have been expended on those buildings, which belong to this country—not to the Government, but to us—and many of them can be restored. We should make a start on that work as as soon as possible.
Our constituents have probably become used to the phrase "Tighten your belts". They are being asked to do that now, and it is not the time to ask for £10,000 or £11,000 a year for secretarial assistance. However, I know that the Members of Parliament in Germany and France receive much better treatment. We need the improved secretarial allowance that has been suggested in the Leader of the House's motion. I shall not be supporting any amendment other than that to which I referred in my opening remarks.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—I have written to him on the matter—not to urge hon. Members to agree to being paid through central arrangements. I have one full-time and one part-time secretary in my constituency. I use the secretarial services in the House. I sometimes have other help. If we have to put together all those different items and send them to a central place, first I do not believe that the secretaries will be paid as quickly and, secondly, the Fees Office staff will have to be increased enormously, and that will require further office space.
If hon. Members want their secretaries to be paid centrally, fair enough, but I hope that the Government will not urge them to do so without taking account of the different circumstances in each constituency.
I turn to the question of office equipment. When I first came into the House my secretary had an old machine that cost £25. I have just bought a £950 electric typewriter. I do not understand the thing, but I know that typewriters have become very expensive. In addition, one needs a duplicating machine if one has a secretary in one's constituency. Many of these factors were considered in the last report, and a recommendation was made then.
§ Sir Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
Perhaps I can intervene for a moment on the question of the payment of secretaries. I understand that the needs of hon. Members vary a good deal according to their 323 constituencies and their interests, but the convenience of the secretary being paid by the Fees Office is surely quite independent of that, in that she is paid promptly on the last day of the month—just as promptly as we can pay—and she is relieved of all the tedious work involved in calculating her PAYE and national insurance contributions. I use the system myself, and I cannot see the disadvantage to which my hon. Friend has referred.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I would have to gather together all the bits and pieces and get them into the central organisation. Last December I was owed about £1,500 by the Fees Office for various matters. The Fees Office knows that that was the case. If one does not submit the claim by the sixth day of the following month—the Fees Office uses the computer only once or twice a month—one misses out. I submitted my application at about Christmas time, which meant that it would probably be February before it was dealt with.
I believe that payments would be delayed. That is my opinion. It would be far more complicated for me to have to gather together all the information and put it on a piece of paper and send it to the Fees Office in order for the Fees Office to pay it out than it would be to pay the various people involved once I have calculated the hours that they have worked. That is a difference of opinion. I appreciate that my hon. and learned Friend has had experience of the scheme. I have not. It may work in his case, but I am not at all sure that it would work in mine.
I used to agree that there should be a linkage with another type of person, such as a civil servant, but I now believe that if the salary were to be reviewed, as stated in the Boyle report—I pay great tribute to Lord Boyle and his helpers for the tremendous work that they have done—that might be the best way of proceeding. Nevertheless, we must be careful not to "over-ask" at the present time. We must justify each of our requests for extra payment for our secretaries and ourselves. As a result, I am prepared to support the amendment that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, and I hope that the rest of my right hon. Friend's suggestions will be passed.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) in very great detail, but I take issue with him, as one of his hon. Friends did, on the agency scheme that is operated by the Fees Office. In the last Parliament, I was Chairman of the Sub-Committee which brought in that recommendation. I am happy to say that 211 hon. Members now take advantage of the scheme. The advantages are exactly those that were spelt out by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell), namely, that at the end of each month the secretary knows exactly how much she will be paid and when she will be paid, and she has none of the hassles that used to be associated with bargaining month by month—as we heard in some of the evidence that was given to the SubCommittee—with an employer about how much she should have, whether or not it was late and what other expenses she had during the course of that month.
Indeed, there is a case, which Boyle has overlooked, for having an additional allowance for office expenses. That is something that is covered in the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs). However, with regard to the money that is paid to the secretary, unless the position is an unusual one, in which the hon. Member concerned employs a variety of secretaries in different parts of the country, I believe that there is a case for the Fees Office scheme. I personally urge it on hon. Members throughout the House. I think that we should all participate in it, but I appreciate that there can be no compulsion.
I turn to the substance of the debate. This has been a good debate in which a large number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), have acknowledged the pace of change. I hope that we can get through the debate without the usual attacks in the yellow press about Members of Parliament again getting their snouts in the trough and claiming for themselves what everyone knows to be money to meet the needs of constituents. It is the changing nature of that job which we should consider today. When we consider the additional burden, 325 which hon. Members on both sides have mentioned, we can see that there is no case at all, as the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) said, in arguing that the alleged glamour of working here in crowded conditions from 8.30 am to 8 pm, as my secretary does, is a just reason why secretaries should be paid less for the job. At Rio Tinto-Zinc or wherever, they would work for less glamorous employers but would be paid the rate for the job.
We must pay people who work here the rate for the job. In order to do that, we must examine what the job is. I believe that this Boyle report, the thirteenth, is disappointing in that it does not accept the extent to which the job has changed. It does not even accept some of the evidence that was contained in the appendices to the twelfth report, when a high proportion of hon. Members filled in a questionnaire about the nature of the work they did.
My particular disappointment relates to the failure to acknowledge the proper position of research assistants in this House. I should like to speak predominantly to my own amendment on that subject. I accept that all hon. Members are different because they are at different ages and times in their parliamentary careers, and also because they represent different constituencies, some very small and some very large. Some have a wide range of interests and some have a small range of interests. That is why I believe that it is wrong to exclude the possibility—or, arguing from Boyle's own figures in the twelfth report, the probability—that a number of hon. Members will employ full-time research assistants.
We know what hon. Members say they do from the figures in the twelfth report. It was suggested there that since 1975, through three successive surveys, the proportion of hon. Members who said that they employed or shared a research assistant had risen from 29 per cent. to the middle forties. In this new Parliament, I believe that the proportion has probably risen to half. There are a large number of new, active, professionally-inclined Members who are more likely to know that they need research assistance and who know where to find it.
That is not to belittle the services of the Library, but they are general and cannot be individual. We know for a 326 fact, from all our work experience, that the kind of work we are doing here—as members of the Select Committees and providing a constituency service back home, particularly if we attempt to do the job full-time—inevitably entails a variety of work which needs research assistance. In our constituencies we have become ombudsmen of the last resort. We have become trouble-shooters for a variety of local challenges to bureaucracy, both national and local. Some of those matters have to be followed through. If they are to be followed through diligently by a person acting on behalf of the Member, that person could be a full-time research assistant.
We are not asking for anything like the American model, where one person tends the shredder, another person tends the signature writing machine, and so on, We are simply asking for an individual with a range of skills different from, though not necessarily superior to, those of our secretaries to attend to a wide range of matters. Secretaries are now not simply copy typists, taking telephone messages, and so on; they are personal assistants, and they work hard and carry out a difficult, skilled and sophisticated job.
That is acknowledged more widely in other countries than in Britain. Some of the countries that Boyle quoted in his last report bear me out on that. France, Germany and Canada have large allowances that take into account the possibility of full-time research. The European Parliament makes an allowance of £1,200 a month—£14,400 a year—for combined secretarial and research work. I do not think that the figure of £6,000 for secretaries and £4,000 for research assistants that I put forward in my amendment is excessive.
Members of Parliament give an account of their salaries and the salaries of their staff to the Inland Revenue. I declare that I pay around £2,000 a year out of my own pocket for a research assistant. That is a paltry sum. It is difficult for the research assistant whom I employ to live in central London on £40 or £50 a week. I am not pleased about that. The figure in the Boyle report is £1,250 a year. When the employer's contribution of 13 per cent. is deducted, that figure comes down to £1,080. I wonder what sort of people 327 we can expect to do the job on that sort of salary.
Many Members are now realising how much the nature of the job has changed. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge said that he acknowledged—I take him as a marker—that the nature of the job had changed. He said that he could now see that he needed a full-time secretary. Perhaps, in time, he will realise that he could avail himself of a full-time research assistant. I pay tribute to him for his confession. The Daily Telegraph was wrong to state recently that the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge would advance sophisticated arguments against the invention of the wheel. He sees some use in the wheel, and possibly even a wheel attached to a vehicle. A research assistant would tell him that four wheels attached to a vehicle are even better.
All hon. Members have tended during the debate to forget the degree to which the people who work for us have felt wounded by the inadequacy of the Boyle report.
There is an overwhelming case for the bulk of the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South. I am in favour of secretaries having the option of being employees of the House, if they so wish. I am in favour of the option and payment of a pension scheme, as has been set out, and of severance pay. However, I believe that the office equipment allowance should be separate. It is wrong to argue with a secretary about sums of money that have been legitimately laid out for other purposes within the secretarial allowance. The secretarial allowance should be set out purely for the payment of secretaries. We should not put secretaries in a position of having to argue about other sums.
I hope that the House will divide on the various amendments and that it will accept some of my amendments and those of my hon. Friends which go a long way towards adding the minor correction that is necessary in order to make the Boyle committee realise that we have come to terms with our working conditions and that we are making certain that the people who serve us do not suffer by it.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, East)
As my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) said, this has been a good debate, and some good experience has been brought before the House. I have learnt a good deal about how Members feel about the conditions under which they are forced to work.
I thought that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was trying to have his cake and eat it when he pointed out that in general the Boyle report was generous and a great stride forward. Many hon. Members, not simply new Members, believe that there is an unreal atmosphere in the House. When hon. Members have been here for many months or years, they seem to accept a different kind of attitude towards efficiency, standards of accommodation, standards of research and secretarial help from that which they would accept outside.
I agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North about replacing Boyle with a group of men and women, perhaps from business or from trade unions. I am not trying to make a political point, but if my union leader, Mr. Clive Jenkins, organised our secrtaries, we would find ourselves in a different position. I am sure that salaries would rise quickly. I am at a loss to understand why that has not happened before, because the sort of people we employ are not merely secretaries. They are people who, if they were employed in any other occupation, would be called personal assistants or political assistants, and they would be given a great deal of trust. In outside occupations they could earn double the salary.
Although the amendment in my name was not selected, I am in general support of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) and most of the other amendments, because they would take us, struggling perhaps, screaming perhaps, a little towards the twentieth century.
The Leader of the House was correct when he spoke of the central importance of the House in checking the Executive. However, I do not follow his logic. If he seriously believes that our job is to check the Executive, we must move into 329 the twentieth century in the way in which we carry out our jobs. If we are to check the Executive, and if the parliamentary processes have changed and are changing, I believe that a full-time research assistant and full-time secretarial help is the minimum that we should expect.
I do not believe that we should follow the American system of employing countless staff. However, we must change from our present system of existing on a shoestring, overcrowding, and so on. Perhaps Front Bench Members should spend more time visiting their Back Bench colleagues and seeing for themselves the conditions in which they have to work. I do not want to stress the conditions in which we work. I merely draw attention to the conditions in which our secretaries and assistants have to work. If we do not get the right back-up, if we do not get the right type of expertise to work for us, we shall be firing on 60 per cent., 40 per cent. or 20 per cent. of efficiency. That is not what the people sent us to this place to do. The people want value for money. They want us to be first-rate, well-organised politicians. They do not want us to be second-rate amateurs. The minimum that we should expect is a full-time secretary in the constituency, a full-time secretary in this place and a full-time research officer, and that is not going towards the American system.
I shall concentrate my remarks on the research facility. I hope that we divide this evening. I shall be voting for the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South. I am sorry to see that the supporters of the amendment whose names appear on the Order Paper do not include Conservative Members. Having had conversations with Conservative Members, I am sure that there is a great deal of support within their ranks for going further than the Boyle committee.
There are some of us on the Back Benches who have not been in this place all that long who believe that there is collusion—my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South mentioned this—between the Front Benches. The Front Benches get out of touch with their Back Benches. That has been highlighted by dramatic results in the past week or two on the Government Benches. I genuinely believe that the Front Benches let us 330 down in terms of the standards that m e should expect. It may be that ministerial office and the special privileges that go with being on the Front Bench on either side of the Chamber lead our right hon. and hon. Friends to get out of touch with the conditions that the average Back Bench Member has to tolerate.
Many of us depend for our research on the good will and the covert subsidy of American universities, which send to this place a large number of good American students. They add a great deal of effort to our work. A House that has to depend on that type of subsidy must take itself in hand. Although that has been a useful contribution, it illustrates that many hon. Members need research help. They get it through different American exchange programmes. I can think of three of or four major university exchange programmes that are acting in that way. I welcome that help. Any help is welcome. However, is that the way in which a modern Member of Parliament should be working? Should he be depending on second and third-year American undergraduates to provide his or her research facility? Surely, that should not be the position.
I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will not regard this as a party issue. I hope that they will not worry about upsetting the Leader of the House or their Front Bench. I hope that they will vote for the amendment to take one short step into the twentieth century so that the people get what they pay for and what they vote for, namely, a first-class, efficient legislature that can do the prodigious job that is demanded of it in the 1980s.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
I shall not take up the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) as I want to follow a self-imposed 10-minute rule.
We must be the only group of workers, organised, unorganised or disorganised, that tries to negotiate wages and conditions in public. We know what happens in private. We know what happens in theory. However, I know of no other group that tries to negotiate terms and conditions of employment in this fashion. I have no complaint about that, except 331 to say that it is a most inefficient way of doing this.
In principle and in theory, we decide our own conditions and terms of employment. In practice, hon. Members, individually or collectively, make representations to their party leaders, who then convey those recommendations to the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House also receives individual representations. He goes to the Cabinet of the day to negotiate on our behalf. He returns with an answer that he passes to the two leaders of the two main parties. That filters back to us and a package deal is delivered to be debated across the Floor of the House.
The discussion takes place not around a table but across a debating chamber. We know that in theory we are negotiating with ourselves, but in practice we are negotiating with the Government of the day at second, third or fourth hand at best. No self-respecting trade union and no self-respecting employers' organisation or professional organisation would accept that archaic way of negotiating salaries and conditions. However, we do our best.
For about 15 years I have taken part in the shadow boxing, the pressure and the ritual dances that occur from time to time. I have joined with colleagues and negotiated with six or seven Leaders of the House. All those Leaders of the House have given freely of their time and attention. From some that was practically all we were given. The motto of some Leaders of the House has been "Treat them mean and keep them keen. Keep them busy and they won't be on our backs." There were always various reasons—sometimes national reasons—why they could not do what each said he wanted to do. In any event, they were not able to provide what we asked. I trust that the present Leader of the House—I was hoping to get his attention for a moment but, never mind, I shall embarrass him anyway—will not be embarrassed when I say that he has given rather more than time and attention and has produced a fair package deal.
§ Mr. Ogden
It is not a bad deal. My hon. Friend has not been in this place for quite as long as I have. Bearing in mind some of the deals that we have 332 had in the past, the deal now before us is not too bad. As one Northern comedian would say, "I like it not a lot, but I like it." It is not bad as far as it goes, but I wish to make two suggestions.
First, the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) refers to car mileage allowances and the possibility of claiming such allowances for parliamentary duties in any part of the United Kingdom. The House should put on record our appreciation of the efficiency, the courtesy and the speed with which the Accountant, Mr. Wilkin, and his colleagues in the Fees Office deal with the terrific variety and complexity of Members' constituency claims. They are helpful in every way. They work according to the criteria. Were other Departments of Government half as efficient or helpful as our Fees Office, Governments would be better serviced. The Fees Office staff is not only efficient but diligent.
Two years ago I used a House of Commons rail warrant for a journey between Charing Cross station and Folkestone on parliamentary duties. Some weeks later the Fees Office asked me why. It said "Ogden is Liverpool, West Derby. Why was he travelling from Charing Cross, London, down to Folkestone away from his constituency on parliamentary duties?" The warrant was challenged. The journey took place on the day of the Scottish referendum, and my colleagues and I wanted to get as far away as possible. We had been invited by the Department of Trade to go to the St. Margaret's Bay coastguard station in the constituency of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). We were Members of a Committee on a Bill concerning coastguards, pilots and the merchant service, and as the Department of Trade officers did not arrive to put us on the train I had used a rail warrant. However, I was able to persuade the Fees Office that I was on parliamentary duties.
Let me give another example with a less satisfactory result so far. Recently I journeyed by road from Liverpool to meet two constituents who are presently the guests of Her Majesty in Preston prison. Their families live in my constituency. I went to see those men about the problems of their families and any 333 problems they had in the prison. Naturally, I travelled from Liverpool along the motorway—the best communications system in the North-West, as the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter) can confirm. I met my constituents in the governor's and the deputy governor's office. Certainly I assumed that the governor's office, as part of a Government establishment, was part of a department of regional or local government.
When I returned home, perhaps foolishly, I put on my claim "Liverpool to Preston", placed an asterisk at the side and explained that I had visited two of my constituents in Preston prison. The Fees Office told me that its interpretation of the criteria was that the journey I had made was not within the criteria. I challenged that decision and asked whether that meant that I could go to the Home Office statistical department in Surrey and claim mileage allowance but that I could not claim for a visit to my constituents in Preston prison. I asked whether this meant that I could claim for a visit to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre in Swansea, which is a regional department of the Government, about my constituents' driving licences but that I could not claim for a visit to them in prison to discuss their family problems.
Will the Leader of the House consider this and agree that a prison governor's office is part of a Government Department?
I put forward those examples so that the right hon. Gentleman can consider whether he should widen the criteria to include places such as prisons and other places one must visit on Parliamentary duties.
My last point is about severance pay. I was intrigued to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), when he referred to the list of hon. Members who had signed the amendment, say that he considered that we were all from safe seats. I think that he meant that we were all safe from Conservatives or Liberals. I am sure he did not mean that we were safe from other pressures. I will not go into detail except to say that there is a time and a tide and I hope that I may decide the time and the tide. I do not want to be in the House when I am 90 years old, but if anyone tries to push me 334 out before my time I shall certainly go with a bang and not a whimper. Severance pay is being compared with rates of redundancy payments. If we lose our seats, we can perhaps be re-adopter' for the European Assembly.
The Leader of the House has always displayed a certain independence in the Chamber. He is certainly displaying that independence now, because he is not taking a blind bit of notice of what I am saying.
§ Mr. Ogden
I do the right hon. Gentleman an injustice. Perhaps he can agree that hon. Members would be strengthened in their determination to resist outside pressure and remain independent if they were aware that if everything went wrong and they were thrown out by their constituents or the constituency party there would be a period in which they could adjust. That is one of the reasons why this modest amendment would strengthen the independence of Back Benchers. Now that the Leader of the House is on the Front Bench, I hope that he has not forgotten what he used to say when he sat on the Back Benches.
The Leader of the House has brought forward a reasonable package deal. It is capable of improvement and I hope it will be improved in years to come. However, it is not a bad deal, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has done.
§ Mr. K. J. Woolmer (Batley and Morley)
On looking at the report and on considering the reaction of the Leader of the House to it, it seems to me that we started the wrong way round, We have looked at a tremendous amount of detail, without any agreement on broader questions. What do we in Parliament and what do the public expect us to have by way of assistance in carrying out our jobs? My impression is that the public at large—certainly constituents to whom I have spoken—are amazed when they realise how badly equipped we are to do the job that we were elected to do. My impression is that we are expected to have more facilities than we do.
If we start from the presumption that we want to be properly equipped for our job, many of the detailed matters that 335 we are arguing about—we have done this on at least three occasions, and if we are not careful we shall continue to do so year after year—will not get us far in resolving the matter.
We are in Parliament to deal with constituency problems, to play a role in the life of the nation and to be aware of, and increasingly involved in, international affairs. We are supposed to do all these things without an individual office, without research or administrative assistance and with a minimum allowance for a secretary who is not too well paid. If we were asked how we were running the country as Members of Parliament and answered that we were doing it sitting at desks in corridors, with one lowly paid secretary and no other assistance, people would not believe us. In fact, they do not believe us. Part of our problem is that the public assume that we are much better paid than we are and have much better facilities than we do. I do not think that the Boyle report has taken cognisance of that.
What facilities do we need? The public would expect us to have proper secretarial service in the House and in our constituencies. Most people think that they can get in touch with us in the constituency through secretarial help. I appreciate that this is not proposed in the Boyle report or in the modest amendments before us, but most of the constituents whom we serve—60,000-odd in most cases—expect us to have a secretary to help us with the mass of material with which we have to cope at Westminster and a secretary to help with the problems that are generated in our constituencies. I am amazed to hear some hon. Members talk as though constituents are a problem, a nuisance, and should be got rid of. Increasingly, people regard Members of Parliament as approachable people who should be able to respond to personal problems.
Another basic requirement is more personal research assistance. It is no good comparing ourselves with the Americans. To talk about having nothing or, as the Americans have, up to 40 personnel is ludicrous. All that we are talking about is a modest, sensible minimum provision to enable each Member of Parliament to do his job.
336 What is the minimum? Personally, I should have thought that two personal assistants was a sensible answer. I appreciate that this will not be the case for every hon. Member. If some hon. Members do not want two personal assistants, there is no need for them to have them. If others need them, they should be able to have them. We should not think in terms of everybody having them or nobody having them. Instead, we should think in terms of enabling Members of Parliament to do their job properly.
Many hon. Members—myself included—could make full and proper use of personal assistants to help with their duties on Select Committees, Standing Committees and in the to day-to-day work in the House. They could help in developing attitudes and opinions on future policy.
Most people would assume that we would have a couple of secretaries—one in Westminster and one in the constituency—and two assistants, as well as a proper office. I would defend those requirements to my constituents, because most of them would assume that we already had that anyway. There are not many hon. Members who would go to their constituents and tell them that they cannot deal with their problems because they are far too busy. Their constituents would assume that they had the facilities to cope with the work load.
The proposals before us make that modest objective ludicrous. What is proposed is nothing at all like that. Even the amendments contain nothing like that. They would enable Members of Parliament to have one secretary and one assistant. That is the great leap into the '80s for Members of Parliament—a secretary and an assistant. If any hon. Member can honestly say that, having been elected to help govern the country, he does not need a secretary and an assistant, how on earth does he see his job as a Member of Parliament? I would not dare to go to my constituents and tell them that I did not need a secretary or an assistant. I would not have the gall to say that. Hon. Members must cope with an enormous amount of stuff that is thrown at them. They must be prepared to meet Ministers, serve on Standing and Select Committees and do all their constituency work. They do all this without any assistance. It almost defies 337 belief. It seems that the proposals in the amendments are very modest in terms of what the public would hope and expect us to do if we are not simply to be Back Bench hacks who do not actually do a job or cannot contribute to the work of the country.
Even more important is the position of Front Bench Opposition spokesmen. I do not know how they cope. Their facilities, as far as I know, are the same as those of Back Bench Members. I am sure that the public who come to listen to our debates from the Gallery do not realise that when an Opposition spokesman goes to the Dispatch Box he is thinking on his feet and has virtually no back-up. He does not have a bevy of people behind him preparing his briefs If people in that Gallery realised that, they would be appalled. People think that Opposition spokesmen are backed up by a galaxy of assistants. These Front Bench spokesmen are expected to reply on the same day to ministerial statements, and they are expected to speak on virtually any subject at all, yet they do this with a minimum of benefit from assistants.
I deal next with the question of travel. I was amazed when I entered Parliament to discover that there was no assistance at all for travelling around the country. I was amazed when I realised that we are supposed to understand what is going on in the country by sitting here in London. If we want to go to Scotland or Northern Ireland, we have to pay the cost out of our own pockets. We all know the cost of train fares these days, let alone the expense of hotel bills. It means that every time we want to go out and about in Britain for a day and a night it will cost us between £60 and £70. People whom I meet assume that, as Members of Parliament, we can travel around the country to find out what is going on and to understand different points of view.
Because of the financial arrangements, the present system reinforces the centralisation of influence in London. It reinforces the obligation of lobby groups to lobby in London, There is absolutely no point in encouraging hon. Members to see what it is like in Northern Ireland. In fact, there is every reason not to go there. There is an absolute discouragement—the cost of such a visit.
Some hon. Members may take a different view on this matter, but we have a 338 responsibility to people in the country who expect us to understand and observe what is going on. There is a difference between listening to our colleagues' views and observing events on the ground, in places such as Northern Ireland, Scotland and Merseyside.
One of the most disappointing aspects to me is the way in which the role of the Member of Parliament in contributing to and understanding aspects of life in the different parts of the United Kingdom is totally dismissed. Apparently this is something that Members of Parliament should not be assisted to do. So we go on as we started—everything is concentrated in London and seen from London. No attempt is made to spread out and take a view from the provinces.
We need two secretaries and two assistants to enable us to travel around Britain, let alone travel around Western Europe. As a nation, we are incredibly insular. Very often politicians hardly dare imagine that Western Europe, let alone the rest of the world, exists. The thought of actually travelling to Europe as a Member of Parliament is enough to send shivers through some hon. Members. Why should we not be encouraged to see what is happening politically on the other side of the Channel?
If the problem is one of accountability, I would much sooner accept total and open accountability, with total publication, than continue our present system. I would welcome the publication of hon. Members' income tax returns. I have no objection whatever to that. If I had my way, Parliament would pay to publish in The Times once a month the claims for expenses of Members of Parliament. I would have every Member file a return showing how he spent his money, what he claimed and for what purpose.
It is far more important that hon. Members do a good job than that they hide behind the argument that money cannot he given because some hon. Members might "fiddle". There is a feeling in the House that some hon. Members would abuse expenses. Surely the answer to that is open accountability. I would defend a trip to Scotland during the arguments on devolution. I think that my constituents would expect me to go to Scotland. I would defend a visit to Northern Ireland, because I think that 339 that is very important. Every hon. Member should go to Northern Ireland. When I went there I was shocked and amazed by what I saw. It would do many hon. Members good to see conditions there at first hand. The question of accountability is a red herring. We should not hide behind the problem of exactly who employs whom. That is a detail. The real question is whether we should have decent facilities.
There are many detailed issues on which we all feel a measure of concern. One is the fact that if an hon. Member's wife and family come to London he must pay for his children out of his own pocket. As a family man with three children, I think that that is ludicrous. It means that I must pay £30 or £40 if my children want to come and see me. Tremendous problems have arisen over the transferability of pensions. There are difficulties in setting up an office. We have to find a few hundred pounds out of our own pockets to buy a typewriter.
§ Mr. Woolmer
That is exactly the type of facetious and ludicrous comment that one has come to expect from the hon. Gentleman. I have been waiting for some time for him to make such a remark. The public voted to put us here. We do our job without any assistance. Our hands are tied behind our backs. It is difficult to serve the public in that situation. The public surely do not expect us to put our hands in our pockets in order to buy a typewriter. In my constituency a manual worker might come out of a textile factory with £40 or £50 a week. A typewriter would cost four times more than his wages. The hon. Gentleman is arrogant to suggest that no one has asked us to volunteer. That is not the point.
Are the public willing to assist hon. Members adequately? I do not say that we should be excessively assisted. With honour and with respect, we can tell the public that a secretary and personal assistant, an office and the ability to travel around the United Kingdom are the minima that we should receive in order to do our job properly.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
When I came to this House in May, my first impresion of the Chamber was one of polished professionalism, backed up by several amateurish services, particularly in terms of secretarial assistance. However, the Library services of the House are noted for their excellence. In my arduous task in coming to the House for the first time, I looked forward to the Boyle report with hope. All Opposition Members who have spoken today have looked forward to important changes. Such changes would affect the quality of representation that we can offer to our constituents.
I am not particularly interested in several parts of the report, particularly those that deal with the levels of our salaries. We are adequately rewarded. I stated my position when we last voted on this issue. I am not interested in the levels of Ministers' salaries. Indeed, I could put forward a strong argument for halving those salaries, particularly in the Department of Industry. That argument is reinforced whenever I consider how that Department is affecting my constituency. Nor am I particularly interested in the level of expenses for peers. I look forward to the day when that place will no longer exist. Our problems of accommodation will then be resolved.
I have considered the comments of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and those of other hon. Members who have, on occasions, given me a kind word. They have told me that that problem will be resolved only with great difficulty. When the House divides, I have to sprint from Dean's Yard in order to vote. It is appalling that we should be put into such a position just because we have public duties to perform in our offices.
I earlier watched the television programme "Nationwide", because my secretary was speaking on it. She adequately savaged the argument that is sometimes used by hon. Members to the effect that the current provision is satisfactory. She drew the attention of millions of viewers to the deplorable conditions in which secretaries have to work in this House. She was not referring to me. I hand my secretarial allowance to her in its entirety. 341 I believe that every hon. Member should do so.
Research allowances, severance pay, conditions for secretaries and travel facilities were effectively commented upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer). Those conditions have an effect on the vital and important services that hon. Members perform. It is impossible for an hon. Member to operate with a part-time secretary. An hon. Member may have more than one secretary. He may have a second secretary in his constituency. However, one also hears stories about secretaries who work in intolerable conditions for long hours. One secretary spends 12 hours a day working for two hon. Members. Each hon. Member is unwilling to pay that secretary her due. It is deplorable that hon. Members should engage in such disreputable activities.
The amount of work that secretaries are asked to do varies. Certain constituencies carry a heavy work load. In marginal seats hon. Members have to be particularly assiduous in their duties. In those constituencies hon. Members are subject to an enormous amount of correspondence. I think particularly of the marginal seats in Lancashire. I came from such a seat until I was elected to represent Workington. In industrial areas of Lancashire, hon. Members and their secretaries are overworked. Those hon. Members should be adequately funded for their secretarial assistance. That applies also to many of the great Labour-held seats.
I was told today about three Conservative Members who share one secretary. I hire a secretary full-time. It therefore appears that some constituencies—particularly Conservative ones—have a lighter burden of work. Perhaps that is only natural and perhaps it results from the nature of those who live there. Constituents in Conservative-controlled areas may be perfectly articulate and capable of presenting their own cases. They may be able to resolve their own problems. That is not the case in many Labour constituencies.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)
The hon. Gentleman has made several interesting points. However, I feel that he should explain further. Is he suggesting that a seat should be de- 342 fined as marginal and that an hon. Member should be paid a supplement according to his majority or work load? The hon. Gentleman mentioned the relative work loads of Conservative and Labour Members. However, those of my hon. Friends who represent rural areas invariably have large constituencies, with populations of about 80,000 or 90,000. If we are to play a game of statistics and if we are to worry about who gets the most letters, I should point out that they will receive the greater volume of correspondence.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I must assume that the three Conservative Members to whom I have already referred have a very light work load. I do not suggest that hon. Members who represent marginal seats should be more effectively reimbursed. I am simply trying to establish that some hon. Members have a heavy work load and that they should be given the secretarial assistance and aid necessary to carry out their tasks professionally and effectively.
We should run two schemes for secretarial assistance. One scheme would be based on the Fees Office, as it is at the moment. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) pointed out, secretaries could be put directly on to the payroll of the House. Secretaries would be hired at the market price and not at the salary of £4,835.88 per annum. That is the amount that would be left after suitable deductions had been made from the salary of £5,500 that has been suggested by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the report. For the sum of £4,500 one could get a clerk in London. However, one could not obtain a competent secretary who would be capable of handling the work load of an hon. Member. Outside the Houses of Parliament such a secretary would have adequate severance pay provisions and quite possibly a pension provision.
The second scheme would offer a secretarial allowance to be paid, as at present, to those hon. Members who, for their own reasons, want a cash sum paid to them as opposed to putting their secretary on the payroll of the House. There would be a major difference between the two payments. I believe that the secretary who is on the payroll or is paid through 343 the Fees Office should be paid at the market rate but that the secretarial lump should be substantially less. That would be an incentive to secretaries to ensure that the hon. Member employing them put them on the payroll of the House and an incentive for hon. Members to take a more responsible attitude to hiring secretaries. We hear too many stories about secretaries hired under the most spurious arrangements who suffer in second-rate working conditions.
Most hon. Members who use the services of research assistants are helped in some way. That may happen through their outside commercial interests. They may have contacts in American and other overseas universities. Others may have outside incomes. In passing, let me say that some of us gave up substantial outside incomes to enter the House. We do not seek to see them replaced, but we believe that we should have the back-up of fair and reasonable service conditions for the people whom we hire to help us carry out our work.
Other hon. Members are helped in their research through trade unions. That is perfectly commendable. More power to the hon. Member who is able to arrange support. Others make arrangements out of parliamentary income direct, as I have had to do on a number of occasions. Others are able to draw on voluntary assistance, which often is the best that is available.
The arrangements are biased in favour of hon. Members with outside interests and incomes and those who come from the academic world. Those of us who do not are at a clear disadvantage. We are asking only for certain rights. Our requirement is as great as that of other hon. Members. Over the past months in my constituency I have endeavoured to build up a team of voluntary research assistants to help me shadow the effect of each Department on my constituency.
I propose that the Fees Office should be required to hire, on our behalf, research assistants, who are vital and important to our work and can offer a great deal to an assiduous Member of Parliament. I do not suggest that they require severance payments or pension schemes. The requirement for a particular research assistant depends on the expertise 344 that an hon. Member wishes to draw on during debates, Standing Committees or Select Committees, and they will therefore be fairly mobile.
The payment of a flat sum of £1,250 is mentioned, but I suggest that it should be up to a maximum payment of £6,500, with the hon. Member making a 121 per cent. contribution. That would ensure that hon. Members did not hoard research assistants whom they did not wish to use at the time but had other reasons for keeping. If hon. Members were required to pay 8 per cent. of the difference between £1,250 and £6,500, they would be responsible for contributing about £800 a year to the wage of the researcher, on which I understand there would be tax relief.
I turn finally to travel arrangements. Much has been said about the limitations imposed on hon. Members and their families, particularly children. My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley referred to the problems of being unable to bring our children to London when Parliament is sitting.
My wife sports a wad of rail passes, of which one has been used. Those passes are relatively useless because of the problems of bringing our family to London. Her alternative is to come to London with me in the car and spend a week here, which is also impossible.
I understand that every year British Rail receives a £381 million public services obligation as a subsidy from the Government. I do not see that it would be any more difficult to give Members of Parliament vouchers to travel throughout the United Kingdom. British Rail would still receive the subsidy, and it would ease our problems.
I hope that the Government will take note of the feelings expressed in the debate. Since being elected I have become aware that most new hon. Members, certainly on the Labour Benches, have many grievances. I ask the Leader of the House to bear our criticisms in mind.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)
I wish to speak about the unique position that our secretaries occupy.
I have employed a number of secretaries in my time and have always felt that my secretary was an essential part of 345 my job. I have tried to employ ladies who I believed were more intelligent than I so that they could do much of the work that needed to be done and at the same time protect my back. Certainly outside the House that is an important part of a secretary's duties.
Since coming to the House I have been horrified at what we ask our secretaries to do—and, indeed, the conditions under which we demand that they work. In my experience, few secretaries outside the House would tolerate the hours and, worse still, the conditions and pressure under which they are required to work.
The most recent example of which I can think is the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. I had to deal with substantial correspondence on this matter, in addition to the normal correspondence. Members of Parliament representing Tory rural constituencies have enormous mail bags. The more articulate the constituents, the more letters they write. More important, they do not want stereotyped answers. They want answers topped and tailed in the Member's own hand and in the necessary phraseology to enable them to see that they are treated as special persons. This means that stereotyped letters are less likely to be acceptable to the more articulate, who otherwise write back and draw one's attention to one's shortcomings. That puts tremendous pressure on secretaries as well as on Members. Consequently, to do the job effectively we require good secretaries. I say that without fear of contradiction.
One of the first matters with which I became involved in Parliament was to ensure that my secretary would have a pension. Good human relationships, which is what industrial relations are about, must begin with the first person whom one employs. That person is one's secretary. Whether one runs large organisations with thousands of employees, as I have, or whether one employs a secretary, as I do in the House, the position is the same. Good human relations means an understanding of cares, worries, frustrations and fears. Secretaries are concerned that their Members may not be their boss after the next election. They are concerned that their pay and conditions are not easily negotiated or obtained. Therefore, I welcome some aspects of the report, especially the movement towards research facilities.
346 Since becoming a Member of Parliament, I have missed the back-up of an adequate personal assistant and research facilities. That may be a shortcoming on my part. I am prepared to face that as a criticism. I enjoyed that facility for many years. Now I miss it.
Recently I took up two projects, one of which related to a whole industry. I was the only Government supporter with any experience of it. However, I found to my horror that I had to do all the research work and investigations. In the past I handed the work over to a personal assistant, a secretary or researcher seconded to me for the purpose.
I wonder whether our constituents expect us to do an effective job without the proper tools. I was never afraid to say to shareholders "If you want the job done, you must be prepared to foot the bill." I found that if I put the matter straight to shareholders they took it. They believed that one was trying to do a good job. All Members of Parliament, whatever their political persuasion, try to do a good job on behalf of their constituents. I therefore welcome the small beginning and assistance towards research facilities.
Surely, in this place of all places, we should start with ourselves. Standards, if we expect them of others, should begin with ourselves. Every Member of Parliament could start by looking into a mirror and asking "Am I setting an example in the way that I treat my secretary and look after her or him?"—and there are male secretaries in this establishment. If we asked that question, perhaps there would be fewer moans. It may be said that my secretary is one of the shop stewards. She probably is.
§ Mr. Walker
I intended to say this in conclusion. The hon. Gentleman preempted my conclusion. I intended to say that the amendment was good and that it fulfilled a necessary requirement.
We should be required to set standards here. Some people outside—and, let us face it, there are some, on whatever side 347 of the political fence they may be—who have grave doubts about the integrity of people in this place. I suggest that we start with ourselves and say "This is what we are doing and this is how we propose to do it." In my case I am already doing it, and I suggest that this is something that all other hon. Members should look at carefully. I recommend support of the amendment.
§ Mr. Reg Race (Wood Green)
I shall try to confine my brief remarks to the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) concerning the amount of the secretarial and research allowance, because, although a tribute has been paid to the Boyle committee for its report, I happen to believe that on this item it has been very lax in the way it has produced its figures. There is no justification in the Boyle report for the figures which it has produced of £5,500 for the secretarial allowance and £1,250 for the research allowance. It could well have been argued from the position advanced in the report that the former figure should have been £20,000 a year, because there is no reasoning in the report to show that the figure of £5,500 rather than any other is the right figure.
I want to draw the attention of the House to some specific comparisons which the Boyle committee ought to have looked at when considering the figures for secretarial and research allowances.
If the secretary to a Member of Parliament is compared with grades in the Civil Service, which I think many lion. Members would find an appropriate comparison, it will be seen that a senior personal secretary, including London weighting and a Civil Service proficiency payment on grade B, which is a minimum proficiency payment, receives remuneration of between £5,105 at the bottom of the scale and £6,075 at the top of the scale from 1 January 1980. The remuneration which will accrue to a Member of Parliament's secretary under the proposals in the Boyle report, assuming a salary of £5,500, minus the employer's national insurance contribution, leaving a residue in gross terms to the secretary of £4,824, produces a figure which for 348 secretaries will be £281 a year less than that of a comparative Civil Service grade at the bottom and as much as £1,251 a year less at the top of the scale. Therefore, I argue that the Boyle committee has not looked at appropriate comparisons in providing this figure.
Indeed, I could go further and say that not only has the Boyle report not made appropriate comparisons with the Civil Service but it has not compared the proposed rates for secretaries with the rate of pay of clerical and secretarial staff in the economy as a whole. Referring to the Government's own new earnings survey in this regard, it is found that the top decile for full-time non-manual women workers in April 1979, which is the latest new earnings survey, was £97.80 a week. Under the Boyle proposals, after employer's national insurance had been deducted, secretaries would be receiving, assuming that they received the whole of the secretarial allowance, the sum of £92.76 per week. Clearly, if Lord Boyle had made a comparison with the earnings of the top 10 per cent. of full-time women non-manual workers, he would have found that his proposal was lacking.
I refer the Minister to the specific example of market rates in London, which has been alluded to by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House. The question of market rates in London is significant. The new earnings survey gives examples of non-manual women workers in London being paid substantially more than the Boyle proposals. Again referring to April 1979, the figure for the top quartile of full-time non-manual women in Westminster is £113.90 per week. That, again, is substantially in advance of the Boyle proposals.
I am driven to the conclusion that the review body has neither considered proper comparisons for the pay of secretarial staff in the House of Commons nor justified the choice of £5,500 as the basis on which full-time secretaries should be paid. I can only conclude that Boyle's points of reference are drawn from thin air.
A comparison of the lackadaisical way in which Boyle has gone about his report with the serious work done by the Pay Research Unit and the Clegg Commission does not stand up to scrutiny. I agree 349 with hon. Members on both sides of the House who have complained about the way in which these matters are settled. The review body is incapable of making proper economic and social judgments about the relative work of people employed in this place. The report is not a step in the right direction.
In real terms, the proposed secretarial allowance gives no improvement to secretaries and research assistants on the maximum. I have calculated the difference between the secretarial allowance for the financial year 1979–80 and that proposed for 1979–81, and I am driven to the conclusion that the secretarial allowance has simply been increased in line with the rate of inflation. It has been increased by 21.6 per cent. gross, slightly in advance of the current rate of price inflation, but that ignores the increase in national insurance employer's contributions which will come into force soon. The secretarial allowance will only mark time with inflation and not be advanced in real terms. I believe that it should be far higher.
It is a good trade union principle, and one which I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) support in a rather different way, that if an employer brings someone on to the labour market he should bear the cost of doing so and providing the tools to do the job. That is an elementary form of social relations in our society, and the House should stick to that principle.
Many hon. Members, wittingly or unwittingly, are breaking the law which relates to contracts of employment and the conditions under which secretaries and research assistants are employed. Many Members do not supply their secretaries with contracts of employment in accordance with the terms of the 1972 Act. The argument for central employment is even more substantial than if that was not the case. It is another strong reason for increasing the facilities for secretaries and bringing them within the scope of the law.
The conditions under which many secretaries and research assistants work in this place are deplorable. We have to improve their conditions of work, both their actual remuneration and their physical conditions of work. The House should also remember that Crown immunity is given in this place. We can- 350 not prosecute anyone under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act owing to that immunity. Hon. Members may wish to remember that fact when they vote on the amendments. This would be a method of making some adjustment in connection with the problems of Crown immunity and the lack of health and safety facilities in this place.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
A matter that worries me is that of grants to former Members. This could produce some bizarre results. I agree very much with the remarks of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), who is not present at the moment, but I understand that none of the hon. Members who are signatories to the amendment gave evidence to the Boyle committee. I am on the hon. Gentleman's side, so Opposition Members need not worry.
The grants to former Members proposed by my right hon. Friend and by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw and his colleagues apply only to those who have, accidentally so to speak, lost their seats. To get the grant, Members must stand for re-election and be defeated. There may be many reasons for Members not standing again. They may have been ousted by a coup in their constituency. Their only chance of getting redundancy pay would be to stand again as an independent Labour, an independent Conservative or—
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
There is also the sad case—this has been seen by many hon. Members who have served in the House—of hon. Members, on both sides, continuing to serve when their physical capacity to do so has gone. We have seen hon. Members virtually doddering into their seats simply because they could not afford to retire.
The problem would be overcome it all retiring Members were included within the terms of the second resolution of the House of 20 December 1971. Otherwise, the absurd situation could arise in which Opposition Members would select a safe Labour seat, probably in Yorkshire or Durham, put down their names as independent candidates, pay their 351 deposit of £150 and stand for that seat in the confident expectation that they would not win, and thus be able to accept their redundancy payment.
The same situation could arise on the Government side of the House. An hon. Member might put forward his name as an independent candidate for South Fylde, where there is a majority of 30,000, simply to collect his redundancy pay. This seems an anomaly that should be resolved. Unless it is, we could face some undignified situations in which elderly Members, who should have retired, could not afford to do so. This is a matter of which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the house should take cognisance.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)
I have heard much today from more recent arrivals among hon. Members than myself about the inadequacy of facilities in the House. I agree. I would vote for all the amendments that seek to improve facilities. But hon. Members will perhaps consider the form in which we seek to improve the quality of the amenities available.
We must have adequate allowances, paid under general guidance rules, and we must have adequate accountability. The allowances must be controlled by a Select Committee and not by officials of the House or the Boyle committee. I suggest that flexibility because I do not believe that our present facilities are unduly restrictive. We have heard that one secretary has just been supplied with an electric typewriter. When my secretary was first given an electric typewriter, many years ago, she was the only girl with such a machine in her room. Before long the supply of electric typewriters began to spread, and now they are commonplace in the House.
For about 15 years I have used a computer terminal either at home or in the House. It has been useful and I have done much work on it. Nobody suggests that computer terminals should be provided.
I am trying to interest some of my hon. Friends in purchasing a word processor. I do not know what the Inland Revenue would think of that in terms of an allowable expense. Such an expense should be allowable, but we can cope within our allowance. For goodness sake, let us not 352 decide that officials must judge whether our secretaries are capable of using such a machine. Let us leave the discretion with hon. Members. The House of Commons should not be allowed to tell us what type of electric machine we should use.
The question of employing additional staff has arisen. The right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) rightly said that in the House of Commons we should be able to walk up and down the corridors mumbling questions such as "What are we to do about Cyprus?" I agree with him. The place works on the basis of contacts between individual Members and our wider relationships with our constituents. Staff should not come between hon. Members or between us and our constituents. I am sure that, properly used, the staff would not attempt to do that. However, in this Parliament the constituencies are small. They are smaller than in Congress, for instance. We should try to develop the services in the House and in the constituencies so that the vital personal framework is maintained.
The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) was right to emphasise the human dangers in relations with our staff. The 635 Members of Parliament have many different backgrounds and many degrees of absence of mind, of social conscience and of standards of justifiable earnings. The variety of ways in which secretaries are treated is extraordinary.
We should listen to the secretaries themselves. The secretaries are properly represented and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has heard their representations. The House and the Government would be well advised to take account of two suggestions by the secretaries. We should make proper provision for secretaries' pensions. I hope that the House will agree to the amendment which makes such provision.
Whether or not that amendment is carried, at least the Fees Office should be required to make deductions from Members' secretarial allowances for payment into a nominated private pension fund. At present that is not possible. The result is that many secretaries, simply because of lack of providence, have inadequate pension arrangements. A few years ago, before payments were made through the 353 Fees Office, many secretaries got into extreme PAYE difficulties. They ran up large debts with the Inland Revenue, and they have only gradually been able to unwind themselves from those financial difficulties.
There is another provision to which I hope the Leader of the House will give sympathetic consideration. It is especially important at the time of an election when perhaps 50 or more Members from one party lose their seats. Secretaries understandably have loyalty to their Members of Parliament and to the parties that those Members represent. They do not readily change from Members on one side of the House to Members on the other side. The secretaries are entitled to claim for pay both during election time when the Member loses his seat and in the event of the death of a Member.
The provisions for severance pay are totally inadequate. For example, when a Member dies a secretary can claim £500 for completion of the Member's work. However, that sum has to be claimed from the estate of the Member and the estate has to claim that sum from the Fees Office. That is a needless and roundabout manner in which to claim the money due. It should be claimed direct from the Fees Office.
I hope that the Leader of the House, when he replies will be sympathetic towards the points that I have raised.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
The sum total of the institutional tinkering that has taken place in Parliament over the past century has amounted to very little. I am pleased that we have seen the creation of Select Committees. However, unless they are properly staffed and Members are given adequate support, it will be yet another blind alley of reform.
If I were to ask myself what would be the single most important change that would allow Members to perform their limited functions more effectively, I would say that it would be to give them the proper staff support that they need. At a time of cost-cutting it would be ludicrous to argue that we could go a long way along the road of the American staffing example, and it angers me to hear 354 the arguments of those who say that we should go to the American excess. Evita, in the musical of that name, said:All I want is a whole lot of excess".The fact that we do not wish to go that far does not mean that we cannot somehow bridge the gap between our ludicrous staff support and the excess staff support enjoyed by American Congressmen.
The House of Commons is still the House of Commons of the nineteenth century, when amateur gentlemen came in and thought that they had the intellect to cope with the problems of the day in a proper manner. There are those of us, perhaps lacking the scintillating intellect of others, who wish to do an honest, professional and competent job, not of usurping the responsibility of the Executive but of being able to shine a light on the decisions of the Government, to control the Executive and to serve our constituents. We cannot do that. I regret to say that the document before us does not bring about any qualitative change in the way in which the House will operate.
It is not asking for the moon to say "Let me have the tools to do the job and sufficient staff support to allow me to perform my duties to the best of my ability and to the satisfaction of my constituents." Parliament must reform its staff support at three separate levels. The first level is obviously that of support in our offices. We can buy whatever £4,700 or so will secure. That, regrettably, will get only someone who is dedicated and who is prepared to work for a pittance. By contrast, members of the American House of Representatives are authorised to spend £120,000 a year on staff support in addition to their large salaries. They can employ up to 18 people. In many cases, Senators can employ up to 50 people.
Let us compare Britain not with America but with the Bundestag. Even here the British Member of Parliament is totally outclassed when it comes to staff support. In addition to the £36,000 a year salary of the Bundestag deputy, one-third of which is untaxed, he has an allowance of more than £13,000 for staff. That puts him well in front of us. Little wonder is it that many Members of Parliament have jumped at the opportunity of securing the services 355 of unpaid American assistants. If properly used. I believe that those people can do a great job. It is far from being the ideal, but when one has little research assistance, and when someone comes along with enthusiasm and a different perspective of the problems, it goes a long way towards enhancing the way in which we operate.
I have today returned from the republic of Korea. Although it is striving to liberalise, the National Assembly in Korea is not one of those legislatures which instantly comes to mind when one thinks of trail-blazing, democratic Parliaments. Yet it is better staffed than we are. Its deputies have more personal staff and it has more library staff, the same number of researchers in the library and a budget that puts the House of Commons Library to shame. If Korea can do it, why cannot we provide ourselves with proper research support?
Therefore, we must improve our staffing. Why should not we have someone who can operate in the constituencies, such as a secretary or a researcher-cum-assistant? A sum of £1,250 a year will not buy a major portion of the Brookings Institute or the Rand Corporation's research expertise. Can one advertise in the House Magazine "Wanted, one researcher prepared to work 40 hours a week for £1,250"? I do not think that many people would take up such an offer. We must improve our personal staff support.
Obviously we must improve staff support in the Library. The report makes the understatement of the year when it says:The Library's capacity to analyse problems in depth for individual MPs is however necessarily limited.There are 20 researchers in the Library, the same number as in Korea. The figures have gone up. In 1960 there were two officers, two statisticians and a couple of secretaries. The research division now consists of 36 members, only 20 of whom are research specialists. They are dedicated and hard-working. But hon. Members should compare our 20 with Australia's 30, Canada's 45, West Germany's 71 and more than 500 in the United States Congress. If one takes the figure for research specialists per 100 Members in this Parliament and those in Canada, West Germany, Australia and the United 356 States, one finds that the respective figures are 3.1, 12.2, 13.1, 16 and 94. We are simply not in the same league. Therefore, the Library must be improved.
How can we do our job on Select Committees if the staff are generally part-time? For example, on the Defence Select Committee there are three part-time advisers. They are dedicated, experienced people, but they are not full-time. In addition, we have general staff support. When that is set against the weight, experience, duplicity, secrecy and machinations of the bureaucracy, it will be seen that it is an extremely unequal task.
§ Mr. du Cann
The hon. Gentleman may like to know that the Liaison Committee of Select Committee Chairmen discussed that matter yesterday and came to the conclusion that the next stage should be to make representations to the House of Commons Commission about full-time paid researchers. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find a movement towards satisfying the real need which he so clearly describes.
§ Mr. George
I am delighted with that news. There are those Members of Parliament who may not want an improved Library. I know of some members of Select Committees who do not even want the advice that we receive at the present time. That is fine. Let them get on with the job in the way in which they want to, but do not let them thwart those of us who want to do a different kind of job.
I think that we can sell this to the public. We can tell the public that we shall become more efficient and that we can provide a better service. We invent honorary titles for ourselves—the hon. and gallant, the hon. and learned, and so on. I have been a Member for six years. and I think that the title of "Hon. and superfluous" could be added to the list. I am speaking for myself, but perhaps for other Members, too. We perform our role as Members of Parliament in the same way as those music hall artists of the past performed. They had, say, 15 pliable rods with plates on top, and they managed, by shaking the rods, to keep the plates on the rods. They were lucky.
I my case, and I suspect in many other cases also, all the plates crashed to the floor.
357 I do not think that the Boyle report takes us anyway nearer to providing the proper support and allowing us to do our proper job. We are not here to govern, but even within our limited competence we can do an infinitely better job than we have been allowed to do in the past. When I first became a Member I assumed that I would be joining a group of people who would be straining at the leash vis-a-vis the Executive to improve and increase the power of the legislature. How stupid and naive can one be? I have found that there is far more of a minority who think as I do, but we are outnumbered.
Let us take a small step forward, and let us fight to ensure that in the not-too-distant future we have a Library which is fit for a legislature such as ours, that there will be proper support in Select Committees, and that we shall be able to perform our duties in our constituencies with the support that we should have and which one day we may have.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
With the permission of the House, I rise to speak again to answer some of the important points that have been raised in this interesting and valuable debate. I have listened to virtually every word of it over the last five hours, and the subject has been discussed fully. Every hon. Member who wanted to speak has been able to do so.
I stress that the ultimate decision on these matters rests with the House of Commons. This is a situation where the Government proposes and the House disposes. If the various amendments are passed, the Government will have to think again and come back to the House with proposals that take into account its wishes. However, I do not think that Members would expect every amendment to be accepted. They are amendments that contain principles and aspirations, and Members would not expect them to be followed in any detail.
Although there have been points of disagreement during the debate, there has also been a wide measure of agreement. For example, over the question of employment by the House of Members secretaries there has been a consensus that the variety of arrangements are such 358 that it would be inappropriate for such a condition to be imposed.
The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Dr. Bray) said that I had received a delegation from the Secretaries Council. We had a full and interesting discussion. One of the points that emerged from that meeting was that the Secretaries Council was not pressing for employment simply by the House. It was its wish and the wish of the majority of its members that secretaries should continue to be employed by individual hon. Members. It raised the important question of the payment of secretaries who work on after an hon. Member's death. Owing to the present arrangements, that money is apparently paid to the estate. Secretaries can suffer severely in that regard. As we all know, it takes a considerable time for probate to be granted. I shall consider that further to ascertain whether better arrangements may be made so that payment may be hastened.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I shall have to consult the Fees Office. I cannot commit it to doing that. I shall ask it whether that would be feasible. It my have objections, but I shall raise the matter at the hon. Gentleman's request.
I say to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who has temporarily vanished but who has been in the Chamber throughout the day and is probably in need of refreshment, that things have improved. I am not saying that the situation is perfect, but things have improved and they are getting better.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) was a little pessimistic about the future, about the importance of the report and about the further steps that we are able to take. The report is another step forward and the Government will base their proposals upon it. The hon. Gentleman quoted Korea and the apparently paradisiacal situation in that legislature. I do not know enough about Korea to be able to have a detailed discussion with the hon. Gentleman. I am delighted that he managed to get there, anyhow. South 359 Korea has one of the highest growth rates in the world. When we make comparisons with other countries—for example, with the United States and its resources, or with West Germany—we must remember that they are doing much better economically than is the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Many of the features that we want for an improved legislature will have to await an improved economic situation. I am most anxious—no one is more anxious than I—to have a new building and better accommodation. I hope that we shall be able to make progress in that direction, but it is not possible at this juncture of our economic fortunes to provide that new building, which really is the only long-term solution to the problem of Members' accommodation.
It is possible to exaggerate. It is thought by some that it is necessary to have a skyscraper to construct a formula. That is not so. A formula may be constructed in humble circumstances at a desk which is as valid as that which is constructed in more impressive surroundings. The point can be reached when there is too much back-up. We can be smothered by back-up. We can collapse under its weight. That is not my problem in my rather modest Department, the Privy Council, where there is a very small staff. However, some of the great Departments of State find that the huge amount of advice that is available is a hindrance rather than a help. We must strike a balance. That means striking a balance between our means and our needs.
I thank the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, (Mr. Cunningham) for his remarks. The hon. Gentleman seemed to be in an agreeable mood and I am grateful for his constructive and helpful remarks.
With regard to the Boyle recommendation about the upgrading of the salaries of hon. Members, which, as I have made clear, has been accepted by the Government, the procedure will be that shortly after we receive the recommendation a resolution will come before the House. I hope that it will not be necessary to have a lengthy debate on it. but the is difficult to be precise. [HON. MEMBERS: 360 House must vote on all matters concerning the salaries of hon. Members.
As for Ministers and other office holders in the House of Lords, the recommendation for the modest allowance made in the Boyle report will be implemented; the Government accept that. It will be implemented by resolution in the other place.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
I am speaking without having done any research, but this is possibly the first time that the House of Lords, by way of resolution, has made arangements specially for Ministers in the House of Lords. That is a precedent. I repeat what I said earlier. This House has an interest in the treatment that is accorded to Ministers in the House of Lords. The salary of Ministers in the House of Lords is provided by the Act and not by resolution of the House of Lords.
I ask the Leader of the House to look at this again to see whether it is appropriate for an allowance specially for Ministers of the House of Lords—not by reason of their activities as Members of the House of Lords but by reason of their activities within the Government—to be provided by a resolution of the House of Lords. This allowance relates to the expenses of Ministers who are Members of the House of Lords in respect of non-departmental functions, but functions as Ministers. The more I go on about it, the more I convince myself that there is something here that needs further consideration.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am sure that that is often the case with hon. Members; we convince ourselves, if nobody else. This, of course, is not a salary; it is an allowance. All that I can say is that the best advice available to me from my modest but high-powered staff is that this is an appropriate matter for the other priate moment we can bring it before the at it again and, if necessary, at an appropriate moment we can bring it before the House.
At present, the travel costs of hon. Members amount to about £2 million. That is the figure that I have available. The amount that would be involved if those costs were extended to enable hon. Members to travel to all parts of the United Kingdom would probably be in the region of a further £2 million, though it 361 "Oh, no."] All that I can say is that that is the figure that has been given to me. It is a guesstimate. I put it no higher than that. I do not claim that it is an accurate figure. It cannot be.
§ Mr. Cunningham
A figure of £2 million per year means about £3,000 per Member. That seems to be an incredibly high figure.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
As I say, I put that forward as a guesstimate. A considerable increase in expense would be involved here, and it is not something that I can recommend to the House at present, though I have been careful not to rule it out in principle. I indicated that it was a good idea in principle but that it was a matter of timing its implementation. We shall certainly look into the issue of railway season tickets.
I am also concerned about the point raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) about visiting prisons. I certainly think that that is a valid point and I shall draw it to the attention of the appropriate House authorities to see whether we can get a change in the practice to enable visits associated with legitimate parliamentary business to be paid for.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury mentioned the question of linkage and drew a distinction between linkage and indexation. That is a theoretical distinction which can be made, but in practice it is a distinction without, as far as popular perception is concerned, very much of a difference. In this House we must direct our actions not only by logical construction but by how those actions are perceived outside. The recommendations of the Boyle committee, half-hearted though they were, were for a link with the new earnings survey, and it is difficult to distinguish that from some form of indexation. There is a political difficulty associated with implementing this recommendation at present. Therefore, what I have suggested is an annual review which I believe, particularly with the pledge that I have given on behalf of the Government, will have many of the advantages of indexation without the undoubted disadvantages.
362 I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) for his generous tribute to me. I give him a tu quoque reply. He has probably done more than anyone in this House to ensure that consultations have been carried out, not only on behalf of the Conservative Party but other parties in the House as well.
One reason why this has been a relatively peaceful debate is that everyone has felt that he has had the opportunity to put his point of view, even if we have not found it possible to accede in every respect.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton suggested that we should not continue to use the Boyle Committee. He thought that we should look to some other means—a better and more suitable machinery—for resolving these matters. I shall look at that point. It has been suggested that a Select Committee might be appropriate. However, a Select Committee has a distinct disadvantage because it is an intrinsic part of the House and one of the benefits of the Boyle committtee is that it is independent, and is seen to be independent, of this House. However, I shall look at this matter again.
I agree that it is ridiculous that a committee of the stature of Boyle should have to consider such minutiae as whether one should have a typewriter and, if so, whether it should be an early Corona or a new electric model.
My right hon. Friend raised the important point about the use of the Members' fund. He disapproves of what the Government propose—although there are no resolutions before the House tonight—in respect of Members who retired before the pension scheme came into operation in 1964. I must point out that what the Government propose, on the recommendation of the committee, is that there should be resort to the fund as of right. Therefore, although we shall resort to a benevolent fund, something quite different is being proposed. We do not propose a discretionary or means-tested benefit. We intend in due course to bring forward proposals in a Bill that will give new rights to hon. Members. That makes a big difference.
It would be quite contrary to normal pensions practice if a scheme were made operable for those who had retired before 363 it came into operation. It is to respect that theoretical principle and at the same time to give practical help that the Government's proposals will, in due course, be placed before the House.
§ Mr. English
We all know about the Superannuation Act 1972. Was not that Act retrospective? Did it not apply to civil servants who had already retired?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I cannot remember. However, I shall consult my high-powered but modest staff on that point. I shall communicate their conclusions to the hon. Gentleman.
I do not say that there will never be a time when linkage will be possible. I do not rule that out for ever. It is an elementary principle of political prudence never to say "Never" from the Dispatch Box. However, at some time in the future we may be able to review the situation.
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and I have discussed the questions relating to the Civil Service analogue for secretaries both in private and in public. I have great sympathy with his point about pensions. If the House clearly expresses its will on this issue, I shall certainly not be backward—
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am a servant of the House. I must see what the House wishes to do. That is the role of the Leader of the House. My role does not involve imposing my wishes. The hon. Gentleman may find that an unusual approach. However, it is my approach and it is sincerely meant.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I shall not give way. Everyone has had his say. I am trying not to initiate new debates but to answer points that have already been raised.
I agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) that there is a strong case for giving earlier pensions to hon. Members. People wait around the House, although they wish to retire, to accrue pension rights. This is a wasteful use of resources. It prevents others from entering the House who might be able to 364 give a different type of service. That point was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman). We cannot make such progress now. However, that is one of the things that could be referred to the Boyle committee at a later stage.
I fully sympathise with the point made by the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) about office equipment. In that respect I believe that the Boyle recommendations are probably less than satisfactory, and there appears to have been a change of ground. At one point there was an office allowance. It has now gone. It is absolutely true that the expense of office equipment, typewriters and so on has increased heavily. That is a point that I propose to refer again to the Boyle committee at an appropriate moment.
With regard to secretaries and their payment for the period after Dissolution, logically there is no case for paying them, but there is no logical case for paying hon. Members. Hon. Members are paid and secretaries are not. An anomalous situation exists that needs further investigation. Here again, that is a matter that Boyle or some other committee might be asked to go into at a later stage.
§ Mr. Garel-Jones
May I thank my right hon. Friend for his sympathy for the amendment calling for an allowance to enable hon. Members to contribute to a supplementary pension for their secretaries? Perhaps it is an innocent question from a new hon. Member, but does that sympathy indicate that the Government will not be using the Whip against the amendment?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
No Whip has been imposed by the Government tonight.
I turn to the important point raised by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) regarding redundancy payments for Members of Parliament who lose their seats. The point was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster. It is true that in this House we have a high degree of job insecurity. It is probably the highest in the country. We are almost in the situation that the only person who can be fired from a job is a Member of Parliament, at least without facing judicial and other consequences.
365 All I can say is that the present proposals of the Boyle committee embodied in the motion are an improvement. We cannot do everything at once. Again, this is a matter on which progress can be made at a later stage. We are making some progress now.
I say to Labour Members who have been pressing me hard on these measures—and I say this, I hope, in an irenic spirit—that very little was done by the previous Government in that respect. A turning point in the whole unfortunate saga was in 1975 when decisions were taken that I have had to get away from. [HON. MEMBERS: "Quite right."] I am grateful for that support. I am therefore catching up on years of neglect, and doing so as quickly as possible in the circumstances.
I say to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby—or West Derby in Liverpool or Liverpool in West Derby; it is becoming an almost metaphysical concept, like the Duchy of Lancaster—that I should like to join in his tribute to Mr. Wilkin and the staff of the Fees Office. There is no official of this House who is more devoted in his service to hon. Members or more understanding and helpful. I am glad to have the opportunity to pay tribute, prompted by the hon. Gentleman, to the work of the Fees Office.
I have answered as many of the points as I can from this Dispatch Box. I can give this further undertaking to the House. I shall go extremely carefully through all the suggestions made in the debate with a view to submitting them at some stage to the appropriate committee for further review.
I should also like to say this. I shall not put the point in the astringent way in which my hon. Friend
§ the Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter) put it—that no one asked us to be here—thus drawing upon himself the wrath of his hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer). I offer this as a point lot reflection. We face many problems in the House. It is right that we should seek to solve them. It is right that Members of Parliament should be paid adequately and that we should have the means to do the job we have been sent here to do. It is right that those whore we employ should enjoy conditions that are comparable with those enjoyed by people doing similar work elsewhere.
§ In conculsion, may I say this as a reflection for tonight: the problems of not being in the House are much greater than the problems of being in it.
§ Mr. Speaker
We now come to the Question on the first motion. Does the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) wish to move the first amendment?
§ Mr. Speaker
We now come to the second amendment. Does the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) wish to move it?
Amendment proposed, at end of motion add
'and is of the opinion that the cost of all travel within the United Kingdom on Parliamentary business should be reimbursed or qualify for payment of the car mileage allowance'.—[Mr. Dubs.]
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 151, Noes 129.367
|Division No. 211]||AYES||[9.36 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Dewar, Donald|
|Alton, David||Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)||Dixon, Donald|
|Ancram, Michael||Buchan, Norman||Dobson, Frank|
|Ashton, Joe||Campbell-Savours, Dale||Dormand, Jack|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)||Canavan, Dennis||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Carter-Jones, Lewis||Dubs, Alfred|
|Beith, A. J.||Cartwright, John||Dykes, Hugh|
|Bendall, Vivian||Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Eadie, Alex|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Cohen, Stanley||Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)|
|Best, Keith||Coleman, Donald||Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Cook, Robin F.||English, Michael|
|Blackburn, John||Cryer, Bob||Ewing, Harry|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Cunningham, George (Islington S)||Flannery, Martin|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Dalyell, Tam||Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)|
|Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)||Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Ford, Ben||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Sheerman, Barry|
|Forrester, John||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||McElhone, Frank||Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)|
|Freud, Clement||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Soley, Clive|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Maclennan, Robert||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||McNally, Thomas||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|George, Bruce||Marlow, Tony||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)|
|Golding, John||Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n)||Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)|
|Gorst, John||Martin, Michael (Gl'gow Springb'rn)||Stoddart, David|
|Gourlay, Harry||Maxton, John||Stott, Roger|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Maynard, Miss Joan||Straw, Jack|
|Greenway, Harry||Mikardo, Ian||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Morton, George||Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Neale, Gerrard||Thompson, Donald|
|Hannam, John||Ogden, Eric||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||O'Neill, Martin||Tilley, John|
|Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Tinn, James|
|Home Robertson, John||Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Horam, John||Palmer, Arthur||Trippier, David|
|Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Parry, Robert||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Howells, Geraint||Penhaligon, David||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)|
|Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Prescott, John||Ward, John|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Rathbone, Tim||Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)||White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)|
|Kerr, Russell||Rhodes James, Robert||Wickenden, Keith|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Richardson, Jo||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)|
|Lambie, David||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Woolmer, Kenneth|
|Lamond, James||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Lee, John||Robertson, George||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Leighton, Ronald||Rooker, J. W.||Mr. Phillip Whitehead and|
|Litherland, Robert||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Mr. Reg Race.|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Sever, John|
|Arnold, Tom||Hampson, Dr Keith||Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Hawkins, Paul||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)||Hayhoe, Barney||Parris, Matthew|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Heddle, John||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Henderson, Barry||Percival, Sir Ian|
|Bradford, Rev. R.||Hooson, Tom||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)|
|Bright, Graham||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Brinton, Tim||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Brittan, Leon||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)||King, Rt Hon Tom||Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)|
|Butcher, John||Knight, Mrs Jill||Rost, Peter|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Lawrence, Ivan||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Chalker, Mrs. Lynda||Lawson, Nigel||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman|
|Channon, Paul||Le Marchant, Spencer||Scott, Nicholas|
|Chapman, Sydney||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Churchill, W. S.||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Silvester, Fred|
|Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)||Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)||Sims, Roger|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Speller, Tony|
|Cockeram, Eric||Lyell, Nicholas||Spence, John|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||McCrindle, Robert||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Cope, John||Macfarlane, Neil||Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)|
|Cormack, Patrick||MacKay, John (Argyll)||Sproat, Iain|
|Corrie, John||McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)||Stainton, Keith|
|Costain, A. P.||Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)||Stanley, John|
|Dean, Paul (North Somerset)||Marten, Neil (Banbury)||Stevens, Martin|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Mather, Carol||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Durant, Tony||Maude, Rt Hon Angus||Tebbit, Norman|
|Eyre, Reginald||Mawby, Ray||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Waddington, David|
|Field, Frank||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)||Wakeham, John|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Moate, Roger||Waller, Gary|
|Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)||Molyneaux, James||Warren, Kenneth|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Moore, John||Watson, John|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)||Wheeler, John|
|Forman, Nigel||Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Fraser, Peter (South Angus)||Mudd, David||Whitney, Raymond|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Myles, David||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Needham, Richard||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Nelson, Anthony|
|Goodhew, Victor||Neubert, Michael||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gow, Ian||Newton, Tony|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Nott, Rt Hon John||Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and|
|Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)||Osborn, John||Mr. John MacGregor.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.369
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Thirteenth
Report of the Review body on Top Salaries [Cmnd. 7825], and is of the opinion that the cost of all travel within the United Kingdom on Parliamentary business should be reimbursed or qualify for payment of the car mileage allowance.