HC Deb 10 June 1982 vol 25 cc462-522

8.5 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

I beg to move, That, in the opinion of this House, the salaries payable to Members of this House in respect of service on and after 13th June 1982 should be at the following yearly rates—

  1. (1) £14,510 for Members not falling within paragraph (2); and
  2. (2) £8,460 for Officers of this House and Members receiving a salary under the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 or a pension under section 26 of the Parliamentary and other Pensions Act 1972.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

I understand that it will be convenient to take, at the same time, the following motions: No. 3, That the salaries payable to Members of this House in respect of service on and after 13th June 1982 should be at the following yearly rates—

  1. (1) £14,510 for Members not falling within paragraph (2); and
  2. (2) £8,460 for Officers of this House and Members receiving a salary under the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 or a pension under section 26 of the Parliamentary and other Pensions Act 1972.

No. 4, That, in the opinion of this House, the limits specified in the Resolution of this House of 5 June 1981 in relation to the allowances payable in connection with a Member's office, secretarial and research expenses should be raised so as to make the limits—

  1. (a) in paragraph (a) of the Resolution (allowance in respect of aggregate amount of general office expenses and expenses on secretarial and research assistance), £8,752 for the year ending 31 March 1983 and £8,820 for any subsequent year; and
  2. (b) in paragraph (b) of that Resolution (provision for enabling a Member to make pension contributions in respect of persons in the payment of whose salaries expenses are incurred by him), £875 for the year ending 31 March 1983 and £882 for any subsequent year.

No. 5, That in the opinion of this House, the facilities available to the spouse of a Member of this House for free travel in accordance with the Resolutions of this House of 7 April 1971 and 22 July 1975 on journeys within paragraph (a) or (b) of the said Resolution of 7 April 1971 should be extended to children of the Member under the age of 18; but any child's journey in respect of which facilities for free travel are provided in accordance with this Resolution should count against the number of journeys for which facilities for free travel are available to the Member's spouse. For the purposes of this Resolution a Member's children shall be taken to include step-children, adopted children, foster children and any other child living as one of the Member's family.

No. 6, That the draft Ministerial and other Salaries Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 27 May, be approved.

No. 7, That this House—

  1. (a) welcomes the Report of the Select Committee on Members' salaries which was ordered by this House to be printed on 17 February 1982;
  2. (b) agrees with the recommendation in that Report that a review of Members' pay be conducted by the Review Body on Top Salaries once during the fourth year of each Parliament and that, where a shortened Parliament precludes this, the Review Body should carry out a new review not later than four years after the rates of salary consequent on the previous review first became payable;
  3. (c) agrees with the view expressed in that Report that, between such reviews, Members' salaries should be adjusted annually by reference to increases in outside salaries, but does not accept the recommendation that 463 there should be an annual automatic adjustment by reference to figures taken from the Department of Employment's New Earnings Survey;
  4. (d) is of opinion that her Majesty's Government should instead, in the period between one such review and the next, move annual motions to effect changes in Members' salaries and in so doing should be guided by the average change in the rates of pay of appropriate groups in the Public Service over a relevant period.

Before calling upon the Leader of the House to move the first of the six motions, I have to inform the House that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) has asked permission to move amendment (b) to motion No. 2 and amendments (a) and (c) to motion No. 4 with figures differing slightly from those shown on the Order Paper. The proposed alteration in motion No. 4 would also involve two further amendments to that motion. Mr. Speaker has decided that it would be in the interests of the House to allow this to be done. Revised copies of pages 2864 and 2865 of the Order Paper have accordingly been placed in the Vote Office and a revised list of selected amendments has been placed in the Lobby.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the House will appreciate your ruling, which is no doubt satisfactory from everyone's point of view. However, I wish to ask about the position at the conclusion of the debate. I do not know whether it is proposed to have any Divisions, but if so, would we take all the motions seriatim?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We shall take them in that manner. Matters are complicated when we debate motions together, but the Chair will make the subject of the Division clear.

Mr. du Cann

I am much obliged. That is precisely the point that I had in mind.

Mr. Biffen

We have to consider tonight two separate but related issues, one short-term and one long-term. The short-term issue concerns the increase in hon. Members' pay, in the secretarial allowance and in Ministers' pay in 1982. I shall deal with these matters first. The long-term issue concerns the way that hon. Members' pay is to be settled in future. It is an issue on which we have the report by the Select Committee on hon. Members' Salaries to assist us.

I have already told the House about the Government's proposals for 1982, in answer to a parliamentary question by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Lee). In the absence of recommendations by the Top Salaries Review Body this year, we considered that it was reasonable to increase hon. Members pay, hon. Members' secretarial and research assistance allowance and Ministers' pay by 4 per cent. each, in line with the pay factor included in Estimates. The reason why the TSRB was not asked to review hon. Members' pay and allowances this year is that at the time we would have had to make the request the Select Committee was still considering Members' pay and we did not wish to prejudge its conclusions. The Government's proposals are not generous, but in the circumstances—realism creeps through from time to time—I do not consider that they are unreasonable.

Turning briefly to the specific motions, hon. Members will see that there are two dealing with their 1982 pay increase. The first is an amendable expression of opinion. The second bears the Queen's Recommendation and the amounts on it cannot be increased. The House may recall from previous debates that the second motion is required because an effective resolution of the House is necessary to increase Exchequer contributions to the Members' pension fund and to increase the pay of the United Kingdom Members of the European Assembly in line with that of Members of the House. The effect of these motions would be to increase the pay of ordinary Members to £14,510 with effect from 13 June, and the parliamentary salary of Ministers and other office holders to £8,460.

The motion on the secretarial allowance increases the maximum of the allowance in a full year to £8,820, with a further £882 available to enable an hon. Member to make pension contributions for his or her employee.

It might be helpful for the general structure of the debate if at this point I were to comment on the amendments which give an alternative option to the House. The amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) would increase that sum by 6 per cent. Any chosen: figure is a matter of value judgment and a degree of arbitrariness. It would be appropriate for the House to stay with a proposal which is related to the pay factor in the Estimates and if this were to be seen to be leading to any significant fall in equitable levels of pay it would be subject to subsequent investigation and remedy by recommendation of the Top Salaries Review Body.

The other amendments which have been tabled by the right hon. Member for Deptford and his associates concern the office, secretarial and research allowance. The amendments propose that there should be an increase of 8 per cent., double that which is proposed by the Government. That figure, however chosen, bears a certain arbitrary implication, but I cannot find it appropriate to recommend to the House a figure that is double that of the pay factor in the Estimates and which is a touch above the general level of settlement in both private and public sectors.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a proportion of the amount that is provided for secretarial and research allowances goes o a other things which have little to do with pay; they are to do with purchases? Purchases can be far more directly related to the rise in the cost of living. Within that global figure, would it not have been better to have included some component to cover purchases and the substantially greater increases that relate to them?

Mr. Biffen

Once one moves into that territory, the index that one would choose for purchases would not necessarily be the retail price index. It might be the index of wholesale prices. We would be in difficult territory if we began to base the argument on the refined statistical indices that could be secured for that fraction—

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)


Mr. Biffen

—of the total spending on the office, secretarial and research assistance allowance which went to the purchase of goods and services.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I apologise to my right hon. Friend for jumping up rather precipitately. Would he not think it fair if a different allowance were made to Members' secretaries who serve only one Member and who are relatively underpaid compared with those who serve two, three or even four Members, who are in some cases grossly overpaid? Should there not be some differential?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes an important point which should not be squeezed into the reply that I was giving to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). All hon. Members must be profoundly conscious that broadly speaking we have a uniform system of allowances and yet immensely individual patterns of expenditure.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

That is a platitude.

Mr. Biffen

It may be a platitude but, my God, it is probably the truest thing that will be said this evening.

All these matters should be considered further by the Top Salaries Review Body. I would far sooner that the study and the determination was undertaken by an organisation with an arm's length relationship with the House than that the House were to be seen obviously voting its emoluments and fringe benefits. When I come to the long-term considerations in the second part of my speech, I will touch upon the prospects of the Top Salaries Review Body being able to undertake just such a study that can reflect upon the problems that were mentioned by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

The right hon. Gentleman has just expressed the fervent view that it was better that the Top Salaries Review Body should deal with our salaries at arm's length than for the House to deal with the matter itself. Will he give an undertaking that in future all the recommendations of the Top Salaries Review Body will be automatically accepted? Is not the alternative that the House should make up its own mind on the Government's advice?

Mr. Biffen

There has to be an almost Augustinian approach to virtue in these matters. That is the ideal to which one aspires and I would have hoped that the experience of recent years might consolidate the view that this is something which for the future ought to be observed more faithfully than it has been in the past.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)


Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)


Mr. Biffen

Without wishing to be obsequious to Privy Councillors, the right hon. Member for Deptford was first on his feet.

Mr. English


Mr. Biffen

I give way to the hon. Gentelman.

Mr. English

Saint Augustine was the man who said "Lord make me chaste but not yet."

Mr. Silkin

I shall leave the Lord President of the Council further unbattered if I may, because there has been a number of interventions.

Mr. Biffen

I am glad that fraternity is still working.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

If the House is to vote for this sort of recommendation which is tied to Government expenditure or Estimates some months ago, would it not be far better for us to determine in the autumn of the previous year our increase from 13 June? We would be setting an example rather than trying to set an example after most other pay has been settled. Secondly, should not a Top Salaries Review Body report at least be put to the House so that we can vote on it rather than it being modified by the Government and left as a take-it-or-leave-it issue?

Mr. Biffen

I shall answer my hon. Friend's point about the timing of the Government's figure. This is intended to be for this year only. I am sure that my hon. Friend will realise that the motions before the House are designed to get away from that position for the future. He has made a fair point about the timing, but I am sorry that this year I have to present the position as it is.

I did not entirely appreciate my hon. Friend's second point about the Top Salaries Review Body.

Mr. Bottomley

My point was that it might not be possible for the Government to accept that the recommendation of the Top Salaries Review Body should be enacted. Would the Government consider and ensure that the recommendation is put to the House so that they could then try to lead as many as wanted to away from it rather than forbidding even the possibility of its being enacted?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is asking me to anticipate the second part of my speech. However, at the end of the day the figure that is presented to the House is amendable. Therefore, if the House wishes to amend it in accordance with the review body's recommendation it is open to it to do so. That has always been the position.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)


Mr. Biffen

No, I shall not give way now.

Mr. Cunningham

I should be most grateful on this point.

Mr. Biffen

I know that the hon. Gentleman would be, but I wish to complete the reference to the amendments. I do not think that I have indicated any unwillingness to give way. However, I have a responsibility to the House more generally to make a speech with some degree of structure as well as satisfying those who enjoy the blood sport of pursuing the Leader of the House in these circumstances.

The other amendment, which is quite an innovation, is the proposition that there should be a London weighting allowance for secretaries. The view has always been taken hitherto that a cash payment should be made and that how that is used in respect of secretarial services, either in London or in the provinces, or as between equipment and the employment of persons, should be left to the Member's discretion. Once the House begins to make judgments on how expenditures should be undertaken, it will move across a Rubicon which in the fullness of time it will regret having crossed. However, I have no wish to be seen to be obdurate. If the later motions are confirmed by the House and a review is established by the review body of allowances for Members, it is exactly the sort of problem that it can assess and upon which it can make recommendations.

Mr. George Cunningham

A few minutes ago, and quite rightly, the right hon. Gentleman said that the House is always free to substitute its figure for one that is tabled by the Government in the opinion-expressing motion, and that that has always been the tradition of the House in dealing with this subject. That makes sense only if the Leader of the House is prepared also to say that when the House does pass—I do not think that it will do so tonight because I think that it will pass the opinion-expressing motion as it stands on the Paper—an amendment which raises the figure in the opinion-expressing motion, the Government will accept that as a decision of the House, and will then that night or on another night bring forward an amended, perfected motion to reflect the amended opinion-expressing motion which the House will then carry. Can the Leader of the House tell us whether that is his attitude to how these matters should be handled?

Mr. Biffen

No, I do not think that I can. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. The relationship between the House and the Government has not been at its happiest and most harmonious on these matters in recent years. I am proposing a modest step forward. I hope that it will take place in circumstances that will lead gradually to a better relationship that will not lead to the clashes that we have had in the recent past. There is nothing that I can say or pledge that will meet the hon. Gentleman's point in the way that he puts it. I think that the House will prefer me to say that in all candour. At the end of the day, these are matters in which the Government have a material political interest and they cannot abdicate the role which has often been performed by all Governments.

I return to the text of my speech as opposed to dealing with the amendments on the Order Paper. As is usual, no motions have been tabled on Members' other allowances—namely, the additional cost allowance, the London allowance and the car mileage allowance. These allowances will be adjusted in the normal way following changes in the equivalent Civil Service allowances. However, there is one small change that I now propose concerning travel arrangements for Members' families. As things stand, Members' spouses are entitled to up to 15 free return journeys to Westminster on parliamenary business. My predecessor received representations from several hon. Members to the effect that, for Members with young families, the spouse could not generally travel to Westminster without bringing the children, and that the free travel warrant system for spouses should therefore be extended to children, within the existing limits.

The Government accept that this is a reasonable proposition and the motion before the House provides for Members' children under 18 years to travel free to Westminster under the same conditions as currently apply to spouses. The total number of free return journeys available to Members' families will remain at 15 a year.

The motion on Ministers' pay invites the House to approve the draft order which increases the pay of Ministers and other office holders by 4 per cent. The rates shown in the order for the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor are the rates that may be paid to the holders of these offices and will apply for pension purposes. However, as in previous years, my right hon. Friend and my right hon and noble Friend will draw only the same salary as their Cabinet colleagues.

Mr. John Silkin

Is the Government's generosity towards the children of Members such that the number of free warrants will not be increased? Indeed, the Government will gain because in the majority of cases the children will have travelled for half price on the railway. The Government will be the gainer of half an adult's ticket.

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman makes a fair debating point. However, the request for this reform, if I may dignify it by that description, came from Labour Back Benchers. I do not think that they will be as dismissive of its symbolism as the right hon. Gentleman is. However, it is true that the inuitlement is not increased as a result of this decision. The possibility of its utilisation may be further enhanced.

Mr. Silkin

Surely the Government will gain by this piece of so-called generosity because two children will travel for the same price to the Government as one adult. Therefore, in giving a ticket to a child they are gaining half an adult's ticket.

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to know that in a previous Treasury incarnation I should be as pleased about the reform as I think I am pleased about it in my role as Leader of the House.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, East)

Surely the Government would have been more generous if they had considered carefully the basis of allowances for spouses and children. One of the penalties of being a Member of this place is being estranged from one's family. We should have free access to our children, and that is what most of us want. We are grateful for any flexibility in the system, but I have four children and I like to see them as much as possible. I do not think that I should be rationed on how often I can see them.

Mr. Biffen

The House should reflect seriously before giving to itself privileges for children's travel which will be sought equally by those in many other occupations which involve the estrangement of families.

Mr. Sheerman

How many?

Mr. Biffen

The numbers argument is a most dangerous one to use in these circumstances. The way in which we treat ourselves is monitored most closely in the outside world. The fact that we are a mere 600-odd is not a material factor in the argument. I am distressed that what was an attempt to have a more generous interpretation of the spouse allowance has resulted in an attack on the Treasury Bench for apparent niggardliness.

The last motion standing in my name on the Order Paper concerns the Government's proposals for dealing with Members' pay in the longer term. Before describing them, I should like to thank the Select Committee on Members' Salaries, whose report forms the starting point of what I shall have to say, for all its efforts. Members' pay is a notoriously difficult subject for the House and, even though I am not able to agree with all its conclusions in every respect, I consider that the Select Committee has presented the House with a most constructive report.

The Select Committee recommended, first, that there should be a review of Members' pay by the Top Salaries Review Body once during the fourth year of each Parliament. If this were precluded by shortened Parliaments a new review should be undertaken not more than four years after the salaries derived from the previous review became payable. The Select Committee's second recommendation was that there should be annual automatic interim adjustments of salaries by reference to increases in the nearest percentile of the new earnings survey.

The Government accept the first of these recommendations. There is, great value in having a completely independent review of Members' salaries. If the question were left entirely to the House, I suspect that we should have great difficulty in arriving at an acceptable figure. Moreover, there would certainly be some public suspicion that we were treating ourselves too generously, even if precisely the reverse was the case. I believe that having the independent review towards the end of each Parliament is sensible. If, however, a shortened Parliament knocks us off course, there is nothing to stop us having two reviews separated by less than four years to get us back on it again.

The coming year is the fourth of this Parliament. Subject to the views of the House, therefore, we propose to ask the TSRB to conduct a review in time for next year's debate on Members' pay. We should also ask it to review Ministers' pay, the secretarial allowance, and such other aspects of Members' pay, in the broad sense specified by the Select Committee, as may need to be looked at.

How Members' pay is adjusted between reviews also poses a problem. The Government reluctantly accept that there should be some form of adjustment by reference to changes in outside salaries, that is, some form of linkage. We have no enthusiasm for the idea, but, in view of resolutions of the House on the subject in recent years and of what the Select Committee says, we accept it. However, we cannot agree that the link should be automatic or that it should be with the new earnings survey. Although there are examples of pay increases operated by an automatic formula, it is not a practice I believe should be further entrenched and certainly not in an area as sensitive as Members' salaries.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie (Rutherglen)

I am a little puzzled by the Government's reluctance to link pay with an outside body. A few moments ago the Leader of the House said that he was not able to tell us what car allowances and London allowances would be in the year ahead because he had to wait until those figures had been sorted out for the Civil Service. We seem to be linked to the Civil Service for our car and living in London allowances, but apparently it is obnoxious to the right hon. Gentleman to have similar linkage on salary. Some of us are a little puzzled about his attitude on the question.

Mr. Biffen

The Select Committee was not proposing a linkage in respect of salaries. We are discussing the interim increases between the four-yearly review by the Top Salaries Review Body and what form of linkage would be appropriate for that practice. I should strongly discourage the concept that the House should expect for itself some kind of automatic pay increase that proceeded by some stealthy manner or some wholly irreversible manner—for that is what it would seem to do. If the House is not prepared to accept the responsibility of discussing these things once a year, then there will be a great deal of well-justified anxiety and suspicion about how we concluded these matters.

As for the form of the link, whatever may be the relationship in the long run between average earnings and those in the public service, it is right in principle that MPs' pay should keep in step with that of public servants. Any other system would be certain to give rise to bad feeling. Moreover, the new earnings survey is published in November and covers earnings in the year ending with the previous April. The changes that it records are therefore, on average, over a year old when it is published. That could give rise to great difficulty in a period when the rate of increase in pay settlements was falling.

As an alternative, we propose that between reviews the Government should move annual motions to effect changes in Members' salaries and in so doing should be guided by the average change in the rates of pay of appropriate groups in the public service for the period concerned. There are several important points in that formulation. The first is that, as now, Members' pay would be adjusted following an annual debate. There would not be an automatic adjustment. The second is that, although the Government would be guided by the average increase for particular public service groups, and would normally expect to propose to the House an adjustment in Members' pay that corresponded to the average, there could be circumstances where that course could not be followed for one reason or another. In short, the Government reserve the right to respond flexibly to exceptional circumstances.

The motion refers to appropriate groups in the public service". The groups that I have in mind are the non-industrial Civil Service, primary and secondary teachers, National Health Service doctors, dentists and administrators. It is not necessary to make a final decision about the groups to be included at this stage. However, the general principles are clear. The groups should represent a widely based segment of the public services but particular groups to whom the Government have given special commitments, such as the Armed Forces and the police, should be excluded. As I envisage that the average pay increase for all groups would be weighted by numbers in the group, there would be little point in including numerically small groups. The groups that I have mentioned all have their settlement date on 1 April. That is useful as it means that, on the one hand, the changes in pay would be recent, unlike the new earnings survey link, and, on the other, that the settlements should have been concluded in time for a debate on Members' pay before the Summer Recess.

The Government do not propose to apply linkage to Ministers' pay, or to the secretarial allowance. Between Top Salaries Review Body reviews those items would be revised on an ad hoc basis.

Much passion is aroused by the question of linkage, but in the scheme that I have outlined and that recommended by the Select Committee it is of only secondary importance. The periodic reviews by the TSRB will be the chief means of keeping Members' pay on a satisfactory basis. Providing that those are undertaken regularly, it does not matter much if the interim arrangements are approximate rather than precise.

Amendments have been tabled which concern these resolutions. The first, which deals with the important matters of pension and severance pay, was tabled by the right hon. Member for Deptford. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) tabled an amendment on pensions, but it was not selected. I understand the concern about severance pay, although it has been examined in the past. However, it would be appropriate, if the House votes for the Government motion this evening, that the Top Salaries Review Body should undertake this autumn a consideration of the matters that are dealt with in those amendments.

There are other amendments in the name of the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) that invite the House to accept the full Select Committee report without addition, adjustment or amendment. The House is confronted with a straight choice this evening in the Lobbies. The first is, about the comparita that will be used for calculating the interim increases. I have explained our reservations about the new earnings survey as a means of securing the comparisons because we believe that the range of public sector settlements is more appropriate.

The second is whether the increase that will be derived from the comparita should be automatic, as are the mileage allowance or the additional cost changes, or whether it should be the subject of debate, endorsement and confirmation by the House each year. It would be a most significant and dubious departure if we proceeded to a position whereby the annual increase was made automatically without any possibility of judgment in the House. That is why I believe that the arrangements for accepting much of the spirit of the Select Committee's report, buttressed by the Government's proposals, will enhance what is before the House. I hope that we can come to a broad and settled view. The Government's response to the Select Committee's recommendations has been sympathetic and is none the worse because it has not been an unconditional endorsement.

If the House supports the proposals that I have outlined, we shall have taken a modest step in the direction of freeing Members' pay from the capricious circumstances that have attended it in recent years. No doubt we shall have our quota of problems in the future, but I hope that we can avoid the worst pitfalls. I am sure that the House will not expect a perfect arrangement, but I am convinced that the Government's proposals offer a modest and tangible way forward.

8.43 pm
Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

I beg to move amendment (a), to leave out "£14,510" and insert "£14,787".

I understand that it will be convenient also to take the following amendments:

  1. (b), to leave out "£8,460" and insert "£8,618".
    1. (a) to motion No. 4, to leave out "£8,752" and insert "£9,022".
    2. (b) to motion No. 4, to leave out "£8,820" and insert "£9,158".
    3. (c) to motion No. 4, at end add
      1. "(c) additionally, that in those cases where individual Members can authenticate the expenditure they be reimbursed for the payment of an annual London weighting allowance of £1,087 to their secretaries".
  2. (a) to motion No. 7, to leave out from "1982" to end of motion and add
  3. "and agrees with the recommendations of that Report".
  4. (b) to motion No. 7, to leave out from "payable" to end and add
    1. '(c) agrees with the view expressed in that Report that, between such reviews Members salaries should be adjusted annually by reference to increases in outside salaries as indicated in the nearest percentile in the Department of Employment's New Earnings Survey.
    2. (d) does not accept the view in that Report that the question of Members' pensions and severence payments should be subsumed under the general heading of "Pay" to await consideration in the context of the next general review of Members' pay, but is of the opinion that, in the light of anomalies inherent in the present severance arrangements and the in creased insecurity attached to the role of a Member, the Top Salaries Review Body be requested to undertake an urgent review of pension and severance arrangements and make recommendations accordingly.' .
I preface my contribution to the debate by paying tribute to the Chairman and members of the Select Committee, whose report provides a valuable and helpful backcloth to the debate. If I have decided reservations about some features of their recommendations, that is in no way a reflection on the diligent and responsible way in which they have carried out their task. Having read their report, I also wish to express my appreciation of the oral evidence of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) for the continuing work that he has undertaken on behalf of Labour Members.

I have listened attentively to the Leader of the House. Parliamentary salaries should not be so generous as to be an attraction in themselves nor so low as to discourage able aspirants from seeking membership of the House. Members have a right to a fair and reasonable scale of remuneration and a salary sufficient to enable them to do what their constituents increasingly expect of them—to devote a major part of their time, if not their whole time, to their parliamentary duties. It is on the basis of that simple proposition that I take issue with the figures in the motion tabled by the Leader of the House on behalf of the Government.

Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House accept that parliamentary salaries cannot be fully protected, or indeed isolated, from the consequences of economic inflation. Nor is anyone in the House impervious to the political sensitivities, to which the Leader of the House referred, surrounding Members' pay and allowances. It is time we started distinguishing myth from reality in this issue.

It is a myth that the sustained restraint and self-discipline which Members have exercised over many years in regard to parliamentary pay has ever persuaded anyone to follow our example. The reality is that, during the last 20 years, there is no recorded case of any group—administrative, professional or manual—ever following the lead in pay restraint demonstrated by Members of the House.

If we take the operative date of the proposed annual interim increases, 13 June, in the context of the annual wage cycle, we are at the end of the queue. I suspect that we have been deliberately pushed to the end of the pay round so that parliamentary pay will not be taken as a lead—

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Even if one were to accept the right hon. Gentleman's argument that people do not follow us when we are restrained, would he not agree that if we were unrestrained at a time when they are being restrained, it would have the opposite effect and we would be setting an extremely bad example?

Mr. Morris

I can understand the feelings which have generated that thought in the hon. Lady's mind, but I cannot recall an occasion when increases given to Members and Ministers could ever be designated as unrestrained. I invite the hon. Lady or, indeed, any hon. Member, to name an occasion when any increase that we have ever accepted for ourselves could be designated in any way as unrestrained.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) is probably still thinking in terms of Europe, where "restraint" is the last word which is ever used and "unrestrained" is the word one could apply.

Mr. Morris

Indeed, my hon. Friend has made a valid point.

The issue posed in the Government's motion on pay and allowances is not one of Ministers earnestly seeking partially to protect parliamentary salaries and allowances from the continuing erosion to which they have been subject as a result of Government policy over the last 12 months. The issue is essentially political. We have listened to Ministers day in, day out, and they never weary of preaching the virtues of free collective bargaining. But what they are embarked upon this evening is an exercise to impose on Members and their private secretaries the Prime Minister's wretched 4 per cent. pay policy.

I felt that it might be helpful to our deliberations to establish just how many groups in the public sector have actually settled at 4 per cent. or less. I, as every hon. Member does, went into the Library and invited the able assistance of the House of Commons Library statistical section to find out just how many such groups had settled at 4 per cent. or less. I received the following reply: You asked me to let you know which groups, particularly administrative and clerical groups, in the public sector have settled in the current round for 4 per cent. or less. I have not found any group which has settled for as little as 4 per cent. and Incomes Data Services (IDS) have also checked their files and found no such group.

Having failed to persuade any other comparable group to settle for 4 per cent. or less, the Prime Minister and the Government have singled out hon. Members and their private secretaries on whom to impose what I can only describe as the Prime Minister's squalid pay policy obsessions.

During the past year, settlements in the public sector, even if we exclude the recent massive awards to senior civil servants, senior Service officers and the judiciary, have varied between 6 per cent. and 13 per cent. The general body of civil servants, whom the Prime Minister appears to take a malevolent delight in clobbering, received 6 per cent. Members and their secretaries are offered 4 per cent., as will be seen from the motion on the Order Paper.

Do Ministers believe that hon. Members and their families pay less for their food and the other essential prerequisites of life than civil servants? Does the Leader of the House accept that hon. Members and their private secretaries are in a better position to withstand the increases in mortgages, tube, bus and rail fares than secretaries in the Civil Service? That is the logic of the motions tabled by the Leader of the House.

Last year, civil servants received an interim settlement of 7 per cent. plus £30. Hon. Members received an interim settlement of 5.73 per cent. This year civil servants were awarded 6 per cent. The Government motions envisage hon. Members and their secretaries receiving 4 per cent. How can that be justified?

Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)

It would be wiser if we could clarify the position. The secretaries will not automatically receive a 4 per cent. increase. An extra 4 per cent. will be given to hon. Members as an allowance for secretarial and research work.

Mr. Morris

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reinforcing that point.

It is neither equitable nor fair to accept the implications of the figure of 4 per cent. in the motions tabled by the Leader of the House. Not only have we fallen behind the movements in the retail price index and the average earnings index, but we are falling behind civil servants consistently year after year. The amendments that my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) and I have tabled seek to improve the figures that the Leader of the House has tabled to a modest 6 per cent. That is all we seek. We seek 6 per cent. for hon. Members and the secretarial allowance—a rate that has been conceded already by the Government to civil servants.

In 1975 and 1980 the House went on record as being in favour of linking parliamentary pay with a Civil Service grade for salary purposes. At that time the Civil Service assistant secretary grade was selected as the nearest to the level of salary in operation for hon. Members. That Civil Service grade was selected for comparability purposes.

Only those Members with an over-vivid imagination would aspire to the heights enjoyed by civil servants on assistant secretary grade. Their maximum pay is £19,612. With the inner London weighting allowance the salary is £23,288. That was the comparability that the House felt was fitting in 1979 and 1980.

If we cannot aspire to compare ourselves with assistant secretaries, we must look at which Civil Service grade we could now equate ourselves with. A senior principal currently receives a maximum salary of £16,810. With the inner London weighting allowance, a senior principal receives £21,014. We cannot equate ourselves with senior principals. Perhaps we can equate ourselves with the principal grade. His current salary is £12,999. With the inner London weighting allowance, it is £17,035. If we cannot equate ourselves with him, who next? We go then to the senior executive officer who is on a salary of £10,000. With the inner London weighting allowance, he enjoys a salary of £13,056. I could continue.

Under the Government, and the way that they think about the salaries of hon. Members, we shall be quickly down to the salary of the higher clerical officer. That is the reality with which hon. Members are confronted in the determination of salaries and secretarial allowances. I have read the Select Committee's report and listened to the Leader of the House dismiss the idea of a linkage with Civil Service grades. I have read the same arguments in the tendentious document published by a previous distinguished Leader of the House to hon. Members in October 1980 dealing with parliamentary pay and pensions. In that document he was dismissive of a linkage with Civil Service grades. It is done in France, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. What happens in the United States of America? Congress approved a motion that no civil servant would receive more in remuneration than that enjoyed by the Congressman. That is the reality of linkage. How can one dismiss the linking argument?

The amendments in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley and myself dealing with Members' pay seek to increase Members' salaries by a modest 6 per cent. That is in line with that already conceded by the Government to civil servants. If we accept the Government's proposals for hon. Members' office, secretarial and research allowances, we shall be doing a serious injustice to loyal and dedicated staff who, I believe, bring a real commitment to their jobs. I am referring to hon. Members' private secretaries.

The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) made the point that secretarial allowances will increase by 4 per cent., but that that might not mean a 4 per cent. increase for the private secretaries. Let me tell the House a fact of life regarding secretaries. Hon. Members are not big spenders when it comes to recruiting private secretaries. In general, they do not give large salaries to their private secretaries. To single out the secretarial allowance, when I have demonstrated that no comparable group has accepted a settlement of 4 per cent. or less, is really a bit much.

I have great admiration for the way that the Leader of the House carries out his responsibilities, both in his present role and in his previous ministerial roles. I hope that he will look again at secretarial allowances to see what he can do. Our secretaries get little or no redundancy pay. Their salaries do not attract London weighting. Most of them work with Members because of a shared political commitment, so it is a bit much that the House and Members have singled them out as the banner carriers for the Prime Minister's squalid 4 per cent. pay policy.

I should like to mention future arrangements for Members' salaries. I have tabled two amendments to the motions on these matters. Having read motion No. 7— Future arrangements for Members' salaries"— and listened to the Leader of the House, I am still at a loss to know what it means. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was restructuring and making provision for a modest improvement to ensure an organised interim uplifting. However, we should read paragraph (d) carefully, because I am convinced that it was drafted by a civil servant. I say that as a former Minister of State, Civil Service Department. Paragraph (d) states that this House is of the opinion that Her Majesty's Government should instead, in the period between one such review and the next, move annual motions to effect changes in Members' salaries and in so doing should be guided by the average change in the rates of pay of appropriate groups. The Leader of the House was not very forthcoming about the groups with which we are to be compared, but, even if he had been, they were to be used only as a guide. In my opinion, that is not good enough.

Then there is the Select Committee's suggestion of increases on an annual basis by reference to increases in outside salaries, given to the nearest percentages in the Department of Employment's "New Earnings Survey". That is a far more efficient way to do it, and I hope that the Government will look again at that suggestion.

The amendment that we tabled shows that the Opposition do not accept the view in the Select Committee's report that the question of Members' pensions and severance payments should be subsumed under the general heading of Pay to await consideration in the context of the next general review of Members' pay, but is of the opinion that, in the light of the anomalies inherent in the present severance arrangements and the increased insecurity attached to the role of a Member, the Top Salaries Review Body be requested to undertake an urgent review of pension and severance arrangements. Let us make no mistake: pension and severance arrangements are of crucial importance for every Member of the House. There are anomalies in severance arrangements. A teacher contributes to his pension entitlement about the same percentage of salary as does a Member of the House, but as a Member one does not get a pension before the age of 65. A teacher is entitled to take his pension at the age of 60. Those are the anomalies that I believe should be seriously examined.

As regards pension arrangements, one-sixtieth is nonsense. I do not know any parliamentarian who, having won a seat in the House to represent a constituency, can look to 30 years as a Member. We need a true rate which takes account of the hazards of parliamentary life.

I recently read Lord Plowden's report on the Top Salaries Review Body's examination and recommendations on senior civil servants, senior Service officers and the judiciary. I was impressed that, in his preface, Lord Plowden referred to the objectives which his committee sought to establish. The objectives were to set limits that would ensure that the grades covered by the report are not affected by what he termed deep-seated feelings of unfairness. All I can say to that is bully for them if they have someone examining their salaries who does not want to leave them with a deep-seated feeling of unfairness.

There is a widespread sense of unfairness among hon. Members on both sides of the House, and certainly among private secretaries employed by hon. Members, about the Government's proposals in these motions. That feeling also exists among those who watch events in this Chamber. I believe that hon. Members are entitled to expect better than the shabby treatment they have received so far.

9.8 pm

Mr. Peter Thomas (Hendon, South)

I shall confine my remarks to motion No. 7 and amendment (a) in my name, because I had the privilege of being Chairman of the Select Committee that produced the report. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) for their kind remarks about members of the Committee. I pay tribute to those hon. Members on the Committee for their work and for their support in the production of the report. I am also grateful for the fact that my right hon. Friend, on behalf of the Government, said that he supports parts of the report, but I am disappointed that the major part of it has been abandoned by my right hon. Friend.

The problems faced by the House over the years in its attempts to determine a fair and reasonable salary for hon. Members are well known and I shall not rehearse them. The Select Committee's report sets out the problems fairly and clearly. Whatever methods have been tried, difficulties have been encountered. In the view of successive Governments, the time for effecting an adequate increase is never convenient. At the same time, the House is always sensitive to adverse public opinion and anxious to set an example.

There is no doubt that, over the years, hon. Members' pay has frequently lagged behind that which an objective assessor would regard as fair. Many examples can be given where variations in independent proposals, or delay in their implementation, have produced injustice, while the effect of such restraint as an example to the public has, to put it at its highest, been negligible.

One of the sad effects of all this is that in every recent year the House has been forced into somewhat unseemly debate and many divisions of opinion have emerged on how or what we should pay ourselves. The task of the Select Committee was to try to find an alternative to this recurrent, bruising wrangle. We tried to agree on an equitable method of determining Members' remuneration without being at the mercy of short-term considerations. At the same time, we had to bear in mind that the House cannot abandon its ultimate responsibility for determining its pay. This, as can be seen from our report, was no easy task. Every procedure suggested or considered has drawbacks. The problem is almost intractable and there is no comfortable answer. No method can be found that is likely to command the united support of both the public and the House. It is really a question of finding a solution with the least defects.

I firmly and respectfully submit that the recommendations in our report are the least objectionable and the best form of compromise that could be devised and, as far as the House as a whole is concerned, infinitely preferable to the proposals in my hon. Friend's motion.

What my right hon. Friend is proposing in paragraphs (c) and (d) is precisely what the Select Committee was seeking to avoid—a repetition of the annual, discredited public wrangle over Members' pay, an example of which may, I know not, probably be seen tonight.

From the debate so far, it appears to be generally agreed that there should be an independent, in-depth review at the end of each Parliament. The House will then decide on the recommendations made by the review body. Updating between reviews will clearly be needed, and that appears to be generally agreed. But if we are to avoid the annual wrangle, it is clear that the updating must be a linkage that is automatic.

The Select Committee recommends an automatic updating between reviews by reference to the average increases enjoyed by those in both the public and private sectors, receiving similar salaries. My right hon. Friend's motion—and this was reflected in his speech—wholly rejects any automatic linkage and suggests that the Government of the day should table annual motions to effect changes in Members' salaries", certainly not linked to but guided by the average change in the rates of pay of appropriate groups in the Public Service". My right hon. Friend described that as a modest step forward. In my submission, he is suggesting precisely what is happening today in the motions that have been put forward, which have led to the challenging speech of the right hon. Member for Openshaw and will probably lead to Divisions later tonight.

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the wording in paragraph (d). It is so vague that, under whichever Government are in power, the interim years would clearly be at the mercy of political expendiency and we would be back to our embarrassing debates and Divisions.

Therefore, I urge my right hon. Friend and the Government to think again, in the interests of the dignity of the House. Our recommendation for an interim linkage to the nearest percentile in the Department of Employment's new earnings survey is modest. In no way can it affect the Government's present overall economic strategy. Were the Select Committee's recommendations accepted by the House, and were the review to take place next year and a decision taken by the House on the findings of the review body, the salary increase would operate in the next Parliament and the first automatic updating would become effective at least one year afterwards.

It should also be remembered that this is not index linking with the cost of living, which I agree would be objectionable. The House has the responsibility and the burden of fixing its remuneration. What possible fair criticism could there be if the House were to state that, between reviews, Members' salaries were to be increased by no more and no less than the average increase of similar salaries throughout the country? I cannot believe that that would have an adverse public effect.

I remind my right hon. Friend, as he has already been reminded by the right hon. Member for Openshaw, that the House has twice recently voted for automatic linkage, but not the interim linkage, such as we suggest, whereby the issue returns periodially to the House.

The House has voted for permanent automatic linkage to a grade in the public service. Naturally, the Select Committee had to take that into account in our deliberations. We considered and appreciated the force of some of the objections and were in favour of complete linkage only if no better solution could be found. In the event, we mainly agreed that we had found that better solution. There were differences of opinion in the Select Committee, ranging from those who believed in complete linkage to those who had grave doubts about any form of linkage. Our report represents a consensus—that which the Committee as a whole agreed would substantially achieve its purpose in a way that most shades of opinion could accept.

If my right hon. Friend and the Government persist in slamming the door shut on the modest interim linkage that has been recommended, we are effectively back to square one, and all the embarrassments and controversies of past years will continue. Members' pay and allowances are essentially a matter for decision by the House as whole on a free vote—I hope a truly free vote. Ministers have the responsibility of recommending expenditure, but it is the House that always has the final responsibility of approval. It is the opinion of the House in this unique domestic issue of pay that should guide whichever Government are in office. The Select Committee's recommendations offer an acceptable and just solution. I hope that the House will agree.

9.18 pm
Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

I shall begin with a few words on behalf of those who, by the nature of the debate, are unable to speak for themselves—the secretaries, research assistants and other staff whose remuneration we are debating. The miserable 4 per cent. rise is an insulting proposition and wholly inadequate. The Leader of the House referred to comparable groups of workers who might be taken as guidelines for rises in Members' salaries and, presumably, rises in the salaries of secretaries.

An offer of 6.4 per cent. has already been made to the nurses and been rejected by them as inadequate. It is reported today that ACAS, a completely independent tribunal, has awarded a 6 per cent. rise to the teachers. In the light of those examples, I cannot see how the House can honestly say to the men and women who serve it loyally and capably as secretaries, research assistants and others, that they are worth only a 4 per cent. rise, bearing in mind the way in which inflation and general costs have risen in the past 12 months and seem likely to continue to do so. It is an insulting proposition and I trust that the House will reject it and vote for our amendment.

There are other considerations, apart from rates of pay, relating to conditions for secretaries. Those who are members of my union, APEX, made representations to the Leader of the House in March through their proper union machinery. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman refused to meet representatives from the union. It was out of character, as he is a civil and courteous person and I should normally have expected him to meet them. Nevertheless, he did not.

Mr. Biffen

I do not wish there to be any misunderstanding. I saw members of APEX earlier this week.

Mr. Hooley

I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says, of course. In the correspondence forwarded to me, however, he said explicitly that he saw no point in such a meeting. If he later changed his mind, I am glad that he did so and that he saw them. Nevertheless, that was his initial reply in April. He said that he was not prepared to see them as he saw no point in doing so.

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that I was then Leader of the House.

Mr. Hooley

In that case, I shall have to quote the letter. It is signed by the right hon. Gentleman himself.

Mr. Biffen

In that case, I at once withdraw what I said—I must, indeed, have been Leader of the House.

Mr. Hooley

Perhaps we should leave it at that. At any rate, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has seen the representatives. I am only sorry that he declined initially to do so.

The points made by members of my union in their submission covered a number of matters relating to their conditions of service. They accepted that there had been some improvements recently—for example, in provisions for pensions and in financial provision, allowing a Member to take on a substitute if the regular secretary is ill.

They suggested particularly that secretaries should all be paid direct from the Fees Office. That can already be done, if the Member so chooses, and I do not think that it is a matter of great controversy.

They suggested that the amount given be divided between secretaries and research assistants. Personally, I agree with the reply of the Leader of the House, that at is much better for this to be determined by the Member.

They also suggested that there might be some form of incremental scheme for payments to secretaries. They further suggested the possibility of an allowance if secretaries were required to work late in the evening or at weekends, and an allowance for travel if they were required to go to the Member's constituency to carry out their work.

Mr. George Cunningham

We can pay that.

Mr. Hooley

My hon. Friend says that we can pay that. That is, of course, true if the total sum allows it. If, however, the sum is already committed in regular payments to secretaries, nothing is left over to make extra payments for unsocial hours. I merely put on record the requests and suggestions made by members of my union employed as secretaries in the House.

A matter of greater substance is the request for London weighting. This is important. It seems anomalous that we accept London weighting for ourselves, in what is known as the London supplement for hon. Members who Live within so many miles of Charing Cross, but refuse it to our secretaries. Again, it is no use saying that a Member can give London weighting, because all Members have equal secretarial allowances. Clearly, those who live in London cannot give something extra compared with those living outside if the money does not allow for it.

Mr. English

My hon. Friend is confusing the issue. It is a matter not of whether one lives in London but of whether one's secretary works in London. I pay the Civil Service rate, including London weighting, because my secretary works here. The same must be true for many hon. Members. It has nothing to do with whether I live in London.

Mr. Hooley

Where an hon. Member lives obviously relates to where his secretary works. Almost by definition that will be in London. In that case, there should be some kind of weighting or allowance to reflect the extra cost of living, working and travelling in the Metropolis. That is why I support (c) amendment to motion No. 4. It would make provision for that.

I return to the linkage of Members' salaries. This has been effectively clealt with by the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas), the Chairman of the Select Committee. I am appalled that the Government have again rejected what was a modest compromise by the Select Committee. The Select Committee did not come out in favour of linkage, as I understand it. I simply came out in favour of a quadriennial review by the Top Salaries Review Body, or some such body, but with an interim linkage system, which would have dealt with some of the problems that we are dealing with now. The Government have rejected even that modest compromise. They have replaced it with the gobbledegook in paragraph (d) to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) has already referred.

The Chairman of the Select Committee is right when he says that this takes us back to square one. Whatever the meaning of the words in paragraph (d), the Government will do as they like. They can be "guided"—heaven knows what that means—by some other consideration, but in effect we are back to the present situation. The old problem that some hon. Members thought could be solved by a linkage scheme remains unresolved. We are back to the annual wrangle, distaste and feeling of injustice, which has gone on year after year.

Everyone knows that successive Governments have refused to implement the findings of the independent review board. Until there is some automatic linkage mechanism, there will be an annual wrangle. I should be prepared to accept the compromise suggested by the Select Committee, at least for the time being, although I hope that eventually the proper linkage principle, which the House has emphatically declared in favour of on a number of occasions, will be fully and properly implemented.

The Select Committee commented on pensions and severance payments in paragraph 26 of its report. It said: We noted in paragraph 12 above that the House in July 1980 expressed the opinion that pension rights should be bettered, and in our view, this expression of opinion reflected a long-felt concern that pension and reverence provisions are not yet adequate to avert real hardship for some. These are matters which undoubtedly should and would be further examined". There is no indication in the Government's proposals that they will do anything serious about this situation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Openshaw said, the age at which one can draw a pension should be reduced to 60, as is the case already in the Civil Service and in other professions. I also believe that the accrual rate should be increased from the one-sixtieth arrangement, although I am not sure whether one could jump to the one-fortieth arrangement all at once. On the figures presented by a previous Leader of the House, the average service in the House is 17 years. Although some hon. Members manage to remain Members of Parliament for 20 or 30 years, or more, that is the average length of service.

There might well be some provision for the payment of a lump sum on retirement, as is done in the Civil Service. Further examination needs to be made of the arrangements for severance payments, although I accept that there are difficulties. At present, if a Member of Parliament loses his seat, or if his seat disappears as a result of redistribution, severance payment is payable. There may well be other instances—such as family circumstances, and so on—that would make it reasonable and logical for some form of severance payment to be made if someone ceased to be a Member of Parliament. That should be considered.

The Government's proposals are mean, timid and unsatisfactory. The 4 per cent. rise offered to secretaries and hon. Members is thoroughly mean. As has been said, the statistical section of the Library could discover no other group that has settled for 4 per cent. or less. It is disgraceful that the Government should treat in this squalid way not only hon. Members—and it is our own fault if we do not vote against the proposals—but those loyal and devoted servants upon whom we depend for much of our work.

Given the Government's argument about comparability with the public sector, they know perfectly well that most groups in the public sector have settled, or intend to settle, for about 6 per cent. and have no intention of accepting the Government's miserable 4 per cent. increase, which is deliberately designed to reduce their standard of living.

9.33 pm
Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

The greater part of the speech by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) was concerned with secretarial allowances, and I shall deal with that matter in a moment.

I characterise tonight's debate as the debate that should not need to take place and as the unnecessary debate. The fact that there are no fewer than 16 motions and amendments on the Order Paper is ample evidence of the unsatisfactory situation in which we find ourselves. The muddle of our arrangements and our obvious dissatisfaction with them has been evidenced this evening.

As a matter of interest, we last discussed the remuneration and allowances of hon. Members and Ministers almost exactly one year ago—on 5 June 1981. That was the sixth debate on the subject in this Parliament. There was one debate on it in 1979, two in 1980 and no fewer than three in 1981. Therefore, this is the seventh debate of this Parliament. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) remarked in his typically able and clear speech, such occasions are not always the most dignified parliamentary moments. How right he was when he said that we had a duty to ourselves—and, I believe, to the nation—to ensure that we do everything possible to avoid wrangles on such subjects.

It should not be necessary to debate such matters seven times during one Parliament. One should be enough. I have a consistent view. Not every hon. Member will agree with it. I gave it in evidence to the Select Committee, presided over by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South. That view is that such matters should be settled at the end of a Parliament, to be valid in the next Parliament, and should not be fundamentally reviewed during the Parliament's lifetime.

I do not accept the view that there should always be annual reviews. There are many who engage in employment for fixed periods for fixed remuneration. I do not see why that system should not apply to ourselves. Nor do I have much sympathy with the idea that it is necessary—perhaps some would argue essential—for these issues always to be referred to an outside body. In the end, we must make the decisions. It is a little cowardly always to ask others to settle our problems for us.

I do not agree with the proposal made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—echoed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South—that we should consider these matters every four years as a matter of routine. Many problems would arise if we were to accept that advice. The appropriate time to deal with these matters is at the end of a Parliament so that those coming into the new Parliament, whether as Members of Parliament or their servants, know exactly where they stand for the lifetime of that Parliament.

Mr. John Silkin

Why is it "a little cowardly" for us to hand over the decision on our salaries to another body, but not cowardly for judges?

Mr. du Cann

Judges do not have the responsibility of making the decision. The right hon. Gentleman knows that others make the decision for them. We have to make the decision. We ran to an outside body only because we were frightened to make the decision that we thought should be made by ourselves. That is how the process began.

Considerable reference has been made to linkage. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South remarked, there are two sorts of linkage. There is permanent linkage with a particular profession—for example, an assistant secretary in the Civil Service or a lieutenant-colonel in the Army—and there is interim linkage. It is worth while reminding ourselves why linkage has been discussed. The proposal to link ourselves with a profession was made because we were certain that no Government would ever pay Members of Parliament properly. It was an attempt to force Governments to do so. We have now arrived at the idea of interim linkage, to which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House referred in making some interesting and important proposals. That is the main feature of the Select Committee's report.

My argument is that if salaries or allowances require minor revision during the lifetime of a Parliament, that should occur automatically by reference to an agreed formula. It is said that the effects of inflation should lead to a minor revision of salaries or allowances, but equally it is argued that parliamentarians should not be entitled to insulate themselves against inflation, it being to some extent the consequence of careless architects.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that the survey recommended by the Select Committee is not right. It is out of date, and there are certain implications in adopting that procedure. However, I could not understand the force of his argument for linking us to a basket of professions—I have not quite understood his proposition and we shall want to read his words with considerable care—and treating us in one way while he wants to treat secretaries in another and Ministers in yet a third way. I cannot see the reason for that. I cannot see why the three categories should not be treated alike.

If we are to have a form of linkage during the lifetime of a Parliament, let us accept one norm for everybody and adhere to it. In that way everybody will know where they are.

Under my right hon. Friend's proposals, which no doubt we shall have the opportunity to discuss with him, it seems to me that we shall have perpetual argument—the wrangles to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South referred—because different things will be done to different people at different times. That does not seem to be wise. Much embarrassment and difficulty, some parliamentary time and hardship would have been avoided if this sensible practice had been the norm in the past.

We have a whole series of individual motions and amendments to consider. Broadly speaking, as my right hon. Friend remarked, they divide into two categories—the present and the future.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) made an important speech. He devoted much of his speech to the present day and the Government's proposals that Members' and Ministers' salaries and the secretarial allowance should be increased by 4 per cent. That is the purpose of motions Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 6 on the Order Paper. In parentheses, it is right to remark that, whatever the Government or the Opposition may propose in these matters, it is for hon. Members to decide. If there is anything wrong with the present position, the fault is ours.

I remind the House that when levels of remuneration were set at the start of this Parliament, which was an uncomfortable affair, as we all remember, it was not envisaged that there would be any mid-term increase. That is an important point. That was the understanding of the House. Therefore, my right hon. Friend's proposals, which have been somewhat criticised by Labour Members, are a considerable advance on what was agreed and understood at the beginning of this Parliament. They are a considerable advance on 0 per cent.

I was sorry that the right hon. Member for Openshaw spent so much time referring to this, that or the other group that had had this, that, or the other per cent. He and the hon. Member for Heeley, said that it was impossible to find any group that had had nothing over the past year or so. That is untrue. Many companies in the United Kingdom, because of the present economic stringency, have not been able to give their staff salary increases. By comparison, hon. Members are not doing too badly.

There is another matter of which the House should be reminded. This proposal of 4 per cent. has been widely discussed. My right hon. Friend did not mention this, but he should have the credit for it. He has consulted widely and, as far as I know, what has been proposed has found a fair measure of acceptance. In the circumstances, I hope that the House will agree to what is being proposed and will support his proposals. That is why, although I am sorry not to agree with the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), for whose views I normally have the greatest respect, I cannot go along with the amendment that he and his hon. Friends have tabled.

Furthermore, the 4 per cent. that is proposed has a particular advantage that we should bear in mind. A small improvement now lessens the substantial gap that has opened in past Parliaments between the level of salaries at their opening and at their closing, measured in real terms. We all recall that on occasions that gap has been so substantial that in more than one Parliament in past years Governments have cowardly—that is an offensive word to use, but I use it deliberately—failed to bridge them. Here, the ad vice given has been heeded, and I repeat my gratitude to my right hon.. Friend for what he has done in this respect.

Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)

The right hon. Gentleman seems to be criticising his earlier point. As I understand it, he would be in favour of the plan that, at the end of the life of a Parliament—which, after all, is in the gift of the Prime Minister to a great extent—if one could determine what the salary should be for the incoming Members, they would know precisely where they stood, and would not wish these annual increases.

The right hon. Gentleman is, in his last point, demonstrating that if there is no adjustment, the gap is so wide that Governments baulk at what would be the natural progression over four or three years. I am trying to fathom out which course he favours, because he seems to be contradicting himself.

Mr. du Cann

The hon. Gentleman is right to make the point that he does. My view is clear. I should prefer to set the salary for the whole. Parliament. If we are to have adjustments—it appears to be the wish of the House that we should have adjustments—they should be fixed by reference to a specific norm, which would be the same for everyone. That course has some incidental advantage.

We should remind ourselves of the circumstances of the introduction of allowances. That owed much, if not everything, to the failure of successive Governments to pay Members adequately. There were pay increases in 1975, 1979, and 1980. As the Select Committee report said, Members' salaries have not been fully up-to-date since 1972. Successive Administrations foolishly believed that further specific allowances would be more tolerated by the public than higher remuneration for Members of Parliament. There was an attempt to fudge the issue of how much Members were costing.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has tabled motion No. 5 and we appreciate the spirit in which it has been introduced. I hope that he will not mind if I tell him that I cannot get excited about the proposal for a limited amount of childrens' travel allowance—travel, I hasten to say, at the expense of the wife's opportunity to be with her husband. There is a sort of mad Irish logic about this proposal. The more children one has, and the more often one sees them, the fewer the chances there will be for the husband and wife to cohabit at the taxpayer's expense. But the fewer children one has, the greater will be the opportunity for husband and wife to come together.

My right hon. Friend said that there had been representations about this, but to my knowledge they did not come from the Parliamentary Labour Party, and they certainly did not come from the 1922 Committee. He was wise to say that we must be careful when awarding ourselves allowances which most people do not have. If one works for a company, one cannot charge one's childrens' travel as a justifiable expense. I repeat that the only reason why we have the allowance is that we do not give ourselves enough cash in the first place. I hope that we shall not pass this motion tonight. We should not waste time on such trivialities.

Mr. English

Why did the right hon. Gentleman not protest about car allowances, because the same is true there? This merely applies to rail the same principles that already apply to car travel.

Mr. du Cann

I have always expressed a consistent view on these allowances, as the hon. Gentleman will privately acknowledge. I merely make a point about the foolish complexities when allowances become more important than salary. It is also unfortunate that our system encourages various lobbies. That is not a healthy development.

The question of the adequacy of allowances for secretaries and research assistants is a legitimate subject for the most careful consideration, but I am surprised by the proposal for the London weighting allowance, in part for the reason adduced by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) in an intervention and for other reasons with which I need not trouble the House. We have a problem with secretarial allowances because no two Members' responsibilities or activities are equal. However, we should decide two matters. First, to avoid potential embarrassment, payment should always be made by the Fees Office and not by Members. Secondly, allowances such as salaries should be set at the outset of Parliament and should be adjusted by reference to an accepted yardstick as a matter of routine, as so many of our allowances.

The position of Members of Parliament has improved markedly since in 1978 an agreed view was formulated between the leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the 1922 Committee and was then put to the elected leadership of both the major parties. Despite Governments, much has been agreed and achieved. I am in sympathy with the spirit of amendment (b) to motion No. 7. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley said, we must pay attention to many other matters. Much more must be agreed and achieved.

Severance pay is one matter. Members and Ministers' salaries, despite the recommendations of the Top Salaries Review Body, are markedly too low by any yardstick. If we consider overseas legislatures and salaries paid in commerce, that is obviously true. The right hon. Member for Openashaw put it very well when he said that salaries must not be so high as to be an attraction by themselves, nor so low as to cause hardship. That is correct. Members' salaries should be at least £25,000 a year and Ministers' pay should be considerably higher.

Of course, there should be an element of sacrifice in public life. That is healthy and appropriate, but the sacrifice can sometimes be too great. I do not wish to mention names, but every hon. Member knows of a colleague who died recently. The only reason why he remained a Member of the House when he had a serious physical disability was that the pension that he might have drawn had he retired would not have been adequate for his needs. We all know of other cases. The pension scheme is still in need of considerable improvement. The opportunity to buy extra years has been a great help, but we must work towards a fraction of fortieths rather than sixtieths.

Last, but by no means least, we must reconsider our physical facilities, which are far from satisfactory. This building, which should be almost exclusively ours, is being invaded increasingly by employees. It would be much better if we could make a start on the new building in Bridge Street which is long overdue.

As you often remind us, Mr. Speaker, from your distinguished Chair, it is an honour to serve here. The public who elect us to this place trust us to do our work confidently and adequately. We can only ever do that if we ensure that we have adequate conditions in which to perform those duties well.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is an outstanding member of the Administration and a man of immense intellect and competence, has taken over his responsibilities in what has begun to be a reforming Parliament. We have begun to reform, for example, the ways in which we keep the Executive under better and more continual surveillance. I hope that he will take from this debate the inspiration and encouragement to ensure that we reform not only the ways in which we do our work but the facilities we provide for ourselves and the remuneration we afford ourselves and our servants who help us.

9.56 pm
Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

May I begin by picking up the last point that the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) made in his speech? He said that we were gradually improving the methods by which the House of Commons has exercised surveillance over and controls the Executive. In my view, it is not by procedural changes primarily that we exercise any greater control over the Executive than we have done in the past—goodness knows, we have made very little change in that respect—but it is by Members quite simply choosing to exercise the powers that they have got, whatever the procedural background is.

That is not irrelevant to the subject matter of the debate. If Members are not prepared to overrule the Treasury Bench, with which this subject has got nothing to do, on this matter, they are not likely to exercise their proper constitutional function of controlling the Executive in any other matter.

I am only sorry that the right hon. Member for Taunton was not with us on the Select Committee. Had we had the honour of his presence on that Select Committee, the Select Committee report might have been better and it might had had a greater chance of being accepted by hon. Members. He in the position that he holds and also the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party should have been on that committee.

May I pick up one detailed point that he mentioned on the subject of children's allowances? I, like him, am totally uninterested in that degree of detail. I happen to be not affected by that allowance. He gave the impression that that particular facility is one which would not be accorded to persons working for companies or in other ways of life. I do not think that is so. There are very few jobs where there are two places of work. Where that exists, then this kind of facility tends to be provided. I think only of the sphere that I know in diplomatic life. Of course, there is out of public funds provision for children to visit their parents when they are on a diplomatic mission abroad. So do not let us give the impression that even in one tiny respect we are doing for ourselves something very different from what is normal outside.

More generally on the debate, here we are again. In the light of what has happened and what has brought us to this point, namely, the Select Committee report, here we are going to be again and again and again without any prospect of the situation changing as a result of what has happened.

These are not decisions which should be taken or allowed to be taken by Ministers. Of course, Ministers will always hold a view and they should put their view as the Government, but it is up to Members to vote on the matter. I think this will be my swan song because after eight years of being active on the matter inside the House and outside, I have just about had enough, so I say this for the last time probably to the House.

What sickens me about the subject is not that Governments decline to suggest, which is all they can do, to the House that it should implement recommendations made to the House or to the Government, but that Members allow themselves to be persuaded or bullied or cajoled by successive Governments—this one is no worse than the previous one; they are a great deal better in many respects on this subject—into not doing what they actually want to do. If that goes on being the case, there is no solution to the problem. They may blame the Government at this stage in the debate for making a suggestion that they do not like, but after the votes are taken tonight, no blame will attach to the Government—

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

  1. BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE 17,167 words, 1 division
  2. c516
  3. MEMBERS' SALARIES 80 words
  4. cc516-8
  6. c518
  8. c518
  9. PARLIAMENT 22 words
  10. cc518-22
  11. FUTURE ARRANGEMENTS FOR MEMBERS' SALARIES 1,876 words, 2 divisions