HC Deb 10 December 1991 vol 200 cc824-9
Mr. Speaker

I have not been able to select the amendment on the Order Paper, because it is out of order.

10.1 pm

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

I beg to move That the draft Ministerial and other Salaries Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 2nd December., be approved. I am sorry that a small error appeared in the final version of the 1991 order in article 2 on the first page, where an "of" appeared instead of an "or". The necessary correction slip is being issued.

Our proposals for increases to the salaries of Ministers and paid officials in this House are, this year, quite straightforward.

On Monday 2 December, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page), I announced in a written answer all the details of the changes that we envisage. The increase in salaries in this House and in another place would be 4.5 per cent. effective from 1 January 1992. The total cost of those increases would be just over £154,000 in a full year.

Ministers' recent record on pay restraint—and, indeed, that of the past 10 years—has been good. Over the lifetime of the present Government, most Ministers have received increases significantly lower than the increase in average earnings in the economy as a whole. From 1979 to 1991, such average earnings increased by 218 per cent. whereas Commons ministerial salaries increased by between 94 per cent. and 115 per cent. Over the same period, the retail prices index increased by 147 per cent., so there has been a fall in ministerial salaries in real terms. Moreover, ministerial salaries in the Commons have increased more slowly than parliamentary salaries, which, as the House will know, are increasing by 6.5 per cent. from 1 January 1992. There is no doubt that Ministers have given a clear lead in practice in regard to pay restraint.

I believe that the proposals that I have outlined continue to demonstrate the Government's commitment to pay restraint, and I commend the motion to the House.

10.4 pm

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

The burden of the remarks of the Leader of the House was that the increases for Ministers were very modest. My first comment is that the performance of Ministers has also been very modest. Indeed, to say that it has been modest is almost an exaggeration—it has been much less adequate than that.

Of course, by any outside comparisons, Ministers of the Crown are underpaid. I say that in an objective sense, not in support of Ministers in the present Government. But for the fact that the salary of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was included in the order, I might be moved to recommend that we vote against it. However, in the circumstances, such a recommendation might be open to misinterpretation, so I shall not recommend such a move to the House.

During their term of office, the Government have been molved—I was going to say "obsessed", but that is perhaps an exaggeration—to pursue arguments about performance-related pay. I can say only that, if the country was asked whether performance-related pay should apply to Ministers of this Administration, it would almost certainly say yes and call for cuts in the salaries of certainly a number of Ministers.

I cannot believe, for example, that people in the country at large think that the Secretary of State for the Home Department has earned any increase in salary in view of his performance in the past few months. If the salary of the Secretary of State for Employment were reduced by just 10p for every job lost in the past 12 months—and that means 580,000 jobs—he would end up having to pay the taxpayer to be able to stay in his post instead of receiving a salary. It will seem strange to some people outside that we should be recommending a salary increase to the Secretary of State for Employment when hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs as a result of the disastrous performance of the Government's employment and industrial policies.

We shall not divide the House on the order. The Leader of the House said that the salary recommendations were modest. I say that the Government's performance is equally modest, and I am sure that people outside this place are looking forward to the opportunity to hold their own review of the Government's performance when the general election comes. I have no doubt what the outcome of that review will be.

10.6 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

There are three component parts to the order. The third gives you, Mr. Speaker, an increase and I have no quibble with that. The second gives an increase to the Leader of the official Opposition and to the Labour Chief Whip. Although I do not quibble about either of those two gentleman being paid more, I agree with the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about the general issue of salaries. The first and largest in terms of its consequences for the public Exchequer means that Ministers of the Crown should be paid more.

I have been advised that, although it was in order to table an amendment to try to reduce the salary of a Minister of the Crown, it was unlikely that it would be in order for it to be called. I understand that the procedure has been changed in recent years to make that an impossibility, which seems to be a protective mechanism for the Government. Therefore, one has to deal with the issue generally rather than specifically. By contrast, there have been debates in the House in which one has been able to move a reduction in ministerial salary. I think that the most recent was in relation to the Lord Chancellor, whose salary is dealt with in a different way.

I share the Lord President's view that one cannot criticise the general principle of the amount of the increase. It is a modest increase in view of the annual and average rate of increase across the board. I do not dissent from the view that Ministers—and I include Members of Parliament—should be paid relatively more. I believe that, relatively, the amount that they earn is still inadequate to recompense them for the importance of their job and their functions.

As the hon. Member for Copeland rightly said, it is an anomaly that there is no way in which the House can make a judgment on the link between Ministers' performance and pay. Ministers are carefully protected from that.

It is even more inconsistent for the Government to make a virtue out of performance-related pay. They always defend pay rises for highly paid chief executives of the now privatised but formerly public industries as justified by the importance of their jobs. When we complain about the salary increase for the boss of British Telecom or for the boss of British Gas, we are told that it is because they do an important job and deserve to be well paid. Many people have been relatively inadequately paid all the time. The great tragedy of the Government is that the gap between the top 10 per cent. and the lowest 10 per cent. has widened consistently. We are a far less equal society than we were in 1979, 1983 or 1987. There should be performance-related pay.

I put it on record in an objective way that leaders of parties other than the principal Opposition party should have a compensating increase above the allowance of the ordinary Member of Parliament. I do not include only the leader of my party, but the leaders of other parties, perhaps parties over a certain size. If we expect democracy to function and to flourish, there is a strong argument for that.

I understand the historical reasons why the Leader of the Opposition has a different status in the House from the status of the leaders of other parties, but there were often not so many other parties as there are now, and the logic of increases being given only to the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip—apart from yourself, Mr. Speaker—is now historic, and the anomaly should be corrected.

The hon. Member for Copeland cited two examples. There is a failure in the system if it does not allow us to challenge the way in which Ministers increasingly hang on to office, no matter how poor their performance in specific areas. My amendment illustrates my case. No matter how serious the breach of convention, there is no possibility that a Minister in this Government will resign for a constitutional failure. It seems that that is now an historically unrecognised position.

The most relevant examples have appeared in the Home Secretary's most recent year in office. I make no personal comment about him. One may consider a Minister to be a perfectly pleasant bloke or woman, but that is not the point. The point is how he or she does his job. We are all accountable.

It has been an extraordinary year in the life of the Home Secretary since last November. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Copeland that, if the public were asked tomorrow to judge how much each Cabinet Minister should be paid, and if they were paid according to the public's perception of how well each did his job, it would be a salutary lesson for the Government because they might discover that some Ministers would be paid very little.

I do not attribute the general rise in crime to the Home Secretary, although I attribute to him the increasing numbers in prisons, the inability to deal with that problem and the inability to cope properly with the law and order issue. The Home Secretary has had several run-ins with the courts on Government immigration policy. In March, the High Court asked him to review a decision to return an asylum seeker to Togo. In May, he said that he did not intend to introduce legislation to curb dangerous dogs, but then he decided to do so. In July, two IRA prisoners escaped from Brixton prison. One shot a friend of mine, Malcolm Kemp, the driver of the car that was attacked outside the prison when he and his wife were on their way—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is outside the scope of the order.

Mr. Hughes

With respect, Mr. Speaker, I seek to address how we judge the record of Ministers, and I am giving examples. I accept that I may have extended that example too far. The prison escape was so significant that the Home Secretary returned from his holiday because of it. Things then became even more suspicious when we heard that someone had been planted in Brixton prison as part of an escape advisory service for prisoners.

We then had a summer of joyriding, followed by an announcement at the Tory party conference that there would be legislation to deal with that, and a Queen's Speech which suggested that there would not be any legislation. Then, in the past two or three weeks—

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)


Mr. Hughes

It is not rubbish—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Whether or not it is rubbish, it is wide of the order.

Mr. Hughes

The Home Secretary said that he would do one thing, but he did not do it until he was chased. As the House knows, in the past two weeks—at the very end of the year—the right hon. Gentleman was told off by the Court of Appeal. There were many protests across the House about the fact that the Home Secretary is the first Cabinet Minister ever to be held guilty of contempt of court. It has yet to be seen, of course, whether that decision will be borne out by the House of Lords. Nevertheless, the Home Secretary was criticised by the court and, in the same fortnight, refused to implement the law on Sunday trading.

There may be other examples, but if ever, in any one year, there could he more reasons for saying that somebody has failed the duty of his office—

Mr. Gale

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is this discussion about Sunday trading in order and, if it is, may I join it?

Mr. Speaker

I have a suspicion that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is coming to a close.

Mr. Hughes

As so often, Mr. Speaker, you are correct.

If ever there was a case for being able to ask whether a Minister should stay in office, that must be a good example of it. It is a failure of the House that there is no way in which we can challenge a Minister's entitlement to his full salary if he does not do his job properly. I hope that the next Tory party manifesto will contain a pledge to the effect that performance-related pay will be applied to Ministers as well as to the rest of the economy. That might improve their performance considerably.

10.17 pm
Mr. MacGregor

This has been a brief debate, so I shall make a brief response. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) made two main points. I note that he thinks that Ministers—and Members of Parliament generally—are underpaid for the responsibilities that they carry. One way of dealing with that point in relation to Ministers' pay would be for the Top Salaries Review Body to undertake another review of Ministers' pay. That has not been ruled out, but none is planned at present.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's point about my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I shall certainly not stray into all the policy issues that were raised, in view of what you have said, Mr. Speaker, but I totally reject the hon. Gentleman's charges against my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend has made his position on the escapes absolutely clear, and has totally justified it.

The hon. Gentleman was completely wrong about the Dangerous Dogs Act and the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Bill. As he knows, there were an increasing number of cases involving dangerous dogs, and my right hon. Friend acted extremely speedily to draft legislation that was not easy to draft, and to push it through the House quickly, with the full support of all hon. Members. That was prompt action.

My right hon. Friend announced his intention to introduce legislation to deal with aggravated vehicle taking at our party conference. The legislation was not included in the Queen's Speech—many Bills are not—because we were still involved in drafting what proved to be a complicated piece of legislation, but that has been done—and done quickly. The legislation has now gone through the House.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey is therefore completely off beam on both those points. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary acted promptly, and a great deal faster than is sometimes the case for other urgent matters requiring legislation.

The hon. Gentleman was also wrong to suggest that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should implement the law on Sunday trading. That is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. He made his position clear, rightly and fairly, in the House the other day, so I reject the charges—

Mr. Gale


Mr. MacGregor

I do not want to become involved in a debate on Sunday trading, and I reject the charges absolutely.

Mr. Gale

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way on that precise point. I speak as one who opposes Sunday trading. Does my right hon. Friend recall that our right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General came to the House to announce that he did not intend to take action on Sunday trading because the matter was before the European Court, and is it not the Liberal party that wants all our laws to be made in Europe?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend makes a fair point.

My final point relates to the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). He posed a hypothetical question about the public response on Ministers' performance. Indeed it was hypothetical. When the country is asked who should head the negotiations at Maastricht, people give a clear answer, as we saw in recent polls. By a substantial majority, they support my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. People have shown clearly that they have faith in my right hon. Friends and do not have faith in the hon. Gentleman's colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench.

Dr. Cunningham

Clearly the right hon. Gentleman has not seen the news of tomorrow's poll—or perhaps he has seen it and is ignoring it. The greatest criticism of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) should have come from the Leader of the House, but perhaps I understand why he did not make it. The hon. Gentleman seems to want to remove the Government one Minister at a time. It will be quicker and far better for the country for them all to be removed together.

Mr. MacGregor

I am happy to await the verdict on that matter. Meanwhile, there is general agreement this evening that the House should proceed to pass the order. Therefore, I am happy to sit down.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Ministerial and other Salaries Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 2nd December, be approved.

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