HC Deb 23 July 1997 vol 298 cc984-96

Order for Second Reading read.

5.25 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill's purpose is to provide an automatic link between Ministers' salaries and movements in senior civil service pay bands, and, in so doing, to implement the recommendation of the Senior Salaries Review Body. It is right that we should move in that direction, because it is wrong that, each year, hon. Members should have to debate and vote on ministerial salaries. We once had to do the same for the salaries of hon. Members, and it was a ludicrous exercise. Each year, we must still vote on Ministers' salaries, and it is wrong that we should have to do so. We should not have to vote on our own salaries every year. It is important also that we establish that others—in this case, the SSRB—should determine the applicable linkage and general level of salaries for Ministers.

It is true that the issue has been discussed on many occasions, including—albeit briefly—in the previous Parliament. My predecessor, Tony Newton, was more than a little sympathetic to the proposal that we should establish an automatic linkage in salaries rather than refer the matter to the House every year. He was in favour of introducing legislation similar to this Bill, but there was never sufficient parliamentary time to do so. I am glad that, today, we have found time to deal with a relatively minor but eminently sensible measure.

As I said, the Bill and its provisions are in line with the SSRB recommendations. Recommendation 14 of its 1996 report stated that a review mechanism"— should— be applied automatically, hence forward to the salaries of MPs, Ministers and paid office holders". Obviously, such a mechanism will affect anyone who is paid under the relevant legislation.

The adjustment would change salaries by the same percentage as the average of movements in the mid-points of the nine senior civil service pay bands. In establishing the automatic uprating mechanism, we will ensure that those types of salaries are kept in line with general pay changes elsewhere in the public sector.

I have to stress that the main objective of the Bill is to remove the requirement for Members of Parliament to vote annually. The automatic annual adjustment is already in place for the salaries of Members of Parliament and that was a step in the right direction. It is important to put the same mechanism in place for Ministers and other salaried positions.

I shall say a word about the main provisions of the Bill in case we do not have prolonged clause stand part debates this evening. Clause 1 will repeal section 1(4) of the 1975 Act and insert two new sections—1A and IB— after section 1 of the Act, to set out the formula to increase automatically the salaries provided for in the Act and to give power to change salaries or change the formula by affirmative Order in Council. Section 1A sets out the formula. It will operate in the same way as the resolution of the House of Commons on 10 July last year, which uprates the pay of Members of Parliament by reference to the average increase in the mid-points of the nine senior civil service pay bands. It will operate first for ministerial and other salaries on 1 April 1998. Section 1B provides powers to make an order for changing the annual amount of a salary or for providing that the amount of a salary may be determined or changed by reference to another amount or a replacement formula.

Clause 2 will make consequential amendments to the 1975 Act that will be necessary because amounts will no longer be stated on the face of the Act. At present, salaries orders replace figures in the Act with new figures. Under the Bill, salaries may be provided for by applying the formula each year to the existing salary figures or by reference to other amounts or by specifying new amounts. That formula will, of course, be determined by the SSRB. The Bill is a step forward and there is general agreement that we should move in that direction. I commend the Bill to the House.

5.31 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

The packed and tumultuous Benches of aggressive Members of Parliament indicate that the Bill is the subject of considerable controversy. I give a warm general welcome to the Bill. The Opposition will not seek to divide the House, because we agree with the principle behind the Bill. I subscribe to everything that the Leader of the House said in her brief opening speech. I shall however make one or two brief comments.

I know that members of the current Administration have voluntarily forgone an increase in salary this year, although they have indicated—the right hon. Lady will, I am sure, correct me if I am wrong—that they will take it next year. I question the wisdom of that move. By doing such things in the past, Members of Parliament have heaped odium on themselves. If the servant is worthy of his hire, he is worthy of the salary that Parliament has agreed after receiving the report of an independent review body. I counsel against gesture politics that can redound on the heads of those who indulge in it.

The issue is put in perspective if one goes along to the Library and picks up one of the fact sheets that the staff prepare. It is appropriate at this point to pay tribute to the staff of the Library who serve us so well. I have a copy of the fact sheet on ministerial salaries, which was revised this very month. It puts the issue in perspective to read the quotation from Macaulay, given in the fact sheet. Talking about the 18th century, he said: From the nobleman who held the White Staff and the Great Seal, down to the humblest tidewaiter and gauger, what would now be called gross corruption was practised without disguise and without reproach. Titles, places, commissions, pardons, were daily sold in the market overtly by the greatest dignitaries of the realm; in the 17th Century a statesman who was at the head of affairs might easily, and without giving scandal, accumulate in no long time, an estate amply sufficient to support a dukedom. If we consider what went on in the past and the sums that were received, we put the modest recompense that we pay Ministers today in sharp focus.

It was because of the recognition of incipient corruption that our predecessors in the last century decided that they had to regularise the position. The fact sheet contains delightful extracts from the proceedings of the Select Committee on Official Salaries of 1850 which would repay study by all right hon. and hon. Members. Mr. Ellice asked Sir Charles Wood: If you were to reduce the salaries of public offices very much, would not the consequence be, that no persons who had not large private fortunes could venture to undertake them? Sir Charles Wood replied: That would be the consequence. If the salaries of these offices were brought so low as to exclude the possibility of men of small fortune taking them, I conceive it would do a most irreparable injury to the public service, and great injustice to such parties. Perhaps the language would be slightly different today, but the sentiments still apply.

I wish to make a further, very serious point this afternoon at the beginning of the Government's time in office. We live in a parliamentary democracy with no separation of powers. Ministers of the Crown are Members in this or another place and the Executive are accountable here and in that other place. It is important that Ministers recognise that as their prime, most important duty. I exempt the Leader of the House—I have had the privilege of sitting on the Modernisation Committee in recent weeks and she has conducted that with exemplary skill—from any strictures that I may now make.

We have seen an unfortunate tendency in the past few weeks for Ministers to neglect that prime duty. That tendency was highlighted this afternoon by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) in a point of order. He raised the creation of the rather strange Cabinet Committee yesterday and also cited some of the insults that the House has suffered in recent weeks. We have seen the leak of certain Budget information. Last week, we had to try to tease out of the Government, by means of a private notice question, certain significant developments on health. We then turned on our radios the next morning and heard that some far-reaching changes to our pension system were being proposed. They were not proposed here in the House, but via the "Today" programme. That is very serious. This very week, we have seen the extraordinary leaks from the Dearing report and the Government's reaction.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. The debate is about ministerial salaries, not about events of recent days. The odd mention of such matters is perhaps all right, but concentrating on them is not.

Sir Patrick Cormack

But, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am merely giving one or two examples of what Ministers receive their salaries for.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am merely giving an instruction about how the hon. Gentleman should proceed.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Thank you very much indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Ministers receive their salaries for performing their duties and one of their prime duties is to expound and defend their policies in the House. I am pointing out that, in recent days, we have had some sad examples of the neglect of that duty. I think that it is highly relevant to point that out when we are discussing ministerial salaries.

A time-honoured way of criticising a Minister is to move a motion that his salary should be reduced by a notional amount. I should not contemplate tabling such a motion relating to the right hon. Lady at the moment, but I am tempted to think that we might have to consider it for certain of her right hon. colleagues.

We strongly support the general principle of the Bill. As the right hon. Lady rightly said, it is entirely sensible that we should not have to come back year after year to debate this. She has our support on that. That is why the Opposition have no intention of seeking to divide the House. We are talking about ministerial salaries. As a result of the Bill, they will not have to come back year after year. There is all the more reason, therefore, for saying that Ministers should recognise the duties for which their salaries are paid.

The explanatory and financial memorandum says that the Bill provides the power to make orders to make different provision for different circumstances. That cannot lead to arbitrary increases, but it can be used in another way.

I revere this place. This is where the business of the nation should most properly be discussed. This is where announcements of policy by Ministers should properly be made. The prime duty of a Minister resides in this House. To neglect that and to bypass this House is to be guilty of a serious transgression. I hope that those for whom we are about to pass the Bill will recognise that next April, or whenever they take—as they are rightly due to take— the full salaries that Parliament has decreed should be theirs.

5.41 pm
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I do not want to follow the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) into the intricacies of leaks over recent weeks, ministerial responsibilities, or his historical references about what a duke could live on 150 years ago. I endorse his welcome for the Bill, because it takes away from the House the annual embarrassment of a vote on ministerial and other salaries as with the remuneration of Members of Parliament. I agreed so warmly with the hon. Gentleman that I am almost reluctant to point out to him that during 18 years in power, the former Government, of which he was not a member—I can at least allow him that absolution—broke that principle on many occasions. They broke the linkage and caused embarrassment deliberately for party political reasons. They lived to rue the day. I hope that that will not happen again.

It may not be immediately apparent to all hon. Members that the Bill is also relevant to salaries other than those of Ministers. I understand that it is the base on which the linkage is made for certain payments to Her Majesty's Opposition—the Conservative party. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) obtained the up-to-date figures a few weeks ago. The Leader of the House, in her capacity as President of the Council, was kind enough to give us the information. The current salary of the Conservative Leader of the Opposition is £55,000, paid by the taxpayer. The salary— also paid by the taxpayer—of the Opposition Chief Whip is £31,125, with the Opposition deputy Chief Whip receiving £20,029 and the assistant Opposition Whip also receiving £20,029. That makes a total of £126,183. I hasten to explain to anyone who is not aware of the fact that other Whips, including me, receive not a penny of public money from that source.

In addition, the salaries and costs of civil servants attached to the Conservative Opposition Whips Office are £88,657. The provision of a car and driver to the Leader of the Opposition costs an estimated £58,095. He has either a well-salaried driver or a big car. My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) receives not a penny from that source to make sure that he is mobile.

The President of the Council referred to a little help in kind in her answer, telling us that

The House authorities supply the office with three copies of each of 12 daily newspapers for each day the House is sitting. An exact figure for the total cost is not readily available."—[Official Report, 10 July 1997; Vol. 297, c. 524.] Her Majesty's Opposition, in the form of the Conservative party at present, receive a substantial dollop of money. Now is the time to review that. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire properly drew attention to the fact that the Bill provides different provision for different circumstances. We have different circumstances in this Parliament. The appropriate ratios and remuneration for Her Majesty's Opposition in the 1992–97 Parliament are clearly inappropriate for the current 1997 to whenever Parliament.

I do not know the right criteria. Perhaps the payments could be age-related. The Leader of the Opposition is much younger than the leaders of some other parties. They could be size-related, based on the number of seats occupied by a party. The Conservative party occupies three or four times as many seats as the Liberal Democrats, so perhaps that is the right ratio.

There has been a qualitative, as well as quantitative, change in the role performed in this place by the parties. That has been apparent in recent weeks. This week, providing opposition to the Social Security Bill—the proper role of Her Majesty's Opposition—fell to the Liberal Democrats, because the Conservatives all went home, did not divide the House and did not argue against the Bill. Last week, when we debated the capping of local authority expenditure, the Conservatives were gone. Who performed the role of Her Majesty's Opposition? It was the Liberal Democrats. If there is to be remuneration, the money should go with the job. Now is the opportunity to review that.

We are talking about a considerable sum—at least, it is for my party; it may not be for the Conservative party. Some £300,000 or thereabouts is a goodly sum. It would get me out of some of the difficulties that I have in trying to employ the quality of staff I require.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

I have been following the hon. Gentleman's argument. How much would he like to receive?

Mr. Tyler

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for putting that suggestion to me. I should be happy to see what the Government were prepared to offer. Clearly, it would have to be on a pro rata basis. I have already suggested that the salary paid to the Leader of the Opposition might be age-related. My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil would then receive more than the leader of the Conservative party. If the payment were based on the number of seats, the ratio might be different. That is not a matter for me. I am merely taking up the point of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire that the Bill provides for different levels of remuneration in different circumstances. I am saying that there are different circumstances in this Parliament and that we should follow that argument through to its conclusion.

Sir Patrick Cormack

How does the hon. Gentleman respond to the point made this afternoon by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that he is now a quasi member of the Government, receiving all the benefits that membership of a Cabinet Committee confers?

Mr. Tyler

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman raised that point because he, like me, has an interest in history. He will know as well as I do that on several past occasions in our Parliament, Members of Opposition parties have taken a role in government. It has not been across the whole broad sweep of policy, but they have been involved in specific activities on specific issues where there has been agreement. I think that he is with me on this. I must not betray the confidences of the Committee considering the modernisation of the procedures of the House, but from his contributions there, I think that he understands and agrees that this is now a different sort of Parliament.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is getting at. There is mention in the Bill of funding for Opposition parties, but it is a narrow Bill, primarily about ministerial salaries. I want to point that out to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Tyler

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was led astray by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire.

The Bill provides a very good framework for ensuring that we do not have the annual argy-bargy on the Floor of the House on ministerial or parliamentary salaries. I hope that we can hear from the Leader of the House on the specific question of whether she is prepared to review those sums paid to opposition parties which come within the ambit of this Bill. In the meantime, I hope that we can acknowledge that this is a useful, sensible and flexible framework to work on in future. I welcome the Bill.

5.51 pm
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack); I, too, have no intention of dividing the House on the Bill. I agree with the main thrust of the Bill, but I should like to make a few observations.

It seems fitting that, when we have an opportunity to consider ministerial salaries, we should look also at the performance that justifies a salary higher than that of an ordinary Back Bencher. The three matters that I wish to raise are serious and, as yet, unresolved. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to shed light on them this afternoon.

In the commercial world, job performance is usually reviewed annually and improvements and an increase in responsibility are rewarded with a salary increase. The reverse process is also not unknown. For Ministers, that process is not so transparent, even to the individual Minister, who may not receive any appraisal of his or her performance. I hope that the Minister will address directly the points I wish to raise on the performance of certain Ministers who receive salaries in respect of duties they are, or were, expected to fulfil.

First, since the general election I have tabled 60 questions to the Department of Trade and Industry and indicated that a named day response was required, in accordance with the rules of the House. Of those 60 questions, 15 were answered directly and 45—more than two thirds—were delayed by a holding answer. At 3.30 this afternoon, 17 questions were still unanswered, but four have been answered subsequently. Mine is not an isolated case; other hon. Members have had the same experience. Today's Hansard indicates that at least 12 of the questions tabled to the Department of Trade and Industry were originally given holding answers. The answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) was a one-word answer, "No." What was so difficult about that that it took five more days than the target date? What hope is there for open government if the Minister, as was the case in that question, refuses point blank to list the name of colleagues in the House who have responded to a simple questionnaire?

Many of the questions that are unanswered are simple questions of fact, not complex policy issues. Madam Speaker has indicated that she has no remedy available to her. When the Ministers are receiving salaries of between £67,000 and nearly £88,000, we should not expect that level of performance. A complete failure to meet deadlines does not augur well.

The Department of Trade and Industry has not had an auspicious start with its new team. In addition to the prevarication—I hope that it is not incompetence—over written answers, there are other irregularities that have not been answered. The President of the Board of Trade receives a salary of more than £87,000 a year, but has not yet resolved the position of the Minister of State in another place, Lord Simon. Anthony Bevins, writing in The Independent on 15 July, asserts that the House of Commons was misled over the Minister's non-BP shares, which the President of the Board of Trade asserted in an answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) had been placed in a blind trust. Apparently, the legal structure of the transfer was proposed on 18 June and, subsequently, my right hon. Friend was told that they had not, after all, been placed in trust. Has the transfer at last been effected? How can the President's pronouncements be reconciled with the facts? I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to give us an answer.

In addition, we are assured that the Minister is not now making decisions on any matters that may involve BP, but he is signing documents concerning gas liberalisation—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Bill deals with the mechanism for ministerial salaries. The hon. Lady is now discussing the responsibilities of Ministers. In fact, she is discussing a specific responsibility. Will she talk about the mechanism for ministerial salaries rather than such specific matters?

Mrs. Gillan

I respect your pronouncements from the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am trying to develop an argument that is directly related to the Bill, but it is taking me some time to reach the main point.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady will know that I give hon. Members some time to develop their argument, but after a certain stage I tell them that the development is over and that they must get to the point. The hon. Lady is now at that stage. She must deal with the specifics of the Bill.

Mrs. Gillan

Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Perhaps I can assist the House and the hon. Lady. I understand that the Minister to whom the hon. Lady is referring does not receive a ministerial salary.

Mrs. Gillan

I understand—the Leader of the House will be able to confirm this—that the Minister does have a private office, a car and all the trappings that go with ministerial office.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must tell both sides of the House that my ruling still stands. We are talking about a Bill dealing with the mechanism for salaries, not about the responsibilities of Ministers. There are other occasions for discussing such matters and perhaps the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) could use some ingenuity in finding them. She is not to raise them during the debate on this Bill.

Mrs. Gillan


I shall continue to develop my argument. I was seeking to make the point that, despite the fact that the Minister to whom I am alluding has waived his salary he is in receipt of the trappings of ministerial office and—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I want to help the hon. Lady. She will see that the long title says that the Bill would Make provision for the alteration of salaries payable under the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975. The trappings of office have nothing to do with the Bill.

Mrs. Gillan

I am linking that with another Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry where an alteration of salary should perhaps be considered. If I can continue with my thread—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not like to be blunt, but I must be blunt now. No, the hon. Lady cannot continue with her thread. She must get back to the specifics of the Bill.

Mrs. Gillan

I shall move on to discuss another Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry—the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs. I believe that he receives a salary of about £67,500. Before that Minister entered office, he expended a great deal of effort—rightly—getting to know the travel industry and I think that he considers himself an expert. I am sure that the travel industry welcomed the fact that he gained ministerial responsibility for receiving the as yet unpublished Monopolies and Mergers Commission report into the travel industry.

According to a written answer from the President of the Board of Trade, on 1 July the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs withdrew from those responsibilities—a couple of days after allegedly making remarks prejudicial to the inquiry at a travel conference in Athens. I have tabled a question asking why he has withdrawn from the inquiry. According to a letter from the President of the Board of Trade to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham, the Minister made some comments regarding his fixed views from which he is not prepared to resile. Because of that obvious conflict, he has had to sacrifice the knowledge he so assiduously gained from years of travelling and instead take no role in the proceedings.

If the Minister finds himself unable to perform on an important part of his brief, for which he receives a ministerial salary, why are we paying him at that level? However, if, as the President of the Board of Trade said in a written reply to me, the remarks he made in Athens were fully in line with Government policy and innocuous, why has he removed himself from the MMC inquiry? There is a discrepancy between the Minister's action and the letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham and the written response by the President of the Board of Trade.

There are discrepancies concerning the other Minister but you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have ruled me out of order. Before the Bill passes through the House, I hope that the Leader of the House will cover the two matters I have raised, not least to clarify the obvious confusion that has been created by delaying and blocking answers, conflicting statements and some rather surprising manoeuvres by the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs in removing himself from part of the job that he was originally billed by the Government as fulfilling in return for a ministerial salary. Within two months of entering the Government, both that Minister and the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe appear to have changed their ministerial briefs radically. Questions will persist in all our minds unless the Government deliver full explanations.

In the commercial world, where an individual is recruited to fulfil a highly paid specific role, it would be most unusual for that role to change within a few days of taking up the appointment without a full inquiry and exchange of information. Our standards should be no less in government—indeed, it is arguable that they should be far higher.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I speak again because the hon. Lady is worrying me with her statements, which are not relevant to the Bill. The Bill is about how ministerial salaries will be adjusted in future, yet the hon. Lady is talking about specific Ministers and their role. There may be some other way—perhaps an Adjournment debate— whereby she can raise these matters and get the Ministers responsible to give an account of themselves. She really is going well outside the scope of the Bill.

Mrs. Gillan

Thank you for that advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was just concluding my remarks in a way that is directly related to the Bill. Questions must be asked when Ministers who have waived or who are in receipt of full ministerial salaries have their briefs cut down in size, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Should not explanations be provided and perhaps even adjustments made in their salaries in response?

I hope that the Leader of the House will respond in the spirit in which I have raised these matters, because there are few opportunities to do so in the House. I hope that she will give a full answer tonight.

6.2 pm

Mrs. Ann Taylor

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall reply briefly to the debate.

I shall start with the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who invited me to enter into the spirit of her comments. On that basis, I do not think that most of her comments were relevant to the debate and the spirit of the debate was somewhat marred by her unnecessary accusations. Indeed, they detracted from its main purpose, which is to discuss how ministerial salaries will be adjusted in future.

However, I shall take up one point that the hon. Lady raised—that relating to Ministers' job performance. She will know from her time as a Minister that it is not true to say, as she did, that there is no appraisal of Ministers. Leaving aside the obvious appraisal by the Prime Minister and the resulting promotions and demotions, all Ministers, like all Members of Parliament, are under constant appraisal, not only by other hon. Members and the general public, but by their constituents. That is probably the best possible type of appraisal.

Mrs. Gillan

I hope that the right hon. Lady appreciates that I have raised this matter tonight because I consider it to be a matter of great concern. How does she suggest we remedy the situation when Ministers who are responsible for entering into the spirit of the Standing Orders of the House, such as Standing Order No. 18 by which we table questions for an answer in three days, do not meet those targets? How does she suggest we enable Ministers to meet those targets? What sanctions are available to us when they fail to do so? Madam Speaker ruled that there were no sanctions available to the House and that it was entirely up to Ministers.

Mrs. Taylor

I recall the hon. Lady raising this point before; we checked from the time when she was a Minister at the Department for Education and Employment. It was quite common then for Ministers in that Department to use holding answers where they thought it appropriate. That will continue to be the case. Doing so is often not the Minister's preferred option, but the House is entitled to accurate answers and that may require the use of a holding answer.

To return to the main purpose of the Bill and of the debate, I was pleased that the hon. Members who spoke, even the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, welcomed the Bill and the thrust of the proposals. The measures have been around for some time and it is important that there should be consensus in the House when we are dealing with topics of this nature. I therefore welcome the remarks of the hon. Members for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) and for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). We are all of one mind about the purpose of the legislation. We are also all of one mind that it is somewhat undignified for Members of Parliament to have to vote either on their own salaries or on that of Ministers. That should be avoided as far as possible and the Bill is a step in that direction.

Not surprisingly, given his background, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire gave us some history to the issue, which put into perspective some of the comments we occasionally hear about salaries, both of Ministers and of hon. Members. He raised questions about the voluntary denial ordinance on Cabinet Ministers. It is true that Cabinet Ministers, who are entitled to a salary of £60,000, are actually taking the old salary, which I am informed is £43,991. He questioned the wisdom of that. I understand why: if people do not fall in line with recommendations, there can be problems relating to catching up or to future increases. I say simply that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made it clear before the election that he was opposed to the move and it was a case of keeping that promise. However, the hon. Gentleman was right to point out the difficulties that can occur.

Sir Patrick Cormack

So that we are in no doubt, will the right hon. Lady confirm whether it is the Government's intention that Ministers should take next year what they have forgone this year?

Mrs. Taylor

It was made clear at the time of the announcement that the new salaries would not be taken and that we would not take what we had forgone by way of receiving the money at some stage, but that we would go on to the new salary level at the start of the next financial year. I had one slight disagreement with the hon. Gentleman when he said that Ministers receive modest recompense. I do not think that it is modest any more and one way to ensure that it is in line with what it should be is to use a mechanism such as we propose in the Bill.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire spoke about the fact that we do not have separation of powers or Ministers from outside Parliament and that Ministers should be responsive and ensure that they are always accountable to the House. That is a point of principle on which there can be no disagreement whatsoever and it is important that we stick by that practice. Serious attempts are made to do so and Madam Speaker's comments about a significant change in Government policy being reported to the House are something that Ministers can and do take on board.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire should not always believe everything he reads in the papers, or assume that every point of order raised on the Floor of the House is correct. Yesterday, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) suggested that the White Paper on Scottish devolution had been deliberately leaked. I wrote to him immediately asking for the evidence that he said was in his possession. I also contacted my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who made inquiries in his office and with the newspaper concerned. We were able to say categorically that there had been no such leak. The hon. Member for Woodspring appears to have accepted the point and he wrote me a letter this afternoon to that effect. Sometimes points of order create the impression that something has gone wrong when that is not necessarily so.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Of course I accept what the right hon. Lady has just said. Equally she will accept that there has been a disturbing number of leaks. I hope that she is as opposed to them as we are.

Mrs. Taylor

I am not sure that that is right. I do not want to imply that I disbelieve the hon. Gentleman, who speaks in good faith, but sometimes people have looked at what is written in policy documents before the election and drawn assumptions about what has later been translated into policy. That is not deliberate leaking: it is people working out the direction of Government policy. That is wholly reasonable.

I want to get back to the debate and to the Bill, since I see you on the edge of your seat, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad that there is agreement about moving in the proposed direction. I welcome the points made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall, who spoke of taking away the annual embarrassment. That is what this is all about. Indeed, during the previous debate on these measures, a Conservative Member called the procedure demeaning—and so it is when Ministers and Members of this House have to vote on these issues.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall raised some interesting points about the salaries of the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip. I have said for a long time that I believe that there is a strong case for looking at the funding of political parties. There is widespread agreement that the issue should receive further attention. Given the increased number of Liberal Democrats in the House, I understand why the hon. Gentleman is anxious to emphasise that the balance within the Opposition has changed. He is also anxious to make the point that he opposed certain ideas the Conservative Government did not oppose—but that is for Opposition Members to decide. They can argue among themselves about who the Opposition on any particular topic really are.

It is important to have an official Opposition, and we think it right to give public funds to Opposition parties to assist them to carry out their functions in this House. That is good for a healthy democracy. Hon. Members may squabble about the amounts, but the principle has been established and it should command general agreement.

Mr. Tyler

Does the right hon. Lady agree that this, perhaps, is the moment at which an initiative in this area would be most timely, given public concern about the financial difficulties in which political parties in opposition find themselves if they are not properly resourced to perform their functions? Those functions are a necessary part of democracy and of this place. Furthermore, does she agree with the current concern about foreign donations to some political parties? This may be a good moment for that to be reviewed in a wider context.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I trust that the right hon. Lady will not respond to that intervention, which had nothing to do with the Bill.

Mrs. Taylor

I shall of course follow your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and not respond—except to echo what I said earlier. There has long been a case for reviewing some of the wider issues that have been tangentially raised this evening.

When the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham asked him what salary he thought he should be paid, the hon. Member for North Cornwall replied that he was open to offers. It is not for me to make any offers on the basis of age or size—whatever the hon. Gentleman's suggestion meant—but in the long term, as the hon. Gentleman said, issues of this kind can be reviewed.

This is a modest measure, both simple and straightforward. It will be of great advantage to the House to remove these salaries as far as possible from our remit. On that basis I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills), That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.— [Mr. Dowd.]

Question agreed to.

Further proceedings postponed, pursuant to Order [18 July].