HL Deb 15 June 1937 vol 105 cc614-27

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the anomalies connected with the remuneration of Ministers have for a long time excited criticism and attracted attention. The anomalies are partly due of course to historical reasons. Some of the offices under the Crown are the direct descendants of very ancient offices. Some of them were originally Chairmanships of Committees of the Privy Council, some of them are merely the First Commissioners of the Board of Admiralty or Works and some of them are the creations of much more modern Statutes. Some, when created, were of minor importance but have since grown very much in stature and volume. By anomalies I mean that different offices, which attract the same measure of responsibility, which are of very similar importance and which carry the same volume of work, are differently remunerated. In some cases more than double is paid for the same kind of work in the same kind of office and with the same kind of responsibility. As long ago as 1920 a Select Committee of the House of Commons investigated this matter, and in 1930 another Select Committee again went into the question. In 1936, on a Motion by a private member in another place, a Resolution was passed affirming the conclusion of the House that the time had come for the anomalies in Ministerial salaries to be remedied. It is in pursuance of that Resolution that this Bill is introduced.

By the Bill the method which it is sought to adopt is to specify those administrative offices which are the more important, and in Clause 1, subsection (1), it is provided that the annual salaries payable to each of the Ministers of the Crown who are named in Part I of the First Schedule to the Act shall be £5,000. If your Lordships turn to Part I of the First Schedule you will find that the more important offices are there enumerated. In Part II of that Schedule are set out four less important offices—although they are offices of great dignity and held by very important persons—to each of which a salary of £3,000 is attached. In Part III of the Schedule is a Ministry to which £2,000 is payable. Then there is a provision in Clause 3 of the Bill that if and so long as any Minister of the Crown is a member of the Cabinet he shall receive a salary of £5,000, which carries out the intention of the Resolution moved in another place, and the intention of the recommendation of the Select Committtee, that the members of the Cabinet shall be equal and receive equal salaries. In Clause 1 (2) there is an attempt to apportion the salaries of the Under-Secretaries of State and of those persons who are equivalent to Under-Secretaries, and in subsection (3) there is a provision that the five junior Lords of the Treasury shall have £1,000 each. Then in Clause 2 provision is made to limit the number of those persons in receipt of salaries; and in Clause 3, as I have said, provision is made that a Cabinet Minister shall always have £5,000 a year salary.

In Clause 4 the question of the Prime Minister is dealt with. It has long been recognised that a Prime Minister bears a heavier burden of responsibility and incurs greater expense than almost any other Minister, and in Clause 4 it is provided that a Prime Minister who has taken the Oath as First Lord of the Treasury shall be entitled to a salary of £10,000 a year and to a pension of £2,000 a year. In Clause 5 there is a provision which I think is novel in this country, although it is well-known in some of the Dominions: that an annual salary of £2,000 be paid to the Leader of the Opposition. That provision, as I understand, is mainly justifiable, firstly, on the ground that the Leader of the Opposition has a very definite and distinct part to play in constitutional government and is obliged to attend in another place almost all the time and to give very assiduous attendance there. It is also justifiable on the ground that the Leader of the Opposition is normally the potential Prime Minister if the Government of the day is ever defeated, and it is important, we think, that the Opposition of the day should not be hampered on financial grounds in their choice of the most suitable person as Leader who normally will become, ultimately, Prime Minister. In Clause 6 there is a provision against the payment of duplicate salaries, and Clauses 7 and 8 preserve the right of the House of Commons to move reductions of salary, Clause 8 providing that the salaries named in the Bill shall be maximum and not fixed salaries.

In Part II of the Bill an attempt is made to deal with what has long been recognised as a very unsatisfactory position. At present, as your Lordships know, there are six Secretaries of State and no more who are allowed to be at one time in the House of Commons, and six Under-Secretaries of State and no more who are allowed to be in the House of Commons. It is obviously essential for the proper administration of the Government that there shall be a proper representation of the Ministry in this House. There is, however, no reasonable ground for supposing that only the Secretaries of State should be the right representatives of the Government in this House. Clause 9 provides now that there shall be, of those named in Part I of the Schedule, no more than fifteen in the House of Commons, which enables a minimum of two to be in this House; and that of those named in Part II of the Schedule there shall be no more than three in the House of Commons, a provision which insists on at least one of them being in this House. There are at the moment, I think, two of them in this House, as well as the two in Part I. Then in Clause 9 (1) (c) it is provided that not more than twenty persons who are Under-Secretaries or their equivalent shall be in the House of Commons. That provides, in effect, that there shall be no fewer than three in this House, whereas the present number is two Under-Secretaries. Subsections (2) and (3) contain the penalty provisions and a sanction for this maximum.

Part III of the Bill contains a definition clause. The only fact in that to which I need call attention is that the Leader of the Opposition is defined as being "that member of the House of Commons who is for the time being the Leader in that House of the Party in opposition to His Majesty's Government having the greatest numerical strength in that House." Then there is the provision in subsection (3) that if any doubt arises as to which is the Party having the greatest numerical strength, that doubt will be resolved by the decision of the Speaker. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, I do not rise to offer any opposition to this Bill, which was very fully examined by my right honourable and honourable friends in another place. I should like, however, to make one observation on Part II, as it more nearly concerns your Lordships' House. If I read Part II aright, and if I understood the noble and learned Lord Chancellor aright, as long as there are two holders of offices mentioned in Part I of the First Schedule in your Lordships' House as representing the Government, that satisfies the requirements of the Bill. I do not know if it has ever been laid down, and my experience of your Lordships' House is a brief one, but I believe it has always been the practice that there should be a representative of one of the Defence Ministries in your Lordships' House. If I read Part II aright, that will no longer be obligatory, if indeed it ever was; I believe it was more a matter of custom than anything else. I do not know if it is for noble Lords representing His Majesty's Government to give any advice or information on this matter, but I should like to put in a caveat that it is desirable that there should be in your Lordships' House a representative of one of the Defence Ministries. The reason is that owing to our Rules of Procedure we can in this House discuss Defence as a whole connected with Imperial questions with greater liberty than can the members of another place. Moreover, there are in your Lordships' House many eminent members with great experience of matters of Imperial Defence—I would, if I may be so bold, mention for example the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. It seems desirable that there should always be one representative, at any rate, of the Defence Services. Those are the only observations I beg to offer on this Bill.


My Lords, I rise only to put two questions to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. I understand that in the allotment of offices as between the two Houses of Parliament, the upshot will be that we shall be entitled to two Cabinet Ministers, but I could not quite follow to how many Under-Secretaries.


My Lords, if I might interrupt, we shall be entitled to two of the offices in Part I of the First Schedule—


That is the Cabinet?


No, that is not the Cabinet; it is the most important offices. But my noble friend will see that Part II of that Schedule contains at this moment at least two members of the Cabinet, the Lord President of the Council and the Lord Privy Seal. We shall be entitled to two in Part I, one in Part II, and three Under-Secretaries. At present we are entitled to two Secretaries of State and two Under-Secretaries of State—


We shall be no worse off than we are at present, but at least one Under-Secretary to the good. Is that it?




Then I am glad I put the question to my noble and learned friend. Of course I think your Lordships' House has reason to complain sometimes of the allotment of offices in the Government. When I was first in Parliamentary life the general rule was to have all the great offices represented in your Lordships' House, except, I think, the Treasury; that is to say, that if the Secretary of State sat in the House of Commons then the Under-Secretary sat here and vice versa. That practice was departed from a great many years ago, but recently, I think, it has gone very much too far, and this House has some reason to complain that we have not on the Front Bench representatives of the actual Departments.

I am far from under-rating the services of noble Lords who represent Departments without being Ministers belonging to those Departments. They work very hard, and we are very grateful to them; but it is evident that they are not in a position to reply for a Department like an Under-Secretary would be. An Under-Secretary, unlike a Lord in Waiting, or a noble Lord of that description, has of course his own room in the Department, and enters into the full life of the office. He sees all the papers relating to all the subjects with which the office deals, and is able to answer straight off upon a great variety of questions, because he learns the answers in the course of his administration of public affairs. Therefore he is able to inform your Lordships more fully upon all the subjects which come before your Lordships' House, and when we are discussing a particular Bill, or a particular Resolution, if a question slightly, perhaps, outside the main current of the subject arises—which is not an uncommon circumstance in your Lordships' House—then the Under-Secretary will be quite able to deal with it, because he is familiar with the work of his Department. That seems to me to be a great advantage, and I think many of your Lordships will be very glad to see several more Under-Secretaries on the Treasury Bench, or even better, of course, a Secretary of State or the head of a Department himself.

That is one question. The other question is with regard to the Prime Minister. I notice that my noble and learned friend said, in reference to the Prime Minister, that he was to be entitled henceforward to a salary of £10,000 a year under the Bill. Of that I can only say that I most heartily approve of the change, and wish it could have been done years ago. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister ought, to be rated at a much higher salary than he has been paid, but there are words in the Bill, repeated in the Lord Chancellor's speech, to which I wish to call attention. They are with reference to the Prime Minister being the First Lord of the Treasury. Why should he be? That is an innovation in the practice of the Constitution. There is no doubt that he is much more often the holder of that office than of any other office, but I knew a Prime Minister very intimately who was not the First Lord of the Treasury. I do not say he was in a position which made a salary of an extra 5,000 a year so important to him, but it might be so. It might easily be that in the formation of a Government it would be of great advantage to make Prime Minister some Minister who was not the First Lord of the Treasury. Why should that be debarred by Statute, as it would be in this case unless, indeed, he might be made Prime Minister if he were to forego the extra salary of £5,000 a year. That would be very hard. I cannot help thinking, that those words have been introduced into the Bill by inadvertence, and I recommend them to the consideration of the Lord Chancellor, in order that in Committee they may be reconsidered.


My Lords, I rise only to say how cordially I support all the provisions of the Bill, and I believe I speak for all noble Lords on these Benches. I agree with what Lord Strabolgi said as to the importance of there being in this House a representative of the Defence Services. I do not know if you can make the provision in this Bill, but we might place it on record that it is desirable, considering there are now four Defence Ministers, that there should be a representative here. We can discuss Defence as a whole more easily here than in another place, where they are more rigidly bound in discussion on the Estimates. I am also in agreement with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that it would be well to leave out the words which join the office of Prime Minister with that of First Lord of the Treasury. I notice also that in relation to the salary that is to be paid to the Leader of the Opposition, "Leader of the Opposition" is defined in Clause 10 as being "that member of the House of Commons who is for the time being the Leader in that House of the Party in opposition," etc. For the moment the Leader of the Opposition is not in this House, and it may be thought that he never will be, but I think that in the near future it is extremely likely, after some minor reform of this House which will satisfy public opinion, and give this House more power to do more useful work, that the Leader of the Opposition will be a member of this House. Therefore I respectfully suggest that there is no reason why we should say that the Leader of the Opposition is always to be in the House of Commons. Beyond that I cordially support the Bill.


I rise only to ask one question. The Secretary of State for India is, I believe, now the Secretary of State for India and the Secretary of State for Burma, and so it might be possible that at some time in the future there might be two separate persons holding the positions of Secretary of State for India and Secretary of State for Burma. In that case I imagine that this House would be entitled to one more Minister, giving an additional Minister to your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I should like to support, if I may use the word, what has been said by the noble Marquess as regards Clause 4. By implication it appears to me to say quite definitely that no Prime Minister can in future be a member of your Lordships' House. As for the disunion of offices, Lord Chatham was Prime Minister and was not first Lord of the Treasury, and of course the noble Marquess's father was also Prime Minister. I think on two occasions, on one of which he occupied the -office of Lord Privy Seal and on the other that of Foreign Minister. That point wants clearing up. Is it impossible for a member of your Lordships' House to be Prime Minister?


My Lords, I should like to add one word to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey. I believe the idea that a Prime Minister cannot be in the House of Lords is in danger of becoming an accepted superstition. No doubt there are valid reasons in many cases against it. I remember Lord Balfour saying that the position of a Prime Minister in the House of Lords would be intolerable unless he had perfect confidence in the Leader of the House in the House of Commons, and he pointed to the fact that the state of things between Lord Rosebery and Sir William Harcourt was not always completely harmonious. But, granted that confidence between the two, why should not the Prime Minister be in this House? There are certainly many advantages. We know that the task of the Prime Minister is an exceedingly onerous one, but on physical grounds a great deal of his burden would be taken away if he were able to sit in this House, and therefore I do suggest that your Lordships might well insist in Committee on these words, which appear to debar him—and the same, of course, applies to the Leader of the Opposition—from being in this House, being expunged from the Bill.


My Lords, there are two questions that I should like to ask of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack. As he says; under Clause 10 (3) the Speaker in cases of doubt has to give a certificate as to which is the Party constituting the official Opposition. In the improbable but not impossible event of two Parties being of equal strength there is no power to split the £2,000 and pay £1,000 to the Leader of each, and I think that that event ought to be provided for in some way. Then I am not quite sure how long the Speaker's certificate is to run for, because it has been known that overnight Liberals have become Socialists, and if the two Parties are extremely near each other in numerical strength, the position may change and the Socialist Party may become the greater, the Liberal Party having been so overnight. I should like some reply as to what is going to happen in those circumstances.


My Lords, if I may, I will deal with the different questions which have been put to me, first of all by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, who suggested that there should always be a representative of the Defence Departments in this House. I think it desirable that there should be a representative of the Defence Departments in this House. Ever since I have been in this House there always has been, but I do not think there has ever been a con- vention that a Defence Secretary of State should be in the House. The only provision I ever knew of is that there should be two Secretaries of State in this House, and they may or may not include the Secretary of State for War or the Secretary of State for Air. Of course, until the Secretary of State for Air was appointed, there was only one Defence Secretary of State, the Secretary of State for War and I do not think there was ever a convention that he should necessarily be in this House. Therefore, though I agree with my noble friend that it is desirable that there should be a Defence Minister here, I do not think this Bill makes any difference in the practice at all with regard to that.

With regard to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, as he says there was a time when most Departments were represented in this House, and from the point of view of this House it would be very desirable if that time were to return. But that practice has long since fallen into desuetude, and I gather that most of the prominent younger politicians like to be in the House of Commons rather than the House of Lords. Therefore the Prime Minister must have a free hand to select the most suitable people for the Under-Secretaryships of State, or for positions equivalent to them in whichever House he may find them. I should like very much to see a stronger representation of the Ministry in this House, and we have already in this Bill provided that there shall always be three Under-Secretaries, whereas hitherto the only statutory provision has been that there shall be two, so that we have gone one better. I would like to point out also that the Government have done rather better for the House of Lords than some other Governments in the past, because we have at the moment six Cabinet Ministers as well as three Under-Secretaries in the House.

Then there comes the question about uniting the office of the Prime Minister to that of First Lord of the Treasury. That was not inadvertent—it may or may not have been right, but it was not inadvertent. It was very carefully considered in the Cabinet and this provision embodied the ultimate decision of the Government. It is not the fact that it in any way debars any member of the House of Lords from being Prime Minister. I would like to reassure my noble friend on that score. I have looked at some recent records during the last century, which is probably long enough to go back. Lord Liverpool in this House was First Lord of the Treasury in 1812, the Duke of Wellington was First Lord of the Treasury in 1828, Lord Melbourne in 1834, Lord Derby in 1852, 1858 and 1866, Lord Salisbury in 1885, Lord Grey in 1830, Lord Aberdeen in 1853, Lord Russell in 1865, Lord Beaconsfield in 1874, and Lord Rosebery in 1894. Therefore there is a very respectable stream of precedents for the First Lord being in this House. In fact, there has only been one instance in the last century when anybody has not been First Lord of the Treasury who has been Prime Minister. That was the instance alluded to by my noble friend Lord Salisbury—the case of his own distinguished ancestor, who was Foreign Secretary when he held the office of Prime Minister.

But the First Lord of the Treasury with that one exception has, for more than a hundred years, always been Prime Minister, and if you look at No. 10, Downing Street you do not see the name of Prime Minister there, you see the name First Lord of the Treasury. In fact, I do not imagine that there would be any difficulty if the Prime Minister were minded to take another Departmental office in addition to his Prime Ministership, which is much more difficult now, I may say, than it was thirty or forty years ago, because the burden of the Prime Ministership is much heavier than it was. If anybody did desire to do it, there would be no reason why he should not call himself First Lord of the Treasury as well as Foreign Secretary or anything else. So that there is no practical difficulty arising from the fact that the Prime Minister now always holds the office of First Lord of the Treasury. The Bill does not say he shall not hold any other office, but it does treat him as necessarily holding the office of First Lord of the Treasury, which carries with it 10, Downing Street, and which does not in any way affect his membership of this House.


Might I ask the noble and learned Viscount a question? I recognise the strength of a great deal of what he has said and of his precedents. What is the reason why the Government have arrived at the conclusion that the Prime Minister must always be First Lord of the Treasury? Is it only because otherwise he could not occupy 10, Downing Street? Is that the only reason? Because I do not think it is really necessary for the Prime Minister to occupy 10, Downing Street. In the case of the Prime Minister to whom I was referring, who was Foreign Secretary, the Cabinet meetings were always held in the Foreign Office.


The reason is, I think, first of all that with that one exception the Prime Minister has always been First Lord of the Treasury for the last century. Secondly, that the Prime Minister ought to be the head of the Treasury as all the Junior Lords of the Treasury are Whips in the House of Commons, and he is obviously the right person to represent the Treasury and have a nominal place, at any rate, in the Commission of the Treasury. It is not a vital point but it is a point the Government had to consider. I may say that the question affecting the bar to members of the House of Lords being Prime Minister was considered by the Government. The precedents were looked up, and it was brought to the attention of the Government—and it was quite obvious—that it was not any bar at all because there was a large number of precedents to the contrary; most, in fact all but one, of the Prime Ministers who were in the House of Lords having been First Lords of the Treasury.

In addition there was the question asked by Lord Bertie as to the Leader of the Opposition. I imagine that, in the event my noble friend suggested of there being a change-over, the Speaker would certify that that was so. The Speaker's writ runs so long he chooses it should run, and is final and conclusive. If there was a permanent change in the strength of the Opposition Parties, I think the Speaker would notify to the House the fact that some other Party had become the Opposition Party, therefore becoming the alternative Government, and the Leader of that Party would then become Leader of the Opposition. In the event which my noble friend envisages of both Parties being exactly equal, it would be rather a difficult problem for the Speaker or anybody else, but the Speaker could probably be trusted to resolve it by forming some idea of which Party really was the alternative Government—that is, the people who would be normally looked upon to replace the Government of the day if it happened that the Government were defeated and changed. We have left this to the Speaker to decide, and he will give a full and conclusive certificate, and no doubt resolve such a problem when it arises.


My noble and learned friend has forgotten the question, which I think is a vital point: Why on earth should the Leader of the Opposition be said to be a member of the House of Commons? Why should he not be a member of the House of Lords?


We have not debarred anybody in this House from being the Leader of the Opposition, but what we have debarred him from is receipt of the salary as Leader of the Opposition.




Because in this House all of us give our services free. In another place, it so happens, they do not give their services free. They all get remuneration—now £600 a year. Although anybody can be Leader of the Opposition in this House, just as anybody presumably could be Prime Minister in this House, still the person who performs the duties of Leader of the Opposition in another place has got very special and arduous duties placed upon him which do not exist to the same extent in your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lord Snell has not got to be here quite as constantly as Major Attlee has to be in another place. He is very worthily represented no doubt, but he comes when he can. We do not insist on his being always here, and we do not exact that standard of attention to Parliamentary duties that they do in another place.

In another place the Leader of the Opposition has always to ask the necessary questions from the point of view of business, and conduct certain delicate negotiations and he has to be constantly in attendance on his Parliamentary work. Here he has not to be so constant. In another place they have the practice now of paying for these services, and I am glad to say that in this House, at any rate, we have not reached that standard of remuneration. Those are the reasons why the Leader of the Opposition, as defined in this Bill, is the person who is Leader of the Opposition in another place, because he is the person who receives the salary, and it is only for the purpose of salary that the definition has been made.


My Lords, may I remind the noble and learned Viscount of the point dealing with the Secretaries of State for India and Burma?


I apologise for not having dealt with that point. My noble friend the Lord Chairman is not right in assuming that we should have an extra representative if there were a separation of the two offices. This Bill provides that there shall be this number of people remunerated. If your Lordships will look at Clause 2 (1) you will see that it says: The number of persons holding office as Secretary of State to whom salaries may be paid under this Act shall not exceed eight. Under this provision we do not pay more than eight salaries, and, as your Lordships know, at this moment the Secretary of State for India and the Secretary of State for Burma are the same person, and he is in your Lordships' House. In the future we anticipate that the same rule will prevail. There will not be a separation between the Secretary of State for India and the Secretary of State for Burma. If there was to be one it would be a matter for Parliamentary decision, and then possibly they would alter the number of Secretaries of State to whom salaries are to be paid. But we do not want to increase the total number of salaries to be paid. We retain eight as the number to whom salaries are payable because that is the number to whom salaries are paid to-day.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.