§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD MCCORQUODALE OF NEWTON
My Lords, this Bill is a House of Commons measure. The object is to permit the trustees of the House of Commons Members' Fund to invest up to one-half of their assets as they wish, and not necessarily in trustee securities. As one who was for many years associated with the management of this Fund, I can only wish that we had had those powers in my own day. Of course, the Bill in no way affects your Lordships. Therefore, I beg to move formally that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord McCorquodale of Newton.)
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I hope that, with the permission of the House, now that we are considering a financial Bill in respect of the persons and resources of Members of the other place, I may be permitted to say (because our Party, at any rate, will have no other opportunity in the House) a word about our great regret at the loss of our Deputy Leader in the other place. His personality and service to the public, for the good, as he saw it, for them, have been quite outstanding. He was a brilliant personality, a wonderful speaker. His writing was such that you felt bound to put him in the class of the intellectual rather than merely the expanded product of the working class. Everybody who has read his book, In Place of Fear, will agree, I think, with that statement. The constant oratory with which he was able to hold in spell—I would not say that it was equal to, but certainly it was in the region of, the spell which could be cast by Mr. Winston Churchill in another place—was quite unique. We feel a very 1238 great sorrow at his loss to us; we feel very great sorrow indeed for the tremendous wrench that this must be for his wife, who is also a Member of another place. We greatly hope that the feelings of members of all Parties in the State, and of the public at large, will be some considerable solace to her in her bereavement.
My Lords, may I be allowed to follow the noble Viscount and to echo his sentiments? Speaking for a Party which is, of course, in Opposition to that which was adorned by Mr. Aneurin Bevan, I think we should like to say that all of us admired his personal courage, his moral courage and his political courage, even though we did not always agree with his views. I would suggest that the world of Parliamentary institution, wherever it may be, has suffered a severe loss.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (THE EARL OF DUNDEE)
My Lords, the Government welcome the Bill which has been introduced and formally moved by my noble friend Lord McCorquodale of Newton. I think it was a good thought of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition to take the opportunity of expressing what your Lordships feel about the sad news in the papers this morning, and my colleagues in the Government would certainly wish to associate themselves with what he has said. Mr. Bevan came into the House of Commons two years before I did, or rather more. I sat there with him for fourteen years. To his opponents, as well as to his friends, he was always a good companion. He could talk brilliantly and well on any subject of conversation. He loved good stories. He loved enjoying himself. He loved seeing other people enjoy themselves. He loved gaiety. That is one reason why so many people have been following his illness for the last six months with so much anxiety and sympathy for his wife, whom many of us remember winning North Lanark 32 years ago as a very young girl of twenty-three. We feel deeply for her, and wish her happiness.
§ LORD DALTON
My Lords, I should like to make a few observations on the House of Commons Members' Fund Bill which has been presented to your Lordships. For my part, I welcome the 1239 Bill. It contains in effect, as I understand it, only one significant proposition, namely, that up to half the assets of this Fund may be invested in equities; and I am sure that this is wise. I view it simply from the point of view of looking after the income of the Fund which is accumulating for the benefit of Members, and I think there can be little doubt that if one studies statistics and recent statistical form over a term of years, if the trustees of any fund exercise discretion together with knowledge, they can increase the income of any funds in their charge by putting some reasonable part of those funds into equities.
The Church of England have moved into equities on a great scale in relatively recent times, and if I may take only one other example (not wholly disparate from this Fund) the fund for the supplementary old age pensions for miners, set up under a separate Statute, have also invested considerable sums in a way far more profitably to them than investment in gilt-edged securities would be. I am informed that they have invested a good deal in real estate, with great advantage to the beneficiaries of the Fund. There are, therefore, many precedents of many kinds for a provision of this nature.
The trustees of this Members' Fund, of course, are essentially, and almost by definition, very cautious persons, and I have no doubt that they will take good advice which will be readily available to them. Since in this House we are not quite so strictly ruled as those in another place, I hope I may say one or two other things about the background of this matter and on this Fund, the investment policy of which, as I have said, is to be modified and extended. I wonder whether it would be possible for the House to be informed what are the total investable assets now in the Fund. Would the noble Earl be able to answer that question "off the cuff"? I gather that he cannot, but I should like to know. No doubt the figure is available, for there is a White Paper published from time to time. Would the noble Lord who introduced this Motion be able to tell us how much is at stake?
§ LORD MCCORQUODALE OF NEWTON
My Lords, I understand that the cost price of the present assets is 1240 something in the neighbourhood of £100,000.
§ LORD DALTON
I am very much obliged. That, in itself, is a sum well worth looking after, and of course it is likely to grow with the passage of time, although in a fluctuating manner—because Members of Parliament disappear from the House of Commons in large numbers. But, at any rate, the primary purpose is to look after the assets and increase the income of the Fund from that source.
The other two sources of income for the Fund are, of course, the contributions of Members themselves, to which those of us who sat in another place have, over the years, made our contribution; and secondly, beginning, I believe, last year, a certain contribution from the Treasury. I believe I am right in recalling that this direct contribution from the Treasury to the Fund was a new principle. Here, again, I am open to correction, but I believe it was not simply a "one year and finish" contribution. It was to be a contribution, was it not, for a period? Could the noble Lord oblige me with an answer to that question?
§ LORD MCCORQUODALE OF NEWTON
My Lords, at the present time the grant from the State is £10,000 a year.
§ LORD DALTON
I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I myself hope, and I remember that when the Fund was first instituted and the matter was debated in another place someone expressed the hope, that with the passage of time, as the utility of the Fund to retired and elderly Members of Parliament became more evident, some Members or ex-Members of that House would perhaps remember the Fund in their will. So far, I think, that has not occurred, but perhaps with the passage of time that hope also will come true and will further increase the resources of the Fund.
I am not anxious to go too wide at this point, but I will merely express the hope that in the coming days something 1241 will be done to modify the arrangements governing payments out of the Fund. Certainly they are not now on a generous scale, and are tightly held by a means test. Many other questions might emerge, and perhaps your Lordships might debate on another occasion what further changes in the law would be helpful in order to provide for those people who, as Members of another place, have given up a very great period of their lives in extremely arduous work for the nation, and who, when they grow old—unless they have other sources of income or private means of their own—are placed in a position which is not a worthy position for those who have served this nation so faithfully.
I will not develop that thought this afternoon, nor even raise the intriguing question of whether or not it would be in the general interest for a maximum, as well as a minimum, age to be fixed for eligibility to stand for Parliament—whether an age limit might be introduced into one of the few sectors of our public life in which no compulsory retiring age yet exists. That I leave over for another day; but I warmly welcome the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.