HL Deb 29 July 1974 vol 353 cc2057-62

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, this may be a convenient opportunity for me to make a Statement about expense allowances for Members of your Lordships' House.

On May 21, I announced that the Government were to ask the Top Salaries Review Body under the Chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Boyle, to undertake a review of the level of allowances paid to Members of Parliament. The question of Peers' expense allowances was not a subject which fell within the terms of reference of this review but the Government have decided on the following course of action.

The Government believe that the time is coming when the whole basis of the present allowance is no longer appropriate for the House of Lords. We have in mind particularly the question of a differential allowance for provincial Peers and accordingly our present intention is to refer this whole matter for advice to the Boyle Committee at a suitable opportunity. The Government have further decided, subject to the necessary resolutions being agreed, to propose the following: First, the car allowance payable to Members for attending the House is to be increased to the same level as that to be paid to Members in another place, that is, from 5p to 7.7p per mile. Secondly, the limit on the daily attendance allowance is to he raised from £8.50 to £11.50.

The purpose of this allowance, as I am sure your Lordships know, but I should particularly like to stress it again, is to cover only the reimbursement of expenditure incurred in attending the House. It would be wrong if the allowance came to be regarded as a flat-rate attendance allowance. I am sure that your Lordships appreciate this. I should also say that as a consequence of the Review Body's recommendations, Ministers and paid office holders in both Houses will benefit from the increase in the London Supplement. The Resolutions giving effect to these changes, from an operative date of August 1, will be tabled to-night for tomorrow.

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council is making a Statement to-day in another place dealing in part with financial assistance to Opposition Parties. I now use his words: The Government believe further measures are needed to strengthen our Parliamentary democracy. The health of our democracy necessarily reflects the standing and independence of our political Parties. For this reason many Western democratic countries think it best that their political Parties should have part of their finance provided from public funds. We take the view that whether some form of financial assistance for the Parties' work outside Parliament is desirable in this country needs thorough study by an independent committee. I propose to establish such a committee after the Recess. I will, of course, discuss its terms of reference with all the Parties opposite. I would envisage an independent chairman and representation from the Parties and others. A more immediate need is to provide additional support for the Opposition Parties in Parliament—support which they certainly require if they are to play their full part here. The House generally has benefited greatly from the Rowntree scheme, but more permanent arrangements are now necessary. Following our commitment in the Queen's Speech, I have had very helpful discussions with the Parties opposite. I now plan to bring firm proposals before the House in the Autumn. The main areas of support which we believe are needed are in the staffing of the Opposition Leader's and Chief Whip's offices; and in research assistance for shadow Front Bench spokesmen. The smaller Parties also need staff support, but naturally on a smaller scale. We take the view that the Parties should decide their own staffing arrangements, and I shall propose therefore that they be allocated funds for this purpose, borne upon the House Vote. These would be calculated by a formula based on the number of seats and votes won, the details of which I should like to discuss further after the Recess". My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for that Statement, which is an important one for Parliament as a whole. In this House the increase in the Peers' expense allowance will he particularly welcomed, especially by Peers whose homes are outside London. I hope I shall not get into difficulty with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, after what he has just said, if I congratulate the noble Lord the Leader of the House on what he has done in getting the maximum level of the expense allowance increased. I know from personal experience that this is a long, arduous and uphill task, and that in what he has done he has had the interests of the House as a whole close to his heart.

The Statement makes clear that the Peers' expense allowance is not a remuneration for public service, and that it merely establishes a daily maximum allowance against which a Peer may recover the actual amount of his expenses necessarily incurred in attending sittings of the House or of Committees. I was glad to see that that point was emphasised in the Statement which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has just made. The Statement also acknowledges that there are unsatisfactory aspects of the present system of Peers' expenses, and it seems to me—I have not had the opportunity to consult my colleagues—a sensible suggestion to refer this whole matter to the Boyle Committee for review.

As regards the aid to Opposition Parties, which was the second point contained in the Lord President's Statement which has been made to-day in another place, the Government have already confirmed that these arrangements are to apply to your Lordships' House, as I understand it, as well as to the House of Commons. But I should like to put to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that whatever sum is agreed by the formula which is referred to in the Statement, a certain percentage of that should be available to Opposition Parties in this House, so That whatever changes may take place at the other end of the Palace of Westminster the interests of Parties in your Lordships' House are safeguarded.


My Lords, I should like to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has said, and in particular I should like to congratulate the noble Lord the Leader of the House on the assiduity with which he has pursued this matter at a very difficult time. As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said, he has, of course, the interests of the House as a whole at heart. I want to ask only one question. As regards the setting up of the independent Committee, which, as I understand it, will deal with the possibility of aid to Parties outside Parliament, I would just express the hope that on it there will be a lot of people with political and Parliamentary experience. I say that because there is something peculiar to the needs of political and Parliamentary research which may not be understood by those who may merely have had an academic experience of the sort of thing which is required. With those few words, I should merely like to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has said.


My Lords, I am grateful for the response of noble Lords opposite. I can only repeat that this is an expense allowance for which noble Lords are required to sign a form, and that £11.50 is the maximum. I am very appreciative of the many difficulties, particularly of those of our colleagues who live in the Provinces, and I am myself convinced that the limit that has now been set could be inadequate for some to meet their Parliamentary needs. There have been difficulties, and this is one of the reasons why I was particularly anxious that the matter should be sent to the Boyle Committee where it could be fully reviewed, as can the whole system of allowances.

In regard to the Opposition Parties and the financial support to them, I must say, as one who has seen the problems of Opposition Parties for perhaps a slightly longer period than has the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that I can well understand the motive for putting the suggestion that there should be a guaranteed percentage for Opposition Parties in your Lordships' House. I will undertake to see that that view is expressed, not in anticipation of having to require public money to support my Party in Opposition, but to see what one can do in the interests of your Lordships' House. I can only say to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that this is a matter which needs to be discussed between the Parties concerned, and I hope that he and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, will pursue their struggle with their own friends in another place, well knowing that there is very friendly and sympathetic support from this side of the House.

In regard to the independent Committee to which the noble Lord, Lord Byers. referred—I have not yet been able to find it in the Statement, but I am sure it is there—it was understood that there would be an independent chairman, and that there would be representation from the Parties and others. I agree that this is an area where Parliamentary knowledge is of very great importance, particularly the knowledge of those who have been involved in what is generally referred to as the "usual channels" in both Houses—an area which is not understood even by very many Members of Parliament. I hope that the House will tomorrow give their assent to the Resolution when I move it.


My Lords, can my noble friend be a little more specific about the reference to Lord Boyle's Committee of the expenses of those Members of your Lordships' House who have to stay in London overnight? Am I to take it that this is to be an immediate reference with a quick report, or did my noble friend say that it was a long-term proposal and that it would not be an immediate reference? I was not quite clear what he meant. Is my noble friend aware that he is quite right in assuming that even with the increase those Members of your Lordships' House who have to pay London hotel bills will still find the amount rather inadequate?


My Lords, as I thought I said in my first supplementary answers, I have a great deal of sympathy for the position of the noble Baroness and many others who come to Parliament, and who are required to take what I call temporary hotel accommodation. I used the phrase "a suitable opportunity". This is not a long-term delaying tactic. I understand it is hoped that immediately after the Recess other matters will be referred to the Boyle Committee and that will then provide an opportunity for this matter to be referred. I can assure my noble friend that these words are not in any way meant as a long-term delaying tactic. We understand and fully appreciate the difficulty, and it is merely a question of time.


My Lords, will my noble friend be a little bit more specific? When he says that this and other matters will be referred to the Boyle Committee after the Recess, what does he mean by "other matters"? What type of other matters will be embraced at the same time, because it appears that there may be some long delay before this operates.


My Lords, I fully understand my noble friend's point. I have indicated that a long protracted delay is not the intention. I and many of my colleagues are fully aware of the difficulties. It would have been very much our desire to indicate something in this respect in this Statement. The other matters to which I referred are concerned with another place, which I should have thought were not relevant to your Lordships' House. I hope my noble friend will fully understand that it is not my intention, or that of the Government, that this is a matter that should be delayed beyond, shall I say, the Summer Recess.


My Lords, anent the, issue—nothing to do with expenses—of granting finance to Opposition Parties, I am quite sure that this would be a difficult problem. It is new in political philosophy in Britain, although it has been known in the United States of America. We are now faced with the possibility of making a decision as to what percentage of the electorate has to support a Party, et cetera. I merely put this forward as what I truly believe to be the very difficult problem of how to support a Party. It could be Fascist, Communist, or some strange Davies Party that would want to abolish the Leader of the Opposition plus incarcerating my noble friend on the Front Bench, and there are mavericks enough for all this. How is one to arrive at an opinion on this?


My Lords, that is the object of setting up a Committee with an independent chairman to look into the whole question. I should not have thought there was any question that one wished to avoid the necessity of political Parties being dependent on subscriptions and moneys from many strange avenues, which we know has happened in other parts of the world, with the various implications and strains and stresses that follow. I do not know whether this Committee will find an answer, but I think the situation is such that it is worthy of the closest and most impartial examination possible.