HL Deb 25 June 1974 vol 352 cc1319-25

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. This Bill amends some of the provisions of the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1972. In addition, it makes a number of changes in other legislative provisions related to Ministerial offices, and makes specific provision for the post of Minister of Overseas Development as the head of a separate department.

I will deal first with the changes in the pattern of Ministerial offices resulting from the Amendments (in Clause 1 of the Bill) to Schedule 1 to the 1972 Act. First, the offices of Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury and of Minister of State are added to those offices whose holders receive a higher or lower salary under the 1972 Act, according to whether they are or are not members of the Cabinet. At present, if the holder of one of those offices is in the Cabinet (and at present none of them is) he cannot be paid at the same rate as his Cabinet colleagues; and as the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition will know, his right honourable friend Sir Geoffrey Howe, who was Minister of State in the Department of Trade and Industry, was in the Cabinet in the last Administration but because he was a Minister was not able to receive the salary of his colleagues. The new provision is purely permissive; it will be for the Prime Minister of the day to decide whether to include any holders of these offices in his Cabinet.

Secondly, a new general category is being introduced of Ministers in charge of Departments who are not members of the Cabinet. This will provide additional flexibility when new Departments are to be created and is the provision under which a salary will become payable on the appointment of a Minister of Overseas Development in charge of a separate Ministry.

Thirdly, there are changes in the limits contained in the 1972 Act on the number of Ministers who can be paid at various salary levels. The number of Part I salaries which may be paid is increased from 19 to 21, and the number of Part I and Part II salaries taken together from 46 to 50. At present there is a separate limit of 30 on the number of Parliamentary Secretary salaries which may be paid under Part IV. In place of this a new overall limit of 83 for Part I, Part II and Part IV Parliamentary Secretary salaries taken together has been introduced. This compares with an effective overall figure of 76 under the 1972 Act. So there is an increase under the Bill of 7 posts but, overall, the number of salaries payable under the Bill will still be one less than the number payable at the time of the Ministerial Salaries Consolidation Act 1965, nine years ago. In view of this increase in the numerical limits of the 1972 Act it is, in our view, right to make some increase to take account of this in the limits set by the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1957 on the number of Ministers entitled to sit and vote in another place. This is dealt with in Clause 2.

Why is this increase in the limits on the number of Ministers necessary? The pattern and structure of Ministerial offices prescribed in the 1972 Act was designed to match the pattern of Departments as it existed at the time, and there have been a number of important changes since then. Later in 1972 itself, a separate Northern Ireland Office was established. In place of the single Department of Trade and Industry we now have four separate Departments. It is not surprising that these changes have strained the framework of appointments prescribed in the 1972 Act. Quite apart from this, there is now a need to augment the Ministerial team in the Northern Ireland Office to deal with the situation created by the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive and it is this which gives urgency to the present Bill.

Apart from these general provisions on Ministerial salaries and numbers, the Bill also contains (in Clause 3 and Schedule 1) provisions relating to the establishment of a separate Ministry of Overseas Development. As noble Lords will recall, it was the previous Labour Government which created a Ministry of Overseas Development in 1964, but after six years of separate existence the Ministry was merged by the previous Administration with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and is at present, in formal terms, a wing of that Department. The provisions in this Bill will enable us to take the necessary formal steps to reestablish a separate Ministry in its own right.

I need refer only briefly to the other effects of the present Bill. As I have mentioned, the necessary salary provision for a Minister of Overseas Development in charge of a separate Department is covered by a new general category of Ministerial office provided for in Clause 1. The Bill also contains supplementary provisions relating to the new general category of Ministerial office. The opportunity presented by the Bill is being taken to tidy up the present provisions governing transfers of functions between Government Departments where these are headed by Secretaries of State. I hope that in what I have said I have shown that the effects of this Bill are relatively modest but none the less necessary.

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

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for that explanation. He took it at a good fast pace and he gave us a lot of information. It is a short Bill. In structure, it is not a particularly easy Bill to understand, and there is no doubt a need for the public to be aware that there is a limitation—and it may be a surprise to some people to learn this—on the number of Members of Parliament and of Members of your Lordships' House who can serve as Ministers in an Administration, and on the amount they can be paid. The official Opposition spokesman in another place, my right honourable friend Sir Keith Joseph, said that as a Party we do not dissent from these proposals. We accept the need for more Ministers to assist the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland during the second period of direct rule, which we all hope will be as short as possible, and we are aware of some of the problems arising out of the way in which the previous restrictions were drawn. I should therefore like to put only two questions to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd.

I should be interested to know the reason for including the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, otherwise known as the Government Chief Whip, in the list of Ministers in Clause 1 of this new Bill, at the top rate so long as the holder of the office is a member of the Cabinet. Although the Government Chief Whip is not a member of the Cabinet and, I understand, never has been since 1715 or thereabouts, he always attends meetings of the Cabinet and plays a full part in its deliberations. His relations both with the Prime Minister and with other Ministers are of a special character. They are very important to the working of Parliament. He has an independent status, to a certain extent acting on behalf of the Leader of his Party, and it is a role that has evolved over a long period of time. I should like to ask the noble Lord: is it now intended to change this by making the Government Chief Whip in another place himself a member of the Cabinet? If not, why is this provision necessary at all?

The second question will not surprise noble Lords. It is about the effect of this Bill in the future on those who hold ministerial offices in this House. I do not want to be unduly critical, still less partisan in a Party sense, but the Leader of the House must be aware that there is some disquiet at the moment in the House over the number and the seniority of the Ministers who represent the Government in our proceedings. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has done his best, and I think the House is very grateful to him personally, for the very heavy burden of legislative business and other Government business which he has handled. But we have to recognise that the reputation of the House as a whole depends to a very considerable extent on those who represent the Government in the House at any one time. If enough suitable Peers are not available in the House, for one reason or another, life peerages mean that people of experience can be brought in from outside.

I see the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, sitting on the Government Bench. We welcome him and the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts. They were brought in by the Prime Minister after the General Election in that way, because of their experience in national politics and in another place, in order to represent the Government in this House. As we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, there are now to be up to seven more Members of the Government in all. I would urge the Leader of the House to use all his influence—supported, I am sure, by many other noble Lords in all parts of the House—to ensure that some of this greater latitude is used to strengthen the Government Front Bench. A few more Ministers may make the task of the Opposition harder, but it is a price which we will willingly pay to see the authority and reputation of this Upper Horse of the British Parliament maintained.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for what he has said about the Bill. In regard to the Parliamentary Secretaryship of the Treasury and the Government Chief Whip, when I was a newcomer in politics and in Parliament he was as close to God as any human being could get to Heaven while alive! I was very surprised to find that not only was he not in the Cabinet but was not very high or very senior. But, as the noble Lord has said, it has not been the custom since the mid-eighteenth century for the Chief Whip to be a member of the Cabinet. I think that a case could be made out for the Chief Whip being there, because in practice he sits and offers advice and I should have thought there was something to be said for a corporate responsibility in certain situations. But practice is one thing. As to what the future intentions are, this is entirely a matter for the Prime Minister. My honourable friend who introduced the Bill in another place said that the Government have no immediate intention of making either the Minister of State or the Parliamentary Secretary a member of the Cabinet. But we have a degree of flexibility so that if this is desirable it can now be accomplished under the Bill.

In regard to the House of Lords, of course there is always disquiet about any Front Bench whether one sits in Government or on the Opposition Front Bench, because not always are we able to satisfy our supporters. To that extent, I am aware of disquiet. The noble Lord referred to numbers and seniority, and in anticipation of that point being raised I did a little research. I always believe that one should compare like with like, so I looked at the numbers with which the Labour Government started in 1964. I saw that we then had 18 Ministers, but in the period of Office that number increased. However, I noticed that the Conservative Government began in 1970 with 16 and ended with 20. We started in 1974 with 15 and one vacancy.

My Lords, we shall have to see what the next ten years bring forth. We may have even bigger numbers than those with which the Conservatives finished at the end of their short period. Of course, it is right that the Government should be properly represented here and, in the light of some of the remarks in a previous debate, I think that this House is being very well served by all my colleagues. Already we have got through a good deal of legislation and we have sought to meet the wishes of the House, not only across the Floor but outside, to see whether it was possible to meet certain points. I have no doubt that the legislation has been improved as a result, and I am most grateful to my colleagues.

My only worry—it is a genuine worry—is that because of our numbers we will be very much strained during the next five weeks in manning the Bench at night. I intend to adopt the practice of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, by asking some of his Back Bench colleagues to become unpaid Whips and help to man the Bench during the difficult period that clearly lies ahead. I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has said in support of the Bill.

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