HL Deb 21 May 1974 vol 351 cc1339-43

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to make a Statement on Peers' allowances. The Lord President of the Council is making a Statement to-day in another place announcing that the Government are making a reference to the Top Salaries Review Body asking them to review the level of the allowances paid to Members of Parliament. The Peers' expense allowance has never been referred to the Review Body and it is not the intention of the Government to refer it on this occasion. I am well aware, however, that there are many in your Lordships' House who consider that it is time that the expense allowance was also reviewed. I am glad to be able to tell the House that it is the Government's intention to review this allowance in the light of the recommendations of the Review Body with regard to Members' allowances, and to make an announcement on both at the same time.


My Lords, this is a difficult issue. It is one that I have been concerned with, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. Peers are not exempt from the effects of inflation in their duties in attending your Lordships' House, but at the same time Parliament has to try to set an example in restraint. I know that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will do his best for the House as, I hope he will agree, his predecessors tried to do in this very difficult area. However, it is a little hard to see the logic of what he has just said in the Statement about reviewing the expense allowance of Peers when it is known what the Boyle Top Salaries Review Body has to say about the allowances for M.P.s, because the allowances for M.P.s are quite separate and distinct in nature from the expense allowance of Peers. If, however, the Leader of the House thinks that this is the best course of action, I am content to accept his judgment.


My Lords, I associate myself with what the noble Lord has just said in a general way, but might I suggest that there is a case for making a distinction between the ordinary expenses of the Members of this House and the petrol allowance which, presumably, should vary in accordance with the price of petrol?


My Lords, may I deal with those two references to my Statement. I share with the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, the view that this is, in a real sense, a difficult issue. It is difficult not only in that we have to take into account the effects of inflation and the example that we need to set to the country as a whole; but there are a number of problems which arise as a consequence of our membership and the system that has been adopted to meet our expenses. I think that the noble Lord will be aware of the logic of bringing these two together. One thing I can say is that as a consequence of this Statement I cannot avoid making a Statement in the not too distant future.


My Lords, will my noble friend see that those who take a decision about the expenses of Members of this House bear in mind the very special problems of those who live so far away from London that they have to stay overnight in London in order to attend your Lordships' House? Is he aware that overnight accommodation in London, whether in hotels or in flats, is extremely expensive and that the daily allowance has to suffice as an overnight allowance as well? Will he also bear in mind that when the Boyle Committee last reported on the expenses of those in another place they recognised this difference so far as Members of another place were concerned and recommended, which they have been receiving for four years, a London allowance of £750 a year for those who live in the Provinces? Will he therefore bear all these points in mind when this review is taking place?


My Lords, I will certainly bear it in mind. I can only say to my noble friend, who not so long ago was in the House of Commons, that I wish that we could have had a rule in your Lordships' House similar to the rule that pertained in the House of Commons when the noble Baroness was there. However, I take the point and will certainly bear all this very much in mind.


My Lords, pending the review, may I ask my noble friend to take into consideration what my noble friend Baroness Bacon has just urged upon him? Ought there not to be a distinction between those Members of your Lordships' House who, like myself, live in London or on the perimeter and, therefore, are not charged with hotel expenses during their stay in London, and those who come from the Provinces—from Scotland, from the North-East, and elsewhere—and have to stay at hotels? In point of fact, the total amount of expenses that are allowable to Members of your Lordships' House would hardly pay for one night's stay at any London hotel. Pending the review, therefore, is it not possible to make the distinction almost immediately—although it is a matter for the Government to decide—so that those who come from the Provinces may be allowed expenses to enable them to meet the hotel expenses that are necessary when they come to London?


My Lords, would my noble friend also bear in mind that those of us who live in London normally pay much more for our accommodation than those who live in the Provinces?


My Lords, all these are matters of which I am very well aware and I have given a good deal of consideration to a system of differential allowances to meet particular needs. But even then I have found that there are always anomalies. It was one of my noble friends who referred to a Peer who comes down and spends the night in a hotel. There are other noble Lords, I know, who travel down from Edinburgh and who use the night-sleeper both ways and, of course, get their night's accommodation provided through their traveling expenses. This, and many other anomalies, have arisen.

My Lords, I am not unsympathetic to the differential scheme, but I know that it would be very difficult to work and I am not sure that it would be entirely popular with the House as a whole. I would, however, give an assurance to my noble friends that this is an area to which I will give further consideration. In regard to my noble friend Lord Shinwell's plea for immediate action, of course a Resolution of the House would be necessary, but in the light of what I have said—that a Statement will be made in the not too distant future; and I mean that not in any long term sense—I hope that he will feel that the Government are well aware of the situation and will seek to make a Statement as soon as possible.


My Lords, could my noble friend indicate to whom representations should be made should any noble Lord wish to make any representations for this Review Body to consider? Secondly, for the benefit of the general public who have never understood Peers' allowances, will he make it clear here and now that the present system of allowances is in no sense income—that it is a recovery of expenses already incurred. They are quite different from the new system of allowances which certain Members of newly-elected local authorities will be receiving.


My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right in his description of what this expense allowance system is. In regard to where he can make representations, he knows as well as other noble Lords that there is a corridor not far away in which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has a room, where I have a room and where the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has a room, and if they cannot find either of us they can always find either the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, or my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies. Clearly representations can be made there.


My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that it might be better if the question of allowances for Peers were considered by an independent body like the Boyle Committee instead of it being in the hands of the Government? We understand from my noble friend that a decision will be announced at the same time, but in view of the trouble that was involved in the other place before this independent Review Committee, the Boyle Committee, considered their case, would it not be better if this House had a Review Committee, preferably like the Boyle Committee, who could take into consideration all the different circumstances that arise consequent upon people living in London, particularly those who have no job, and the expenses of the men and women coming from the Provinces? It would be much better than the Government themselves having to come to a decision.


My Lords, I think those who have had experience either in another place or in your Lordships' House would feel that in many of these matters concerning Members' salaries, Members' allowances, and in our case expense allowances, politically it would be much more advantageous if it were dealt with other than by Government decision. I can only say that I will take note of what my noble friend has said and will see whether any progress can be made in that direction.