HL Deb 16 July 1979 vol 401 cc1134-43

The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Lord Soames) rose to move, That this House approves the following

(1) Members of this House, except members of the Cabinet, shall be enabled to recover, in addition to the costs of travel for which other provision is made, but within the limits hereafter mentioned, expenses incurred after 30th June 1979 and certified by them as—

  1. (a) expense incurred (otherwise than as mentioned in (c) below) for the purpose of attendance at sittings of this House or of Committees of this House other than judicial sittings; or
  2. (b) expenses incurred (otherwise than as mentioned in (c) below) for the purpose of attendance at judicial sittings of this House or Committees of this House or under section 9 of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, if incurred by Lords of Appeal who are neither Lords of Appeal in Ordinary nor holders of high judicial office within the meaning of that Act; or
  3. (c) expenses incurred in staying overnight away from their main or only residence, where this is necessary for the purpose stated in (a) above and also, if incurred by such Lords of Appeal as are mentioned in (b) above, where this is necessary for the purpose stated in (b) above; or
  4. (d) expenses incurred in the performance of their parliamentary duties as general office expenses or on secretarial or research assistance.

(2) The limits are—

  1. (a) for (1)(a) and (1)(b) above, £9 for each day of attendance;
  2. (b) for (1)(c) above, £18.50 for each day of attendance;
  3. (c) for (1)(d) above, the sum arrived at by multiplying the number of days of attendance falling within (1)(a) or (1)(b) above by £8.50;
and for any expenses recoverable under (1) above by the Chairman or Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees or by a member who receives a salary under the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975, £700 per annum.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The intention of this Motion is to give effect to the changes in Peers' expenses allowance proposed in my Statement on 21st June. I explained to your Lordships on that occasion that the Government accepted the recommendations made by the Review Body on Top Salaries for increasing the allowance limits and making certain changes in the definition of eligible expenditure. I should now like to explain these proposals to the House in more detail.

The Review Body on Top Salaries commented in their 9th Report, published in 1977, that the coverage of Peers' expenses allowance, since its first introduction in 1957, had never been clearly defined. To remedy this they proposed that there should be a clear specification of the items of expenditure that could properly be claimed in attending the House. The Review Body therefore recommended that the single overall allowance which then existed should be split into separate elements, each with its own limit. The separate limits were to cover night subsistence, day subsistence, secretarial expenses, and postage together with certain other expenses—that is four separate categories.

The previous Government said that they welcomed the Review Body's analysis of this problem, but in the light of their incomes policy, decided to defer detailed consideration of the recommendation. It was agreed, however, that Peers who had to stay overnight in London should be able to claim up to a maximum of £16.50 for each sitting day instead of f13.50.

The Review Body was invited to look at the Peers' expenses allowance again last year, as part of a general review of parliamentary pay and allowances. The conclusion reached in their 12th Report is that the grouping system previously suggested should be adopted but with a total of three instead of four categories. The Government accept this.

The limits which have now been recommended, and which I propose should apply from the beginning of this month of July, are as follows. For Peers who necessarily have to use overnight accommodation away from their usual residence, a daily—perhaps I should say nightly—limit of £18.50 will apply. For day subsistence—that is, to cover meals and incidental travel—the limit will be £9. Secretarial costs, postage, and certain additional expenses as defined in the Review Body's report, may be met within a cumulative limit of £8.50 a day—in other words, claims may be arranged to recover expenditure over a period. These daily limits together total £36. However, I must make clear that we are talking about a maximum figure within which Members of this House may reclaim those sums which they have actually spent in attending to their parliamentary duties.

Thus, only those Peers who actually have to incur overnight accommodation expenses in London will be eligible to claim within the £18.50 limit. Other Peers will be restricted to the £17.50 total provided under the second two categories. In this connection, I should like to draw to the attention of your Lordships and to others the concluding remarks made by the Review Body in their 9th Report. My predecessor quoted these remarks in his Statement in 1977, but I think they warrant quoting again: We have observed during the course of this review that an impression exists outside Parliament—and, indeed, that it has been fostered over the years—that the Peers' expenses allowance is a daily attendance fee that Peers can claim as of right by attending the House of Lords. The impression is false, but it has persisted in spite of periodic restatements of the facts … The allowance has always been a maximum daily amount against which Peers can claim reimbursement of at least some of the expenses that they have actually incurred in attending parliamentary business".

My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the aforesaid Motion be agreed to.—(Lord Soames.)

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, recently in your Lordships' House we have had some most interesting and illuminating debates in which I have refrained from participating, largely because I sometimes come to the conclusion that although the speeches are, in substance and in delivery, impeccable, illuminating, informative, interesting and sometimes fascinating, at the end of the day the one thing we forget or ignore is implementation. That derives from the peculiar position of your Lordships' House; that is, we are not vested with authority, which is regrettable.

On this occasion—and there is nothing illuminating or fascinating about it, although it is informative, which is something to be going on with—I find myself in a quandary. It is not very pleasant to find oneself in a quandary. One seeks a means of escape. The only possible means of escape that occurs to me—it is almost an afterthought for I have not indulged in any research into it—is to send this proposal back to the Review Body with our compliments and, I would add, with our contempt.

I start with a question, Socratic-fashion. As noble Lords know, I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Soames, the Leader of the House. I have known him for many years; we have always been friendly towards each other—at least I have. The noble Lord referred almost apologetically—I emphasise the word "apologetically"—to the maximum sum mentioned and to the vast sums that we are to receive! Obviously he had in mind the honourable Members of another place who dislike us and want to abolish us. It cannot be that they want to abolish us on the ground that our expenditure is excessive—not at all.

A thought has suddenly occurred to me, and because I do not want to forget it, I shall refer to it now. Occasionaly in our debates we have discussed the subject of comparability, which is very relevant to this matter. Along the corridor they have been moaning and groaning—I hope that those words are not regarded as unparliamentary by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack—about their financial emoluments. I use the term "financial emoluments" because there are other emoluments about which we hear very little, but that is another story. Comparability? Their salaries have gone up sky-high, and we are to have another £8.50 a day. That is the assumption underlying the proposition. Let there be no nonsense about this. The maximum? Yes, but on the understanding, on the assumption—it is not a certainty; details are not requested, or at least may not be requested—that there is expenditure on research, office equipment and secretaries.

What will happen as a result of all this? Those in another place will continue to do what they have been doing for some considerable time; that is, they will continue to complain about the sums that we have been receiving. Time and again I have noted in the Press references that emerge from another place about the £16.50 that Members here have received. Of course, they received nothing of the sort. That sum applied only to those who required overnight accommodation when they came to the Metropolis. The proposition is that we are to receive £9 per day. That is automatic.

Several noble Lords: No.


My Lords, by "automatic" I mean that that is what we shall expect to receive for our daily attendance. If it is not automatic, what is it? If it is not automatic, it must depend on circumstances, on conditions, on this or that, or what-have-you. At any rate, I suggest that the proposition is that we can claim £9 per day if we attend. You must attend before you can receive it. Members of another place do not necessarily have to attend in order to claim their allowances; they can go off for a week or so. The Whips may complain, but they receive their salary regardless. During the Recess—and one is almost upon us—we receive no attendance allowance. In another place Members receive their salary, even for a two-and-a-half-month recess. As to expenses, I cannot say.

Let us consider this addition of £8.50. Of course, this £8.50 depends on conditions. There must be research. There must be secretarial assistance. There must be offices available. If I may say so, putting it bluntly, that is treating the House with contempt. Indeed, that is all we deserve unless we face up to it. This is not a question of wanting more money. There may be Members of your Lordships' House who may need it, but most of us do not. This is of very little consequence. It is a question of prestige; a question of not being regarded as inferior or treated with contempt.

Despite the apologetic references that the noble Lord made—almost saying, "Don't blame us for doing this. We didn't want to do it, but we couldn't help ourselves. It was the Review Body from whom the proposition emerged "—are the other side going to thank us for this? They would still repeat their cry "Abolish the Lords", even if we made it £20 a day.

I want to ask this question. The Review Body has been operating for some time. We can claim £17.50, provided all the conditions—and the noble Lord assents to it—contained in the document are observed. I wonder what the Review Body received per day. It would be interesting to know what they received per day. I will wager with the noble Lord £100 to £10—I will take a chance—that they got far more than £17.50 a day. Why? Of course, they are engaged in this most difficult operation of-deciding what we should receive. That requires research; office equipment; secretarial assistance; and a great deal of thought and meditation, et cetera—unlike ourselves. I wonder what they are receiving per day.

This ought to be sent back to them. Indeed, I never have been satisfied with the Boyle reviews, and there are other noble Lords who are in a similar position. I do not personally complain. I have not complained about my pension. But if I could be assured that there was anybody willing to support me in your Lordships' House on this subject as a Teller, I would vote against it and send it back to them. It is not good enough. Now what is going to happen? In the Press I can imagine, "The House of Lords has provided itself with an increased allowance". We shall have Mr. Arthur Lewis in particular making speeches on this subject. I single him out because he has been notable on this subject. It is not good enough. I could go on for a long time.

Several noble Lords: No!


Of course I could. Indeed, I am entitled to. That is what I claim my allowance for. I know that I am not making the speech that I ought to be making. I ought to be just making fun of the whole business, and indeed that is all it deserves. I can imagine that you get your £9—just imagine the sum, £9!—and then you can claim £8.50, the assumption being that you have got secretaries, research, office equipment, and all the rest of it. You claim it, and you feel you have done your duty. Your responsibility has been fulfilled. But in all this I wonder really whether he has any office equipment, or even indulges in any research, or requires secretarial assistance. On that subject I can give some information right away. Unfor- tunately, sometimes I indulge in observations and, to my surprise and astonishment, I get fan mail in consequence running almost to 100 letters. My letters are not franked, as is the case in another place. I get stamps. Do I have to give details of that? Of course not. I am not expected to furnish details. But what is the assumption outside? "Is he actually buying the stamps? Is he answering the letters? Does he deserve the £17.50 a day that is now available?"

I treat the whole thing with contempt, and that is what we should all do. I should rather that it had been left at the £13.50, except of course for the provincial Members. On this subject of provincial Members, I am on the record for many years. Some of my colleagues will recall that many years ago I said that some of those provincial Members who come and have to get accommodation in London certainly could not afford it. But, £3 a night was provided. What sort of accommodation were they expected to get for £3 a night? Was that not treating them with contempt?

I said at the time, "Never mind about the London Members. They can manage". Even that was objected to by a Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, who said at the time, "What about the accommodation we have to provide ourselves with in London? The rents are so high", and the rest of it. The provincial Members, yes, that I accept; but for the London Members there is no reason why there should be any change.

I do not expect that I shall get much support. That will not matter. I will hold strongly to the opinions I have just expressed. I shall tell the people in another place what I think of them. I have often done that in the past, and I hope that I shall get a little more time to do it in the future, and this will afford me another opportunity and a substantial reason. That is all I have to say. I am not blaming the noble Lord. Far from it. I know that he is affable, pleasant, benevolent, even generous, but for Heaven's sake do not be apologetic for what we are doing! I think that that is enough.


My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House whether the £9 a day is in substitution for the £13.50 that we are entitled to claim now?

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, may I respond to the few questions that have been put to me. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said that he was in a quandary. I have seldom known him not to find his way out of a quandary. He said today that too often do we discuss in this House matters which do not later come to implementation. Well, we are discussing the implementation of a decision taken by a Review Body to which successive Governments put the question of how to handle the matter of expenses for this House. They were asked to look into the expenses, not into a salary. This House has traditionally been a House that has not had a salary but whose expenses have, to some extent, albeit not very generously, been met up to now at least.

The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, asked me what the Review Body had got. I am afraid I cannot tell him what they got in the way of expenses. What I can tell him is that they were unpaid for the job that they did. I am quite sure that where expenses were concerned they were not entitled, neither would they have wished, to claim anything beyond what they actually spent on expenses in the course of their duties.

That is the case I am putting to the House today. I am not saying that the sum of £18.50 for an overnight stay in London is all that generous, but it is at least £3 more than it has been up to now. As to the question whether the £9 should be seen in relation to the £13, the answer is that the £9 plus £8.50—in other words £17.50—if it be spent in duties incurred by noble Lords in attending this House and fulfilling their duties within this House, means that what was one has been split into two, as it were; and, as for the total for sitting days as opposed to expenses incurred by an overnight stay in London, I suppose if one were to compare like with like, it would be £17.50 compared with £13.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell—for whose judgment and feelings I have long had the greatest respect— should feel that this has not been well done and that the Review Body has not done a good job, and that he would apparently have liked to see the Government turn down the Review Body report, feeling that either it should have been more or it should have been a lot less. I am sorry about that, but at least the Government this time have felt it right to accept in toto what the Review Body, which was set up to do a specific job under the very able chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Boyle, recommended.


My Lords, I feel that I should now thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his Statement, and I am sure the House is grateful to him. He has given a clear explanation of the increases in the Peers' expenses allowance and I believe the figures will show that this is a sensible advance. I had the privilege of giving evidence, with my noble friend the then Chief Whip, to the Boyle Committee, and I suggest we should now move on to the next Business of the House; I see no reason why we should not now accept the Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.