HL Deb 14 February 1980 vol 405 cc346-57

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of your Lordships, I should like to repeat a Statement which is being made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in another place on parliamentary pay and allowances. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the pay and allowances of Members of Parliament.

"The Thirteenth Report from the Review Body on Top Salaries is published today as Cmnd. 7825. Copies are available in the Vote Office. Members will have an early opportunity to debate the report, but I would today like to outline briefly the Review Body's recommendations, and to tell the House the Government's reactions.

"The Government are most grateful to Lord Boyle, the chairman of the Review Body, and his colleagues for the consideration they have given to these issues. We accept in general the report's recommendations, but would like to propose some modifications which I will explain.

"The Review Body comment on the growing usage of secretarial and research assistance by Members, reflecting the growth in paperwork and the need for them to inform themselves on increasingly technical or specialist subjects. Consequently, they propose that the present secretarial allowance, which was fixed at an interim level of £4,600 last summer, should be replaced by two allowances with maxima of £5,500 for the employment of a full-time secretary, and £1,250 for part-time research assistance. The Government consider that this change in the scope of the allowance will help Members with their task, and contribute to the better functioning of Parliament. However, we do not believe it would be right to make it obligatory that Members should have their secretaries paid directly by the Fees Office as the Review Body suggests, although we would strongly urge Members to adopt this method of payment.

"The suggestion is also made in the report, although it was not within its terms of reference, that the House"—that is, the House of Commons "might possibly wish to reconsider the question of secretaries being employees of the House rather than of Members. Members may well wish to express their views on this issue when we come to debate the Report in greater detail. However, I am conscious of the fact that in the past many Members have felt that they should remain their Secretary's employer, and this is a view we share.

"The Review Body have also looked at the question of providing severance pay and pensions for secretaries, and also at whether the secretarial allowance should be paid during a period of dissolution, but have recommended no change in the existing arrangements.

"Turning to the Review Body's recommendations on honourable Members' pension arrangements, the Government accept the conclusions that the existing rate of accrual is satisfactory and that no further improvement of provisions for back-service credit would be appropriate. The Government also agree, however, that there should be more flexibility in the limit within which honourable Members may transfer pension rights into the scheme. An appropriate amendment will be introduced when further legislation on the scheme is planned. The Government also accept, in principle, the proposal to use the Members' Fund to provide a measure of benefit as of right to Members who left the House before 16th October, 1964, and their dependants. Once the options have been examined and costed in greater detail, appropriate legislation will be introduced.

"I now come to the recommendations on other Parliamentary allowances and facilities. First, on severance pay, the Review Body consider that there could be difficulties for the older longer-serving Members when they lose their seats, and they recommend a higher severance payment for them. The report also looks carefully at the problem of the expenses which Ministers in the House of Lords incur, and recommends an allowance of up to £1,000 per annum should be available towards the cost of secretarial assistance needed to deal with non-departmental correspondence, subject to the production of evidence of expenditure. These Ministers will, however, cease to be eligible for the maximum of £700 per annum of Peers Expenses Allowance which they may currently claim.

"As part of their remit the Review Body also looked at the question of constituency surgery costs, travelling expenses of spouses attending official functions and the cost of office equipment. Apart from a minor change to the spouses' travel arrangements the Review Body sees no case for introducing special allowances.

"On travel facilities, the Review Body reiterate the view expressed on their Eighth Report in 1976 that the costs of all journeys within the United Kingdom on parliamentary business should be reimbursed. The Government recognise the argument that this improvement might help Members carry out their duties, but feel unable, because of the costs involved, to accept this recommendation at the present time.

"Finally, there is the question of how Members' pay should be treated for the future, and whether it should be linked in any way. The Review Body, having considered this issue very carefully once more, conclude that linkage would be inappropriate for the Members' salary. The remit to the Review Body asked them to look specifically at professional analogues, but the conclusion reached here is that there is no similarity between the functions and responsibilities of any professional group and those of MPs, and that there is no relationship in terms of pay.

"TSRB reiterate that in their view regular independent review remains the best way of dealing with Parliamentary pay, and in the light of all these factors the Government intend to propose the institution of annual TSRB reviews on the parliamentary salary from next year. The intention would be to invite the Review Body to take account particularly of salary movements in the professional field. Of course, the Government could not undertake a blanket commitment to implement whatever is recommended with regard to Members' salaries, but our firm intention is that recommendations will be implemented unless there are clear and compelling reasons to the contrary."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for repeating that Statement, which is very important from the point of view of House business. May I say that my colleagues and I, and indeed colleagues in another place, feel that we should have further consultations on this matter. For that reason, I am not going to commit the Opposition to anything specific in regard to this Statement. I believe that we should have proper consultations, and then we shall have to make our decisions when legislation is introduced.


My Lords, while recognising that this is primarily a matter for another place, may I say that it is rather incongruous that a body which is described as the Review Body on Top Salaries should be recommending such derisory increases, which will cause bitter disappointment among secretarial staff in the Commons. Does the noble Earl honestly think that it is possible to employ a part-time research assistant at £1,250 and that this is going to go any way at all towards meeting the needs which the Government themselves recognise, and which they say would contribute to the better functioning of Parliament? What provision is there in these arrangements for the National Insurance contributions which Members have to pay for their secretaries and which we understand are to be increased in April? Did the review body take into account the increase in National Insurance contributions, and will there be an automatic adjustment when that takes place?

Does the noble Earl the Deputy Leader of the House recognise that there is nothing in this award for costs other than for secretarial salaries and National Insurance and that Members have to buy many things besides, such as their own typewriters? One cannot get a typewriter nowadays for less than £750. Then there are the consumable items that one uses in an office, like typewriter ribbons, which are not cheap, either.

Does not the noble Earl agree that we are worse served than almost any other legislature in the world? If one compares our situation with Congress, a typical Congressman may have a research and secretarial staff of 18 people. How can we really expect Members of another place to do their job properly on such minute resources? Does the noble Earl the Deputy Leader of the House recognise that there will be particular disappointment among the secretarial staff that the Government did not find themselves able to deal with the question of severance pay and pensions for secretaries? When an honourable Member dies or loses his seat, it means instant dismissal for his secretary. Does he not think that that is entirely unreasonable? The Fees Office even inquire as to the exact time of death of the Member so as to decide whether or not his secretary is entitled to payment on that day. Does he not think that we owe it to these people, who work extremely long hours—one secretary whom I spoke to yesterday told me that she was at her desk regularly from 8.30 in the morning until 8 in the evening—to treat them in a more civilised manner when through no fault of their own they lose their employment?

Turning to the provision of secretarial allowances for Members of your Lordships' House, does not what I have said in regard to another place apply here with even greater force? How can anybody expect to employ a part-time secretary to deal with his non-ministerial business for £1,000, let alone an ordinary Member of your Lordships' House to employ anybody for £700. Does the noble Earl realise that if the proper salary for a secretary is £5,500 and she works the normal office hours of 35 hours a week, the £700 paid to Members of your Lordships' House as the maximum secretarial allowance would enable somebody to be employed for less than 4½, hours a week, which is totally inadequate to deal with the amount of correspondence which many of your Lordships have? Will the Review Body consider in future a proper provision for your Lordships as well as for Members of another place, and will the annual review which is recommended by the Top Salaries Review Body on Parliamentary salaries apply also to the allowances in your Lordships' House?


My Lords, may I answer the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Peart, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. First, I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, said that he would like to reserve his position and consult with others about this. Perhaps he means with us. By all means let him do so, should he so wish.


My Lords, I did not intend to be discourteous but I forgot to mention the admirable work done by the noble Lord, Lord Boyle, and his colleagues. It is quite a difficult job. I should like to put that on the record.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having made that observation. I concur with him totally. It is a very, very difficult job of work to get the balance right when there is absolutely no yardstick by which to compare results. If the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition wishes to have consultations, by all means let him do so.

With regard to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I think that the barrage of questions which he put to me indicates how very difficult this problem is. I have no doubt whatsoever that the Top Salaries Review Body have considered all those points. When the noble Lord introduced his remarks he said that this was mostly a matter for another place. I think he is entirely right about that. Frankly, I would hesitate about involving myself too much in criticising the arrangements for Members of another place, and their secretarial allowances. That is a matter for Members of another place who will have an opportunity to discuss it themselves and to raise the very points which the noble Lord has made—and quite justified they are, too.

The noble Lord mentioned one thing to which I should refer. He asked, did one think that it was possible to get a secretary for £5,500, and a research assistant? I would make only this point, which was brought out in the Statement; that secretaries are employed by the Member. What the Member can get is a contribution towards the payment of the secretary. It does not mean that he is obliged to pay the secretary only that amount. What he pays the secretary or, the part-time secretary, is a matter for the Member and the secretary. This is merely a contribution from public funds towards that cost. I think that the noble Lord asked me whether the secretarial arrangements would be reviewed once a year. May I ask him whether that was his question?


My Lords, I was referring to the arrangements for this House.


My Lords, I think the answer to that question is that Peers' expenses will be reviewed periodically by the Top Salaries Review Body. They will not necessarily be reviewed every year, but probably biennially.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl the Deputy Leader of the House whether he is aware that the suggestion made by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition is very wise: that there should be further consultations about some of the items contained in this report? May I ask him whether he is also aware that some of the obvious anomalies that have arisen out of the pension scheme do not appear to have been rectified, nor is there any suggestion to that effect? I admit that I have an interest in the matter; I do not deny that I have. But I would not make a song and dance about it; nor have I ever made heavy weather about it. I am not the only Member affected. My noble friend Lord Boothby was very grievously affected—even more than I—by not receiving anything at all by way of a pension, despite his prolonged service. Although I have never complained about it, in my particular case it is an anomaly that seems to be accepted by everybody.

Under the 1964 pension scheme, pensions were determined by 10 years' service, despite the fact that many of us had almost three or four times more service than that. In my own case, my pension was based on 10 years' service. I never could understand the reason why, but, as I say, I have never complained about it. But now that Members of Parliament are going to be—and I emphasise this—less harshly treated than we were when we were Members of Parliament, perhaps I could say this. There was no severance scheme. When I lost my seat in 1931 there was not even the dole. One can now apply for social security. Few people appreciate what some of us endured in view of our defeat. But none of these anomalies are going to be rectified.

I do not want to complain about the noble Lord, Lord Boyle. He is doing his best, but I hear that secretaries are now going to be paid over £5,000 per year, which is much more than the income of some noble Lords; and we have no secretaries. Over and above that, is the noble Lord the Leader of the House aware that many of us receive letters from our old constituents and from the descendants of our old constituents asking us to deal with questions? I had two only last week in which I was referred to as a Member of Parliament. They think that we are still Members of Parliament, and of course we are. What do we do about all that?

I am delighted to hear that Members of Parliament are to be less harshly treated than we were. We went through the mill; we took a chance, a calculated risk and we have no right to complain about it, but when I hear about these enormous sums that are going to be paid for secretaries and all the rest of it, with all the ancillaries, with rooms for themselves (which we do not have here) with couches, for reasons that I do not understand, really, it is going a bit too far! I hope the Deputy Leader of the House will take into account what my noble friend and also other noble Lords interested in the matter have suggested in order to ensure that if there is to be special treatment of Members of Parliament there should be recognitiion, for what it may be worth and so long as it may last, that we are also Members of Parliament and have a duty to this House and also to the general public.


My Lords, I understand the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and it does not exactly surprise me that he referred to the fact that those who were Members of Parliament before 1964 and retired receive no pension at all. I know that this is a matter of great concern to those who are so placed. I think the noble Lord said that he was a Member for 30 years before that occurred and there was no pension there and only the dole. That was a fairly traumatic experience, but of course things have altered quite a bit. I even remember that when I first came to your Lordships' House there was no expenses allowance at all. Indeed, the only allowance we received was a travel allowance, provided we attended a third of the Sittings, and if one intended to attend a third of the Sittings and one did not, there was no refund of the travelling expenses. So things have advanced since then.

When the noble Lord says that the secretaries are getting too much for what is done, I am bound to reiterate that that is a matter for the Members of the House of Commons to consider, because this is something which specifically refers to them. However, I think I can give the noble Lord a little encouragement on one facet; that is, with regard to the pre-1964 pensions. If I may, I should like to repeat that part of the Statement which said that the Government also accept in principle the proposal to use the Members' Fund to provide a measure of benefit as of right to Members who left the House before 16th October 1964 and their dependants. Once the options have been costed and examined in Greater detail appropriate legislation will be introduced. So it looks as though something may be done. I am not fully conversant with what the Members' Fund is, and I doubt whether the noble Lord will find himself very flush at the end of it when the appropriate legislation has been introduced, but at least something is happening.


My Lords, I notice that the noble Earl had two pages of paper in front of him. Has he by any chance mislaid the third page, which might have related the allowances which your Lordships draw to the increasing inflationary effect of the last 18 months?


My Lords, I fear that part of the expenses of your Lordships' allowance ought to go to provide the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, with a pair of spectacles, because I have the third page here and the curious thing is that the third page does not say anything about the expenses which your Lordships' draw, because in fact that does not come into the review undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Boyle.


My Lords, will the noble Earl permit me to refer again to the pre-1964 category, in which quite obviously this humble noble Lord has no personal interest whatsoever. The noble Earl mentioned that there have been discussions on this matter in this House and that the feeling of the House was very clear. He mentioned that the matter would be under consideration and that legislation might take place. Would the noble Earl have in mind that, unless the consideration is speedy and the legislation is given priority, many of those who are supposed to benefit will not be here to benefit at all?


How does the noble Lord know?


My Lords, I am quite certain that that cryptic observation will be read with concern by those whose responsibility it is to lay this legislation; and, of course, they are not at present in another place by virtue of the fact that they have left it.


My Lords, without wishing to delay proceedings at all and thanking the Deputy Leader of the House for reading the Statement, may I ask him whether I am clear in thinking that as a result of the unanimous decision of this House in referring reckonable service to the Boyle Committee for their consideration, the Boyle Committee and the Government now feel that any change in reckonable service should be met from the Members' Fund, which of course is a fund which has an upper limit and is subject to a means test?


My Lords, I think I shall have to write to the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, on that. It is a matter of detail about which I am not certain.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, as one who sat in another place for 34 years—unbroken years—and as a result contributed regularly to their pension fund but who has no pension at all, may I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that the interminable delay of the Boyle Committee in making any recommendation about pre-1964 Members of Parliament, despite strong pressure over the years from both Houses of Parliament, has meant that a good many of the people concerned have had to live, and some of them to die, in considerable poverty? It really is time that something was done.

May I also, with the indulgence of the House, and in the form of a question, make a very brief personal statement? It is this: Is the noble Earl aware that I am a little sensitive on the subject of declarations of interest, and I have a vague recollection that one day when I was in a particular rage with the Boyle Committee I said to your Lordships that if they recommended that I should get a pension of any kind I would not take it. My Lords, I have thought that one over, and I should like to put it on record that I have changed my mind; and the reason why I have changed my mind is that I have been doing a bit of research with the help of the Librarian of your Lordships' House, and find that I have now sat continuously in both Houses of Parliament for longer than anyone else in this century or, so far as they can make out, in any other century. In fact I may have sat in both Houses of Parliament for longer than any man who has ever lived; and if that does not entitle me to a pension, I don't know what does.

Several noble Lords

Hear, hear!


My Lords, I think it must be quite a unique occasion, first, to hear the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, say that he has been a Member of Parliament longer than anyone else has ever been—and I am certainly not in a position to contradict that, nor if I were, would I do so, because it is a great claim. Secondly, it is a unique occasion to hear the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, totally change his view. I think it was Winston Churchill who said that periodically one has to make a meal of one's words and not an unwholesome diet, either. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Boothby's diet would not be unwholesome, but in a serious vein I do accept that this is a real problem and I accept also that it is such a problem because it cannot be ventilated personally by people in another place, simply because they have already left there.

I think it would probably meet the feelings and the requirements of the House if I were to ensure that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was given a copy of the proceedings of this House in which the observations which your Lordships have made will appear.


My Lords, may I be permitted to clear up a misunderstanding, because we do not want to go on being vague about this? The noble Earl the Deputy Leader of the House has dealt with one point which would clear up the anomaly affecting my noble friend Lord Boothby—namely, that if the parliamentary fund to which we contributed, first, £24 and then a further sum per annum, were used, he would be brought into the scheme. On the other hand the 1964 scheme would not affect a person like myself or others similarly placed, but, if it is going to benefit the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, I do not mind being left out. I think he needs it much more than I do.


My Lords, I would not dare to intervene as to who required it most or more, but I will see that the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, on that matter will also be passed to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—but I dare say he would rather that one was not passed on, in fact.