HL Deb 23 July 1986 vol 479 cc211-6

2.56 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, last Thursday the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked me how the decision of the House of Commons last Wednesday on secretarial allowances will affect the Motion passed in this House on the same subject. In reply I said that following consultations through the usual channels I would make a statement to the House this week. The facts will be familiar to all your Lordships. Resolutions were tabled in each House to increase secretarial allowances by 6 per cent. and these were debated last Wednesday. This House agreed to the resolution; another place amended their Motion before agreeing to it. This had the effect of increasing the allowance payable in that House by 52½ per cent. for 1986–87. Obviously, this gives rise to a considerable anomaly.

As I have already announced, the whole question of secretarial allowances in both Houses has already been referred to the Top Salaries Review Body. I think that the Top Salaries Review Body is also very well placed to consider the anomaly that has now arisen. On behalf of your Lordships' House I shall ensure that it is asked to do so and that evidence is placed before it to enable it to carry out this function. I understand that the Top Salaries Review Body may be able to report by January 1987 and that any decision made on the basis of its report could be laid before your Lordships' House for agreement soon thereafter. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this is the most satisfactory way of proceeding in this matter.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Viscount for responding so readily and courteously to my inquiry last week. I welcome his reference to the TSRB and the expectation of a report in January with a response from the Government soon thereafter. As he will understand, it is nonetheless unfortunate that after having supported the Motion proposed by the Deputy Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, we are confronted with a new situation following the vote in another place. This is the anomaly referred to by the noble Viscount.

This increases the disparity between the two Houses. Of course we recognise that there must be a disparity between the Houses for obvious reasons. For example, we have no constituencies, while every honourable and right honourable Member in the other place has a constituency with all the responsibilities that that implies. On the other hand, the volume of work and the hours of attendance in this Chamber have increased substantially and must be taken into account especially when we consider the subsistence element as well as the secretarial element. I am bound to say to your Lordships that I regard the subsistence element as being more significant and of more importance in this House than the secretarial element. Comparatively speaking, subsistence paid to the noble Lords in this House is modest, especially for London-based Peers. I shall be most grateful if the noble Viscount will comment on this question of subsistence and tell us whether there is any possible development in this particular area and whether that will be studied by the TSRB when it proceeds with its work over the next few weeks.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, from these Benches we also should like to thank the noble Viscount for making this Statement and to say that we agree that this is much the most appropriate way of dealing with the slightly absurd situation which has arisen. Nonetheless, perhaps I may ask the noble Viscount whether this means that the 6 per cent. that we had agreed will in fact come into force as arranged, or whether we shall have to wait until the TSRB produces its report in January. May I also add, not as from these Benches but speaking as a former member of the TSRB, that having had the reference to the body, it would be rather a good idea if; exceptionally, the Government then accepted the recommendations?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments. With regard to what the noble Lord said, it has to be accepted that another place must make its own decisions. It would be wrong for me in all the circumstances, and in view of much that has been written in the press, to make any comment on what it decided to do, though your Lordships may be able to guess what that comment might be if I did!

The noble Lord asked about subsistence allowance payable in your Lordships' House. That is quite different from anything given in another place and it is very much more in our own hands. At present subsistence allowances are, depending on claims, up to £47 a day for night subsistence and £19 a day for day subsistence. In 1984, the House agreed that increases in the subsistence rates should be linked to increases in the equivalent Civil Service rates. Last year, that arrangement produced an increase of 10 per cent. The 1986 uprating, based on the same equivalent Civil Service rates, is currently being determined and will probably have been decided by the spill-over. Up-rating takes effect from 1st August. I understand that the accountant will be able to pay in arrears any increase which may be awarded.

In answer to the noble Baroness, I think that I am right in saying that, as the House has passed the secretarial allowance, the 6 per cent. comes into effect from 1st August. It is always useful to be given the answer at the last moment! I should otherwise have said that it comes into effect now.

I sympathise a good deal with the noble Baroness in what she said about the TSRB, as one who from time to time gave evidence before it when she was a member. I hope that what she asks will be possible, but I can give no guarantee.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, why is it taking so long for the TSRB to answer a query that seems simple to so many of us?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am slightly at a loss to answer that. I thought that the TSRB had only just had the question put to it and it was about to consider it.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, if it is not to reply until January, the consideration will be taking six months, and that is a long time.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I understand now what the noble Lord is saying. The TRSB has to take evidence both from another place and from here and consider it. If it produces the answer in that time, that is as quickly as I think we can expect. I shall make what representations I can that it should be quicker, but that is what I am advised and it would be wrong for me to encourage expectations beyond what can be achieved.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is a distinct difference between what is provided for this noble House and for the Commons? Here, we simply make claims for expenses to be refunded. What they amount to depends for each one of us on our personal circumstances and judgment. In the Commons, the situation is totally different: they are allowances. We are talking simply about a refund of expenses. I cannot see how the 6 per cent. increase could possibly interfere with anyone. It is more than the increase in the cost of living in the past year. As most Peers, in any event, claim rather less than the totals that are allowed because their expenses do not reach that amount, it seems to me that there should be no difficulty here at all.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. What he says is correct. Another place has different problems and different circumstances and it would be totally wrong for me to comment on them. There was a time when I had some responsibility for these matters. Since I had that responsibility I have to say that some of the actions of another place have departed somewhat from what I should believe to be the best way of going had I still been there. But as I am not there, that does not matter in any way at all. I totally accept what my noble friend says so far as we are concerned.

It is important for us to accept that today this House is bearing a much heavier load than ever before. If noble Lords wish to blame the Government and myself, they are entitled to do so. This House has much more correspondence and there is much more pressure put on it. But, equally, what my noble friend says is perfectly correct. Members of this House are reimbursed in accordance with expenses incurred, which is very different from the other place.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, as a general point, and given the noble Viscount's wide experience in the area, will he recognise that most Members of your Lordships' House are not paid at all, but that expense allowances which far exceed salaries would be totally unacceptable anywhere outside the Palace of Westminster?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, your Lordships have been most reasonable and modest in what you believe to be the way of carrying on the business of the House in circumstances very different from how it was originally proposed that it should work. I believe that the country as a whole will see that the costs of running this House and the reimbursement of your Lordships' expenses are in the circumstances most reasonable, taking into account the considerable amount of work that the House does on what I have to say is a voluntary basis. I am not speaking for myself but for a large number of other Members of the House. This is something which I think is widely recognised, and I am glad that your Lordships feel it right that that should be so.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, may I make the point that I recognise totally that Members of your Lordships' House do an enormous amount of work totally free, except for expenses? I am simply asking whether, if they were salaried, as in other parts of the building, it would be justifiable to have expenses which are so far in excess of salaries, whereas in your Lordships' House even the very people who are salaried have limited expenses.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am sorry if I slightly misunderstood the point that the noble Lord was making. What he says is perfectly true. But from what I divine from what he is saying, I think that if I went too far down the road that he is suggesting I might be getting near to criticising some of the things that another place is doing and I have gone as near to that already as I should.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships as a new boy for making any comment at a time like this, but for 34 years I had experience of the problems in another place and I appreciated very much the way in which the noble Viscount, who was then the Leader of the House of Commons, did a first-class job. I put that on record.

An anomaly was mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition. May I pose some more problems? I am just observing the scene, but another anomaly I find is this. On the Opposition Front Benches are many noble Lords who speak as shadow spokesmen in opposition to Ministers on the Government Front Bench. For example, on the Gas Bill, some of my noble friends had to be equally well briefed and spent many long hours on the Opposition Front Benches, and yet for that they get nothing whatsoever—no remuneration and, so far as I know, no other acknowledgment. Is it not about time that the anomalies created by the differences between the two Front Benches and who is paid were cleared up? The noble Viscount will understand that I am impartial, because I have no hope of ever sitting on anyone's Front Bench.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I should be careful before going too far in responding to the noble Lord. I fully accept that there are certain difficulties. A limited number of my noble friends have enormous responsibilities in looking after the affairs of more than one department in your Lordships' House. I hope that some day somebody may realise that they, too, are not wholly recognised. I should like to say only that.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that his qualities of leadership have been recognised by everybody in this House? Many of us believe that he has strong qualities of trade union negotiation and of trade union leadership. Will he use those qualities on our behalf in places where he needs to do so? We all have complete confidence in him.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. People have all sorts of views about me which I read in the press from time to time. I find many of them fairly inaccurate. If I have qualities of leadership, I am glad because that is what I am put here for on behalf of your Lordships. I shall seek to use those qualities. However, over a very long life, nobody seems to have thought that I had the qualities of a trade union leader.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind the effect which I think the televising of the House has had on our postbags? Is he aware for example, that my postbag is bigger than it was 10 years ago when I was a Member of Parliament? I think that the same applies to many noble Lords.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, that was one of the problems to which I was referring when I said that the load on your Lordships and the extra amount of attention paid to your Lordships' business imposed a considerable extra burden on many Members of the House. I fully accept that.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, will the noble Lord accept, bearing in mind the amount of time that we now have necessarily to spend in the House, that the time is now coming when noble Lords should receive some assistance in having their wives visit them in London in the same way that Members of another place have assistance for that purpose?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, we are straying a long way beyond the matters about which I initially started to answer. The facilities available to your Lordships and your Lordships' wives have been under discussion by various bodies. With regard to your Lordships and our refreshment arrangements, we have many accommodation problems. Everybody is trying to solve them and to help in what is inevitably a difficult matter. If we do not have the accommodation sufficient to do all the things that we want to do, there is almost no way to overcome the problem. We are still seeking to see whether we can do something to effect improvements.

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