HL Deb 23 July 1987 vol 488 cc1529-46

2.39 p.m.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I beg to move the Lords expenses Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. As noble Lords will be aware, the terms of this Motion reflect the recommendations of the Top Salaries Review Body which last April published its review of parliamentary secretarial allowances. The TSRB also made certain other recommendations affecting the Lords—on the questions of short money and of a possible special secretarial allowance to active Back-Bench Peers. It may be for the convenience of the House if, in moving the Lords expenses Motion, I say a few words on these other matters too.

I turn first to the Motion on Lords expenses. At present, noble Lords can claim up to £20 for each day of attendance at the House for costs incurred on secretarial work, postage and certain additional expenses such as the cost of equipment, or books or periodicals, and Lords' Ministers and paid office holders may claim an allowance of £2,334 a year for secretarial expenses in connection with parliamentary correspondence. The TSRB did its work with customary diligence and as part of its scrutiny sent questionnaires to a one-in-two sample of Peers who had attended the House in the 1985–86 Session. The results of the survey are set out at pages 17 to 19 of Volume 2 of the report.

Having regard to the evidence of Peers' actual expenditure on secretarial, postage and related costs and having regard also to the character of your Lordships' House, the TSRB has recommended no changes to the basis on which the allowance should be paid. It has however recommended that the allowance should be increased from £20 to £22 a day. It has also recommended an increase from £2,334 to £2,570 a year for ministerial secretarial expenses.

The TSRB proposes that annual uprating by reference to the percentage increase in the pay of senior personal secretaries in the Civil Service should be continued. The Government accept all these recommendations and the Motion now before your Lordships will give effect to them from 1st August, 1987. I hope that the House will agree to these increases.

That is all I want to say about the secretarial allowances. But before sitting down I should like to say something about short money and an allowance for active Back-Bench Peers. Short money, as the opposition Front Benches and former Members of the House of Commons will know, is the financial assistance made available from government funds to the opposition parties to assist them in carrying out their parliamentary business. The amount currently paid to the parties and the formula which determines that amount are clearly set out on page 21 of the TSRB report. Broadly speaking, it is based on the number of MPs and the votes cast at the general election.

This money, at the discretion of the party leaders, may be used to support the work of the Lords, too. And the opposition Front Benches do, I know, receive some support from this quarter. In the course of its review of secretarial allowances the TSRB looked very hard at the resources available to opposition Front-Bench Peers. It concluded that very little short money reached the Lords and suggested that a separate allocation should be sufficient to provide the main Opposition party with eight to 10 research assistants with similar provision for the other parties based on the formula used in the House of Commons. These are questions that can be considered during the current review of short money that is taking place between the Government and opposition parties through the usual channels.

The issue of whether to have a separate allocation for the Lords' opposition parties or whether to continue to provide an overall sum and leave it to the parties to decide upon allocation themselves, is obviously something that the leaders of the opposition parties in this House would have a view about. I am sure that they are in touch with their colleagues in another place about it. It is primarily a matter for each of the opposition parties to decide themselves. However, I can say that if the opposition parties did agree that they wanted part of the short money reserved for the Lords' opposition parties, the Government would certainly not obstruct this development.

As to the size of the addition proposed by the TSRB, I must say that the Government have reservations as it is based on a notional number of research assistants. We have in mind a rather smaller sum, its use to be at the discretion of the parties in the House. But these details are for the review. This will be conducted as expeditiously as possible with, I know, the full participation of the leaders of the parties in this House. I shall of course report the outcome to the House in due course.

I turn finally to the question of some kind of enhanced secretarial allowance for active Back-Bench Peers. The TSRB received evidence of the higher level of activity in your Lordships' House in recent years, of the greater public awareness of its role and the increase in lobbying to which noble Lords are exposed. This point was also made to the TSRB and I know that my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter proposed to say something about this. Some Peers find that correspondence relating to parliamentary business continues in Recesses, for which Peers cannot claim any allowance.

However, the TSRB could make no recommendation as to the introduction of some kind of extra allowance for the more active Back-Bench Peers. It considered that the problems of establishing the level of need and the question of who should be eligible to receive the allowance were insurmountable. Instead, it suggested that I, as Leader of the House, might wish to invite the House to consider the matter further. But that leaves the question for me, and indeed for your Lordships' House. The first question that we have to decide—which may as time goes on cause us a little difficulty—is what exactly is an active Back-Bench Peer and who decides who is such an active Back-Bench Peer—and of course what does his activity consist of?

There are all sorts of answers that I think different parts of the House would consider giving. I suspect that my noble friend the Chief Whip would have one idea of what an active Back-Bench Peer was, and others might have a different idea. So this matter is not an easy one, although it is easy to point to the difficulties. I naturally share the dilemma which has been thrust straight back at me. However, I would genuinely be extremely happy to listen to any workable schemes that may be proposed by your Lordships. We would be very determined to consider them to see whether we can overcome some of the problems. I think they are formidable but that does not necessarily mean that schemes for dealing with them cannot be thought out.

I hope I have not wearied the House too much by speaking at such length. I am happy to say that I have now covered all the recommendations made by the TSRB relating to your Lordships' House and its secretarial needs. I hope your Lordships will agree that I have been able to give an encouraging response on behalf of the Government to all those recommendations except one. Only the recommendations on the Peers' secretarial allowance and the other expenses allowances need immediate action by the House, and accordingly I invite your Lordships to agree to the Motion before you. I beg to move. Moved, That the limits on the expenses which Lords may recover under paragraphs (1)(d) and (3) of the Resolution of 22nd July 1980 should be determined as follows—

  1. (a) for paragraph (1)(d) of the Resolution (office, secretarial and research allowance) the limit for any year shall be the appropriate amount multiplied by the number of days of attendance in that year falling within paragraph (1)(a) of the Resolution, the appropriate amount for this purpose being determined as follows—
    1. (i) for expenses incurred in the year beginning with 1st August 1987, the appropriate amount shall be £22;
    2. (ii) for expenses incurred in any subsequent year, the appropriate amount shall be the amount obtained by increasing what was the appropriate amount for expenses incurred in the immediately preceding year by the relevant percentage (so that, if the relevant percentage for any year is nil, the appropriate amount remains the same for expenses incurred in that year);
  2. (b) for paragraph (3) of the Resolution (office holders' secretarial allowance) the limit shall be—
    1. (i) for the year beginning with 1st August 1987, £2,570:
    2. (ii) for any subsequent year, the amount obtained by increasing the limit applicable to the immediately preceding year by the relevant percentage (so that, if the relevant percentage for any year is nil, the limit remains the same for that year).
In this Resolution "year" means a year beginning with 1st August, and for the purposes of this Resolution—
  1. (i) the relevant percentage for any year is the percentage by which the amount of salary (exclusive of allowances and overtime) payable for the period of twelve months ending with 31st March in that year to a person in the Home Civil Service at the maximum point on the scale for Senior Personal Secretaries and in receipt of Inner London weighting exceeds the corresponding amount for the period of twelve months ending with 31st March in the immediately preceding year;
  2. 1532
  3. (ii) any fraction of a pound in an amount obtained under subparagraph (ii) of paragraph (a) or (b) above shall be treated as a whole pound if it is not less than 50 pence, but shall otherwise be disregarded.—(Viscount Whitelaw.)

2.50 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for so concisely introducing the recommendation on the Lords' secretarial allowance. During our last consideration a year ago on the level of Peers' secretarial allowance, your Lordships found yourselves retrospectively in some difficulties in that another place considered a similar resolution on an allowance after your Lordships, and they took a dramatically different attitude from that taken by your Lordships.

As a result, the top salaries review was set into motion. On this occasion the noble Viscount has very wisely decided that your Lordships should consider their resolution on this matter of the secretarial allowance after the other place had considered their resolution. That was done on Tuesday night and the conclusion of the debate is available only in today's Hansard. Once again the other place has decided not entirely to follow the recommendations of the review body in their entirety. I am concerned that, again, that produces a situation of unequal treatment between Members of the two Houses.

So far as concerns the other place, the review body came to the conclusion that the level of secretarial allowance fixed last year was higher than could be justified and that the figure should mark time, indexation not applying to that figure until the lower figure that was suggested by the review body had reached the present level of allowance in another place by process of annual indexation. The decision the other night of another place was that indexation should immediately apply in the financial year starting in April 1988 to the figure agreed for secretarial allowance last year.

After very full and thorough investigation, the review body suggested that the right figure for your Lordships' daily secretarial allowance was £22 and that that figure should be effective from 1st August, as is mentioned in the terms of the Motion before your Lordships' House this afternoon. However, if your Lordships are to enjoy some equality of treatment with the other place it seems that that figure should also be subject to indexation from 1st August this year.

In effect, the review body has said that the correct figure for secretarial expenses for your Lordships is £22, in the same way that it gave the figure for another place. The other place has added indexation-plus on to that figure, whereas your Lordships are to receive just that figure. This is a matter that I have been able fully to consider only in the past few hours as the terms of the resolution were only available from this morning's Hansard. However, I shall be grateful if the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will consider whether that situation can be rectified by increasing the amount for your Lordships' secretarial allowance by indexation for this year in addition. I am advised that that figure is about 4.5 per cent., which would amount to another £1 on the secretarial allowance, making a total of £23 rather than £22.

There is another matter that I should like to discuss concerning unequal treatment between your Lordships and Members of another place, which has been raised with me by various Members of this Chamber. Members of this House and Members of another place act as parliamentary delegates to European assemblies; namely, the North Atlantic Assembly, Western European Union and the Council of Europe. As such they receive a per diem allowance of 920 French francs, which is paid by the House in order to cover subsistence and expenses. The current value of that sum is around £100 but I am advised that it is no more than is necessary for the expenses involved in attending meetings.

When attending those meetings Members of another place continue to be able to draw their secretarial allowance in the Commons. The Commons secretarial allowance is paid on an annual basis whereas your Lordships' secretarial allowance is paid on a daily basis. It seems to me that Peers who, as part of their parliamentary duties, are members of parliamentary delegations to those organisations and attend those meetings should qualify for a secretarial allowance. The business of reimbursing secretaries continues during the time that they are attending those meetings. I should be grateful if the noble Viscount the Leader of the House could comment on that as well.

Perhaps I may now move, as did the Leader of the House, to the question of short money. We are of course pleased about the proposal in the report that there should be a separately defined allowance for the opposition parties in this House. Indeed, I was very interested in what the Leader of the House said. The ominous part of his remarks was perhaps that a rather smaller sum might be available for this than was envisaged by the Top Salaries Review Body. One wonders whether he was thinking of something marginally less—perhaps 10 per cent. less—than what the review body had in mind, or something considerably smaller than that.

It would he useful if the Leader of the House could give some indication as to what he meant by "a rather smaller sum". It is true—and this, in a sense, is something about which we are very pleased—that if this recommendation were fully implemented it would make a very substantial difference to the ability of the opposition parties to function effectively.

Finally, I come to the hoary question of an enhanced secretarial allowance for active Peers. I hope we are thinking in terms of active Peers in all parts of the House and not just solely of Back-Bench Peers. The review body found this a very difficult problem. Indeed, it said at paragraph 69 of its report: we concluded … that it would be wrong to differentiate … between frequent attenders and those who attend less frequently but make a valuable contribution to the work of the House. We believed that the introduction of different levels of allowance would give rise to difficulties of definition and undoubtedly some injustice as between Peers on either side of whatever dividing line was established". As the Leader of the House has said, it concluded—almost in desperation, one feels—by saying: This is a matter which the Leader of the House may wish to invite the House to consider further". Indeed it is a hoary problem to define what is an active Peer. At one time, your Lordships had what is now referred to as an assiduity allowance, and a Peer could not claim for attendance unless he had attended on a minimum number of occasions. That told against those Peers who might have certain special interests so did not attend very often, and were therefore penalised.

Another suggestion has been made that it should be based on the number of votes in which a Peer takes part. That would also run into difficulties. An even further suggestion has been made that the allowance should be based on the number of column inches in Hansard that a Peer's speech takes up. That would lead inevitably to the proceedings of your Lordships' House grinding to a halt. Indeed, I think one can honestly say that a workable scheme has not been produced.

There is, as I have indicated, an overriding argument against any scheme, because it would inevitably produce unfairness of treatment between different Peers. One is reminded that in another place, with one or two exceptions, every Front-Bench and Back-Bench MP, other than Ministers, is treated equally. It would be difficult to argue for unequal treatment of Peers when there is no unequal treatment of Members of another place. Those are some of the issues which arise from this report, I look forward to hearing noble Lords' comments on this report and to the reply of the Leader of the House.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, from these Benches I too should like to thank the noble Viscount for introducing this Motion. I also thank the chairman of the review body, the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, and his team for the remarkably detailed report that they have produced. Those of us who read it in detail recognise the House as it is, the way in which it works and also the difficulties that are outlined in reaching solutions to its difficult problems.

On the question of secretarial allowance, I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, said when he compared this House with another place. I do not wish to follow that argument too closely. I believe that noble Lords should be properly reimbursed in the form of a secretarial allowance for the costs that they incur in this place. That should be decided not totally without reference to another place, but a conclusion should not necessarily be derived from anything that may be done in another place.

Noble Lords will remember that a few years ago I persuaded your Lordships that our motor car allowances could well be dealt with in a slightly different way because of the different circumstances that existed in this place, and noble Lords were good enough to agree with that. Therefore we do have situations where we do not necessarily follow along the same tramlines as another place. I do not think that the indexation of this year's allowance is a major issue. The review body has gone into the needs of this House and has come up with a solution which I think we should accept.

When it comes to short money not unnaturally we on these Benches in particular welcome the suggestion that short money should be made available to Opposition Front Benches in your Lordships' House because at the moment Front Bench spokesmen receive no contribution at all, although I hope that we play an active and useful part in your Lordships' House.

I was slightly worried by the tone of the noble Viscount's remarks in that there seemed to be a suggestion that there would perhaps be no new money coming forward. I may be misinterpreting what he said but I hope that it is not true. I hope that it will be impossible to offer short money to your Lordships' House in its own right. May I perhaps suggest that as regards your Lordships' House it should be renamed Glenamara money.

It is an undoubted fact that noble Lords on the Front Benches of the non-official Opposition find it difficult to provide the kind of services and back-up which are necessary for them to do their job in this House. It is very good to see that recognised in the report and I hope that the Government will recognise it too. As regards staff numbers, it seems to me that again the Government should be careful before they move away from the numbers that are recommended in the report because they represent a reasonable funding for a reasonable number of research and secretarial assistants both for the Labour party and for the Alliance Peers.

As regards active Back-Bench Peers, all recognise that it is not easy. I do not believe that it is impossible to find some solution to this problem. Although, as the noble Viscount has said, the report fails to make a recommendation and puts the problem very firmly in his broad lap, nevertheless one should notice that paragraph 71 of the report states: Our management consultants have recommended that parties in the Lords should be able to nominate active back-bench Peers who would receive an annual maximum secretarial allowance of £5,000 in return for a guarantee that they would, unless prevented by illness, attend the House on a minimum number of occasions annually. The views of a professional management consultancy should not be totally ignored. Although perhaps they do not recognise the subtleties of the difficulties that can exist in your Lordships' House, nevertheless I should not wish this moment to go by and for us simply to say that the review body was unable to recommend anything, because clearly the management consultants recommended something to the review body.

I hope that there is a possibility of finding a way through the difficulties which exist in offering support to active Back-Bench Peers. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, I feel that active Peers are not always associated with the Back-Benches. There are also one or two of us on the Front Benches who are moderately active!

This is a very good report and I am glad that the Government have responded to the degree that they have. I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to give a little more reassurance on the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and myself. I believe that in recent years this House has played an increasing part in improving legislation going through Parliament. The time has come to take some positive step forward to support the activities of many noble Lords in all parts of the House who find it very difficult to obtain the necessary quality of service because of the difficulty in finding research and secretarial backup. Having said that, we certainly support the Motion.

3.6 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I set this discussion against the whole parliamentary situation. Noble Lords who have served in another place and others will be aware that back in the late 1940s when Members of another place were paid £600 a year, there was a great reluctance to pay them any more. I remember Quintin Hogg, as he then was, boldly recommending a salary of £2,000 a year; I refer of course to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham.

Parliament has consistently, despite its qualities, undervalued its services. That is particularly true of your Lordships' House. I suggest that the Plowden Committee did not really understand the problems of this House; the committee coped with it. However, if we look at the membership of the committee, there was no one who could recall the curious phrase "an active Peer".

We all tend to underrate the services of this House. Indeed, we sometimes wonder whether anybody likes us except ourselves. However, recently I think there has been a certain degree of recognition. In terms of cost-effectiveness, the reports of your Lordships' House and the service that we render in committees of the House or in Select Committees is most extraordinarily good value for money. If I may refer to the Select Committee on Science and Technology, it is astonishing that that committee has led to major changes in government policy on science. I have just become the new chairman of the committee in succession to the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, who did a tremendous job. It is extraordinary that a committee without any resources except its members, one-and-a-half very able clerks and a specialist adviser can produce a report leading to major changes in the structure of government.

I put that forward as the background, because it may well be that there is no solution to the problem. I was, however, a little disturbed when a member of the Plowden Committee remarked to me: "I do not know how we can pay what you think you ought to get, since you are a non-elected House". That is not the point. It is not our fault. Approximately 15 or 20 years ago a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, Mr. Crossman, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and myself were involved in putting forward proposals for the reform of the House. Both sets of proposals on debate and on Second Reading were overwhelmingly approved by both Houses. They were finally defeated as a result of weakness on the part of the Labour Government and in the face of what can only be described as a filibuster by Mr. Michael Foot, who did not want to see the House of Lords reformed, and Mr. Enoch Powell, who did not want it altered at all.

The result is that we carry on rather successfully without reform and indeed with a degree of recognition. We had to face these issues and at that time we came up with a concept of a two-tier House (although that is not what I am proposing now), which everybody thought was very complicated. In particular we recognised, the value of a phrase which we use, "occasional excellence"; that is to say, those noble Lords who attended the House very occasionally but who bring a degree of expertise and knowledge. Therefore, in deciding what might be called the full-time House—I shall not go into the complicated details; we modelled it, although I asked the Ministry of Defence to model it because it could not be done elsewhere—we came up with a solution in which those who were salaried and voting members had to put in two-thirds attendance.

I am speaking on behalf of the so-called active Peers. It is appalling that hitherto the Liberal Party has not received any short money or help. Since the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said that he is sponsoring and pushing this debate because he wants to know our opinion, I say that we treat this House abominably badly. We do not provide the accommodation we should. I share an office with three other noble Lords. I happen to have a secretary but the papers of one noble Lord or noble Baroness who shares my office overflow from her desk to mine, and she is constantly filing them or throwing them away. She could (and he could) do with a secretary. Noble Lords should certainly put in a minimum amount of attendance.

The calculation which was strongly recommended by the survey committee was that there should be a secretarial allowance of up to £5,000. My recommendation is that payment should be made direct to the secretary, as I believe happens in the other place, on the undertaking that the work done by the Secretary is in the public service.

I stress that fact because noble Lords who have been in the other place and take part in other public activities have an enormous amount of work which is not directly parliamentary but which springs from parliamentary activities. I could give many examples, but I refer to the fact—because I always refer to the Falklands in every speech I make—that I was picked to go to the Falklands as an ex-Minister and a Member of the House of Lords, and hardly a day goes by that I do not get a letter on the subject. All noble Lords know the pressure which springs from membership of this House. I hear, as indeed do other noble Lords, from constituents of 30 years ago.

Therefore, my suggestion is that there should be a payment, as recommended, up to £5,000. I stress that this is not a hard-luck story on my part. For many of these years my firm, which paid me a handsome salary (as indeed is the case with other noble Lords), also provided me with secretaries. That has come to an end. I now pay a secretary £5,000 a year and I am very happy to do so. I still go out to work in order to pay for the secretary. I am chairman of a committee and I have to write letters, but I cannot use the clerks for this purpose.

I ask the noble Viscount to be rather more brave than the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, and his people and to see whether a scheme can be worked out set against the background that this House needs a review of its facilities and services. I hope that this point can be further considered and payment made direct to a secretary in return for a certificate stating that x amount of work was in the public field.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, although I would not agree with the specific proposal that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has presented to your Lordships, I agree with the spirit of his approach and the importance of being more self-confident about the service which your Lordships' House renders to the public.

I direct my few remarks solely to the secretarial allowance. The present allowance has one basic defect, it seems to me. It is related only to days of attendance; it is in the nature of things not payable during recesses. Our other allowances—subsistence, night subsistence and so on—are rightly related to days of attendance.

The secretarial allowance is quite different in kind. As the Plowden Committee states: The point has been made that correspondence continues when the House is in recess, but Peers cannot claim the daily allowance which is payable only for days on which the House is sitting. It is my experience, and I think also the experience of a good many of your Lordships, that, particularly since your Lordships' House has been televised, we get a very considerable body of correspondence relating to our duties here. The correspondence is from all sorts of people—from cranks and lunatics, from lobbyists, from good causes and people responsible for admirable charitable and other organisations, and from members of the public who either agree or disagree with what we say. We receive correspondence from members of the public who feel that they have a view they would like ventilated in Parliament and who take the sensible view that there is a very much better chance of it being ventilated here than in another place.

There is a steady and, in my experience, fairly substantial volume of correspondence. It has been steadily expanding ever since the House was televised. The brutal fact is that it does not stop tonight when your Lordships' House rises for three months. It goes on. To take the line that one is not going to deal with that correspondence would be doing a singular disservice to your Lordships' House. I do not think anybody would really recommend that one should adopt such a churlish, unhelpful and unpublic-spirited attitude. The fact remains that we receive no allowance whatever once the House has risen. Indeed, it has not been mentioned but, unlike Members of another place, in dealing with correspondence we also have to pay our own postage which in this day and age is not insignificant.

Therefore, a very real problem faces a good many Members of your Lordships' House. It is not met simply by altering the precise amount paid in respect of days of attendance; it requires a more radical solution. I share the distaste which has been expressed in seeking to classify some Peers as active, some as less active and some as active Back Benchers. That is an invidious thing to do. It would put a difficult task on those who have to make the assessment. I do not think it is necessary.

I venture to put a suggestion which I hope my noble friend the Lord President will consider. After each Session or after each sitting, whichever you like, the average amount claimed by way of secretarial allowance would be a good indication of what that expenditure has actually been related to one's attendance here. One can pay either that sum or, if preferred, a sum related to it—perhaps two-thirds or three-quarters of it—per week during the subsequent recess. That has the advantage of maintaining the original link with attendance. It also has the advantage of avoiding the invidious distinction between active and less active Peers. It would have the further practical advantage of giving to noble Lords who have to face this correspondence at least some financial support for it.

There is, of course, another aspect in human terms. If one employs a secretary or, as I do, shares a secretary, one cannot possibly say, "Well, we have come to 23rd July; you are sacked until October". That is not possible in human terms. If one employs a secretary one must continue the employment for a consistent period over the year. Indeed, if one did not, I understand that one could be taken to an industrial tribunal and quite rightly turned down by that tribunal and mulcted for your pains. Therefore, it is unrealistic to rely on a secretarial allowance tied to daily attendance. That is acceptable during the sittings and probably a good rough and ready indicator of how much time one has put in here and the justification for having secretarial expenses. But it makes a nonsense when we come to recesses—any recesses—and in particular when we come, as we are in a few hours' time, to a recess lasting three months.

With respect to the Top Salaries Review Body—and I take the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on its composition—I believe that it made heavy weather of the idea of having to distinguish between active and non-active Peers. I suggest that the formula I have proposed or something like it—I am not asking your Lordships to accept it because it is my idea—relating the amount paid to the amount payable in respect of Sessions would help to bridge the gap. It would still leave most of your Lordships considerably out of pocket but it would deal with what I believe to be not only a real and personal grievance of a good many of your Lordships but also a factor working against the public position and public relations of this House.

I suggest that there is a public interest. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that your Lordships should not only be active in this Chamber but, in correspondence with those members of the public who take the trouble to write, should show active and polite interest in the views put to them. It is made financially difficult for noble Lords if the allowance is cut off simply because the House is in recess.

3.23 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shackleton is right in saying that our difficulties derive from this continued neglect of the reform of your Lordships' House. Additional responsibilities and an extra load of work are being imposed on a House which is inadequately constituted and serviced for the work we now have to do.

The level of service I am getting in this House at the moment compares pretty well with what I received as a tax clerk when I was first in the Inland Revenue in 1915. It is no better. I even had a telephone in 1915. We did not begin with a shorthand typist but we soon got one. I think we are a classic example of British genteel poverty. We cannot be expected to do our job in these circumstances.

If one is active in this House on controversial matters one soon receives fan mail. I wish that more of your Lordships would take an interest in animal welfare. You would then receive plenty of correspondence. If you are known as the animal man, you get a load of it. You become a patron of all the animal protection societies in the country. You will be asked to go to meetings all over the place. If you go and miss your attendance in your Lordships' House you will be fined £90 because you were not here overnight. The position is ridiculous. If we were to apply our minds to the problem, I am sure that a solution could be found.

I should like to ask a few questions. Who decides when this House sits? Why did we not sit the other Monday? Who says that we are to have a three-day week when we come back in the autumn? When do we begin a four-day week? We have just passed the Finance Bill through all its stages in three hours. We began the debate as if the Second Reading were going to last all day, and the Committee stage was to follow. By 2.30 p.m. it had been sent on its way. It has probably received the Royal Assent by now. That is how we do business on the last day before the recess. Why could we not sit tomorrow? Why cannot we have days upon which we discuss matters and brood upon them? This is a House for philosophy, for looking at the broad perspective of our political affairs.

We should have some regular meeting days. We should be able to rely on being in this place when we expect to be here. We are told that we are not meeting on a Monday and so all the allowances go for that day. You tell the secretary not to come, and she does not get any pay. You come up in the usual way, and get no subsistence for being here, but you must come overnight. All this is a rag-bag. The matter deserves much more consideration than it is receiving.

The secretarial allowance is under consideration. We should not pursue too closely comparisons with the other place. It is an elected Chamber. The Members all have constituency responsibilities. They are all under the supervision of the party Whips. They have a degree of oversight of their activities. They have political ambitions, and that does not apply to your Lordships. It is an entirely different Chamber. We must consider our requirements in the light of our work and composition.

The difference here is that we derive from different sources and come here for different reasons. There are Peers by succession. They are born to come here. They are under no obligation to attend regularly or to feel any devotion to the work of the House. Some of them have other interests. In the circumstances, their approach to the House may be different from that of others who come from other sources. Some Peers are nominated to come here to work. There are others to whom a Peerage is an honour which carries no political or parliamentary obligations. We are a mixed bag. There are varying degrees of activity.

Those who devote ourselves almost wholly to your Lordships' House cope with a daily mail which requires all the part-time services to do the filing and keep the records in some sort of order. I have never worked in such a mess as I have to at present. I cannot cope with the load of stuff that comes in every day, and which is necessary if one works in different fields in your Lordships' House.

With regard to the secretarial allowance, it is not the money we want; it is the service. Why cannot we have a secretarial service? The Civil Service has ample resources to provide this House with a secretarial service. All we need is the room for us to work. I know the problems and difficulties during the recess, but is there any reason why we should not come here to work during the recess? This is our workplace. We have a desk here—if we are lucky. Why cannot we be regarded as working at our headquarters, which is the House of Lords?

I accept the friendly words of the Leader of the House that this may be given further consideration. I think that we should apply our minds to it. There are several choices. One is that we abandon the idea of a flat rate secretarial allowance and apply a differential allowance by reference to proven expenditure on private secretarial services. Another option is to provide secretarial services, to have a secretarial pool upon which we can draw. It will then be seen what claim we make upon the pooled resources. There could be a combination of the two. The claims of individual active Members could be looked at by a House committee to see what is the best provision to make for particular people.

We should not be afraid of differentiation, or of the complexities of administration. Why do we all have to be standardised? We have a lot of business tycoons in your Lordships' House. They are solving every day of the week such problems as how to get the services they want, how to pay for them, and how to differentiate between people who give them. There is bound to be a solution, and I sincerely hope that we shall try to find it.

We ought not to think of attendances only. Perhaps a combination of different factors would constitute some degree of activity such as attendances, division records, the load of correspondence, and so forth. Some of us will not live long enough to take full advantage of anything that may be done but we ought to make the attempt to provide for the different degrees of mobility—vitality, if you like. We are different in that regard also. Some need more help than others.

However, one thing is certain—that so long as we have to go to the House of Commons for the money we shall probably not have the sympathetic consideration that we ought to have. At least it is not constantly talking of abolishing us, as it used to do. We are at least safe in our genteel poverty. We can rely on keeping it, and we can now build on it.

When the House of Commons wishes to obtain something it puts down a resolution, votes for it, and, despite government objection, the Members all go home and say, "We have settled it", and they have. They know how to do it. We are supplicants; they are masters of finance. Indeed, their ambitions now far exceed those of the House of Commons of the past. Let us have a go at it. Let us try to find the solution. We shall then make conditions happier all round. We shall then write our correspondence with a lighter heart. We shall be more courteous to the people who worry us and we can put at the bottom, "We receive no state aid", like the RSPCA.

3.34 p.m.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, I seek your Lordships' permission to speak in the gap which is in the speakers' list. I have given notice and apologise that I did not put my name down on the list as I did not realise that there would be one. I shall accordingly be very brief.

I wish to begin by thanking the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for the way in which he has introduced this Motion and to make two preliminary points. First, I do not believe that your Lordships' House can function at its best unless it has effective opposition. Effective opposition requires the resources for it to be effective. Secondly, I feel that your Lordships' House has been increasingly useful to the nation and that it should be enabled to continue to be so. It is against that background and the fact that the nation is getting its second Chamber on the cheap that I shall make two suggestions. When I say "on the cheap" I hope that in his summing up the noble Viscount will not—as he usually does—twit me for being a Chief Secretary turned spendthrift.

Viscount Whitelaw

Not on this occasion, my Lords.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, more than one Chief Secretary has spoken in this debate, and if the noble Viscount accuses me of that I would be bound to remind him that one of the things I did as Chief Secretary was to provide resources for the then Conservative Opposition in the House of Commons, which I thought was absolutely essential in the interests of democracy even though my advisers did not share my view completely at the time.

There are two points only which are at issue. The first concerns short money. The noble Viscount has said a number of helpful things about short money; but, as has already been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Tordoff, one of the things he said was capable of being interpreted as meaning that the existing short money would be divided into two parts. That is of no interest to us whatsoever. I am sure that I must have misunderstood the noble Viscount because the report makes it absolutely clear that what is being talked about is the extra burden. The report in paragraph 67 refers to the increase in the burden of work in the House of Lords. It is that increase that we are concerned about and it is therefore an increase in the short money that we are interested in.

The review board took the view that the evidence it was receiving pointed to the need for short money rather than within the narrow limits of its immediate remit. Therefore it was the board who proposed that this difficulty should be met out of additional short money. I hope the noble Viscount will be able to tell me that what he intended to say referred to additional new money and not to dividing the existing fund.

My second very short point is with regard to the difficulty of defining active Peers. We should have no difficult whatsoever in defining active Peers. I can say that on behalf of my colleagues, the officers of the SDP, and myself with regard to our own party. I am sure that the officers of the Liberal Party would have no difficulty in defining it so far as concerns their members. I see not difficulty. We all realise that it is going on. We all realise that those who are able to put in a great deal of time are absolutely essential to the regular running of the House and the work it does both in Committee and in the Chamber. I am grateful, therefore, to the noble Viscount for having said that he will consider this matter further. He has not closed his mind to it. He has heard several speeches all pointing in the same direction; namely, that this matter, and also the various proposals put to him, should be considered further.

3.38 p.m.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate because we have had quite a wide range of views. Stemming from a fairly narrow subject we have broadened out our position, and that all adds to the interest because it is to the background of what we are doing in detail that we need to look further.

I want to start by saying something following what was said by one of my distinguished predecessors as Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. He referred, as indeed have others, including my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, to the need not to underrate ourselves as a House in that the service of your Lordships' House to the nation is very considerable. I believe it is true that that has been increasingly recognised in recent years, and it is very important.

Since coming to your Lordships' House I have always spoken as though I had just arrived. I cannot continue in that way because I have moved into a second Parliament. In that first Parliament I learnt a great deal and it was all in the same direction. I learnt of what your Lordships' House does for the nation and I learnt a great deal about which I had absolutely no idea when I was in the House of Commons. I suspect that in that regard I was in exactly the same position as are the vast majority of Members of the House of Commons today. I can assure your Lordships that I shall do everything in my power to ensure that my colleagues in the Government in the House of Commons appreciate the needs and requirements of the House of Lords. That is part of my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby.

It is sometimes a difficult task to make others appreciate some of the problems which we face and some of the differences in our procedure. I cannot claim that I always succeed in doing so. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to the distinguished committee on which he sat with the late Mr. Crossman, my noble friend Lord Carrington and others. The noble Lord was kind enough to omit one of the villains in the piece who failed to get the business through the House of Commons. One was Mr. Michael Foot, for his reasons, and another was Mr. Enoch Powell, for his reasons. My noble friend Lord Carrington always said that there was a third villain in this piece. That was the then Opposition Chief Whip who was totally incapable of controlling his supporters and getting them into the Lobby behind the Government in order to get the business through. He had little doubt who that person was. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and your Lordships will know very well that it was me, so I do not wish to shirk my responsibility in this matter. Whether it would have been better had it all gone through is a matter which many of your Lordships may question. Nevertheless, I want to accept my responsibility.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, I suggest that if he wishes to discover how to attract correspondence, no one who has been Home Secretary could have any doubt as to how that should be done. I add capital punishment and immigration to his proposal about the Animal Protection Society. If one were to take all three issues together, I can assure noble Lords that it would be a recipe for massive correspondence. A massive amount of secretarial assistance would be required and there would be a considerable increase in expenditure all round.

Turning to the question of who is responsible for when the House sits and when it does not, that unfortunate person is now standing here. Many people advise me on the business and I assure the noble Lord that there may be the odd Monday at this time of year and, possibly, early in the Autumn when we might not sit. However, he will have no difficulty in appearing in this House on a sitting day from the beginning of next year onwards. I see the difficulty of changes and I am prepared to discuss them through the usual channels.

I should like to turn to some of the more detailed points which were made. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked about the change made by the other place. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, they took it into their heads to do it and did it. Should we therefore follow? The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, questioned whether we might. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, thought that we should not necessarily do so, as did the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. We are in a different position because the two Houses are different.

Members of the House of Commons have constituents, are representatives and have a massive correspondence. I can inform the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, that my successor in my former constituency has approximately three times the correspondence that I had. Whether people concluded that it was not worth writing to me, I do not know. However, I think that most Members in another place are in that position. There is a difference. In this Resolution we are putting forward what the TSRB has recommended, having looked carefully at our requirements. I have to say that the proposed level is £3 higher than the average expenditure of the survey of expenditure which the TSRB carried out. I think one has to accept its figures, and £22 a day was what it recommended. It is 10 per cent. higher than last year. As I have negotiated for your Lordships' House on the basis of taking the TSRB recommendation and accepting it it would now be difficult suddenly for us to change. That is why I suggest that we should not in fact do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, then asked me about secretarial allowances for members of delegations. This has been represented to me as far as WEU, the Council of Europe, and the North Atlantic Alliance are concerned. It is important to look into this, and it should be done. I have undertaken to those noble Lords who came to see me on the subject that I shall look into it, and I shall undertake to the House now and to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that we should. There is an element of fairness in what he suggested and an element of unfairness in the present situation. As Peers and Members are doing exactly the same job on that occasion, we should try to see whether there is some way in which we could help.

On the question of short money, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me what I meant. I think it would be fair to say that the actual figures for the short money will obviously be the subject of discussion between the parties. That was set out as a position, but of course what happens in the negotiations is a matter still to be discussed.

As for the money coming straight to the parties in this House and not through the Commons, at this stage that must be a matter for the parties themselves to negotiate with their own parties in another place if they can. However, I have no doubt where my sympathies lie in this matter. But equally I have my problems with my colleagues in the Government in another place as well. I have to negotiate with them on this matter, as do the other parties with their parties in another place. I hope that we can all do it on that basis. I shall obviously wish to keep in close contact with the parties in your Lordships' House on how that matter is progressing.

We then come to the question of the active Back-Bench Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and particularly my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter all produced various ways in which this might be carried forward. I think everyone recognised that it is far from easy. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said that Members in businesses—and there are many in this House—were adept at carrying through such schemes. I suspect that if ever they were put in the position of trying to differentiate between their own colleagues on the same board, they might find a certain amount of difficulty in doing so, and that is where their expertise as businessmen might make it rather difficult to do the sort of job that we have to do here. This is a decision which in the end would have to go through your Lordships' House, would have to be accepted by your Lordships' House, and would of course mean differentiating between different Members on some basis or another. Therein lies the difficulty, and the reason why the TSRB did not decide to make a recommendation.

My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter put forward an extremely ingenious suggestion. I think it must be looked at carefully. I do not doubt that there would be arguments that it was difficult to deal with. There are obvious difficulties, but it is certainly important that we should look at it carefully and see whether it could form the basis of some scheme, because the question of secretarial allowances in the Recesses is one which exercises a good many noble Lords and I should like to help if it is at all possible. We should look to see whether a scheme could be workable. The problem is simply that if it became one which was the subject of a great deal of argument and jealousy as between noble Lords, it would be extremely difficult for any scheme then to get through this House, and it might create a lot of feeling in the process.

I believe that it is my job to avoid that. It is certainly not my job to look at the difficulties and simply say that because it is difficult it cannot be done. I am quite clear that there are those of your Lordships, like the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, who want to see something done in this field. I am certainly not twitting him today, but I am encouraging him to move from his past position and to help me see whether he can devise a scheme which might please his successors as Chief Secretary. So it would be very helpful if we could find some scheme of that sort.

I think that I have answered most of the points that have been made and on that basis I hope that the House will agree to the Motion before it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.