HL Deb 16 May 1988 vol 497 cc7-11

2.57 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In 1986 the Top Salaries Review Body was invited to consider the level of the allowance payable to Peers for their secretarial costs. In its report published in April 1987 the Top Salaries Review Body recommended that the level of the allowance payable should be increased from £20 to £22 for each day of attendance and that the allowance should continue to be uprated annually by the percentage increase in the maximum of the scale for a senior personal secretary in the Civil Service in receipt of inner London weighting. Your Lordships agreed this change on 23rd July last.

However, the Top Salaries Review Body had also received some evidence to suggest that Back Bench Peers who are particularly active in the work of the House should be able to claim against a higher maximum allowance; but it found that the problem of defining the activity of Members of the House and the possible injustice that would be caused by attempting this outweighed any case for a higher allowance. Instead, the Top Salaries Review Body proposed that the Leader of the House should invite the House to consider the question further.

The Top Salaries Review Body recommendations were debated on 23rd July 1987. On that occasion, my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Whitelaw, declared himself willing to consider any workable scheme which might be proposed to him, and I am now acting in fulfilment of that undertaking.

In the course of that debate and in subsequent correspondence five different schemes were proposed. One scheme suggested that Peers should be enabled to claim any excess costs over and above the provision of the present allowance without a maximum entitlement. Two schemes provided for an annual payment of £5,000 a year. One scheme provided for allowances to be paid in recesses at a level based on attendance records in the previous Session or part Session and one scheme replaced the present allowance with a differential allowance based on attendance, Division records and the level of correspondence that could be used to support a shared typing pool or private secretarial services.

I am grateful for these proposals and I have given them very serious consideration. Unfortunately, they give rise to problems of accountability or they are administratively complicated. Some also fail to accommodate the needs of Cross-Benchers or fail to avoid the invidious comparisons of levels of activity which the Top Salaries Review Body found to be such an overwhelming obstacle.

I have been very much helped by these proposals in reaching this conclusion. I have taken the view that a good case has been made for the provision of some additional allowance towards secretarial work in recesses, in particular at the beginning and at the end of the period of adjournment of the House when some Members can expect to be very much involved in parliamentary business. I consider that some extension of our present arrangement should be made so that henceforward Peers will be able to claim the existing daily secretarial allowance for up to a further 18 days in any year. I have calculated these 18 days on the basis of a notional three days for any adjournment of one week, and six days—three days at either end—for any adjournment of two weeks or more. This additional allowance might be claimed by any noble Lord who was able to certify that his expenditure on secretarial costs during recesses could not be met from the amounts for secretarial allowance already available for attending sittings of the House. The Resolution before your Lordships today gives effect to this proposal. I beg to move.

Moved, That in calculating in accordance with the Resolution of 23rd July 1987 the limit for any year on the expenses which a Member of this House may recover under paragraph (1)(d) of the Resolution of 22nd July 1980 (office, secretarial and research allowance), there shall, if that Member so requires, be added to the number of days of attendance by him in that year such number of days in that year on which the House does not sit as are specified by him, but subject to a maximum of—(a) three days, in the case of the year ending with 31st July 1988, and (b) eighteen days, in the case of any subsequent year. In this Resolution "year" means a year beginning with 1st August.—(Lord Belstead.)

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are all grateful to the Leader of the House for his remarks about the increased office, secretarial and research allowance. Those noble Lords whose work does not come to an immediate halt when the House rises for a recess and who have a good deal of preparation to do well in advance of the House's return will appreciate this modest new arrangement.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we are glad to hear this announcement from the Leader of the House and we thank him for repeating it. There is no doubt that for those who are actively engaged in the House the work continues outside the normal days of sitting. It is therefore very desirable that there should be this extra payment.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for his support. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. In fact, I have not repeated the announcement. I have made it.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, the ingenuity of the Lord Privy Seal is something for which we should be grateful, provided we notice that the amount of money which a noble Lord "so requires" comes to about the equivalent of a week's salary for one secretary. This summer I shall be entitled to an extra £60, for which I thank him very much. Next year I shall be entitled to an extra £400. Your Lordships must recognise that this is a working House and that it ought to be possible to provide noble Lords on all sides with a little more help for secretarial services. Secretarial services cannot be turned off and on. Nonetheless the noble Lord has tried hard. It is a quite ingenious solution, if only it amounted to some worthwhile sum.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, as one who raised earlier the desirability of distinguishing between active and not so active Members of your Lordships' House, perhaps I may express my gratitude for the small mercy that the Leader of the House has been able to bring. I realise that this may not be a propitious time to seek the favours of the Prime Minister. Your Lordships' House is probably not in a very strong position to ask for more rewards for the active Peers. In the light of the peril in which apparently we now stand, we may have to be modest in our expectations. Nevertheless, this is chicken feed.

We do not employ our secretaries by the day. We cannot sack them when a bank holiday comes along. We have continuing responsibilities towards them. That is in the normal course of relations between employer and employee. The truth of the matter is that your Lordships' House was never constructed for active Peers. It has never taken very much notice of them. The facilities given to us are quite ridiculous in any House of Parliament in modern times. However, with those strictures, I am nevertheless grateful to the noble Lord for what little he has been able to achieve.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, as one who gave my noble friend the Leader of the House a good deal of trouble on this issue, may I express my gratitude to him for the enomous amount of work that he and his predecessor, my noble friend Lord Whitelaw, have done on this matter? Although in financial terms the change is not of very great magnitude—in conversation my noble friend referred to it as a minnow—it is still an improvement and has this merit. It breaks the absurd idea which used to rule that noble Lords incurred no secretarial expenses once the House went into recess. The doctrine that at the beginning of the recess one sacked one's secretary, despite the risk of being taken to an industrial tribunal, has at least been dented.

It is a modest improvement that some limited payment is to be made in respect of secretarial expenses actually incurred. I remind your Lordships that expenses that can be properly claimed can now be claimed for a limited number of days during the recess. My noble friend will not be surprised if I suggest to him that many of us think that this is not the end of the road; but it is quite a good beginning.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, all three noble Lords who have spoken, the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Houghton, and my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, made suggestions which have led to at least something being done. Although I realise that all three noble Lords feel that this is only a modest step forward, I am grateful to them for what they have said about what my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Whitelaw, and I have done in trying to do something in this respect.

I would make only three points. First, there is some value in that the change does not breach the present status of the allowance. Secondly, it is quite a valuable step forward—and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for saying this—that our work can be looked at as extending into the recess and having to be geared up again just before a new sitting starts. This is the reality of the case for Peers. Finally, I take the point of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. This, I have no doubt, is unfinished business.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, will the Minister prepare a simply worded memorandum so that Members of the House can fully understand the changes that are being made?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, perhaps I may write to the noble Lord and also put a copy of the letter in the Library. For my own benefit, the simplest way I can describe the change is that the allowance is specifically aimed at helping Peers who have to work during recesses and is intended to meet costs over and above those which can be met from the allowance claimed in respect of attendance on sitting days. Claimants will be required to certify a separate claim form that these criteria have been met. I shall send the noble Lord a letter and place a copy in the Library.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend the Leader of the House for not having been here to hear his announcement. I rise at this stage only to say how delighted I am that he has been able to carry forward something which I started. I was completely convinced that I would fail. Therefore it surprises me very much that his great skill has achieved what I did not expect to do. I am so delighted he has.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, on that note, perhaps I may say thank you to my noble friend.

On Question, Motion agreed to.