HL Deb 28 February 1991 vol 526 cc1101-4

3.21 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, I understand that the amendments set down to this Bill have been withdrawn and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Lord Waddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Then, Standing Order No. 44 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution of 27th February), Bill read a third time.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass—(Lord Waddington).

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted to refer to what was said a few moments ago about two amendments which I tabled for the Committee stage but which I have withdrawn. It was represented to me that the House is desirous of passing this Bill with the utmost haste. That is why we are taking the remaining stages of the Bill together by suspension of a Standing Order.

I shall not detain the House for more than a couple of moments because I shall not develop the point which I would have developed had I moved the amendments. I am content to draw attention to the fact that Clause 5(3), Clause 7 and other related clauses raise matters which I believe are worthy of consideration. For example, Clause 5(3) changes the existing Private Members' allowance into a stable allowance for Ministers without any conditions regarding proof of expenditure.

I believe that that raises certain implications from the point of view of conditions under which Members draw their subsistence allowances. Also, there is a question as to the status of payment to Ministers when it is not classified as remuneration but when it is nevertheless added to their total emoluments.

The other point raises the question as to what principles we now have to guide us through these matters regarding retrospection. That has a bearing on the attempt made in Clause 7 to overcome some of the shortcomings of the failure in the past to give full credit to Members of Parliament for the service which they rendered in another place but which was disallowed in the calculation of their pension from the parliamentary pension fund.

I am prepared to develop both points in correspondence with the Leader of the House. They do not affect the Bill as it stands and I have no desire to amend the Bill as it stands. However, the implications require attention.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I am sure that the Government are right to try to get the Bill through as quickly as possible because it is designed to deal with a long-standing difficulty arising from the wholly inadequate remuneration in particular of junior Ministers and Lords in Waiting in this House. The proposal has been under discussion since 1988 and during that time several of our colleagues have been exposed to very severe economic conditions.

As I said on Second Reading, it is absolutely right for the Government to remedy that situation, as I believe these proposals do. Had it not been for that, I should have gone further into the question as to whether—as we were told on Second Reading—basing the allowance on 220 nights in the year was not treating those Ministers rather roughly. As I have suggested to my noble friend the Leader of the House, a more reasonable figure would be 235. Were it not for the urgency of the matter, I should have tabled an amendment dealing with that.

However, I recognise that the matter is now urgent. I am delighted that the Government recognise it as urgent and I hope that your Lordships will pass the Bill in the next few moments.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, earlier in the week I asked the Leader of the House for substantial time to discuss this measure. However, after discussions with my noble friend the Chief Whip on this side of the House, I understand the urgency of the Bill. I accept that entirely. I merely wish to place on record that in the context of this Bill I wished to raise certain inaccuracies in Dod's Parliamentary Companion which can be prejudicial to the prospects of Members obtaining employment, having lost their seats in another place after a general election.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, will be noted.

At the outset I should declare an interest, being one of the Ministers who would benefit from the new allowance. On behalf of my fellow Ministers who cannot speak at the Dispatch Box on this measure, I declare an interest, however unusual that may sound.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I believe that the part of the Bill which provides the allowance for Ministers is overdue. Many people make a considerable sacrifice when they decide to accept office in government. Parliament and government would be a poorer place were we to discourage them further as a result of inadequate remuneration.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, I believe that there is some misconception as to the origin of the allowance and the reason that it has been computed in the way that it has. The position is that an allowance will be paid in connection with the duties of ministerial office and, therefore, will be taxable. The allowance paid to Back-Benchers is not. After taking account of tax deductions and the withdrawal of the London supplement to which Ministers are currently entitled, the net benefit of the new allowance will be around £7,700 and the amendment originally tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, would have reduced it to £4,900. By comparison, a Back-Bench peer who attended every sitting day of the House for 150 sitting days is able to claim up to £10,200 tax free. Therefore, that puts the matter in perspective.

A formula was worked out which, on the one hand, kept some kind of link between the way in which Ministers were to receive an allowance and the way in which Back-Benchers here receive an allowance and which, on the other hand, also links what Ministers here receive and what is paid by way of an allowance to both Ministers and Back-Benchers in another place. I hope that what I have said puts the matter into perspective. I do not believe that anybody would argue that it is a particularly generous settlement in favour of Ministers but it goes the right way.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I raised a small matter regarding elderly retired Members from another place and the widows of some of those Members. I wish to express my appreciation to the Minister for the letter which he sent to me indicating that the Government are making an extra sum of £100,000 available in order to assist those people. I wish to put on record my appreciation of that.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may say that I was remiss in not responding to the second point made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, in regard to Clause 7. It is a clause that was welcomed by the trustees of the fund. It widens their discretion and enables them to do more than it might be possible to do now. Again, that is a welcome improvement.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.