HL Deb 10 March 1993 vol 543 cc1059-61

2.57 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Your Lordships may recall that the additional secretarial allowance to which this Motion relates, was introduced by my noble friend Lord Belstead in 1988 in response to the case put forward by many Members of the House for the provision of some additional allowance towards secretarial work in Recesses. The allowance then introduced by my noble friend enabled Peers to claim the daily secretarial allowance for up to 18 days in addition to those days on which they attended a Sitting of the House. My noble friend explained that the calculation of the 18 days was based on a notional three days for any adjournment of one week, and six days for any adjournment of two weeks or more. In practice that equates to three days during the Easter and late Spring Recesses, and six days—three days at either end—during the Christmas and Summer Recesses.

I am conscious that since then the amount of work which some of your Lordships have had to carry out during Recesses, in relation to their parliamentary duties, has continued to grow. I believe that it is appropriate for secretarial expenses so incurred to be recoverable, subject to the normal daily limit. I therefore consider that the eligibility for the additional secretarial allowance should be adjusted to enable Members to claim for up to 30 days in any year, rather than 18 as at present.

While I am sure that such an increase in this allowance will go some way to meeting the legitimate needs of your Lordships—and I should mention that the existing requirement will remain in place that any noble Lord who claims for such an allowance should 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—it is only right that I should point out to your Lordships that I consider it highly unlikely that any further increase in eligibility could be achieved without jeopardising the status of the allowance. I am sure that your Lordships will appreciate that point.

Perhaps I could also explain that, in view of the method by which the allowance is calculated, explained by my noble friend Lord Belstead in 1988, it will be possible to claim for only 28 days during the current year ending on 31st July. The reason is that, as it is an allowance in respect of costs incurred, eligibility for the allowance cannot be made retrospective. It will thus apply for the Recesses at Easter and late Spring and the first part of the Summer Recess this year.

Finally, perhaps I could take the opportunity to remind your Lordships that the daily secretarial allowance has been increased from £29 to £30. The increase calculated in accordance with the existing uprating formula is backdated to 1st August 1992. I commend the Motion to your Lordships.

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—

  1. (a) in the case of the year ending on 31st July 1993 to a maximum of 24 days, and
  2. (b) in the case of any subsequent year, to a maximum of 30 days; and that
in this Resolution "year" means a year beginning on 1st August.—(Lord Wakeham.)

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, from these Benches I should like briefly to express our appreciation to the Leader of the House for having been willing to involve himself in discussions on this and other matters in the recent past. We certainly recognise that what he suggested to the House is fair and reasonable. Nevertheless, the provision may not have come forward so comfortably without his interest and initiative in this matter. I and my colleagues are very grateful to him.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I should like to join in those remarks. Anyone who is capable of squeezing money from the Treasury at the moment is a man of considerable standing, particularly in the eyes of noble Lords, as it enables us to pay some of the expenses that we have to incur in working, as many do, on behalf of your Lordships' House. We are grateful to the Lord Privy Seal for what he has done.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I also thank my noble friend for the personal efforts which I know he made to achieve this improvement, for which I am sure noble Lords are very properly grateful. Perhaps I may ask whether he is aware that, although it is a considerable improvement, it still means that many noble Lords incur heavy secretarial expenses, particularly in view of the volume of correspondence which recent developments have caused to pour in on us. It seems a little odd that we should be expected apparently to dispense with the services of our secretaries for quite considerable times during the long Recess. Although this is a considerable improvement for your Lordships' House, does it not compare very badly indeed with the much more generous provisions made in another place?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have said such kind things. However, I ask noble Lords not to congratulate me on getting money out of the Treasury. It will considerably damage my prospects in any further negotiations. I limped away well wounded at the time. But I did not rise to say that. Some of my noble friends tell me that I said that it is only possible to claim for 28 days during the current year. The Motion refers to 24 days. Twenty-four days is correct.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House will recall that the last time this issue was brought before your Lordships, with other Members of the House I raised the point that it was incorrect to base our secretarial allowances on a three-day week. In fact we work on average four days a week. However, having seen the efforts that went into this enhancement, I should like to express my appreciation of the negotiations. The noble Lord the Leader of the House would do well to take note of the points quite rightly made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. We are grateful for what has happened but, having said that, it is for small mercies. Let us hope that there will be further consideration at the most opportune moment.

Lord Renton

My Lords, before my noble friend answers that point, will he say whether the year referred to is a calendar year or a financial year?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, it is a year to the 31st July.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House accept that this might be an appropriate occasion to record our thanks for the great help we receive from the office staff who deal with expenses. Problems arise from time to time and the staff could not be more helpful.

On Question, Motion agreed to.