HL Deb 29 November 1993 vol 550 cc429-35

3.2 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 2nd November be approved [41st Report from the Joint Committee 1992–93].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is two years since this order was last debated by your Lordships' House. Last year, as your Lordships will recall, Ministers—and the others affected by the order, including the noble Lords the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip—agreed to freeze their pay following the introduction of public sector pay restraint. The proposals before us today take account of this. The proposals are quite complicated in some respects and I will need to explain the context in describing them here today.

The proposals reflect two important new principles. The first is the Government's intention that, in another place, Ministers and others covered by the Ministerial and other Salaries Order should henceforth normally receive the same percentage increases in respect of their ministerial salaries as do Members of Parliament in respect of their salaries. However, as your Lordships will be aware, Ministers and office holders in another place are also paid a parliamentary salary at a reduced rate. Accordingly, the second new principle is that Ministers and office holders in this House should normally receive the same overall cash increase as their counterparts in the other place, taking account of their combined ministerial and reduced parliamentary salaries.

It is therefore necessary to look at the pay increases that have been agreed for Members of Parliament. The resolution voted by Members of the other place on 3rd November provided for a staged increase. The first stage is 2.7 per cent. payable from 1st January 1994 and the second stage is a further 2.68 per cent. payable from 1st January 1995. The overall amount reflects the increases that have been received by specified grades of civil servants over the past two years, including the year of pay restraint when settlements were held to 1.5 per cent. but when Members of Parliament and office holders received nothing. The resolution also establishes a link (replacing a previous link) with pay settlements for Grades 5 to 7 in the Civil Service as the basis for increases in future. It is accordingly proposed that the same staged percentage increases should apply to the salaries of Ministers and other office holders in another place and that Ministers and office holders in this House should receive a similarly staged increase reflecting the cash value of the increases received by their counterparts in the other place.

In a Written Answer which I gave to the House on 25th November I set out in detail all the changes which we are proposing to the salaries of Ministers and paid office holders in this House and in the other place. The increases involve an increase in the overall pay bill for both Houses of £102,692 in 1994. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 2nd November be approved [41st Report from the Joint Committee 1992–93].—(Lord Wakeham.)

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, we on these Benches are grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for having taken the trouble to go into this matter in a little more detail to explain the intricacies and the problems of it. He, I and many others in this House served in another place and for many years we have been bedevilled by the inability of parliamentarians to determine their own salary and by the criticisms they have received. The noble Lord the Leader of the House was quite right to point out that a formula was finally arrived at some years ago. As the noble Lord the Leader of the House also pointed out, some two years ago we accepted a pay freeze. That freeze was not part of a formula but was a self-denying ordinance by parliamentarians, Ministers and office holders. I do not believe, frankly, that we shall ever be completely free of criticism, whatever is done in this field. We on this side of the House recognise that the Government, as endorsed by another place, have tried their level best to be fair not merely to their economic policy but also to the Ministers and parliamentarians who are affected by these matters. We on this side of the House take a benign view of what the Minister said. However, the noble Lords the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip are grateful to the noble Lord for his comments.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we on these Benches also wish to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for the announcement he has just made. We, of course, have no pecuniary interest in this matter whatsoever as neither the Leader nor the Whip on our Benches are paid anything at all. This is not an example of the adage that where one pays peanuts one gets monkeys. Long ago when I was a member of the Top Salaries Review Body we discussed this matter at considerable length. I still regret the fact that the pay of parliamentarians has been linked to that of the Civil Service as there is no relationship whatsoever between the two professions. The job of a parliamentarian is sui generis if any job ever was. Speaking personally I have always believed that that linking was a mistake as it means that the pay of parliamentarians is the result of trade union negotiation. I do not believe that that is at all appropriate.

However, I am glad that the noble Lord the Leader of the House stressed the fact that last year no parliamentarians or Ministers received any increase whatever. That is a point the media might note when they comment, as they did so unfavourably, on the fact that parliamentarians had accepted an increase in pay this year. I am glad the noble Lord the Leader of the House pointed that out and one hopes that the media will also notice it.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, the White Paper shows how low is the remuneration of Ministers, particularly junior Ministers, in this House. As my noble friend made clear, Ministers in another place also receive a parliamentary salary in addition to the figures given in the White Paper. But, of course, they do not do so in this House and I think many of us have found that particularly junior Ministers in this House—they are generally fairly youthful and at a stage in their lives when they experience rising expenses—are paid at a low level. I believe that one or two resignations of junior Ministers have been not altogether unconnected with that.

I hope therefore that when further consideration is given to this matter of ministerial salaries in this House—I trust my noble friend does not mind my reminding him of the salaries of junior Ministers again—the Government will consider awarding a fairly substantial increase in order to secure that those who serve this House and the Government as Ministers, particularly as junior Ministers, will be properly remunerated. It is certainly my impression that they are not fully remunerated at present.

I also ask my noble friend to answer a question which puzzles me a little. Under Part III of the order it appears that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate is paid £9,000 a year more than the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General for Scotland is paid a similar amount more than the Solicitor-General. I am sure that there is an explanation, but simply looking at the White Paper that is a little surprising.

Lord Elton

My Lords, am I right in thinking that my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter was right in one respect; namely, that Ministers in this House are disproportionately hard done by compared with Ministers in another place, and wrong in another respect in that I understood my noble friend to say that that was about to be rectified? If that is the case, it is a very important statement. A great many of your Lordships have served under a disadvantage for many years. That disadvantage continues in their pension rights when they retire. Therefore, those of us who have been through this mill will heartily applaud the decision of Her Majesty's Government to see that this House is treated fairly.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his opening statement. Perhaps I may ask him en passant whether it is his intention in the near future to tell the House about the new allocations of the money for opposition parties known as the Short money.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, undoubtedly these salaries will be commented upon by the press and others—perhaps unfavourably. I should like to draw attention to the fact that we pay the Prime Minister of this country £54,400 a year. Are noble Lords aware that the chief executive of my local authority is paid more than that? Indeed, the chief executives of many smaller authorities receive more than that. It is about time that we started looking at Ministers' salaries, particularly that of the Prime Minister, because in some minds the value of the job (but not necessarily of the person) is reflected in the salary which is paid for that job. I urge the noble Lord the Leader of the House to take into account what I have said and the fact that the chief executive of a comparatively small local authority is paid some £6,000 per year more than the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, in following up the point made by my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon, as an ordinary Back-Bencher perhaps I may bestow my congratulations on the continuing coalition between the Government and the Opposition on this matter. I respectfully draw attention to the fact that, taking the remuneration of members of the Government and of certain members of the Opposition together with the legitimate allowances to which they are entitled in the United Kingdom in respect of expenses, the total remuneration of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is still less than that of a European Member of Parliament who has much less responsibility.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, matters have improved a little since I first went to another place in 1962, when my salary was £1,750. As there was no help with secretarial or other expenses, out of that £1,750 I paid £750 immediately to my secretary and a large additional sum for postage, telephone, stationery and so on. We have moved on a little since then, but not a great deal.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, made a comparison with the chief executive of a local authority. I returned from Washington last week where I visited the offices of Congressmen who employ 18 or 20 staff. The staff are paid for out of public revenue. I do not suggest that we go to those extremes. However, I believe that we still give legislators inadequate resources to do their jobs and to ensure that the actions of the Government are properly scrutinised and to do so on the basis of adequate knowledge. That means that they have to have the necessary back-up as well as the salaries that we are talking about today. I do not believe that we have yet reached the stage, particularly in this House, where that fact is recognised. No one in this House is entitled to assistance in order to employ secretarial assistance or research workers. To say that we are able to do so out of the miserable £30 a day which is allocated for such purposes is ridiculous. If one attended every single day when the House sits—which might be 150 days a year—then the total amount one is allocated for research and secretarial assistance would be £4,500. One could not employ a fourth of a worker for that amount of money.

This is a modest step in the right direction. The media, which are often quick to jump on increases paid to Members of either House, should be wary of criticising if they want the job to be done properly. If they do not want an effective parliament, then we should not give legislators any money, either in the form of remuneration or research assistance. But if the media want Parliament to scrutinise the actions of the executive effectively, they have to give us the tools to do the job.

It is a pity that last year salaries were frozen because that means that there is a certain amount of catching up to do. I cannot see how even the most niggardly taxpayer could take issue with the figures mentioned by the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal—2.7 per cent. on 1st January 1994, and 2.68 per cent. on 1st January 1995.

The noble Lord mentioned that salaries are to be tied to Grades 5 to 7 in the Civil Service, which do not sound all that wonderful to me. Perhaps in his winding-up speech the noble Lord will say what sort of work is done by grades 5 to 7 of the Civil Service. I cannot believe that it could be a more responsible job than that of a Member of Parliament in either House.

This order is not an extravagant one. It does not commit the taxpayer to a great deal of additional expenditure which is not in the interests of the country. I hope that in taking note of what is being done today, the newspapers, radio and television, will have more sense than to say that a bad example is being set by this House.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, perhaps I may start by commenting on what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said. He is right in several respects. He is certainly right in saying that the situation is a great deal better than it was several years ago.

With regard to allowances in another place for secretarial and research assistance, the amounts are higher than those which the Government recommended to the other place. Therefore I say that they are at least as generous as they should be if not more adequate than they should be. Nevertheless, I agree with what the noble Lord said about there being proper arrangements.

The parliamentary salary is equivalent to that of the Principal grade or Higher Executive Officer in the Civil Service. Those grades do responsible and important work; but, as has been implied, they are not the highest level of official with which we often have to deal. One of my late friends in the other place always used to reckon that when he spoke to the fifth senior person in the county architect's department in his constituency he was speaking to someone of his own level because they received roughly the same level of salary. That gives some indication of the position.

I am grateful to the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip and to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for what they said. The noble Baroness served on the Top Salaries Review Body—now I believe called the Senior Salaries Review Body. It was I who negotiated the original linkage in the House of Commons. The noble Baroness is right in this respect. It was not because it was the best way of doing it, but, frankly, it was the only way in which we could obtain reasonable increases for Members of Parliament because the right moment never seemed to arrive at which to make the level of increases that I am sure the noble Baroness would have recommended in her days with the Top Salaries Review Body.

My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked a question about the Law Officers. The explanation is straightforward. The Solicitor-General and Attorney-General in another place receive two-thirds of their parliamentary salaries which are not part of this order. The Lord Advocate, being a Member of this House, and the Solicitor-General for Scotland, not being a Member of Parliament, receive their total salaries as shown in the order. The Solicitor-General and Attorney-General also receive two-thirds of a Member of Parliament's salary in the House of Commons because they have constituency responsibilities.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, what happens when the Scottish Law Officers are in the House of Commons, as they sometimes are? Would they receive: the figure in the order or a reduced figure?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I believe that they will receive a reduced figure.

The noble Lord, Lord Cocks, asked me about the Short money. I thought that, that issue had been settled. It is normally approved in another place in a debate. However, I shall need to check whether or not the debate has taken place.

I should add this. I had expected someone to raise this issue; it is not part of the order. There is outstanding the question of your Lordships' allowances which have not yet been agreed. That is because of the change in the salary structures and the allowances in the Civil Service. There has been some delay in getting the matter right. As your Lordships will quickly remind me even if I had forgotten myself, those allowances are backdated to 1st August as soon as they are agreed. I apologise for that delay.

Finally, perhaps I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. It was not a coalition decision. The Government take full responsibility for what they do. I am grateful that the Opposition agree, but they are not responsible for the decision; it is the Government's decision.

Lord Elton

My Lords, will the disparity—it is a real hardship to junior Ministers in this House—be removed?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I apologise; my noble friend raised that point. As I sought to explain in my few remarks, the position is that there will now be the same cash increase to Lords' Ministers as their Commons equivalents receive, including the parliamentary increase. Thus, the disparity in cash terms will remain but it will not widen. Over the years it will become a percentage-less increase. Therefore, we have made a significant move because while there were percentage increases across the board the cash disparity became wider. The cash disparity will now remain the same.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, will he deal with the point that he did not wholly answer. Junior Ministers in this House are paid a very modest rate. Are the Government paying some attention to that factor?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I recognise the truth of what my friend says. Junior Ministers in the House of Lords in particular make a sacrifice to undertake the work. However, they know that when they undertake to do the work. The Government recognise that that is the position. It was in part recognition of that factor that the Government agreed to the change which was included in the order. In future, the disparity will not be any wider. The moment for making major changes will arise, but it is not on the immediate horizon.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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