HL Deb 28 March 1994 vol 553 cc830-4

2.47 p.m.

Lord Marlesford asked the Leader of the House (Lord Wakeham):

Whether he will refer to the Senior Salaries Review Body the remuneration of Opposition spokesmen in the House of Lords.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, salaries are paid from public funds to the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip in your Lordships' House. The Government have no plans to extend that or to refer the matter to the Senior Salaries Review Body.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, in the light of that somewhat discouraging reply, does my noble friend agree that there is scope for misinterpretation in that it might be thought either that the Government are not anxious to have the most effective scrutiny of legislation in this Chamber—which is the main justification for the existence of the House of Lords—or that they wish to have such scrutiny, which involves a great deal of hard work, on the cheap, quite apart from the normal activities of Back-Benchers? Does that not suggest a mean mindedness which, as we all know, is totally out of character as regards my noble friend?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I certainly have no desire to lessen the scrutiny that takes place in your Lordships' House and which I have cause to respect However, I am not entirely sure that all the scrutiny that we have had in recent times has come from the Opposition Front Bench.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for declaring my interest in the matter. It is very rare to see a Question on the Order Paper which is so sensible, so objective, so perceptive and, indeed, so forward looking and analytical in the way in which it has been approached. Is the noble Lord aware that I would like to tell the noble Lord, Lord Manes ford, that if he tables a Motion to the same effect, I should be delighted to second it?

However, there is a serious point involved. Many of my noble friends on the Front Bench perform their functions in the House at considerable financial cost to themselves. Even if the noble Lord the Leader of the House has set his mind totally against paying a salary to Opposition Front Bench spokesmen, would he be prepared to enter into discussions about ways in which their legitimate expenses might properly be paid? I have in mind the expenses they incur because of their position on the Front Bench rather than the expenses they incur merely through being Members of the House.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, if the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition wants to discuss this matter with me, I am always open to have discussions with him. However, I should point out that the Short money, which has been designed to assist Oppositions in performing their parliamentary duty, was only recently uprated on 4th November 1993 by 35 per cent. An additional travel allowance worth £100,000 was also made available and an annual uprating linked to the RPI. Those allowances are for both Houses of Parliament but they are also designed to help noble Lords in their work.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, before the noble Lord gives his mind to casting any of these benefits on the official Opposition, he should remember that the Liberal Democrat Leader and Chief Whip do not get a penny.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am aware of that, but I have no plans to change that situation at present.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, although I support the thoroughly sensible proposal of my noble friend Lord Marlesford, will my noble friend the Minister consider referring the matter of the underpaid junior Ministers in this House to the appropriate body, in view of the fact that most of them are just at the age when they have heavy family expenses and their pay is poor?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I appreciate the point my noble friend makes as regards junior Ministers in this House. As I explained to the House on 29th November 1993, when we debated the Ministerial and other Salaries Order, all Lords Ministers, including the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip, receive the cash equivalent of the two-stage increase that was awarded in another place. That was slightly different from the previous position in that they received the same cash increase as opposed to the same percentage increase. Therefore there was a differential but that differential will not increase. That is a slight improvement, but I know it is not as good an improvement as my noble friend seeks.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, does the noble Lord the Leader of the House agree that it is worth considering whether Ministers should be subject to performance related pay and that we might call upon the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to adjudicate and determine how many qualify for that?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, perhaps 1 could offer my services as an adjudicator. On that basis, I believe: that the pay of Government Ministers would exceed any indications that have come from any quarters. However, I do not believe that that could be afforded.

Lord Clark of Kempston

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if the Short money was increased to cover Opposition spokesmen, this would have to apply to another place? If we are to increase anything, we should increase the Short money. I believe that it would be wrong to include Opposition Front Bench spokesmen in this measure if one does not show any consideration for the Liberal Democrats. I believe we would find ourselves in a dangerous situation if we were to pay anyone who sits on the Front Bench a salary. The money we are discussing should come out of the Short money.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend this far: the idea that we should pay Opposition Front Bench spokesmen for being on the Front Bench and representing their parties in this House would have implications for the equivalent spokesmen in the House of Commons who do not receive such remuneration. The idea that is proposed would constitute a significant change and we need to give a great deal of thought to it. I am not sure this is the most opportune lime to give these matters further consideration.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that some eight years ago the late Lord Ponsonby and I paid a visit to the Senior Salaries Review Body to discuss this subject? We were given a sympathetic hearing by that body, but the difficulty was to define precisely who on the Front Bench should receive remuneration. If there had not been that difficulty, I believe that the body would have recommended some form of remuneration. Will not the noble Lord give thought to this matter and reconsider it?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, as is often the case, the noble Lord frames his question in a wise way. One of the difficulties that would have to be faced is that of making a distinction between those who make part-time contributions and those who make relatively full-time contributions. Some of the infrequent visitors to your Lordships' House make speeches of profound significance and importance. Some who are more regular contributors to our debates also make speeches of profound significance and importance.

Lord Elton

My Lords, does my noble friend therefore accept that the proper running of this House requires there to be an effective Opposition Front Bench and that to hold an effective place thereon makes it impossible to have a full-time job? There is therefore justice in considering means by which some recognition of the lack of earnings is made as people suffer greatly from that lack of earnings, particularly during their peak earning years when they are trying to form a basis for their retirement pension.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I recognise that there is a case for this remuneration. However, I believe that the present time is not the time to make a change. I cannot add much to what I have already said. I recognise there is a case but I do not believe that this is the time to pursue it.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, in continuing to give urgent consideration to these matters, will the noble Lord give the House an undertaking that at the same time he will ensure that effective comparisons are made with the salaries and expenses of Members of the European Parliament, most of whom do far less work than even the least frequent attender here?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I had no doubt that if I did not make that comparison, the noble Lord would and your Lordships would benefit from his remarks on these matters.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I declare a sort of non-interest in the light of what the noble Lord has just said. He relies greatly on Short money. Has the noble Lord considered the possibility of Short money being specifically allocated to your Lordships' House? At the moment we depend very much on trickle-down, which is a rather slow process.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, in 1987 the Top Salaries Review Body recommended in its 24th report that there should be a special allocation of Short money for your Lordships' House. Discussions were held then—I was at that time the Leader of the House in another place—between the parties as to the best way to deal with this matter. I believe it was agreed that it was probably better to let the parties organise the matter and to allocate money to them for them to allocate between their Members in the Lords and in the Commons, as there are different ways of allocating it. I believe that that was how the matter was settled on the previous occasion when this matter arose. However, it is of course possible to settle the matter in a different way.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that on this side of the House our interest in Opposition remuneration is purely altruistic and that we anticipate no pecuniary benefit here? We wish only to see noble Lords opposite continuing to live in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for making that point. The Opposition have certainly had some years to reflect on this matter and I hope that that situation will continue for a number of years yet.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, as parliamentary memories are so short, will the noble Lord ensure that when Short money is written it has a capital "S"?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am sure that few of us have forgotten that the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, used to spell his name with a capital "S". He was the Leader of the House in another place when the original Short money proposals were put forward. I always spell it with a capital "S". Oppositions of both parties have a great deal to be grateful to him for.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, may I clarify two points? First, as I understand it, Short money is available for resources for Opposition parties, such as research, secretarial assistance and so on. It is in no sense intended to be remuneration. Secondly, my noble friend drew an analogy with the other place. Members of the other place are paid a salary for the performance of their parliamentary duties, which include duties on the Opposition Front Bench, while Back-Bench Members of this House are not paid any salary, nor should they be. Does my noble friend recognise that there is a feeling in this House that the issue should be further considered? We should be glad of some guidance as to how we can ensure that such further consideration takes place.

Lord Wakeham

My Lord, I recognise the strength of the points that my noble friend raised. There are plenty of methods open to him. He does not need me to show him the ways in which he can demonstrate his interest in and enthusiasm for the subject. He is quite right to say that the Short money is intended for the payment of research costs and expenses and not to pay salaries for Opposition spokesmen. He is quite right to say that Members of another place are paid a salary. We have to consider all these matters very carefully because, as my noble friend said in the last part of his remarks, the question of payment for service in your Lordships' House is a fundamental issue and something which I would not favour.