HL Deb 11 May 1995 vol 564 cc167-70

3.10 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the reason for issuing to local authorities on 29th March 1995 new subsistence allowances for elected members backdated to 1st April 1994.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, following the recommendations made to us in the report of the Joint Working Party on the Internal Management of Local Authorities, published in 1993, we undertook a review of councillors' allowances, including their travel and subsistence allowances. Following that review we agreed that members' travel and subsistence rates should be aligned with those of local authority officers. Because those allowances had not been uprated during the course of the review we thought it only fair to give councils the discretion to decide whether or not payment of the allowances at the uprated level should be backdated to 1st April 1994.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. However, does he not think that this is really a backward step as I understand that the changes are being made for simplicity. In the past the system was very simple: four to eight hours, eight to 12 hours, or 12 to 16 hours. But the allowances now are a breakfast allowance—four hours before 11 a.m.; lunch allowance—a phrase that is worrying councillors—including the time between 12 noon and 2 p.m.; tea allowance, including the period of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.; and evening allowance—this is more vague—after 7 p.m. Was it not more simple when the allowance was calculated on the basis of the number of hours you were on duty? Will all councillors now be watching the clock to see whether their meeting finishes at 1.55 p.m.? Will there then be a difference depending on whether you buy your sandwich on the premises and you are still there until 2 p.m. or you buy your sandwich as you go home and therefore do not qualify for the lunch allowance?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I believe my noble friend is confusing two things. She is confusing a remuneration allowance, which is for the hours spent away in the course of business, and that for subsistence. Subsistence is for meals missed at home. If one does not miss a meal, one does not claim subsistence.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, can the Minister indicate how many local authorities have declined to use their powers to backdate these allowances?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, no, I cannot. It is for each individual council to resolve. We believe that where they decide to backdate the allowances it is reasonable to assume that they will do so based on the evidence provided by councillors when they submitted their earlier claims.

Lord Howell

My Lords, can the Minister say whether in the review the inadequate allowances of many local government people serving the democratic process were compared with what is received by those appointed by the Government to serve on quangos whose salaries and allowances are far greater than those received by people who are elected by their fellow citizens to govern the city or council area in which they live?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, it was because the officers were being more generously rewarded that the working party decided that the members should be equally generously rewarded. For instance, the new motor mileage rates for members represents an average increase of some 48 per cent. The subsistence a member can claim for a full day away from home on council business, including all the meals which my noble friend Lady Gardner indicated she would have to miss, has increased by 84 per cent.

Baroness Faithful!

My Lords, why was it recommended that the travel and subsistence allowances paid to councillors should be aligned with those paid to officers? The role of councillors is quite different from the role of officers and many councillors have other jobs. Why, therefore, should their allowances be aligned?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Secretary of State set up a working party on the internal management of local authorities in England. That was established some time in June 1992. The working party recommended that the travel and subsistence allowances of officers and councillors should be aligned. Ministers agreed that there should be uprating and alignment with officers' allowances. Having taken the advice of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Association of County Councils, the Association of District Councils and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all, it was decided that it would be right to uprate allowances.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, what is the maximum allowance a member of a local authority can claim for attendance for 24 hours? What is the maximum subsistence allowance, including overnight allowance, a member can now claim for 24 hours? What does the increase in the mileage allowance being paid bring the total mileage allowance up to? If the Minister cannot give those figures today, will he be good enough to place them in the Library, as we shall then know what we are talking about?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the department has issued this information: reference DoE LGR 61/1/14. The day subsistence for breakfast is £3.98; for lunch, £5.48; for tea, £2.16; and for the evening meal, £6.79. Overnight subsistence is £69.80 and in London £79.60. I believe I have answered the noble Lord's questions.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the Minister was kind enough to say that the Government had taken advice from Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all. Did the said Uncle advise the Minister that if such backdated allowances were to be paid they would be paid to those councillors who, regrettably, for one reason or another, had lost their seats in last week's election?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, because it is backdated that would have to be by a resolution of the existing council.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, the circular says that there will be another review this summer and that the outcome of that review will be backdated to this year. Can my noble friend assure me that if the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Association of London Authorities or any of the Tom Cobbleighs to which he referred make representations to say that they find this system very cumbersome and unworkable, the Government are prepared to look at the matter again?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, we are going to review it. We have just received notification of the new officers' rates for this year. Those will be taken into account in the review. The working party to which I referred—I hope that the House will not think that I have belittled its work—made that strong recommendation. The review will not be carried out by the working party. However, if representations are made, I am sure they will be considered.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the Minister explain why a councillor needs more than a Peer for overnight allowance in London?

Viscount Ullswater

No, my Lords.