HL Deb 16 October 1997 vol 582 cc556-9

3.53 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Last year the Senior Salaries Review Body completed a major review of parliamentary pay and allowances. In addition to reviewing the levels of ministerial salaries, the SSRB made a recommendation (recommendation 14) on the way in which salaries should be increased in the future. This was in direct response to item (vi) of the remit which it was given by the then Prime Minister to consider, a linkage to provide the basis for annual uprating in future years without the need for Parliamentary decision". The SSRB's recommendation was that the salaries of Members of another place, Ministers and office holders should be linked to movements in the senior Civil Service pay bands. The Bill follows on from the Ministerial and Other Salaries Order 1996, which put into effect the SSRB's substantive recommendations and was made on 23rd July 1996, and the Solicitor General's Salary Order 1997, which set the salary for the Solicitor General at the appropriate level for that Minister in the House. That order was made on 26th June 1997.

The linkage will increase ministerial and other salaries by the same percentage as the average of the movements in the mid-points of the nine senior Civil Service pay bands. In the SSRB's own words, this mechanism should result in salaries not, leading or unduly lagging behind, general pay changes in the public sector". This automatic annual adjustment has already been put in place for Members of another place, under the resolution of that House of 10th July 1996. This Bill provides exactly the same mechanism for Ministers.

The Bill will mean that an annual Ministerial and Other Salaries Order, with its attendant debate, will no longer be necessary as increases will be calculated by simply applying a standard percentage increase under an agreed formula. The Bill will not do away with the need to obtain parliamentary approval for special orders where a structural change is necessary, for instance, the 1996 Ministerial and Other Salaries Order or the Solicitor General's Salary Order this year. If, at some time in the future, it is necessary to change the formula which underlies this linking mechanism, it would be necessary for Parliament to approve a new order setting out a replacement formula. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (Lord Richard.)

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for the way in which he introduced the Bill. He will not be altogether surprised to hear that we welcome the Bill as we hope that it will at last bring some form of order to this delicate and difficult subject. Certainly we on this side of the House, with our recent experience of ministerial office, see no reason why Ministers should not be rewarded for what are after all long hours and sometimes, it seems, more kicks than halfpence. I am sure that with his experience the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal can at least sympathise with that observation.

We are equally aware that Ministers are quite rightly brought to account by Parliament and censured if they fail. It is one of the few remaining professions where there is little protection of employment legislation in force. We in no way suggest that such legislation should be extended to Ministers. I note that the principle of the Bill had the warm support of all sides of the House before the election. We were grateful to the Labour Party for that support and we reciprocate it now. We believe that in delicate matters of this kind it is important, if possible, to proceed on a non-partisan basis, even given the caveat that I well remember from another place that Back-Benchers should always beware when both Opposition Front Benches appear to be in agreement.

Far be it from me to venture even the gentlest advice to the Government in matters of this kind. However, I hope, if I may say so, that the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal will not allow his colleagues to wear hair shirts too publicly in a sort of competitive bidding for who can take the lowest salary increase. I am sure that all of us, whatever our political differences, recognise that Ministers work long hours; that we need to attract people of ability to politics; and that a proper level of salaries has an important role to play in attracting people to serve the country in this way. I am not entirely convinced that this kind of public wearing of sackcloth and ashes either adds to the dignity of political life, which is an honourable profession, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree, or indeed that the public are convinced by it. I am certain that this House would above all want to see the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal properly rewarded as he defends the privileges and the position of this House whether vis-à-vis another place or the public at large.

I wish to ask the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal one question. I wonder whether he will recall that during the course of exchanges on allied matters before the election he properly asked me what progress had occurred in the further investigation by the Perry Committee of salaries for Ministers and allowances for Members of this place. I know that is something he and his party feel strongly about. Can he take this opportunity—perhaps it is not entirely in order—to advise the House what the present position is and whether progress has been made under his prompting?

Lord Howell

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for the final point that he made which I also wish to make. The House will recall that when we debated these matters in November of last year, almost a year ago, one or two of us asked about junior Ministers' salaries and about the expenses of Members of this House. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, charitably and kindly agreed to refer those matters back to the Top Salaries Review Body. Subsequently some of us were asked to give evidence to that body. I was asked but could not attend because unfortunately I was in hospital. However, other people attended. Since then there has been total silence.

The Top Salaries Review Body having been asked 12 months ago to review a matter, it is totally discourteous to this House for it not to report back to the House. I do not wish to go over the ground. However, as in the previous Government, in this Government junior Ministers are working extremely hard, carrying great responsibilities of state, but being paid salaries which are less than those of Back-Bench Members of Parliament in another place. That cannot be right. An old trade union principle of paying the rate for the job should apply to Ministers who carry responsibility in this House or anywhere else. The matter needs to be rectified. With regard to the dignity of this place, it cannot be right for Ministers serving in this House to be so underpaid.

As regards our expenses, no one whom I have met wishes to make any profit from serving in this House. But allowances for Members of the House of Lords are inadequate. For example, one cannot possibly stay in a decent London hotel for the overnight rate that is paid. If one has a flat or accommodation, as some of us do, and has to take it for 12 months, it is ludicrous that it is empty for four months of that time; but one is expected to subsidise the country.

The position regarding secretarial allowances is even worse. This is an important new point. We now have more and more working Peers who require to undertake research. They require some secretarial assistance. As noble Lords know, the more one works and the more correspondence one receives, the greater the need for a secretary. To be paid for one's secretary on only certain days of the week is ludicrous.

I support the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will ensure that the Top Salaries Review Body pays this House the courtesy of listening to our representations with great care and of replying to them.

Lord Richard

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may say a few words in reply.

I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his general support for the Bill. Constitutionally and aesthetically, I am not inclined towards hair shirts. I do not think that they would sit well upon my chest. They would certainly be scratchy and rather unpleasant. I am not sure whether I am supposed to wear the sackcloth and ashes together with the hair shirt or whether those come separately, but I take the point that the noble Viscount makes.

As regards his other point, which was reiterated by my noble friend Lord Howell, I shall make sure that the representations and the inquiries made to this House get on to the appropriate desks. I shall ensure that they do so reasonably quickly. I hope that we shall receive a response as a result of this debate, also fairly quickly. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time; Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. 44 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution of 14th October), Bill read a third time, and passed.