HL Deb 08 July 1999 vol 603 cc1143-50

9.21 p.m.

Lord Carter rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 29th June be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House, wish to draw the attention of the House to the order. The purpose of the draft order before your Lordships is to implement increases in salary for a number of Ministers and certain other office holders in this House.

The increases in question are those recommended by the independent Senior Salaries Review Body in its Report No. 43 in March of this year. The Prime Minister announced the Government's acceptance of these recommendations in a Written Answer in the other place on 31st March, Commons Hansard, WA col. 716.

I should perhaps declare an interest at the outset. As will probably not have escaped your Lordships' notice, one of the salaries to be increased is my own. Hence my enthusiasm for seeking your Lordships' agreement to the order. The procedure is that changes in salary of this kind—by which I mean increases of salary other than the normal annual uprating—are authorised by an Order in Council under the relevant sections of the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975. The Act requires the text of the order to be approved in draft by each House before being submitted to Her Majesty. It is that approval that I am inviting the House to give today.

The changes affect a number of offices and it would perhaps be helpful if I listed them. They are: Ministers of State; Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State; the Government Chief Whip and the Deputy Chief Whip; the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip. I have every hope that the inclusion of these last two posts will lead to an unusually warm degree of cross-party enthusiasm for the order.

In addition, the SSRB recommended, and the Government accepted, equivalent increases for the Chairman of Committees and the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees. These salaries do not appear in the order itself, but they will be implemented administratively when the order comes into force. The individual increases are set out in the draft order. In brief, the SSRB recommendation was that the salaries of each of the posts I have mentioned should be increased by £8,500, in addition to the standard annual uprating which other ministerial posts have received. This produces the figures in the order.

These are quite substantial increases. The recommendation reflects the SSRB's finding that, since the 1996 changes to the pay arrangements for Ministers in another place, the salaries of these posts in your Lordships' House has fallen behind to an unreasonable extent.

The proposed one-off increase is, broadly speaking, equivalent to the amount by which the MPs' salary paid to Ministers in the Commons was abated prior to the 1996 changes and so restores that relativity. The arguments, which the Government accept, are set out in detail in Chapter 4 of the SSRB's Report No. 43.

The draft order implements precisely the Senior Salaries Review Body recommendations and I commend it to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 29th June be approved.—(Lord Carter.)

Lord Henley

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip for moving this order. I shall also declare an interest of a similar kind to that declared by the noble Lord.

I can assure the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip that I shall be brief. I was hoping that one of my noble friends would respond to this on the basis that they would not have had an interest in the order in the way that I do. I appreciate that whoever moved the order from the Government Front Bench would have an interest. Therefore, it may be more appropriate that either myself or my noble friend Lord Strathclyde should respond to this.

We welcome the increase, and we welcome it on the part of Ministers, who I know from experience work exceedingly hard. They have been left behind by increases to their colleagues in the Commons. Therefore, it is right that some catching up should take place.

I have one query to put to the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip which is not directly related to this matter, but I hope I can raise it on this occasion. It is a matter that I hope the Government will consider at some point. As the noble Lord is aware, only two on our Benches are salaried in any way. A number of other colleagues on this Front Bench work extremely hard. I have observed the work of my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon. I refer to the work that she did last night, the night before and probably the night before that in an extraordinary number of Bills. The same is true of a large number of my noble friends who give of their own, acting as representatives of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition.

In regard to the Opposition Benches, I believe that at some point—I am glad to see a nod of agreement from the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton—a system ought to be instigated to make an appropriate payment—if that is the right word—or some means of helping to assist them in terms of carrying out their functions. We are grateful for the recent increase that I believe has been offered in terms of what is traditionally called Short money, but I have a sneaking suspicion that that ought to go further and ought somehow to cover the individuals who help rather than just for the operation of the Front Bench.

I appreciate that the Government Chief Whip will not necessarily wish to respond to those points this evening. I shall be perfectly happy if he does not. I make those points now to put them into his mind so that he can think about them for the future.

Having said that, with a degree of self-interest, I support the order.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, I have no wish to impede or unreasonably delay the order before the House. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, said that there is Cross-Bench enthusiasm for the order, but that enthusiasm does not extend to these Benches, to which the order in large part is irrelevant.

I have two brief comments to make on paragraphs 1 and 2 in the order. I do not like and never have liked the linking of ministerial salaries to Civil Service salaries. That always seemed to me to be putting the cart before the horse. That is because of the lack of nerve of Ministers, including Prime Ministers, in governments over a long period and the feebleness of parliamentarians, who have often lacked the bottle to stand up for what is perfectly reasonable and which could be justified were they all prepared to say so. I recognise that this is now an accepted formula. That does not make it better, but I see no point in disputing it further on this occasion.

My second point on paragraphs 1 and 2 of the order is to endorse something said by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, in the debate on the Ministerial and other Salaries Bill on 16th October 1997. He said: 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 endorse that view. I think that Ministers ought to be properly paid, and I recognise fully, for the reasons to which I have referred, among others, that that has not always been the case.

The second remark of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was of a different kind: I hope, if I may say so, that the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal a reference to the noble Lord, Lord Richard— 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. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said at the time, he was a sybaritic figure in this House and elsewhere and was very unlikely at any time to wear a hair shirt. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, went on: 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 simply endorse what the noble Viscount said. These are matters which are not so much for the noble Lord, the Lord Carter, to bear in mind. I hope, however, that his colleagues at every level in both Houses will seek to justify proper salaries for themselves and others.

Paragraph 3 of the order refers to the salaries of the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip. It is interesting to look back to 1975 when the primary legislation was passed. It related to payment to the then Leader of the Opposition in your Lordships' House of £3,500 and to the Opposition Chief Whip of £2,500, since when there have been increases of rather over 15-fold. I attribute that mainly to inflation, and certainly I do not wish to deny the recipients the salaries indicated in the order. I do not in any way begrudge them the increase. They have responsible roles and they do the job well.

The primary legislation is now a quarter of a century old. There have been many developments in that time in both Houses. One of those developments has been in the role of the third party. I do not think I have to declare an interest but I should like to be able to declare a potential interest. The potential interest is clearly in recognition of the role of the third party in this House and of other parties which may be represented here, now enshrined by custom and practice and indeed identified in our Companion to the Standing Orders.

I think it is accepted, speaking, as I do, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, that we have a very important role to play in the House. I believe that the duties we perform and the stress experienced by the leader—and I speak of the office, not of the present incumbent—and by the Chief Whip—and again I speak of the office and not of the present incumbent—in our proper constitutional role is very little different and certainly not much less than that experienced by the Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition in this House and the Opposition Chief Whip. This matter should have been addressed many years ago. I am not asking for anything like a substantive reply from the noble Lord, Lord Carter, tonight, but I am putting down a marker.

In doing so I endorse and recognise what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said about other spokesmen from both Front Benches in opposition, though, if I am allowed to say so, listening to our debates over the last few days, I wondered whether, if there were to be salaries for Front Bench spokesmen, they should be graded in such a way that higher salaries were paid for shorter speeches. Apart from spokesmen in opposition, they were all Members of your Lordships' House.

I hope the time will come, perhaps early in the next Session, when this question of allowances to all Members is looked at urgently and, if necessary, by means of an independent inquiry. I hope that in due course the Government, after discussion with all parties through the usual channels, and with the Cross Benches, will indicate how they propose to tackle this very important matter in the new House which will come into being when the present legislation is through.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I should rise and say that everything I wanted to say has been said very well, but that I intend to repeat what I have heard. However, as we all know in Parliament, the opportunity that we have tonight is rot only to debate what is in the order but also what is not in it.

I begin by asking my noble friend the Government Chief Whip to take back to his colleagues what I believe—I speak on behalf of all of my Back-Bench colleagues—is a thoroughly deserved, radical review of the remuneration which they are paid. There has been no dispute about that this evening.

I see the noble Lord, Lord Henley, sitting opposite. When he was part of the then government and we were in Opposition, he will recall that we always fully supported them in the general case that was building up, shall we say, over the past seven or eight years that Ministers in the House of Lords had been left behind in one 'way or another. If this is in fact part of the unfinished business of the past 10 years, I think it is both fitting and proper that we should discuss the matter.

However, like the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, I should like to use this opportunity to give general support for what is in the order and discuss what we ought to do. I should like to remind the House that it was the then Lord Privy Seal, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who told the House in 1996 that the Prime Minister had written to Sir Michael Perry, the Chairman of the Senior Salaries Review Body, in the following terms: As you know, changes in the structure of civil servants' pay mean that new arrangements need to be found for determining Members' pay for 1997 onwards. I would be grateful if you and your colleagues on the Senior Salaries Review Body would under your standing terms of reference undertake a comprehensive review with the following remit. 'The Senior Salaries Review Body is asked to undertake a comprehensive review of the level and structure of parliamentary pay and allowances and to make recommendations for the future. The review should cover each of the following items: (i) the salary of Members of the House of Commons'— that was done, and very gratefully received by my former colleagues in the House of Commons; that is finished business. '(ii) the salaries of Ministers and other office-holders' that was done in the other place and that is part of the finished business— '(iii) all allowances, comprising the Office Costs Allowance, Motor Mileage Allowance, Additional Cost Allowance and the London Supplement'— that was done and is also part of the finished business. '(iv) the severance pay and pensions arrangements for MPs and Ministers'— that, too, is part of the finished business. However, '(v) the rates of Peers' expenses allowances and the Secretarial Allowance for Ministers and other paid office-holders in the House of Lords'".—[Official Report, 6/2/96; col. WA 14.]— has yet to be addressed. Therefore, I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could take that on board and help us understand where we are in that respect.

It is interesting to look at the comparisons here; for example, one could compare the fact that the House of Commons finished sitting at 7.30 p.m. tonight, but we will probably be here until about 10 o'clock. We may well also reflect on the fact that those in the other place will adjourn for the Summer Recess earlier than this House and will no doubt return at a later date than we do. I do not separate and keep in a compartment the matters that affect the House of Lords. Of course we need to look after ourselves. I say that because people in other parts of the Parliamentary Estate look after themselves. If we do not speak up for ourselves, no one will take any notice.

I want to place on the record the fact that, in a Written Answer not many years ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, told the House that the total salary cost for Members of the House of Commons was £22,934,000. That worked out at an average salary of £35,229. In addition, the total cost of the allowances gave an "average allowance cost" of £66,972. However, the total for the Lords was £6 million—as opposed to a figure of £23 million—and the average remuneration for the Lords was £6,700.

It is certainly not my intention to draw unfavourable comparisons but I believe that the difference in those figures is ludicrous. As has been said, that matter needs to be looked at. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, made a clear case for support for parties in opposition. We were delighted to support the previous government when it conceived not the Short money but the Cranborne money. We knew then—as we knew that we would win the next election—that the greatest beneficiary of the Cranborne money would be the then government when they moved into opposition, and so it has proved. We know that that helps the party machine and the part), in general. When the Senior Salaries Review Body reported in 1987 it was aware of the anomalies but nevertheless felt unable to endorse a recommendation made by its management consultants; namely, that parties within the House of Lords should be allowed to nominate a limited number of active Back-Benchers for a higher level of allowance. Therefore the issue is not new. In my view it has not been dealt with seriously. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that it has been decided not out of a sense of jealousy or of greed but out of a sense of equity and entitlement that Back-Bench Members—that is, other than Ministers—are entitled to a better crack of the whip.

The first allowances were introduced in 1957 and comprised the magnificent sum of three guineas a day. They have gradually aggregated over the years. The aggregation is not bad but the base from which the allowances started is causing them to be out of kilter. A Member of the House of Lords who wants to do his job well is given about £70 a day. He is a Member of a Parliament which is doing important work. I think that that is scandalous and it certainly should be looked at. I take the point that has been made several times, especially by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers; namely, that we are moving into a new era. I shall not discuss the concept of a full-time or part-time House and whether this is a professional or a non-professional Chamber. An opportunity should be found in the early days of the new Session—say from November onwards—to discuss this matter on an all-party basis. My colleagues have been patient and they understand the priorities involved. However, if we do not speak up for ourselves no one else will. These increases are thoroughly deserved and well earned, but there are others waiting in the queue.

9.42 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, on behalf of all my ministerial colleagues I thank all noble Lords who have spoken for their kind words about the work that Ministers in this House do which has been recognised in the increases that we are discussing. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for his comments and also for not asking me to respond to them in detail this evening.

I can be extremely brief. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked about a salary for the Leader of the Liberal Democrats. I intend no disrespect to noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches when I say that they do not at present form Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. Historically the view has been taken that in both Houses the Leader of the Opposition has a particular function to perform which warrants a separate salary. At some stage Parliament may take the view that the office of leader of the third largest party holds a position in our national life that warrants a salary. However, it would not be proper for me to propose that constitutional innovation this evening.

My noble friend drew attention—rightly in my opinion—to the fact that your Lordships' House provides extremely good value for money. I rather expected that the question of the Back-Bench allowances might arise this evening, although they are strictly outside the scope of the order we are discussing. The Senior Salaries Review Body is due to review the level of parliamentary pay and allowances next year for its report early in 2001. It is open to all Members of your Lordships' House to put forward views and evidence to the review body as part of that review.

Perhaps I may pick up a point made by my noble friend Lord Graham. The transitional House which will follow the reform of your Lordships' House will create a situation which did not exist when the SSRB's timetable was previously agreed. I will be very surprised if noble Lords do not draw this matter to the Government's attention once the transitional House is in place. I cannot say more than that this evening. I am sure your Lordships will draw the appropriate conclusion.

I repeat my thanks to all noble Lords who have participated in this short debate. I beg to move.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps he would deal with one point. He has mentioned the SSRB. From what he said, I presume that it will be well into next year before it makes any recommendations, without any guarantee of implementation. The order we are considering tonight—which has my support—concerns an increase in salary. Can my noble friend say what the difference in dates will be? If the recommendations are approved tonight—I think the order will be approved—what will be the difference in dates between when that is implemented and the likelihood of Back Benchers receiving what might or might not be an increase?

Lord Carter

My Lords, I am afraid my noble friend will find the potential gap longer than he would like. If the order is approved this evening, the implementation will be back-dated to 1st April 1999. We are told that it will appear in the July pay cheque.

Under the previous arrangements, at the moment the SSRB is due to review the level of allowances in the year 2000 for a report early in 2001. So that would be the gap, if you like. As it stands at the moment, ministerial salaries will be back-dated to 1st April of this year and the SSRB report on allowances, which are outside this order, will not be available until early 2001.

Perhaps I should repeat the point I made earlier. The transitional House will create a new situation. I shall be surprised if a number of your Lordships do not attempt forcibly to draw this matter to the attention of the Government once the transitional House is in place.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes before ten o'clock.