Skip to main content

Members' Expenses (Sessional Allowance)

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 8 July 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on the same topic as I mentioned to the House a fortnight ago today.

The Government have already recognised the financial difficulties in which many hon. Members find themselves. Those difficulties are unusual because they arise largely out of the nature of a Member's duties, which require him to expend substantial sums in their discharge—sums which, if expended in any other employment, would properly be reimbursed by the employer. In most cases, no doubt, the most important item is subsistence—the extra costs of living which are incurred by attendance at Westminster. For most hon. Members this means not only being obliged to take many more meals away from home than most other people, but incurring also the much more significant cost of residence in two places.

Having examined the precedents in Commonwealth Legislatures and overseas, the Government have decided that the most equitable and practical way of meeting this situation is by the institution of a sessional allowance. This will be payable to those Members who choose to draw it at a rate of £2 for every day (other than a Friday) on which the House sits. It can be drawn monthly or at such other times as may be arranged to suit the convenience of individual Members. A Supplementary Estimate will be laid as soon as possible.

This allowance will constitute a cash reimbursement, related to the actual sittings at Westminster, of the subsistence and other expenditure which Members are obliged to incur. Members will still remain eligible under the existing law for relief from Income Tax on their salaries (as distinct from the new allowance) in respect of expenses "wholly, necessarily and exclusively" incurred in the performance of their duties. They will continue under their existing obligation to justify to the Inland Revenue authorities their claims in respect of their total expenses. The justification to the Revenue will therefore include those expenses in respect of which they draw the sessional allowance. The sum drawn in the form of the new allowance will be deducted by the Inland Revenue from the total expenses on which the Member would otherwise be entitled to claim relief.

The allowance will not be drawn by Ministers or by the Officers of the House.

The Prime Minister will realise that hon. Members on this side of the House consider that the arguments advanced by the Select Committee appointed by the House in favour of a straight increase of salary are still valid, and that the Committee examined various alternatives. We also believe that it is right that, where there is a matter concerning the House of Commons which is decided by a majority of the House of Commons, the Government of the day should implement that decision. The present proposal undoubtedly will assist some Members, and, so far as that is concerned, it does relieve what I think bears a good deal of weight in the minds of hon. Members who do not like to feel that their colleagues in the House are suffering.

I should like to ask the Prime Minister as from what date this proposal will come into force. I would finally say that, although it does something, I do not think that the line that has been taken is really in accord with the dignity and authority of this House, and I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman, in his visit overseas, has seen a curious comparison in the treatment of Members of other Legislatures, who I do not think work harder than hon. Members here.

May I ask the Prime Minister whether a further and full opportunity will be given to this House to debate the Government's proposal, for the reason that the Government have now decided to ignore, and in fact to flout, the opinion of a substantial majority of this House, after inviting the opinion of the House as to what should be the correct attitude to be adopted by the Government?

I think it would be better to get this settled at once, without prolonging the present severe conditions in order to have a further debate upon a matter which has been most thoroughly examined, not only in the Chamber, but in the minds of bon. Members and indeed throughout the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Date?"] Further discussions will take place through the usual channels about the date.

Is the Prime Minister aware that even the most rigorous of religious bodies does not make every Friday a fasting day, and why should Members of Parliament?

It is not thought that the special conditions which constitute a heavy expense to Members operate as fully on Fridays as on other days.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although some of my hon. Friends and I fast on Fridays, even so, we still eat?